Sunday, 3 October 2010

a week ago last sunday-a newcastle long weekend, and it rained

Having visited some of my parents Friends before hand and then pulling over at a house from some Friends from church, we had spent Saturday evening moving, and settling in near Newcastle. Morning dawned and thus we spent a rewarding Sunday in a small terraced house mentally preparing ourselves for a long journey home. The night before we had decided that, provided the weather was decent we would go to the beach. Sadly the beach was not decent and as a result we found ourselves with no possibilities for the day. Lindisfarne was cut off until 11.00 and we needed to be going by then so that was a none starter, but we decided that we would travel down the coast until we found somewhere to stay. We came to Bambrough and decided to pull over for a stroll around the town.

The rain continued to pour. My mum made me don my coat to keep dry. I really dislike wearing my coat, although practical, it is difficult to wear, stiff and full of fossils with a smelly pot with a dead rabbits skull in the bottom pocket. Never-the-less I wore it any way and braved to weather for a walk around the town. The castle that overlooks the town is an impressive feature in the local landscape but all was not in vain, I got a First!. yep, we were just rounding a corner and, whoosh up the road came a swallow, closely followed by more. I believe that it is something of significance to see a swallow in October, just like a September swift, and so I was overjoyed To actually have something out of the dismal walk, and whats more is that I have never seen an October swallow before. They were sadly moving too fast for the camera but I got a record shot, to be expanded on next time I see one.

The walk there ended ungracefully withy the rain continueing to pour relentlessly and generally everyone becomeing more miserable. The next stop was seahouses, which is my top spot for eiders, which sit in harbour right in front of you, however I have only ever been here in spring so october may have limited options for birdlife. We pulled over at our usual carpark and my family went shopping (ugh) and I went to the docks. There were no eiders in their usual spot. however a nice rock pipit came and landed quite near me, which is also my october first, and allowed me to get some decent shots!

I went for a look over the sea wall to do a spot of sea watching, especially for Sabine's gull ,little shearwaters and ivory gull but allas none could be found. I did however spot a dark bird, duck, on the water which was diving. I have never seen an eider dive before and I guess that was what set me off thinking scoter. I was getting all excited as it did many things That I had never seen an eider do but sadly photo evidence denied me my scoter tick and the bird proved an eider. That did however prove that there were eiders in the area, and my hopes for finding a photographable one increased!

However on the sea wall I spotted a wagtail singing. Its song was very beautiful and I came for a closer look. Inspection revealed quite a pretty bird which was actually (I think) and Alba wagtail, and this is by far the best view I have ever had of one of these.

After watching the wagtail, I decided to move from the main pier to the second pier, which juts out into the harbour bay, and it was on hear that I found my eiders. There was a group of about 5 females with one fabulous male. A couple of birds, including the male, broke away from the pack and began to swim towards me.

This was just what I wanted for the photos and Began to snap away. The female drifted away but the male came and swam right past me, it really was a spectacular bird, I have not seen a full male bird for about 5 years, only females and eclipse males.

I returned to the female group to get a photo of one of them. At once they came towards me, hoping for a piece of bread (I told you that this was one of the best places to see eiders, they are just like mallards at Ogden water). They kept coming closer all the time, but then when I produced the camera (form within my jacket, protected from the rain) they beat a hasty retreat and the only photos I could muster were of the birds behinds!

The wagtail continued to sing from the sea wall and continued to allow me to take photos, which is always nice of such a pretty bird!

In returned to my position overlooking the sea wall. A stretch of beach had accumulated and with it had come some autumn waders. Primary of these was a stunning turnstone that landed on a rock right in front of me. I have never really got any decent turnstone pictures but this certainly fits the bill.

Sadly it didn't stick around and it quickly left, leaving me only with the photos above and this one below, off its departure.

The local gull mob offered lots of entertainment as they trotted up hopefully towards me only to realise that tourists don't eat fish and chips in the pouring rain. Even so, encounters like this really let you appreciate the size of the greater black-backed gulls, huge!

And then a real surprise, a swallow whizzed past my line of sight and landed on some sheltered power lines between two buildings. If there was ever a better opportunity of photograph swallows then it was this, and October swallows two, in appropriate weather! I crept up cautiously but they didn't care at all and I was able to walk right under them without them batting an eyelid. I say them because there were three roosting on the wires and I could get really close.

The bottom photo strikes me as being a juvenile because of the faint gape. This therefore suggests that these birds may be this years young and that they are staying a while to fatted up. It is a humbling thought, that in less than 1 hour from this encounter they could be flying all the way to Africa.

I returned to my vidual at the sea wall and at once I spotted the turnstone again, and this time he had another three for company. They were quite happy rummaging through the seaweed but sadly they did not come as close as before and so the photos were difficult.

My parents came to join me having finished their shopping and as I turned around I spotted five swallows sat on the wire. They really have a humbling story and to see them like this is just phenomenal.

The wagtail remained on the sea wall and I could take some even closer photos adding to my ever growing collection of this particular bird.
A last trip down the pier found a cormorant washing in the harbour but it began drifting away from me and so none of the photos came out well

A last look over the sea wall before we left gave me a another stunning eider in a more natural environment, resting from the torrents against the beach. A great reminder of why this place is so special.

And so we left the eider central of Britain, having seen a fair haul of the black and white, and brown, birds to put on my year list. A daunting journey was lying ahead and, as a result, we headed off home. All this has surly made up for the rotten weather that we have had. I may comment that it still didn't stop, I shall explain the irony of it stopping in the second half of this remarkable rainy day...

-To be continued-

...we decided that we would have to stop somewhere to have lunch but nowhere convenient turned up. eventually we had to pull off the main road and search for somewhere. The rain continued to pour relentlessly. Eventually we found a brewers fair restaurant and decided to stop. Even as we pulled into the car park I knew that our day was not over yet. The restaurant was right next to a great lake at the local country park. There was a dock, almost directly opposite the restaurant and sat on it were giant cormorants. My parents would let me go and get them until I had decided what to have, so I had to wait a while to see if they would stick around
Luckily they did and I was able to get some reasonable shots, only the catch was that the inside of the camera had condensed up. What could I do, all my hopes for the cormorants were surely dashed. I decided to remove the lens and check how back it was and luckily the cold air rushed into the camera and quickly cleared it up-crisis over!
I tried to sneak up to the cormorants but they were rather flighty and did not need a second invitation to go into the water.

I did manage to get my best ever cormorant shots which was bonus and I continued taking photos until I lost them, as they drifted away.

There were also plenty of swans and black headed gulls around, perhaps because they have learnt that people leave food here. amongst the normal pond birds I also managed to spot a widgeon but this was even more flighty than the cormorants and I got nowhere near.

I decided to go for a little stroll around the woods surrounding the lake and I managed to find a flock of long-tailed tits which came quite close but only breifly and so I failed to get any shots as they dashed between trees.
I was just returning to the restaurant becuase my brother had told me that food was ready when I encountered an old black and white fiend strolling pompously on the grass. Yes, you may have guessed that a magpie had been waiting there just for the right moment to mock me. I took a distance shot but, as so often happens, the bird flew off before I was within 5 meters.
after lunch we were just setting off home when blue sky appeared over the trees. the irony was sickening and from that point we continued our journey home under a cloudless blue sky and 20 degree heat. What were the odds???