Northumberland and beyond Christmas Holiday December 24th to 27th 2009
Based at Longhirst Hall, near Morpeth
- Peter & Ann Russell
- John & Sue Groombridge-Harvey
- David & Lesley Wright
- Pamela Brammer
- John Warrilow
- Anthony Laws
- David & Joy Gaze
- Mary & Graham Sparkes
- Pat & John Everett
- Clive & Sheila Williamson
- John & Mary Cresswell
- Richard Heap
- Elizabeth Duggan
- John Alexander & Val Chadwick
- Joyce Staines
- Jean Gundersen
- Michael Harbron
- Brian & Terry Warhurst
- Jean Bulmer
- Terry & Marcella McNamara
- Roy Gardner
Nick Mason & Rachel Clarke, David & Amanda Mason
The holiday began on the evening of Christmas Eve, with a short welcome presentation before dinner. Despite the wintry conditions only two guests cancelled, leaving a party of 32 guests. The same icy conditions led to substantial revisions of the itinerary, with several locations off-limits due to road icing and poor access conditions.
A short coach ride from the hotel we began birding at Amble harbour. Overlooking the Coquet Estuary, the harbour wall gave us a good vantage point. The resident Eiders paid us close attention, hoping for titbits. A range of waders were roosting on the estuary banks at the height of the tide. Turnstone, Dunlin, Lapwing, Oystercatcher and Redshank were picked up at distance by the eagle-eyed telescope users, along with a seal swimming around the harbour mouth.
Another short drive saw us relocate to the south end of Druridge Bay. Overlooking a frozen Cresswell Pond, Golden Plover, Curlew and Pink-Footed Geese were viewed feeding on the icy pastures. As we headed through the dunes, a Sparrowhawk zipped through on silent wings, betrayed by the alarm calls of lapwings. On the deserted snowy beach, Sanderling and Ringed Plover ran past us and Red-throated Diver gave distant views.
Cold hands and feet were warmed as we drove back to the hotel for Christmas lunch. A bellyful of sprouts propelled us out of the hotel again as the sun was starting to dip. The Derwent Valley in Gateshead was wreathed in the last of the sun as we arrived to try to see Red Kites gathering to roost. With a good pinch of luck, Kites were just beginning to congregate. Up to 18 birds were seen over the next 40 mins, with some wonderful close flyovers. Some perched birds had wing-tags visible through telescopes. Tags viewed included 88 (one of around 90 birds born in the Chilterns and released in Gateshead) and A4 /A7 (some of the first birds born in Gateshead in 2007). Stock Dove and Bullfinch were also added to complete the day.
A warming Christmas quiz and evening film ended a busy day in good style.
Another cold night had again made road conditions hazardous. Before heading north, we had an hour at Creswell Pond, picking up Skylark, Yellowhammer and Tree Sparrow around the farm buildings, whilst a distant Fox patrolled the hedgerow in nearby fields. A lucky few got close views of Water Rail at the edge of the frozen reedbed.
As the roads thawed we continued, heading north to Holy Island. Parking in the village, short walks around the southern edge of the island gave us views of Pale-Bellied Brent Geese, both godwits, Grey Plover, Dunlin, Teal and Wigeon. Red-throated Divers, Shag and Slavonian Grebe showed distantly offshore.
After a late packed lunch in the icy coach park, we enjoyed watching a large Linnet flock in the strawberry field. A final look by most of the party was rewarded by an arriving Woodcock almost crash landing into the field. After that excitement, we walked into the dunes at the north end of the island as the sun dropped into the Cheviot Hills. Hoping to see hunting Short-eared Owls, we perched on the dune tops. A flashing Merlin passed through twice but owls were absent!
A pre-dinner talk about a recent holiday to Finland and Norway was followed after dinner by a feature film about Antarctica.
Sunday 27th December
Another icy start saw us watching woodland birds in the hotel grounds. Nuthatch, Treecreeper and drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker were all very active. Leaving the hotel grounds, four Roe Deer kept pace with the coach in the roadside fields.
Driving south along deserted roads, we headed for Middlesbrough and the new RSPB nature reserve at Saltholme. On arrival at the reserve, the superb staff team were busy trying to make some of the access paths safe for visitors. Against the odds, they managed to open the reserve main hide overlooking Saltholme Pools. A small patch of open water had Goldeneye, Pintail and Shoveler. Distant grazing marsh hosted Greylag and Barnacle Geese. A warming lunch helped enormously as did the close views of Reed Bunting and Goldfinch afforded by the feeding station. Close-up views of Stoat, Weasel and Hare were enjoyed by most clients on the walk to the hide.
Departing Saltholme we travelled ten miles north to Hartlepool Headland. A falling tide provided good conditions for wader watching as rock stacks close to the promenade were exposed. Purple Sandpiper were picked out amongst the Turnstone and Oystercatchers. Looking further out to sea an immature Gannet was spotted on the water and later diving for food and two female Common Scoter gave distant views. The onset of a wind driven drizzle herded us back onto the coach, marking the end of the holiday birding.
Despite the extremely cold conditions and consequent lack of open freshwater habitats, the sharp-eyed group managed to spot 99 species during the three days. A full bird list is attached.
Nick Mason – Tour leader