Trip Report: Northumberland (23rd – 30th May 2012)

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.

Julie Evans