Start Birding goes to Northumberland

At the turn of June, my regular birdwatching group migrated north once again to Northumberland and the Scottish Borders. This year, we have followed a different itinerary than we did at the same time last year, exploring Cresswell Ponds, Druridge Country Park, East Chevington, Bass Rock, St Abb’s Head, the Hirsel Estate in Coldstream and a relatively unknown reserve at Caistron.

As usual we had a fantastic time, combining birds with good food and the occasional glass of wine! At Cresswell we had great views of the most northerly nesting avocets (so far). These were accompanied by a range of species including Sandwich terns, redshank, lapwing, shelduck (with ducklings), mallard (with ducklings), teal, a garganey male, tufted duck, gadwall, shoveler, greylag and Canada geese (with goslings), sand martins, house martins, swallows, swifts, dunlin, meadow pipit, house and tree sparrows, finches, reed bunting, skylark and a heron taking an eel. Eider could be seen off shore with oystercatcher on the rocks.

At Druridge Country Park, we managed to get little grebe and a few small birds including great spotted woodpecker, willow warbler and chiffchaff. A visiting bar-headed goose created a stir and we were asked to identify it by one of the staff. East Chevington gave us grasshopper warbler; linnet; common, Arctic and Sandwich terns; cormorants and 5 species of gull.

We started our second day at St Abb’s Head where we had great views of a perching buzzard, fulmar, guillemot, razorbills, gannets and practiced our gull identification as they drifted up the cliff side on an updraft.  The highlight of our weekend was our rib boat trip to Bass Rock which is home to over 100,000 gannets and other seabirds such as puffin, kittiwake, shag, fulmar, guillemots and razorbills.

Our final day was spent at the Hirsel Estate in Coldstream, home of the Douglas-Home family. I’m currently reading ‘The Birdman’ by Henry Douglas-Home who was a great ornithologist and naturalist and who designed his own swift nest boxes which have been occupied since 1953. This is of particular interest to me as I have taken possession of a couple of swift boxes myself and we are currently trying to attract swifts to nest at our house in Leeds.

After spending a few hours at the estate, we then moved on to explore a new reserve at Caistron near Rothbury. On the way across the moorland, the group noticed a couple of peregrines being mobbed by corvids. The reserve wasn’t easy to find. It is situated next to a working quarry and a trout fishery on the River Coquet.  We immediately found common sandpiper with chicks with plenty of sand martins, swallows, house martins and swifts taking advantage of newly emerged insects. One member of our group tried to describe a large bird she had seen briefly as she rounded a corner – looking at the web page for the reserve, I’m sure that she did see an osprey as one has been hanging around the reserve for a while. We finished our visit on a high note with dipper and grey wagtail.

Time was moving on so we had to sadly depart and make for home. Thanks to everyone for the great company over the weekend and I look forward to our next trip together.

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