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.

Friday, 17 September 2010


A great selection of waders at Marshside today, including one of my favourite birds, a Pectoral Sandpiper, which turned out to be my first ever in Merseyside! It was probably the closest and best view I have ever had of the species, right in front of Nels hide, and the light was perfect, but unfortunately my little camera struggled! Still, normally when I attempt to photograph Pec Sand, I end up with little more than a scenary shot!

The two pictures above and below show the Pec Sand with a Curlew Sandpiper.

Left, a nice little group of five Spotted Redshanks, a common Redshank and a Black-tailed Godwit, right a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper.

Pennington Flash

Not a bad early morning at Pennington Flash, with Black Tern, Red-necked Grebe and two Black-necked Grebes all seen well (and all juveniles!).

Saturday, 11 September 2010


We had a good afternoon at Seaforth today, with a nice selection of birds. Juvenile Black Tern was possibly the highlight, but also juvenile Black-necked Grebe, Yellow Wagtail and three adult Mediterranean Gulls.

There were quiet a few waders, with two Common Sandpipers, hundreds of Redshank, a few Knot, 50 Curlew, Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits as well as about 50 Common Terns.

Juvenile Black Tern

Yellow Wagtail (left) and juvenile Black-necked Grebe.
In the morning we visited Martin Mere, which was a lot quieter, though we did see juv. Marsh Harrier and a Little Owl.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Red-backed Shrike Frodsham

I went to Frodsham Marsh today to see a juvenile Red-backed Shrike, my first in the North West. Also on Number 6 tank, 10 Curlew Sandpipers.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Red-necked Grebe, Pennington Flash

I biked it to Pennington Flash today to see a stunning juvenile Red-necked Grebe. Forget how dull juv Great crested, Black-necked and Little Grebes look, juvy Red-necked looks almost as good as the adult. As it happens, there was also a Black-necked Grebe present as well!

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Hilbre Island

A long, exhausting, yet ultimately productive day started as I arrived at West Kirby at 6:00am ready for the 40 minute walk over to Hilbre. The forecast was for light south easterly winds, seemingly ideal for migration on the island.
The first migrant I saw was a Wheatear on Middle Eye during the walk across, but once on the main island things seemed a little slow, with just a couple of glimpses of Willow Warblers on the first walk around.
However things improved as the morning progressed, with three Yellow Wagtails, a decent passage of Swallows and a few House Martins recorded. Most pleasing of all, a Treecreeper was seen to come in off the sea and was initially seen on one of the stunted Sycamore trees, before heading off into a Heligoland trap to claim its prize of a shiny new ring! Treecreepers are rarities on the island, and this was a Hilbre tick for me.
Seawatching wasn't bad considering the conditions, with 3 Arctic Skuas, 40 Gannets, 10 Little Terns and lots of Sandiwch Terns seen. I left the island at about 12 noon.

Treecreeper in Hilbre forest (left) and in the hand (right).

Highfield Moss

Couldn't resist another visit to this site today. Having just spent 6 hours on Hilbre from early morning, a 20 mile round trip bike ride to Lowton perhaps wasn't the best idea, but at least I felt fit and healthy at the end of it!

Black Darter (left) and Devil's-bit Scabious. I was really pleased to get such a nice photo of the darter, which has always eluded me in the past.

Spot the difference

Gorse (left) - a big bushy plant with grey / green spikes and branches, and lots of twiglets coming off the branches. Western Gorse (right) - a small plant with yellowy green spikes and branches, and no twiglets. Oh yeah, and one's in full flower whilst the other is in seed........

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Highfield Moss, Lowton

A little known site in the north west is Highfield Moss at Lowton, just behind the Travellers Rest pub, and frustratingly 200 yards outside St Helens! It's only a small site, but has some excellent mosssland, with the star attraction being the nationally scarce Marsh Gentian, of which I found about 35 flower heads. In previous years I have counted up to 115, but it seems to be declining at the site.
But it's not just about gentians, and there are lots of other interesting plants, such as the fly eating Round-leaved Sundew, Western Gorse, Goldenrod, Devil's-bit Scabious, Cross-leaved Heath and lots more, as well as a couple of nice looking dragonfly pools.

Marsh Gentian (left) and Round-leaved Sundew (right).

Emerald Damselfly. A largish damselfly, which tends to sit with it's wings spread rather than along the body, which accounts for it's other name, Common Spreadwing. Notice also its eyes, which are seperated, unlike most dragonflies where the eyes touch.

A gem of a site! On the right, Goldenrod.

Western Gorse (left), flowers between July and October. All of the commoner gorse was in seed and is a much bigger plant. This was the only plant in flower, and it was in full flower! On the right is Cross-leaved Heath.

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