Club Weekend Trip to Northumberland: 18th – 20th October 2019

Seventeen of us headed to Northumberland for the Club’s autumn weekend away. Having met up at Stannington Farm Shop for a tasty breakfast en-route, we headed off in rain (the theme of the weekend) to RSPB Hauxley reserve – now re-opened. The rain eased during our time there which helped and the afternoon gave us pretty much the only rain-free period! We spent several hours there doing a loop in and out of the hides overlooking the lagoons and coast picking up a variety of duck, including a female Scaup amongst a flock of Tufted Duck, one female Pintail and up to ten Common Scoter on the sea. A showy Willow Tit was much admired among passerines visiting a feeder (later seen flying up and back along a hedge), while at least two Stonechats also showed well in scrub on the edge of the dunes and Reed Buntings were much in evidence, as were other tit species. A red squirrel visiting a feeding station near the entrance was enjoyed by a few lucky observers.

A stop on the dunes at Lower Hauxley proved productive with the best being Bar-tailed Godwit, a late juvenile Common Tern (sadly not Roseate given that we were directly opposite Coquet Island where there is a breeding colony), a Kingfisher fishing in a pool on the beach, Purple Sandpiper, Knot, a small flock of five Skylarks and a few Linnets in fields behind us. Driving on up the coast road a flock of 26 Ringed Plover feeding in a field together was an unexpected sight, followed shortly after by 40+ Curlew in adjacent fields.

The estuary at Amble saw us add another Kingfisher, while the waders included a Ruff, Golden Plover, Dunlin and a large flock of Lapwing. At Alnmouth near the Cricket ground, there wasn’t a great deal to be seen as the tide was right in, but lovely scenery and a rain free period was much appreciated as dusk approached.  We then headed north to Seahouses. We were based at Bamburgh Castle Inn at Seahouses again; it makes a good base for getting to sites in the area without too much driving. A flock of ‘winking’ Pink-footed Geese flying over just as we arrived was appreciated.

Saturday dawned clear (but colder); it didn’t last!  A few headed out before breakfast to check out the harbour but with the tide still well in there were just a few waders about and Eider and Cormorant on the sea, though we did add House Sparrow and Feral Pigeon to the list! The intention was to spend the day at Holy Island so we all headed off up there even though the forecast was dire for the entire area (and accurate as it turned out) as nowhere was likely to be good weather wise. 

On the way a large flock of Pink-footed Geese heading over Budle Bay was appreciated by many (missed by some!). The tide had cleared the causeway to Holy Island by 9.30am and in light drizzle we stopped there to enjoy the spectacle of thousands of Pale-bellied Brent Geese close in on the newly exposed mud; early arrivers also saw the only Barnacle Geese of the trip. Making our way to The Snook the rain falling ever more heavily we ventured out to pick up our first Chiffchaff of the day and a Goldcrest before the torrential downpour forced everyone back to their cars – already soaked. Some then headed straight for coffees and gave Holy Island a miss while the rest of us soldiered on. The rest of the day it rained and it rained and it rained!  We did have a small break of about 40 minutes when it only drizzled, which was the most productive period. We spent this time by Vicarage gardens where we saw several Chiffchaffs, two Blackcaps, Song Thrush and Tree Sparrows; though sadly the most interesting looking warbler came and went without us being able to pin down an identification. Thousands of flocking Golden Plover coming to land on exposed rocks/shoreline was a fantastic sight (accompanied by one Grey Plover), while four Red-breasted Mergansers came reasonably close in to the shore and we had numbers of Redwing and Fieldfares flying over. After that it was a matter of survival – we all got soaked and apart from saw very little (things were moving in hedges but always the wrong side for us to see them!).  A return stop on the causeway using the cars as hides gave close views of thousands of Brent Geese and Wigeon again – while those late off had thousands of Pink-footed Geese as well.  Fenham-le-Moor hide provided useful shelter for watching the duck and wader spectacular; there were thousands upon thousands of Wigeon and impressive numbers of Golden Plover and other waders too.  The line of c. 100 seals lying on a sandbank diminished as we watched with the tide coming in swiftly.

A visit to Stag Rocks on the way back was worthwhile; the sea was thunderous with waves crashing down – quite a sight. Purple Sandpiper and Turnstones clung precariously to the rocks while Gannets, Red-throated Diver and a few Guillemots were seen appearing and disappearing again in the huge waves. On the exposed sand of the beach to the south a few Bar-tailed Godwit and Sanderling were feeding and Rock Pipits were in among the more sheltered rocks.

