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NORTHUMBERLAND – SEABIRD SPECTACULAR
Thursday 1st – Sunday 4th June 2017

Thursday 1st June 2017
After making our pickups we began the journey northwards to our first stop at Fairburn Ings RSPB reserve. We picked up a few RED KITES and COMMON BUZZARDS along the way before arriving shortly before 11.00hrs.

The carpark was busy with families taking part in various half-term activities but this didn't deter the TREE SPARROWS from coming to the feeders by the visitor centre.

Our stroll took us along an area of boardwalk where we found a few RUBY-TAILED WASPS in a dead tree and close by, a male BLACKCAP sang from a Hawthorn. Several spikes of SOUTHERN MARSH ORCHID were seen close to the path on our way up the trail to the coal tips.

On a small pit were NORTHERN LAPWING, TUFTED DUCKS and lots of REED BUNTINGS singing from the surrounding reed-beds.

Eventually we reached the top pit and had a wonderful flyby male COMMON CUCKOO plus more REED BUNTINGS and COMMON TERNS. A female PEREGRINE FALCON flew onto a distant pylon and to the north were both RED KITE and COMMON BUZZARDS.

The open water held TUFTED DUCKS, COMMON COOT, COMMON MOORHEN and a female COMMON POCHARD with ducklings. Suddenly a EURASIAN BITTERN flew in to the reed-bed which only one member of the group saw, but we didn't have to wait long before three different birds were seen in flight and everyone had good views.

EURASIAN HOBBY was seen briefly in the valley below but despite a search we failed to locate it again. A lone EURASIAN OYSTERCATCHER landed in the fields before it was time to head back towards the centre.

As we reached the visitor centre a WILLOW TIT was spotted on the feeders and eventually we all had great views albeit brief each time it appeared. Lunch was enjoyed in the hot sunshine and just as we were about to leave, a cracking male EURASIAN BULLFINCH appeared on the feeders for all to see.

With a longish drive still ahead of us, we cracked on and arrived at our base in Seahouses just after 17.00hrs. After time to unpack some of the group looked out to sea and were rewarded with distant views of a pod of BOTTLE-NOSE DOLPHINS.

Our evening meal went down very well with portions certainly not for the faint hearted!

After a long day, we headed off to bed for some well-deserved rest.


Friday 2nd June 2017
We awoke to find drizzly, horrid conditions, not ideal for our day on the Farne Islands. After picking up our packed lunches we enjoyed a hearty breakfast, whilst noting a passing flock of COMMON SCOTER from the breakfast table. We then heard that Staple Island would be closed today and our departure would be delayed by 2hrs but we would spend more time on Inner Farne to make up for any disappointment.

With some time spare we headed down to the harbour where COMMON EIDER showed at our feet as they were used to people. A pair of RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS swam out of the harbour and both COMMON SWIFTS and COMMON HOUSE MARTINS fed over the town despite the rain.

A walk along the harbour walls produced more COMMON EIDER plus NORTHERN GANNETS moving northwards offshore and COMMON GUILLEMOTS just off the harbour mouth. By the time we had spent time outside we were quite wet so with our delayed departure time, this gave us time to dry off before reconvening down at the harbour side.

Weather conditions had improved greatly with the rain passed through and sea conditions superb for our crossing over to the islands. The skipper took the boat around the islands and we were delighted by the sheer spectacle of thousands of birds including EUROPEAN SHAGS, COMMON GUILLEMOTS, RAZORBILLS, BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES and everybody's favourite, the ATLANTIC PUFFIN of which thousands were present on the cliff ledges.

With skill, the skipper got us close to the birds much to everyone's delight, before heading eastwards to look for the ATLANTIC GREY SEAL colony. It wasn't long before we saw at least fifty of these lumbering beasts with their scientific name Halichoerus grypus translated as "hooked-nosed sea pig"!

With time approaching 13.15hrs we headed round to Inner Farne where hundreds of ARCTIC TERNS set up to attack us as we walked up the boardwalk. With incubating birds sitting on two eggs each the males were keen to keep guard by flying above us giving frequent pecks on the head or by depositing something slightly damper!

Over the next three hours we strolled several times around the boardwalks where birds in the SANDWICH TERN colony were busy bringing fish in to their nesting mate and a few COMMON TERNS were also seen close by.

ATLANTIC PUFFINS were heading out of the burrows to bring back Sand eels for their chicks only to be bombarded by BLACK-HEADED GULLS intent on robbing them of their food.

Our time here went by very quickly, but by the time we were due to leave it had turned quite chilly in the southerly breeze.

A COMMON RINGED PLOVER was watched from the jetty as we queued to board the boat but it disappeared soon afterwards.

It was great to get back to our base for a warming cuppa or hot bath before meeting for our evening meal, which even with the portion size, most of the group still managed to finish!

The conclusion to the evening was watching the sunset behind Bamburgh Castle which was situated to the north and this rounded the day off nicely.


Saturday 3rd June 2017
With breakfast not being served until 08.00hrs we had time for a lay in before heading off to get our packed lunches from town. Some of the group had ventured out before breakfast to the harbour where RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS and COMMON EIDER were seen.

With weather conditions perfect, we drove southwards along the coastal route to Amble where our arrival coincided with the final day of the Amble Puffin Festival. The town was very busy with locals and holidaymakers enjoying the market and live music in the warm sunshine.

