Trip Report - Northumberland June 2014

By Dave Jackson

On Friday June 27th 2014 three car loads of Northants Bird Club members headed north for a long weekend trip to Northumberland and the fabulous Farne Islands. Bob G. had booked the accommodation at Berwick-upon-Tweed and the Birders' Boat Trip to the Farnes for Saturday 28th.

In 2013 a Bridled Tern had spent several weeks on Inner Farne although it could go missing for long periods and was seen at a number of sites up and down the coast but would our luck be in if it returned this year? The bird news services for Saturday 21st reported that it had in fact returned - on the day the Farnes trip was originally planned. Fingers crossed all round that it would still be there a week later!

Upper Teesdale was the first destination though with my car and its occupants arriving later than the planned meet up time, we carried on to a suitable looking area towards Weardale. A good move as it turned out as Mark W. was quick to notice a female Black Grouse running for cover, the only one seen on the trip. Further along the road parties of Red Grouse were feeding in the heather along with Golden Plover and many juvenile Lapwings, too many of which had succumbed to speeding vehicles along this narrow stretch of moorland road. We decided to return to the rendezvous point where Bob G. and his crew were watching a pair of Dippers hunting food for their young.

Merlin had been seen by two of the group while Chris C. and his crew carried on towards Cow Green Reservoir in search of water birds. Returning to the Weardale road a Brown Hair was another good find for Mark as it hunched down in the long grass almost hidden from view. A Common Snipe with a chick by the roadside quickly scurried away while the photographers took advantage of the car as a hide to take photos of Red Grouse, Song Thrush, Meadow Pipit and Redshank before continuing on the journey north.                                            

After an early breakfast at the nearby Morrison’s Supermarket we headed to Seahouses for a 9.30 sailing only to find the trip had been amended due to sea-swell and landing would not be possible on Staple Island. The new sailing time would be 11.30 and in the meantime the group were kept entertained by the antics of Common Eider chicks with their mothers in close attendance on the beach while a Little Tern fished by the harbour wall.

All aboard for the sailing and we were soon within sight, sound and smell of the seabird colonies where Guillemots, Razorbills and Puffins swam close to the boat and the sound of Kittiwakes filled the air. A single Common Seal accompanied the more numerous Grey Seals as we rounded Staple Island. As the boat approached Inner Farne news came across that the Bridled Tern had been seen near to the jetty where the boat was due to land at 1 o’clock, we were just 15 minutes away and tension was high for those eager to see this rare visitor, a species which has been recorded once in Northants - by just three lucky observers!

The boatman was not as eager though and carried on around the island giving out his commentary for day trippers and other casual birders not too concerned about this rarity among the thousands of Arctic, Sandwich and Common Terns on the islands delaying our landing by ten long minutes. We needn’t have been impatient. As the boat approached the jetty, there in full view was the Bridled Tern and a collective sigh of relief was heard along with the excited rumblings from those seeing this fabulous bird for the first time.

As we disembarked and took up position on the jetty all the terns took flight and the second boatload of birders waited a few anxious minutes before the bird reappeared. With the group satisfied with their sighting most dispersed around the island to take in the magnificent sight of Puffins, Shags & other seabirds at close range while the few that stayed or returned for longer views were treated to their sixth tern species of the trip, a Roseate Tern which carried rings on both legs.

Bridled tern

Bridled terns and Roseate tern

With the photographers filling their memory cards with delightful Puffin, Razorbill, Shag and other seabird images it was time to head back to shore. The weather was clearing up nicely from the earlier rain and a number of members decided to head just south of Seahouses where Fulmars could be seen reeling around the cliff tops. With the sun shining we walked down the side of a golf course towards the cliffs and in the time it had taken to walk the short distance the clouds had rolled in bringing with
them wind and showers.

Close encounters of the bird kind followed with Fulmar and Kittiwake riding the wind and reaching speeds faster than the reactions of the assembled photographers could cope with! There were plenty of jostling on the cliff edges with young Fulmars preparing for their first breeding attempts which could be several years away as they start to breed at up to 9 years old. Fulmar comes from Old Norse meaning foul gull from their habit of vomiting foul smelling liquid onto anyone getting too close to their nest. There were no breeding Fulmar here and we were above the line of fire so no concerns for us. It was getting late in the day and the crew descended on the local fish and chip shop before heading back to Berwick-upon-Tweed for a good night’s rest at the end of the second day away.

NBC On Tour
For day 3 of the trip Graham had arranged for a warden to meet us on Holy Island to look for the endemic Lindisfarne Helliborine. With Morrison’s Supermarket Sunday opening hours not fitting in with the group’s early start, a short walk across the hotel car park to Macdonald’s for breakfast was in order. Queuing behind a coach load of Far Eastern tourists for a hot drink resembling coffee and something in a paper bag resembling food didn’t go down too well. At least the milk was organic!

Lindisfarne Helliborine
Tides were in our favour as we crossed the causeway and a walk up to Lindisfarne Castle allowed the group to absorb the serene surroundings taking photos of House Sparrows and Maidenhead Fern before our rendezvous with Sarah. Several butterfly species were seen around the dunes including Dark Green Fritillary keeping the lepidopterists happy although it did resemble a scene from The Benny Hill Show as photographers tried to get shots of this very mobile individual. Eleven species of orchid grow on the island and it wasn’t long before Sarah had located the rare Lindisfarne Helliborine among the commoner Northern Marsh Orchids. Each photographer took in turn to test their knee joints for a shot of this rather non-descript species, the plant equivalent of Brown Flycatcher perhaps.

The invasive Piri-Piri Burr from New Zealand is abundant and a real nuisance as it attaches to boots and clothing and must be removed before leaving the island. Back to the cars for lunch and an hour or so to explore the natural grasslands looking for more orchids and bugs, though time and tide wait for no man and it was time to leave before the island was cut off from the mainland by the incoming tide.

Heading north to St Abb’s Head, just over the Scottish border, intrepid members set out on a successful quest to see Northern Brown Argus while some just took in the scenery snapping at passing Gannets. Others caught up on their sleep after the last 3 early morning alarm clock awakenings. The busy Meadow House near Berwick was the meeting place for our last day’s evening meal before we all retired back in the hotel to pack ready for a leisurely journey home taking in more birding on the way.

Day 4 and it was back to Morrison’s for a great value filling breakfast. One of the crews decided to head down the coast to Saltholme as not everyone had seen the Roseate Tern on Inner Farne while the other two car loads headed back to Seahouses for more exploration around the cliff tops and to add to the seabird photos in better weather conditions than the previous visit before heading south again.

A decision was made to call into Fairburn Ings RSPB reserve south east of Leeds where a Glossy Ibis
had been showing well in front of the hide. On arrival, the locals welcomed us and said that the bird had just flown off but it was sure to return as it had done before on many occasions. An hour later and the 3rd crew had arrived from their unsuccessful Roseate twitch and the Ibis was nowhere to be seen on this vast wetland reserve.

Just like our missing quarry, the day had flown by and it was time to hit the motorway for the final leg of the journey home. Although the trip didn’t finish as well as it had begun, everyone had a fantastic time and no-one left without at least one new species on their list – even if one was a plant!

So that’s The Long and the Short of it.

* People photos courtesy of Robin Gossage, bird photos - Dave Jackson

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