Trip reports

East Yorkshire Group's Trip to Northumberland

East Yorkshire Group's Trip to Northumberland
Sue Leyland

Sunday, 22 August 2010


Or should that be 'wonderland' given that we were visiting a county noted for its stately homes and castles. En route to our hotel, we stopped at the National Trust property of Wallington Hall near Cambo in southern Northumberland. Apart from the house and gardens, there is an extensive estate including woodland and a stream. With steady and at times heavy rain, the early part of the walk did not bode well with the raindrops crashing through the trees blocking out the calls of any woodland birds. However, it was not at all cold and the trees were beautiful in their autumn colours. Of course the East Yorkshire group is never deterred by bad weather, so once the rain eased a little, we dragged ourselves out of the hide in which we were sheltering and continued our walk through the woods. Or at least some of us did. The less intrepid (more sensible?) amongst us headed for the excellent café and missed out on dipper, kingfisher, three tit species and a grey wagtail! Before we left for our hotel in Embleton, near Alnwick, the sun came out and the golden leaves sparkled in its rays.

Sunday was, for me, the main reason for this holiday - our visit to Lindisfarne. Timing is everything here as the causeway which links Holy Island and the mainland at Beal is closed for a few hours at every high tide. As the tide was falling first thing in the morning, we parked up in the lay-by at Beal before driving across and walked out onto the causeway to view the mudflats which were filling with birds at the tide receded. The commoner waders were there in reasonable numbers but it was the wildfowl which held our attention. We quickly found a female sawbill duck but took a long time to work out if it were a goosander or a red-breasted merganser although to guide our thoughts three mergansers did fly in while we were watching. There was a small flock of pale-bellied Brent geese in the far distance to the south while walkers to the north of us flushed about 200 barnacle geese and a peregrine disturbed the waders. After a while the unusual duck swimming and diving in the stream which runs under the causeway was identified as a long-tailed duck. A nice find.

Driving onto Lindisfarne with open mud to our right and sand dunes to our left, we were joined by a fast flying merlin which kept pace with the coach for a few seconds at perfect viewing height. Our morning walk was along the farm track which runs north - south across the island. Bordered on both sides by bushes, mainly hawthorn covered in thick clusters of berries, it afforded cover and food for local and migrant birds. The commonest bird was the blackbird although we did find a single redwing and half a dozen fieldfares. We also had a steady movement of sky larks heading from east to west and many of the fields held huge flocks of feeding curlew. A field full of sunflowers attracted flocks of finches and buntings, which in turn attracted both the merlin and a sparrowhawk. The flock fled in our direction and appeared to be mainly of greenfinches. At the northern end of the track, just short of the sand dunes was a pair of stonechat. The male was particularly brightly coloured for the last few days of October, but it was a British bird.

After returning along the same lane, with brilliant views of Lindisfarne castle sparkling in the sunlight, we had our lunch and then headed towards the castle for our second walk. Close to the car park was a flooded field which held a few hundred teal, the only wildfowl we saw in really big numbers while on Lindisfarne. This walk also afforded views of the small harbour on the island and into the bay between Lindisfarne and the mainland at Bamburgh. In the far distance there was a small flock of gannets plunge diving and plenty of eiders. Given the eider's association with this island, it would have been strange had we not. The wind was very strong on the south westerly corner of the island, but the sun was strong too. We had a few waders - oystercatcher, turnstone and redshank, but missed out on a reported barred warbler and the firecrest which was further away near the little loch. We returned to the village and had a quick look round. Some people found cafes of course! We all thought Lindisfarne was a lovely place and a delight to walk round.
After leaving Lindisfarne we stopped at the lay-by at Waren Mills, part of Budle Bay which held a different composition of birds. We found our first and only shelduck here with over a hundred spread out across the mud. We also saw a few new waders including a scattering of grey plover alongside the familiar oystercatcher, lapwing, dunlin, bar-tailed godwits, curlew and redshank. The area also hosted a gull roost, mainly common and black-headed with a few herring, lesser and greater black backed. It is a wonderful area of mud and we could have spent ages scoping it all, but the light was going as the clocks had been put back the night before, so we made our way back to Embleton via Bamburgh Castle ( massively impressive) and Seahouses (boat trips and fish & chips). It had been a great day and it was good to relax and chat over a delicious meal at the hotel.

