At least 26 members appeared in the car park (several others arrived later!) After the horrid weather of previous days, it was a joy to arrive in bright sunshine. A perfect morning, added to which it was just after high tide, so the Dumbles and Tack Piece were full of birds, dominated by large flocks of Lapwing, Golden Plover, Dunlin and Wigeon. It was just a case of scanning through these to find the less numerous species. The Bewick’s Swans were easy and useful pointers to where the Ruff, Pintail, Shoveler and others were. There was a neat flock of Redshanks including one Spotted Redshank and a nice line of Black-tailed Godwits. Pochard, Tufted Duck, Shelduck and Mallard were also noted. A small flock of White-fronted Geese was settled into the far side of the Tack Piece whilst out on the Dumbles, Canada and Barnacle Geese were showing, as well as Buzzards and two Peregrines. It was not long before the latter were off and put most of the waders to flight. It was spectacular!
On our walk around the various hides many song birds were noted as well as Water Rail and Mandarin (full-winged birds). I ought to mention a few others: Redwing, Blackbird, Treecreeper, Lesser Redpoll and Chaffinch, also Grey Heron and Curlew. (Sadly we missed the Bittern, again.) I’ve just mentioned some of the, at least, 54 species seen during a splendid morning’s walk in fine weather.
Firstly, thank you to Wendy Dickson our leader and guide for showing us the beautiful countryside and bird watching sites of Northumberland. The weather was glorious which enabled our group of 13 to have non-stop bird watching for the whole week. On picking up the mini-bus at Newnham Hall, (expertly driven by Nick and Sue ), we headed north, stopping for lunch at RSPB Old Moor, west of Doncaster. There were some surprises (this reserve is in the middle of an enterprise park): Ringed Plover, Dunlin, four Ruff in breeding plumage, Turnstone and Avocet with chicks were seen. The feeders in the car park produced a family of Tree Sparrows and a pair of Bullfinches. We continued our journey north to Embleton where the comfortable Dunstanburgh Castle Hotel awaited the weary travellers. After supper some of the group were refreshed enough to take a walk through the pretty village to the beach where Swifts were soaring, Sedge and Reed Warblers were heard and Grey Partridge were roosting in the hedges.
Thursday dawned with low cloud and mist, but this didn’t dampen our spirits, we were off to the Farne Islands. We travelled to Seahouses where we boarded “Glad Tidings” and sailed first to Staple Island. On the way we encountered Eider, Fulmar, Gannet, Guillemot, Razorbill and Puffin. On landing the sight, noise and smell was something to behold. Fulmar, Shag, Kittiwake, Guillemot, Razorbill and Puffin were all vying for the smallest crag to nest and rear young. The comings and goings were constant with the Guillemots doing a Mexican Wave every time a Gull flew over them. From Staple Island we sailed to Inner Farne – what a sight! Thousands and thousands of Terns: Sandwich, Common and Arctic were breeding. Yes, a number of us were chosen for a peck on the head by an Arctic. Holy Island was visited on Friday. Driving over the causeway, Wendy showed us the path the Pilgrims take to the island. At low tide it is possible to walk across the sands following an ancient route known as Pilgrims’ Way. This route is marked with posts and has refuge boxes for stranded walkers, just as the road has a refuge box for those who have left their crossing too late. A walk around the island produced a Barn Owl hunting for food and carrying prey back to its nest; Eider and Scoter at sea from the sand dunes; Skylark, Meadow Pipit and Wheatear were sighted in the fields. On our return journey to the hotel we called at Budle Bay where a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers were enjoying the lovely late afternoon’s sun together with Curlew, Redshank and Eider. Saturday saw us visiting Harthorpe Valley. This is a very pretty, narrow and in places steep sided wooded valley which produced Red Grouse, Red-legged Partridge, Grey Partridge, Common Sandpiper, Cuckoo, Treecreeper, Ring Ouzel, Spotted Flycatcher, Whinchat, Stonechat, Wheatear and Lesser Redpoll. There was an early tide on Sunday morning so everyone was up bright and early to travel to Warkworth Harbour, Amble to board the boat which was chartered to take us to Coquet Island. We had fantastic views of Roseate, Sandwich, Common and Arctic Terns along with Purple Sandpiper, a Dunlin of the “Alpina” species in magnificent summer plumage, Fulmar, Kittiwake, Guillemot, Razorbill and Puffins. On the way back to shore a few of the group spotted an Arctic Skua flying past the boat. After landing, we made our way to Druridge Bay and visited a number of the Northumberland Wildlife Trust Reserves in the vicinity – Ladyburn Lake, Druridge Bay C.P., Cresswell Pond, Druridge Pools, East Chevington and Huxley. Grey Wagtails were spotted at Cresswell and Tree Sparrows at Druridge Pools. Huxley produced Wigeon, Gadwall, nesting Oystercatchers, Black-tailed Godwit, and Redshank. A pair of Coal Tits were feeding young in a nest they had made behind the sign on the visitor centre. A breeding colony of Little Terns at Long Nanny was our treat on Monday. These Terns are under 24 hour surveillance by wardens to protect them from predators. There were also a large number of Sandwich Terns present, together with a few pairs of Ringed Plovers, Eider and Dunlin. Back on the mini-bus, we travelled south to the Ingram Valley. This valley was different to the Harthorpe being much more open and not so steep. A stop along the river soon produced Common Sandpiper, Dipper and Grey Wagtail and a Cuckoo was spotted being chased off by a Meadow Pipit. At the top of the valley some of the group explored a small wooded area which produced the first sighting of the week of Goldcrest, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Spotted Flycatcher and Common Redpoll.
