Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Posted by


I have not ventured outside much recently: due to Masters work, plotting for New Nature and various other, more tedious tasks. All of which, combined, has lent a distinctly special feel to recent ventures. The first of which, taking place in the company of the lovely Sacha Elliott, found me dashing off up the coast, towards Druridge Bay, and the second, ambling about closer to home at Blyth. With both forays yielding fruit (albeit of the feathered kind) and solidifying my fondness for my native Northumberland in Winter.

Our visit to Druridge started well, albeit on a rather familiar note: with skeins of Pink-Footed Geese raining down like confetti and scores of flashy ducks. The floods at Druridge Pools holding a pleasant assemblage of Wigeon, Teal, Gadwall, Shoveler, Tufted Duck and a particularly handsome drake Pintail – ever one of my favourite birds. Here too a female Long-Tailed Duck, delightfully monochrome, gave good views and other waterfowl on show included a group of Red-Breasted Merganser and veritable legion of Canada Geese. Species, each and all, whose numbers swell in Winter as a result of their annual migration or, as is the case with the geese, much more localised movements.

Ducks aside, the morning began to progress quite nicely as we made moves to depart: a close encounter with a Sparrowhawk signalling the beginning of what was to be a rather excellent morning for raptors. The hawk soon followed by a Kestrel – the first of four noted during the morning – two Buzzard and, better still, a Merlin. The latter making a brief pass through a Starling flock before whizzing off, with characteristic speed, never to be seen again. The high derived from the Merlin soon amplified: with a tantalisingly brief encounter with a female Hen Harrier – a scarce occurrence these days – and, arguably better, a superb female Peregrine watching the world go by on the shores of a nearby lake.

As the raptors dwindled, more delights followed: Tree Sparrow, Yellowhammer, Stonechat, Snipe and yet more geese keeping us entertained until we made the decision to head a short way North, in search of a much more sought after seasonal scarcity – Shorelarks. Six of which we enjoyed in solitude after a brief saunter over the sands at Chevington. This flock not half as confiding as other birds I have seen elsewhere this year, yet no less enjoyable. Their characteristic yellow and black markings providing a welcome change from the varying shades of taupe currently setting in across the area as the season advances.


Back home, on the patch, things were far less thrilling: no brightly coloured larks or majestic harriers here. Not to say that the avian signs of the shifting season were not abundant – the estuary now brimming with a plethora of waders. Curlew, Dunlin, Redshank and Lapwing the most numerous this day yet interspersed, in places, by a few others: with Grey Plover, Black-Tailed Godwit and a lone Sanderling. The channel too holding life: with Teal numbers having increased to a modest c130 and Gadwall to 14. With Goldeneye present too –  represented by a pair of handsomely iridescent drakes – and other goodies including Little Egret, Eider, Goosander and a wayward Guillemot. The real treat coming later, on route home.

Heading back along the bridleway, the hedgerows teemed with life. Redwing, Fieldfare and Mistle Thrush, those habitual signs of the season, common-place, and finches awfully abundant. A trend stretching, surprisingly, to two of the scarcer species here: with both Greenfinch and Bullfinch plain and obvious amid the fray. Both soon forgotten as, moments later, a small flock of Waxwings – nine in total – dropped in to exploit the few Hawthorn berries not yet snaffled by the thrushes. A familiar sight this year – I alone have seen over 300 this winter – yet no less beautiful as they feasted. Their vibrant colours uplifting in the jaded sun and their crests buffeted by the building breeze.

At home, the Grey Wagtail which, rather oddly, appears to have taken up residence on my street remains in evidence, and a quick peek into the summer house revealed an impressive hoard of seeds. Sunflower kernels pilfered from next-door’s feeders no less: the Wood Mouse currently residing among the pillows who rendered the shed unusable some weeks ago, still quite at home. To my delight, and the annoyance of other family members.