Monthly Archives: December 2014

2014, What A Year!

Lambley, Northumberland

At the very end of 2013, early one morning I promised myself that in 2014, I would devote as much spare time as I could to getting out and about in nature; something I have always had a passion for but never quite given enough time to.

Now at the end of 2014 I can look back and feel pleased that I did just that. In fact, it’s fair to say I probably surpassed my own expectations and wow, have I seen some fantastic wildlife this year! And that’s without going too far out of my way in the north east.

There have been loads of stand out, special moments for me; birds like Water Rail, Peregrine, Pied Flycatcher and Barn Owl (none of which are mega rarities but which are nevertheless great birds for me), a few close encounters with Fox and Roe deer and seeing more butterflies than I can ever remember seeing in one year.

But in some ways it was the unexpected things that were even better than that. One of the highlights of this year has got to have been a volunteering day organised through work (how ironic!) at Scotswood Natural Community Garden, where I got to see their resident Great Crested Newts. The garden really caught my imagination, being almost entirely managed by volunteers and providing such a valuable space for nature in a really unexpected place. Well worth another visit in spring I reckon.

Something else that will probably stay with me forever (and it’s work related again!) was the Fox that took up residence in the shrubbery in the office grounds towards the end of summer.  Every day at around 5pm I would go for a cup of tea, look out of the window and there it would be, lazing around in the late afternoon sun, well-concealed from any viewers at ground level but perfectly obvious to someone on the first floor!

But for me, all this has been tinged with some sadness, especially as the year progressed and I began to appreciate that our wildlife, our environment and its ecosystems are not a little damaged. Some of the things I have seen and read about this year, like the rare birds that crop up from time to time, are all the more amazing because they are just shadows of the way things once were.

In spring and summer when I walked alongside field boundaries and hedgerows with scarcely a wildflower to be seen, it started to dawn on me that things aren’t really as they should be. In many ways, this is a tragedy that most of us don’t even realise has occurred, but in others it shows the truly amazing power of nature to cling on and survive.

There are still many awe inspiring places for nature, especially up here in the north east, and given a little time and space, with perhaps just a bit of help from us I am sure nature can recover from some of the damage we have inflicted.

In 2015 I am going to try and get out even more than I have this year (family and work commitments permitting!) and get to some of the places I didn’t manage to visit in 2014. And wherever I can do something good for the local wildlife or the environment in general, then I will. I am sure there is plenty more to see and loads more to learn in the next twelve months.

End of December

West Hartford

Early on Sunday morning I tried for the Great Grey Shrike that has been at West Hartford but unfortunately there was no sign of it! I guess the heavy rain and hard frost of the night before may have encouraged it to move on, or at least keep out of sight until things warmed up.

It was my first  visit to West Hartford and it was great to see at least four or five Stonechat in the area. They were flitting about the edges of both pools that were completely frozen over – I’m sure the cold of the last few days won’t have made it easy finding food.

Blue Tit

On my way home I called in at Holywell Pond which was quiet as well. The feeding station was busy with Tits, Finches and Tree Sparrows, with Blackbirds and Dunnock foraging on the ground under the feeders. On the water itself, what wildfowl there was was spread sparsely across the pond; Tufted Duck and Mallard with no sign of any geese at all.

A Grey Heron stood alongside a Cormorant on the island whilst two groups of Gulls – Black Headed and Herring – loafed further out on the water. Apart from that, the only other bird life on show was a distant Kestrel and two small groups of Fieldfare.

Swallow Pond, Rising Sun Country Park

Because I haven’t seen as many birds as I would like over the last few weeks, I thought I would call in at the Rising Sun country park on my way in to work today. I visited a year ago to the day and the contrast was quite stark. It was bitterly cold this morning which I guess is what accounts for the distinct lack of bird life. Between a third and a half of Swallow pond was frozen over and the pond’s entire population of Coot and Moorhen was gathered together on the far side of the water (ice) – which was quite a sight!

Aside from that, the only ducks to be seen were four pairs of Shoveler and some Mallard. I did find a small group of Greylag Geese in the field next to the pond but by far the best bird of the morning was a female Sparrowhawk which flew pretty close, before veering off over a hedge.

That could well have been my last bit of birding for 2014 – we’ll see, but if the Great Grey Shrike does reappear at West Hartford I’m not sure I’ll be able to resist trying for another look.

Gold

Goldfinch

Last Sunday I took a walk around Holywell hoping to relocate the Barn Owl I saw the week before. I didn’t have much luck but the early morning sun was golden! A large flock of Goldfinch and Linnet circulated round and over the fields, with birds periodically perching in the hedgerows.

Yellow Hammer and Reed Bunting

Another large mixed group of Yellowhammer and Reed Bunting was also very much in evidence. The photo above was taken from a distance but the Yellowhammers are quite visible, whilst some of the Reed Buntings are a little harder to pick out. Previously the largest group of Yellowhammers I had ever seen together consisted of three or four birds but I reckon there were about twenty or thirty in all with the same number of Reed Buntings.

Sunrise at Holywell

And here is a scenic shot looking north towards Seaton Delaval Hall, just before the sun came up.