Monday, 26 June 2017

Two Owls in Northumberland Part 1

Two weeks ago Jackie and I found ourselves meeting a very keen group at the Dunstanburgh Castle Hotel to see what Northumberland could offer in the way of birds.  After everyone had dropped their baggage off in the rooms we set off for a walk down to the beach.  Our walk got us off to a good start with Sandwich Tern, Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting and Tree Sparrow amongst many of the common species.
Dunstanburgh Castle Hotel
Next morning the weather wasn't kind but we decided that we would continue to Long Nanny and the tern colony as the forecast said it would improve.  It did but only for the rain to pour down on us as we were walking to the colony.  We arrived at the wardens hut sat high on the dunes and were met, even in the wet, by the sound of Arctic and Common Terns calling continuously all around us.  The Little Terns unfortunately had been having a bad time as a high tide had washed through the nesting area.  The wardens had lifted all the nests and placed them on crates to prevent this, but it soon came apparent that this time it wasn't enough.  They had lifted the eggs and waited for the water to subside but it took two hours which was too long for the Little Tern and they deserted.  However some them came back and twelve pairs were nesting again and hopefully will be successful.  After getting rather wet we headed back to the hotel for lunch a warm up and dry out.

We took a lazy lunch as we could see the weather was brightening and we were waiting for confirmation that the Farne Island boats were going or not.  As it happened they weren't so thinking on our feet we decided to take the coastal route and stop at a number of places that we had good sightings in the past.  Starting at Warkworth where we had a couple of stops.  The first of which paid off with a sighting of a Grey Seal near the weir, and as we were waiting for it to surface again a call from the group of "its up other there".  I looked and saw an Otter on the surface, we watched it for sometime before it drifted off downstream.  Jackie said "I think I've got a merganser way down the channel" but getting the scope onto it, it was a female Goosander which eventually flew up and landed nearer and gave us great views. 
female Goosander - Warkworth © Nick Hull
This spot wasn't finished, with a duck Eider and a couple of Grey Heron one of which flew into the trees on the opposite bank.  We soon realised there was a small Heronry and we could see a number of young birds awaiting parents to return with food.  There were a couple of pairs of Greylags with goslings and in the field opposite Canada Geese with theirs.

We moved on down river about half a mile to see if the Otter was still lurking but we couldn't locate it but had good views of several Eider and a duck with her ducklings.  We located a Sand Martin colony on the opposite bank and found twenty six Ringed Plover and two summer plumaged Dunlin and a couple of Sandwich Terns.
Otter - Warkworth, River Coquet 
Our next stop was Hauxley where we looked out over the sea from the beach and saw our first auks flying by mainly Guillemots and Puffins, there were more Eider scattered offshore, several Kittiwakes and oddly we had a flyby Gadwall.  The afternoon was moving on but we had time to do another location so we thought we would try Druridge Country Park, a place we haven't visited before.  We added a number of woodland species including adult and young Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs.  On the lake Common Terns, Great Crested and Little Grebes, Swallows, both Sand and House Martins and Swift hawking insects and Reed Warblers were singing from the reeded margins. On our way back to the hotel Sparrowhawk and a Brown Hare were seen.

On the 11th we woke to a sunny but breezy day we birded Beadnell and Budle Bay, we added little to our list, though at Beadnell we had Gannets, Arctic and Little Terns, Fulmar and a skein of 40+ Common Scoter.  At Bamburgh we recorded our first Northern Marsh Orchids in the sand dunes and admired a wild flower field which seemed the attract Reed Buntings, Goldfinch and Linnets.
Northern Marsh Orchid © Nick Hull
In the afternoon we boarded one of Billy Shiels boats that took us around the Farnes and dropped us off on Inner Farne for an hour of birding indulgence.  These islands just have to be one of the best seabird colonies in Britain and for a wildlife photographer an ideal location.  To get up close to all three auk species, terns, gulls and Shags and of course St Cuthbert's ducks, plus Grey Seals and even Rabbit.  Not forgetting the Gannets passing by.  Our hour on the island passed so quickly, it seemed we had hardly arrived and we were having to take our chances with the Arctic Tern on the path back to the jetty.
The walk back through the Arctic Terns to the jetty
Arctic Tern on Martin's head, aways good to wear a hat
Selection of Inner Farne Birds © Nick Hull

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