Our last day was sadly upon us, but another great day’s birding was in store. We visited Hulne Park, Alnwick where we came across Goldcrest and Long-tailed Tits along the path to the river. As we crossed the river more Goldcrest were sighted along with the first Nuthatch of the week and a Great Spotted Woodpecker. Crossing over another bridge further down the river, we spotted a pair of Grey Wagtails and a busy Dipper collecting food, which was observed flying under the bridge to a probable nest site. After a brief shopping trip in Alnwick, we drove to Cullernose Point where a colony of Kittiwake and Fulmar were nesting on the cliffs. Some of the group walked the coastal path to Craster (famous for its smoked kippers). A smaller group then continued on the coastal path to Embleton along which Eider, Sandwich Tern, Razorbill, and Gannets were spotted at sea. With heavy hearts we left Embleton on Wednesday morning, (where did the week go)? We took another stop at RSPB Old Moor for lunch. A warden told us that a pair of Bitterns had bred on the reserve, (being a first for Yorkshire), but sadly on that day they were out of view. It was then back on the bus and back to Bristol. In all a total of 127 species were observed or heard over the week.
A huge thank you to Nick and Sue for driving the bus so safely. A huge thank you also to Judy for all her hard work in organising the trip, expertly led by Wendy, which everyone thoroughly enjoyed.
The sun was shining when the 20 walkers arrived at the car park and it kept shining all day. We started off from the centre with singing warblers in every bush, including Blackcap, Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler, Chiffchaff and the noisy Cetti’s. It was an ideal day to see Bearded Tits and we were not disappointed. They were seen flying over the reeds but we also had very good views of the four juveniles (without beards). Next to the juveniles was a Reed Bunting in clear view and Reed Warblers were everywhere in full song. On the ponds were Great Crested Grebe, Little Grebe, Tufted Duck and Pochard. The estuary had many Shelduck and a few Curlew, but a small party of juvenile Wrens had a captive audience. The Cuckoo remained elusive, although could be heard in the distance. After lunch we carried on to Goldcliff where we added Avocets with chicks, Redshank and Lapwing also with 12 chicks. Black-tailed Godwit, Gadwall and Little Egrets were also seen and helped make a total of 45 species for the day. Thanks to Ray and Margaret for leading.
Eleven members assembled on a warm and breezy day in unbroken sunshine in the very scenic Vale of Ewyas. Early birds seen included Swallow, Jackdaw, Blackbird and Dunnock, while a Buzzard soared overhead. An unseen Green Woodpecker yaffled in the distance, and an elusive warbler divided opinions between Garden and Blackcap. As the walk turned uphill, Goldfinch and Carrion Crow were added to the list. Meadow Pipits were common in the valley, and soon the first Redstart was heard and then seen by some at the back of the group. As we walked on, Tree Pipits vied for attention with Meadow Pipits, and the first pairs of what were to be several Stonechats appeared. A Grey Heron lifted off from the small stream in the valley, and a Pied Wagtail paddled in it. Linnets and Skylarks were abundant towards the top of the valley, and Magpies and Chaffinches were added to the day’s list. At the top of the hill, the breeze became a gale and a Swift and a group of (presumed) Racing Pigeons were observed before we stopped for lunch and enjoyed the stunning views north of the Brecon Beacons. Moving on, the wind made birding difficult until we dropped over the edge of the hill. A Wheatear was spotted soon after and a Coal Tit was seen in the woods. A Raven was discovered on the ground on the edge of the woods, and a very distant Cuckoo was heard by keen ears. A definite Blackcap was seen well and a flurry of Wrens kept the count ticking over, before Blue Tit and Robin belatedly joined the list. A short rest stop provided the best views of Redstart of the day, and also brief views of a Great Spotted Woodpecker. A mystery yellow bird was seen to fly in to the canopy and become elusive, with opinions ranging from Siskin to Wood Warbler, before the walk returned to the bridge where the cars had been left. A final bird was added to the list after some of the group had departed, as a large raptor soaring in the distance revealed itself to be a Red Kite. The final tally of 32 shouldn’t disguise what was a superb scenic walk in perfect weather, and very many thanks to Geoff for leading.