Sunday weather was mostly pretty awful – the few rain breaks we had didn’t last for long and the wind was strong all day.  Surprisingly we managed to see quite a lot in the end, with the last couple of hours the best of the whole trip in terms of scarcer species!  Budle Bay was the first stop – Yellowhammer, Mistle Thrush and Sparrowhawk in fields behind were added but with the tide still well in the waders and wildfowl were generally a long way off.  The most notable was the very large number of Shelduck and a flock of Pink-footed Geese over. Next, the stronger winds at Stag Rock made the sea even more impressive than the previous day. Red-throated Divers, a few Guillemots and large numbers of Gannets were moving on the sea, but the highlight was a Peregrine which did a very slow fly past (making heavy going of it in the wind) close by.

Our next stop was Low Newton where a small flock of Sanderling on the beach entertained and three Common Scoters flew past.  However the most unexpected bird was a lone Swallow (sadly not seen by all of us) flying over the scrape. Water levels were high so the scrape was rather disappointing, with fewer waders than anticipated, though there were Snipe in the long grass and a small number of Turnstones. The pool was largely empty but held at least six Little Grebes (we saw these at almost every site we visited) and a flock of Long-tailed Tits were foraging in the bushes and trees nearby, along with a Goldcrest or two.

Some of us went to Druridge CP/East Chevington and others to back Hauxley after that.  East Chevington pool yielded Goldeneye and more Little Grebes, but not the hoped-for Iceland Gull present the previous day. A male Stonechat showed up right next to the path too there, but not much else was about. Heading on to Druridge Pools we upped the Little Grebe count again and added a juvenile Great-crested Grebe, but nothing else we hadn’t seen before.  The sun did come out for 30 seconds though – but then it started raining again.

The last stop of the trip was to Cresswell Pools – and that turned up some of the best birding of the entire weekend – as well as a four-footed surprise!  A Merlin flashed over, the Little Stint present for a couple of days was still there (and was eventually picked up by everyone when it came in closer to the hide to feed on exposed mud), while three Long-tailed Ducks proved tricky to spot in the ruffled water but gave good views overall. Eight Whooper Swans, (including some juveniles), our only ones of the trip, sat around on the pond before heading off. Yet another Kingfisher was seen briefly and a red-head Goosander was bobbing about. Other waders included Golden Plover, Redshank, Curlew, Dunlin, a couple of Ruff and at least 20 Snipe sheltering and feeding in the edges of the reed bed. A Water Rail wandered across the mud and it (or another) was then seen later on walking into a different patch of reeds. The highlight though was an adult Otter and a cub which appeared on the edge of the reeds right in front of the hide. To our collective delight they stayed there for several minutes; the cub wanted to play and was climbing over its parent and jumping about.  Eventually they slowly went out of view in a thicker clump of reeds by the water’s edge, but then reappeared a while later crossing the mud and moving up the shallow channel before disappearing into the main reedbed – memorable. With the light fading fast by this time we called it a day and headed off back.

Huge thanks to Peter Watson for organising and booking the trip and for leading it.

Jane C

Bird list

Pink-footed Goose, Barnacle Goose, Canada Goose, Greylag Goose, Mute Swan, Whooper Swan, Brent Goose, Shelduck, Wigeon, Gadwall, Teal, Mallard, Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Scaup, Eider, Long-tailed Duck, Common Scoter, Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Goosander, Red-legged Partridge, Grey Partridge (H), Pheasant, Red-throated Diver, Gannet, Cormorant, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Sparrowhawk, Buzzard, Water Rail, Coot, Moorhen, Oystercatcher, Golden Plover, Grey Plover, Lapwing, Ringed Plover, Curlew, Turnstone, Knot, Ruff, Sanderling, Dunlin, Purple Sandpiper, Little Stint, Redshank, Snipe, Guillemot, Common Tern, Black-headed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Common Gull, Herring Gull, Feral Pigeon, Stock Dove, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Kingfisher, Kestrel, Merlin, Peregrine, Magpie, Jay, Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Goldcrest, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Willow Tit, Skylark, Swallow, Long-tailed Tit, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Treecreeper, Wren, Starling, Blackbird, Fieldfare, Song Thrush, Redwing, Mistle Thrush, Robin, Stonechat, Dunnock, House Sparrow, Tree Sparrow, Pied Wagtail, Meadow Pipit, Rock Pipit, Brambling, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Linnet, Goldfinch, Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting

Other: Red Squirrel (1) and Otter (2)