It seems that only time I update this blog is just after we get back from holiday! So here we go again – at the end of July we headed to Northumberland for a wildlife-centric holiday in the UK. On the way we stopped at the excellent Rogerthorpe Manor hotel which is conveniently situated for the RSPB’s Fairburn Ings reserve which we visited the following morning before starting the final leg of our journey north. Although we didn’t see the Black-necked Grebes featured on Springwatch and there were also no signs of any Bittern, we did manage to find a Willow Tit on one of the feeders. The reserve is very large and we could easily have spent more time there.
When we arrived at our holiday cottage, we were greeted by a text from Martin at Northern Experience Wildlife Tours informing us that both our boat trips booked for the weekend had been cancelled due to bad weather. This was the first indication that our careful organisation of this holiday wasn’t going to go entirely to plan! On the plus side, both days we’d booked with Martin were rearranged for later in the week. That meant that we were left to ourselves for the first two days, one of which we spent birding locally near Embleton – largely along the coast path. We were very pleased to see several Arctic Skuas and also found a large Kittiwake colony at Dunstanburgh Castle (pictured below). But more excitingly, Tom found us a small pod of five or six Bottle-nosed Dolphin playing just offshore, some of them jumping completely out of the water.
On Sunday we were reminded why we like walking and watching wildlife rather than visiting tourist attractions. There are two famous places on the Northumberland coast that I felt we couldn’t really leave without visiting – Lindisfarne and Bamburgh Castle. As it was wet and windy on the Sunday, we drove north to Lindisfarne and paid £20 to English Heritage to visit their tiny (smaller than the attached shop) museum and walk around the ruined Priory (which takes about 10 minutes). We then started walking to the Castle (separate fees apply) but on the way we were distracted by a bench overlooking a promising area of beach and sea, so stopped there instead. Quite a large number of Goosander were in the harbour and a very large number of Grey Seal were basking on the shore on the far side of the water. Bar-tailed Godwit roamed the beach and a good selection of terns and gulls were flying over. We were happy again!
Bamburgh was slightly more expensive, but much better value as there was plenty to see and do, but really by this point we were looking forward to our first guided day out which included a boat trip to Coquet Island. Martin picked us up Monday morning, and clearly knew exactly which sites to visit, including East Chevington, Druridge Pools, Cresswell Ponds, the Amble river and estuary and, of course, Coquet Island. We saw a fantastic array of waders at most of these sites, including Curlew Sandpiper, plus Little Gull, Garganey and plenty more. We were also treated to an Otter fishing at East Chevington. But the main reason for the trip was to see Roseate Tern which breed at Coquet Island. We thought we’d seen a few of these at the beach at Embleton on the Saturday, but weren’t 100% sure, so it was nice to see a small number at Coquet. I’d love to show you a close-up photo, but you can’t land at Coquet and the sea was rather choppy so getting any photo was difficult. The tern in the bottom left of the picture below is a Roseate – largely black bill, longish red legs and a faint pink blush underneath.
On Monday evening we encountered two more organisational issues. Firstly, I’d booked us into a pizza restaurant and a hotel restaurant on the Monday and Tuesday nights, but failed to check which night I’d booked each restaurant for. So we turned up at the hotel on Monday night, but they couldn’t find our booking (because we’d made it for the Tuesday night). Fortunately they had space, but then on the Tuesday we tried to go to the pizza restaurant and ended up back at the hotel, because the pizza restaurant was full.
Martin was supposed to take us to the Farne’s on Tuesday, but he fell ill and was taken to hospital, so we ended up doing them on our own. What an amazing place! I’ve never been so close to sea birds in my life. This young Shag was being fed by its parents (head down the parent’s throat style) literally inches from my shoe.
Even though it was quite late in the summer, there were still plenty of Puffin running around the island and plenty more on the sea and overhead. This one posed nicely on the top of the cliff with fish in its beak waiting for me to take a photo before flying off to its young.
On the Wednesday we were booked on a four hour “pelagic” trip from North Shields which left at 6pm, so, against our better judgement, we decided to visit the National Trust property inland at Cragside during the day, which was in the general direction of North Shields. We didn’t bother looking around the house (although it looked very impressive from the outside), instead spending time walking around the gardens and huge grounds. We ended up very glad that we’d gone, as on one of the tarns in the grounds we found a Black Darter, distinguished from other darters both on its size (it is the UK’s smallest dragonfly) and by the black triangle on its thorax.
The boat trip that evening ended up being very wet, but at least the sea was completely calm. Not much to see although we did get some brief views of White-beaked Dolphin and a single Manx Shearwater. We got home after 11pm with Tom asleep on the back seat.
Our final day was spent walking along the coast path – finding our own Wood Sandpiper on Newton Pool and watching three Spoonbill fly over Embleton beach. There were several jellyfish washed up on the beach – we believe this one is a Lion’s Mane – you can’t really get a sense of scale from the photograph, so you’ll have to believe me when I say it was over a foot across.
One thing we noticed about the farmland around our cottage was that it was packed with Yellowhammers and Tree Sparrows – two birds we don’t see so often where we live in Suffolk. There were also large numbers of hirundines – again far more than we see in Suffolk. I particularly enjoyed the evenings sitting at the back of the house watching the House Martins and Swallows swooping by the window catching their evening’s dinner. Here is a Tree Sparrow that was sitting on our roof.
On the way home we stopped overnight in our favourite Lincolnshire pub – the Red Lion at Partney. This gave us time to stop at the RSPB reserve at Frampton Marsh the following morning – there were a huge number of Black-tailed Godwit here (over 1000) plus four Spoonbill, two Green Sandpiper and quite a number of Ruff, Snipe and Little Ringed Plover. I’ve no pictures from Frampton though, so I’ll end with one of two very cute young Kittiwake from the Farne Islands.