At last a bright sunny day and no cold wind! 18 birders arrived opposite the Ring O’ Bells pub to walk through the pretty village and across fields to Litton Reservoirs. A pair of Grey Wagtails, a Pied Wagtail, Coots, Mallard and a Tufted Duck were at the lower reservoir. Water levels were high. The upper reservoir held Dabchicks, two families of Coots with young and a pair of Great Crested Grebes. There were at least five Grey Herons around. Bird song included at least five Blackcaps, seven Chiffchaffs and a Whitethroat. We also heard Pheasant, Blackbird, Goldcrest, Wren and Robin. A Skylark was heard from the bridleway. A family of Long-tailed Tits with eight young provided a pretty sight. Margaret and Sue saw a pair of Bullfinches from the lane. Altogether some 40 species were seen or heard. No great rarities but a good selection in pretty countryside. Butterflies were on the wing with Holly Blue, Small Tortoiseshell, two Brimstones and an Orange Tip seen.
Although it was overcast with a slight chill in the northerly breeze we had a splendid morning’s walk. We were Phyl Dykes and myself. Where were you all? You really missed an enjoyable morning in superb scenery. Birds were a-plenty with a good mix of residents and migrants in song. We started off with Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Skylark and Yellowhammers. Then, as we set off down into the first valley a Bullfinch was singing its quiet wheezy song. House Martins appeared, Goldcrest and Great Spotted Woodpecker were heard and so it went on. There was a slope full of cowslips with Thrushes singing from the woodland. A Sparrowhawk put in a brief appearance and Buzzards stayed aloft for longer. By the time we’d got to the mill pond, Nuthatch and Swallow had been noted. At the pond the Mute Swans had a nest almost within touching distance. Tufted Ducks and Moorhens were well out of the way. At Lower Kilcott a scan of the slopes above produced a couple of Red-legged Partridge where expected. At the top of the second big valley, Whitethroats were singing, a Raven called and a Kestrel hovered and finally House Sparrow, Greenfinch and Swifts were seen in Hawksbury Upton. Well, almost finally, as when I departed I found a Lapwing (the 46th species) which Phyl missed! Fortunately she had already thanked me for introducing her to a lovely place.
A party of Great Tits (adults + young) greeted us loudly from a horse chestnut tree near the car park as 14 members assembled for a somewhat gloomy evening stroll around Frampton Pools. The Sailing Club lake was quiet apart from a few Coot, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Mute Swans and a distant pair of Terns (Common?) that skimmed the water before disappearing. Two Mistle Thrushes perching on the wires posed agitatedly until a Sparrowhawk skittered past us into the trees. A pair of Gadwalls drifted past on the lake as a huge flock of Swifts 11 and Hirundines (1000+) arced across the sky overhead all around us. Despite the poor light we identified them as predominantly Martins (House and Sand) together with a few Swallows. The woodland rewarded us with the distinctive bubbling calls of two Nightingales. Heading back to the village in the failing light we were serenaded by the high clear phrases of Song Thrushes while bats flitted by and a noisy flock of Jackdaws flew to roost in the trees. As night fell on the outskirts of the village a strange call eventually resolved itself into a Tawny Owl perched in a large garden conifer. It conveniently flew to a nearby TV aerial and was silhouetted against the sky before we we all dispersed into the night. Total number of bird species recorded was 27. Thanks to Phyl for leading.