At 10.30hrs we met Dave Gray, our skipper who was taking us out to Coquet Island where we would hopefully connect with the very rare Roseate Tern. Lots of COMMON EIDER bobbed around the harbour and as soon as we were out on the open sea, we spotted our first ATLANTIC PUFFINS of the day. SANDWICH, ARCTIC and COMMON TERNS flew past carrying bills full of food and plenty of ATLANTIC GREY SEALS were at the northern end of the island.

With the tide coming in, Dave took us round the eastern side before positioning us in the southwest corner, just off the shore of the island. Thousands of birds were present and with perseverance, we soon picked out our first ROSEATE TERN.

Eventually we all had great views of this superb species, with many birds around special constructed stone nest boxes that over 100 pairs have chosen to use. It wasn't unusual to see ARCTIC, COMMON, SANDWICH and ROSEATE TERNS in the same view giving brilliant ID comparisons.

It was then time to make the short journey back to the harbour where along the way we spotted three female GOOSANDERS roosting on the bank.

With such a good time had out on the boat, we headed for a celebratory ice cream in Spurelli's Ice Cream boutique, the problem was knowing which flavour to choose!

Afterwards we drove down the coast to Druridge Pools nature reserve where we headed out to the hides. WILLOW and SEDGE WARBLERS sang from high in the trees and in the nettles we had good views of a male COMMON WHITETHROAT.

The wet areas to the south produced a stunning male RUFF in breeding plumage which was quite an unusual sight as most birds seen in the UK are in non-breeding plumage. COMMON REDSHANK, COMMON RINGED PLOVER and BLACK-TAILED GODWITS were noted feeding in the shallow areas, whilst from the hides were EURASIAN WIGEON, NORTHERN SHOVELER, GADWALL, MALLARD and plenty of NORTHERN LAPWING.

Our time in the hides was cut short by the fact that BARN SWALLOWS were nesting in them so as we didn't want to keep the birds off the nest longer than needed we strolled back towards the road. Sheltered conditions along the bank yielded WALL BROWN BUTTERFLY and a SILVER-Y MOTH ‘nectaring’ on a Dandelion.

With our stomachs starting to rumble, we walked into the dunes where the view was amazing. Offshore were at least four HARBOUR PORPOISE occasionally feeding close to the shore and a few parties of COMMON SCOTER passed by with the usual NORTHERN GANNETS and HERRING and GREAT BLACK-BACKED GULLS.

Afterwards we stopped at a screen situated in the southeast corner of Druridge Pools where COMMON TEAL, COMMON GULL and female YELLOW WAGTAIL were added to our lists. The latter species fed around several horses which was good to see.

Our next site was Cresswell Ponds where a couple more YELLOW WAGTAILS were seen along with PIED AVOCET, REED WARBLER, COMMON SHELDUCK and some OYSTERCATCHERS.

News then came through of a Little Stint nearby and after getting directions from a helpful local birder, we headed west and a short while later came across a small pool in a field.

The light wasn't brilliant and there was a heat haze but eventually we located the fine adult LITTLE STINT in breeding plumage feeding along the western edge of the flash. The chestnut plumage was very bright once the sun went in and the haze dropped. Other species here included EURASIAN WIGEON, PIED AVOCET, COMMON RINGED PLOVER, GADWALL and MALLARD.

With time running away with us, we began the journey back to Seahouses.

A few miles short of the village, we encountered a very heavy shower and realised how lucky we had been with the weather.

Our evening meal was once again very good and we headed off to bed after another superb day.


Sunday 4th June 2017
We awoke to find another sunny day with no wind and bright blue skies for our final morning in Northumberland.

A pre-breakfast walk around the harbour produced many COMMON EIDER plus EURASIAN OYSTERCATCHERS and NORTHERN FULMAR but no sign of Red-breasted Mergansers.

After breakfast we loaded up the van and headed west to a secluded valley in the heart of the Cheviot Hills. It was quite breezy when we arrived but despite this we set off for a walk.

WILLOW WARBLERS were very common and we came across one bird nesting in low bracken close to a wall. LESSER REDPOLLS & EURASIAN SISKINS flew over us and PIED WAGTAILS appeared to have enjoyed a good breeding season with lots of juveniles around.

A scan of the hillsides yielded a few WILLOW PTARMIGAN and one pair had a few chicks in tow which was good to see.

Eventually we reached a bridge where a pair of GREY WAGTAILS fed amongst the boulders, but the real prize was a pair of WHITE-THROATED DIPPERS that showed well as they went into a nest.

A SPOTTED FLYCATCHER perched up in a knarled Hawthorn and a male NORTHERN WHEATEAR was seen on a pile of boulders on the ridge.

Our walk back was rather quiet until we almost reached the carpark, when a COMMON BUZZARD flew over disturbing several MISTLE THRUSHES & EURASIAN CURLEWS and then one eagle-eyed member of the group picked out a male RING OUZEL on a crag and on scoping it we found another male which was encroaching on the territory resulting in a fight.

With time slipping away we drove to another area but didn’t get far when two pairs of WHINCHAT were seen close to the road. One of the pairs was feeding regularly suggesting a nest nearby which was promising.

The weather was now looking unsettled so we headed into nearby Wooler to pick up lunch before starting our long journey southwards.

The journey was pretty uneventful with several RED KITES, COMMON KESTRELS and COMMON BUZZARDS being of note.

After making our first drop off close to Hertford and were delighted to see two hunting WESTERN BARN OWLS over an area of meadows – a fine end to the tour!

We arrived at our base in Essex after a delightful tour with fine food, fine weather and fantastic birds and what made it even more enjoyable was the superb group of customers!