On Monday we headed south to the extensive pools and dunes of Druridge Bay, stopping first at the Northumberland Wildlife Trust's reserve at Hauxley, where the visit centre looks out on a lake. This was the first extensive area of freshwater we had visited so we immediately started to pick up new wildfowl including our first wigeon, tufted duck and little grebe. Behind the eastern hide is a very short path which leads onto the beach. Using the top of the dune as a vantage point, we scanned to sea to be rewarded with a few red-throated divers, eider and one common scoter. We also had our first ringed plover and sanderling. It was while watching these that we nearly missed the birds in the tide line rubbish at the base of the dune. The first bird we picked up, located close to a coca cola bottle, was a rock pipit. We then noticed three other small birds, generally pale with orange around the head and white patches on the wings, quite extensive on one when it flew. This was a party of snow buntings, the first the group has recorded for a number of years. They were not bothered about us, progressing slowly through the stranded seaweed at the base of the cliff a matter of feet below us. They were a great find and everyone was delighted. The walk to another hide gave us goldfinches and a few very tricky-to-see redpoll. In all Hauxley produced a fantastic list of 53 species.

At Druridge Pools in the afternoon, we recorded gadwall, shoveler and greenshank. The greenshank walked straight in front of the hide in the company of a redshank allowing excellent comparisons in size shape and especially colouring. It also demonstrated a liking for small fish, repeatedly picking them from the waters edge, juggling them in its beak then dropping them again into the water.

Our final destination of the day was back up the coast for a walk south alongside East Chevington Pools. While at Hauxley we had seen a number of skeins of pink-footed geese flying south. We now found a small proportion of them, possibly 200, grazing in the fields beside the pools. This reed fringed pool also held good numbers of wildfowl and two whooper swans. Surprisingly this was the only pool to hold coot. A rubble island and an area of shallow water held a roost of lapwing and golden plover. The walk along a track provided repeated views of two or three pairs of stonechats. This was our last walk of the day so we went as far as the last hide overlooking this first pool before preparing to return to the coach.

It was at this point that events turned a little more dramatic than we would have liked. Ken Belk stumbled, fell and broke his ankle. I called an ambulance which, considering where we were, found us pretty quickly. Ken was treated on site then taken to Ashington Hospital, 30 miles from our hotel in Embleton. Ken remained there for a few days before being transferred to Scarborough Hospital. My thanks to Nick David and James Evans for going off to act as lookouts for the ambulance and to Angie Bird and Paul & Sue Leyland for shepherding everyone else back to the coach, informing the Rangers and flagging down a passing police patrol car. Thanks to mobile phones too for keeping us all in touch with each other during the emergency.
The following day was the last of the holiday. We left Angela Belk, Ken's wife, at the hotel for an unplanned extended stay and unscheduled hospital visits. She waved us off as we headed south, also minus Paul & Sue Leyland, who had already planned to extend their trip. Our first stop was in the small village of Barlow where there is an excellent red kite viewpoint. We had a pair over a distant wood and later a pair over a hedge within one hundred yards of our position. We also gained a bonus bird here with the scalding notes of a black capped brownish bird revealing the whereabouts of a willow tit.

Our last visit was to Low Barns, a Durham Wildlife Trust reserve near Witton le Wear, a woodland site beside the river at the centre of which is a small lake and areas of reed bed and wet meadow. We had a goosander there, a flock of over 20 siskin and then two treecreepers, our first of the trip and the last species to be added to the list. As we headed home to Yorkshire, they brought our total for the trip to 103 species.

We stayed at the Dunstanburgh Castle Hotel in Embleton, where the food was excellent and the staff perfect hosts. My thanks to them, not only for their efficiency and hospitality towards the group, but also for the kindness and support they gave to Angela Belk during the difficult few days after our departure. Thanks also to our driver, Martin, from Manor Travel who we all agreed we will continue to use for our holidays. My thanks also to everyone for the way they responded when Ken had his accident and for the way they have rallied round since. Angela and Ken appreciate the many kind offers of help, both while still in Northumberland and subsequently following Ken's return home. Our best wishes go to Ken. He should be well on the way to recovery when you receive this newsletter.

As to 2010, we will be going to Dumfries and Galloway where we will concentrate on the Solway coast and its spectacular wildfowl. Full details are in the programme and a booking form is included with this mailing.

David Woodmansey