Ten of us started walking the windswept track westward. Our first delights were Warblers: Reed, Sedge, Cetti’s, Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, and Chiffchaff and only 100 yards covered. The next 100 yards were fantastic; a group of four Hobbies turning, darting, sprinting as they chased Swallows and House Martins. Rising above all this madness 20+ Bar-tailed Godwits fled east. A Buzzard floated serenely above them and to our left there was an Osprey with a tasty meal, slung fore and aft beneath, clenched in its awesome talons. A further few yards and we were rewarded with a Great White Egret, initially floundering in too deep water, then landing and starting to fish. With scopes all set to admire this beauty (three Darvic leg rings Red White Black) our interest was further tweaked by a loose group of 17 Black-tailed Godwits, some preening, some sleeping, but none feeding. A small group of Gadwall, some Coot and a lone Moorhen completed this ensemble. A male Reed Bunting sang from the top of a bush as we turned to continue our walk. We all trouped into the Meare Heath Hide for elevenses; the normally teeming waters held a solitary Pochard. Maybe our luck had changed – but it hadn’t ! Two Bitterns flopped down into the reeds on our right and as we left, a Marsh Harrier also shot off to the right. The woods were full of Blackcap and Wren, and then, on the stiffish breeze we heard “Cuckoo, Cuckoo.” Heading to the other hide came the unmistakable call of Goldcrest, which then showed itself. No pine type trees for miles, so there are exceptions. Double-decker Cormorants’ nests were perched on the dead branches above the very full lake and the ever present Lesser Black-backed Gulls were cruising over the reeds, watchful for a lax parent surrendering a tasty offspring. On our way back to the car park for lunch another Marsh Harrier was sighted and a couple of Kingfisher, one sitting, desperate to be admired, which it was. Would we be so lucky after lunch? Yes! An Osprey was sitting on top of a T bar in the reeds, giving ample time to register the markings and make a stab at its gender. Another Kingfisher showed well, and there was an actual sighting of a Willow Warbler. The day finished with our 48th and 49th species – a pair of Little Grebe and a Great Spotted Woodpecker. Great birding, convivial company, kind weather – who could ask for more? Well done ‘The Levels’.
Nick and Annie Hawkridge.
Despite the weather forecast 20 members joined me as we invaded Hazel’s cottage garden on Inglestone Common for our annual BBQ. After the social part of the evening we assembled outside, suitable booted, to enable Hazel to guide the party first by car to the Lodge and then a 20 minute walk along the very muddy Lower Woods paths to listen to two, possibly three, singing Nightingales (once the Thrushes and Robins were quiet). It’s quite true that it’s possible for the Tuesday walkers to be quiet when necessary! Another brilliant evening with many thanks to all who helped to organise the event, provided the refreshments (you should have seen the desserts again this year) and in particular thanks to Hazel and John for their warm hospitality.
Fourteen members met up at Ashcott Corner car park for this visit to the dual reserves of Shapwick Heath and Ham Wall. Early highlights included a singing Garden Warbler in the bushes near the car park as well as Common Whitethroat, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, and other common species on the walk towards Meare Heath lagoon. Overhead, Swallows and Swifts were joined by House Martins. The water held the usual Great Crested Grebes, Coots, Moorhens and common duck species. Bitterns boomed unseen, and distant Cuckoos called, and the explosive song of the Cetti’s Warbler was a constant accompaniment to the chattering Reed and Sedge Warblers in the reedbeds. Some of us were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a Cetti’s before it disappeared into the undergrowth. The lagoon itself held Lapwing, Redshank, Black-tailed Godwits, two types of Alba Wagtail and a Little Ringed Plover and overhead Buzzards, Marsh Harrier and Hobbies were competing for attention. The walk towards Meare Heath Bridge produced good views of displaying Whitethroats, more Hobbies, Cormorants and a Grey Heron in flight. Whilst the whole group did not continue to Noah’s Hide, the members that did reported Marsh Harrier and Bitterns in flight views. The return to Ashcott Corner produced more of the same species and the entrance to Ham Wall produced good views of a Great White Egret, and then a Kingfisher for some observers. Lingerers were rewarded with good views of both Garden Warbler and Cetti’s Warbler. Moving on to the first viewing platform, a definite highlight of the trip was a view of two Bitterns chasing each other in flight, intentions unknown! A third Bittern appeared briefly in the reeds at the back of the pool. A Little Grebe was present on the water, and a stunning male Whinchat posed for all in front of the platform. The rest of the walk added several more common species to the list, a second Great White Egret, a Little Egret, a very obliging Garden Warbler and more Hobbies. In all 54 species were seen on a surprisingly fine spring day! Thanks to Mike Johnson for leading.