Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Northumberland, Geese and Castles

A weekend to stretch every sense in your body to the very limit! It was cold and windy, and the spray lashed against your face, and the crash of the waves on the rocks was deafening. Yet when the wind died, it was warm and sunny, and it felt like the very end of summer.
Walking along Ross Back Sands in glorious sunshine, we had a three mile beach almost to ourselves, and in front of us was Lindisfarne Castle, whilst behind us was Bamburgh.
The birds were as much part of the spectacle as the scenary, with huge numbers out on the mudflats, on the sands and out at sea.
A permanent feature of the holiday was the constant stream of Gannets past every headland, probably all birds from the Bass Rock, in the Firth of Forth. We caught a glimpse of that most impressive island from St Abbs head in Berwickshire, and here the fly past of Gannets was most impressive, with hundreds of birds stretching as far as the eye could see.
Every little harbour held its flock of Eider, whilst on the rocks you could almost gaurentee to find Purple Sandpipers and Turnstones. On the sea there was the occasional Red-throated Diver or Slavonian Grebe.
But as always, it was the wildfowl which stole the show. With a back drop of dramatic seas, and the ruined Dunstanburgh castle, suddenly I became aware of small flocks of Barnacle Geese coming in off the sea, sometimes just a couple of family parties, at other times perhaps a couple of hundred, yet all of them enroute to the Solway Firth, probably next stop Caerlaverock. This really was migration in action!
And then there was the Brent Geese sitting out on the sand bar beyond St Cuthberts island, with just the seals for company. Unusually for the east coast, these are all Pale-bellied birds, from the same archipelago as the Barnacles, yet these birds choose to spend most of the winter on Lindisfarne, and are undoubtably the star attraction.

Barnacle Geese (left) in off the sea at Low Newton. These birds are from the Svalbard population and are on their way to the Solway firth. We saw at least 500 birds arrive in several flocks. Pale-bellied Brent Geese (right) on Sand Eel Beds (behind St Cuthberts Island), Lindisfarne. This the single most important wintering species on Lindisfarne. Most Brents in England are Dark-bellied birds from Siberia, whilst the Pale-bellied birds which winter in Ireland (overspilling to Hilbre) are from Arctic Canada. Lindisfarne plays host to the only UK wintering population of Brents from Svalbard, and holds about 50% of the World population. Later in the day, as high tide approached, I saw the same birds from on Fenham Flats, from Ross point, and estimated that there were about 2000 birds in the flock.

Grass of Parnassus (left). Mostly over by now, we still managed to find quite a few plants in flower on the Links, Lindisfarne. The ubiquitous Eider (right), a common bird everywhere, this drake was photographed in Seahouses harbour. Also know as St Cuthbert's duck, this is one of the hardiest of all birds, riding out the fiercest storms and very rarely found on inland waters.

Purple Sandpiper, possibly my favourite wader. This bird was photographed at St Abbs.

We saw lots of dramatic seascapes these are Stag Rocks, Bamburgh (left), and St Abbs harbour (right).

Northumberland is the land of castles, and few are more dramatic than Lindisfarne (left) and Bamburgh (right).

Lindisfarne (left) from Ross Back Sands and the ruined Dunstanburgh (right) from Low Newton. Notice the Lime Kilns to the right of Lindisfarne Castle.

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