Not bad for mid-Feb

by on Feb.17, 2010, under Birdwatching, Lindisfarne, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

Yesterday I led our first Safari Day of this week, to Lindisfarne and the North Northumberland coast.  Although I really enjoy trips where the main quarry is Red Squirrel/Badger/Otter/Fox/Roe Deer my lifelong love affair has been with birdwatching.  Northumberland is a top-quality destination for a winter birdwatching trip; just ask any of the writers/photographers who we’ve taken to the wilds of our home county during the cold(er) bits of the year.

Yesterday was one of those days where you couldn’t wish for better conditions; clear blue sky, warm sunshine (although with sub-zero air temperatures for much of the day), no rain and only a very gentle breeze.  I collected Phil and Barbara from their holiday cottage near Guyzance and we followed the coast all the way to Lindisfarne.  Small groups of Pale-bellied Brent Geese beside the causeway were a novelty for birdwatchers from the southeast, who are used to seeing Dark-bellied Brents during the winter, and they commented immediately about just how black-and-white the Svalbard birds look.  Scanning the fields on the island we located a flock of ~800 Pale-bellied Brents, with a few Dark-bellied mixed in, allowing a direct comparison of the two.  The field was also shared by 200+ Curlew and smaller numbers of Redshank, Lapwing and Golden Plover.  Panic among a group of Starlings was traced to a 1st-Winter Merlin that helpfully perched on a post at the back of the Rocket Field.  It’s amazing how quickly time passes and after 2 hours we headed back towards the mainland among the general exodus that occurs as the end of safe-crossing approaches.  Another Merlin beside the causeway allowed even closer views so we stopped for a few more minutes of appreciation of this small predator.

Our picnic spot, overlooking the mudflats between Holy Island and the mainland, provided excellent views of flocks of Lapwing and Golden Plover in the air as well as lots of Shelduck, Eider, Pintail and more PB Brents.  We enjoyed all of these in the company of Tom Cadwallender, Natural and Cultural Heritage Officer for the Northumberland Coast AONB, who was supposed to be meeting a camera crew from Inside Out.  When we left Tom, they were already 20mins late…

Continuing down the coast, a very obliging Common Buzzard pranced around a field, presumably looking for worms.  The Skate Road held well over 1000 Common Scoter, 90+ Purple Sandpipers were huddled on the rocks as the incoming tide washed against their feet and a careful scan produced a few pairs of Long-tailed Ducks (Barbara’s 2nd lifer in a matter of minutes).  Red-throated and Great Northern Divers were, well diving mainly, and Slavonian Grebes were bobbing about just beyond the surf.

Our final destination for the day was Newton, and the decision to detour from the coast route down the dead-end road to Low Newton proved to be an inspired one.  As dusk approached the assembled ducks on the pool (Teal, Goldeneye, Mallard, Gadwall) all provided entertainment as they called to each other.  Then, just a few feet in front of us, a Long-eared Owl silently hunting.  We all held our breath as it approached and then it veered away as silently as it had arrived.  The walk back to the Landy was to provide probably the best bird of the day, and one of those Northumberland birdwatching moments that was quite simply sublime; against an increasingly starry sky and crescent moon, with an impressive amount of Earthshine, a Bittern flew low over our heads and out over the bay.

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2 Comments for this entry

  • CE Webster

    A great safari day–you had to be happy with all the birds that were seen. I enjoyed your article.

  • martin

    It was very close to being the best days birding I’ve had since we started Northern Experience. Finishing with LEO and Bittern was really the icing on the cake 🙂

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