Monthly Archives: March 2016

24th March

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A day off work and some reasonable weather saw me doing the rounds of some of the local sights. The first stop was Tynemouth where the Black Redstart was still in situ close to the base of the pier. This was third time lucky for me, as the previous two occasions I had visited both drew a blank.

Aside from gulls, there weren’t many birds to be found other than a vocal flotilla of Kittiwakes resting on the sea just north of the pier. I can’t wait for a trip into the city centre to get a closer look at these birds nesting on the Baltic art gallery. The cliffs below the Priory held only a couple of pairs of Fulmar, as opposed to the six or seven pairs I saw on my last visit – I guess it is still too early for them to settle, though it won’t be long now.

My next stop was St Mary’s headland in the hope of some spring migrants. Surely I would manage a Chiffchaff, if not a Wheatear or Sand Martin? But alas, all was relatively quiet here as well. I did spot a couple of Goldcrest in the wetland scrub and there were a few Meadow Pipit about on the headland.

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I had to content myself with the Coltsfoot in the dunes and some nine or ten Eider ducks out on the sea below but by now the sun was beginning to show and it was pleasantly warm out of the wind, so that was fine by me.

When I had had enough at St Mary’s, I moved up the coast to Seaton Sluice. My target bird was Little Egret on the salt marsh where the Seaton burn feeds into the harbour, as I have seen one fishing here before. Needless to say there were no Egrets although I could hear – but not see – Curlew calling close by.

I pushed on, following the path as it led further towards Holywell Dene, approaching from the opposite side to which I normally travel. There were plenty of woodland birds about, with Great Tit, Blue Tit and Long-tailed Tit calling and flitting from tree to tree. Greenfinch, Chaffinch and Goldfinch were also abundant, and I picked out a very smart female Bullfinch too.

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Spring flowers are beginning to add a splash of colour to the dene, so I took the chance to get a few shots of Lesser Celandine and Red Campion, which were showing nicely. A couple of Buff Tailed Bumblebee queens zigzagged over the more open ground, possibly seeking out nest sites. I love bumblebees and it’s always a thrill to see the queens emerge from their long hibernation. When one considers what a single queen bumblebee must do to establish a new colony, often in pretty inhospitable weather and with many other obstacles to overcome, it becomes apparent what a miracle of nature these creatures really are.

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Back at the harbour there was a large flock of Starling whirling about. There are always plenty of Starlings at Seaton Sluice but I wondered if their numbers had been swollen by migrating birds ready to make the journey back across the north sea. It was a great spectacle and nice to get close up views of their beautiful iredescant plumage.

My final destination was Holywell Pond which never disappoints. I half expected a Sand Martin or Chiffchaff but neither seemed to be arrived here either. A smart pair of Shoveler on the water were my first of the year at Holywell, though I probably missed them in January. Also new for me at Holywell was a pair of Red-Legged Partridge that were feeding along the eastern boundary of the reserve, along with a Redwing. So  there is always something new or unexpected to be seen here.

As always after a day in the field, I left with a thirst to spend even more time surrounded by nature. Surely that lottery win is just around the corner…!

Small Tortoiseshells

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No sooner had the sun brought out the first butterflies and bumblebees of the year, then it turned cold and drizzly again at the beginning of last week.

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Luckily I was able to get a few shots of my first Small Tortoiseshells, basking in the sunshine at St Nicholas Park.

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Both looked slightly tattered after a winter in hibernation but delightful to see after three months with no butterflies.

The male seemed keen to mate, beating his wings to woo the female…she however was content to sunbathe!

Sparkling

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It was a stunning spring morning on Sunday, so much so that I couldn’t wait to get outside. Once arrived at Holywell, birdsong filled the air; House Sparrows chirruped along the path to the reserve, Skylarks performed their flight song over the fields and a Song Thrush belted out its incredible melody from a tree-top perch in the reserve.

The pond itself held the typical species for the time of year, with good numbers of Pochard and Goldeneye, as well as Gadwall, Tufted Duck and a few pairs of Wigeon. A duck close to the reeds opposite the public hide caught my eye and after it performed two lengths of the pond, revealed itself to be the long-staying Mandarin. Wow, what a beauty!

Geese were on the move and a large flock of Greylags arrived, swooping into the middle of the water. As well as a few Canada Geese, I counted a single Shelduck among their number.

Away from the pond, the fields and hedgerows held Linnet and reeling Yellowhammer which added to the warm spring feeling. I took a detour through one of the fields east of the reserve where cattle are grazed, flushing a Grey Partridge on my way.

Close to the gate I spotted a bird fly-catching from a perch of Gorse; it was a female Stonechat, my first for Holywell although right where I would have expected to see one.

Other highlights of the morning were the back end of a Stoat as it disappeared along the path in front of me, as well as a displaying Lapwing which performed some amazing aerial acrobatics over one of the newly ploughed fields.

With the stillness and the warmth of the sun I thought I might have had my first bumblebee or butterfly of the year but unfortunately not. A Small Tortoiseshell did fly over the garden during the afternoon but the day ended without the buzz of any kind of bee.

Amphibian embrace

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It’s that time of year again…Common Frogs in amplexus in ponds across the nation…and finally now in Newcastle.

I have been checking the ponds at the Wildlife Trust reserve in Gosforth almost daily for the last couple of weeks but it has been a little on the chilly side until last week, when we had a few (almost) frost-free nights.

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And then, there they all were; hundreds and hundreds of frogs writhing around and making an unbelievable noise.

What a fantastic natural spectacle! I look forward to seeing this each spring and once again, this tiny reserve thoroughly delivers.

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