We begin our Northumberland adventure with a visit en route to the Saltholme RSPB reserve on Teeside, where the Wildlife Watchpoint produces amazingly close views of two Water Rails, popping in and out of the reeds and trotting across the ice right in front of us! Meanwhile, a Marsh Harrier passes by, low over the more distant reeds. Moving on we find a posing male Stonechat, a sleeping Shelduck and a couple of female Goldeneye among numerous Wigeon.
After lunch back at the visitor centre, with Stock Doves feeding outside the windows, new birds include Redwing, Fieldfare and Reed Bunting, as well as two Golden Plovers and a few Curlew among all the Lapwings. Back at the watchpoint, we enjoy even better views of not two but four Water Rails, and a very confiding Water Vole, the size of a Rat but far cuter, plus comical Mallards precariously skating on thin ice. Outside the hide we spot two high flying Short-eared Owls, having a tussle with a Buzzard, as another Marsh Harrier also passes by.
A short way north of the reserve centre, the viewpoint over Cowpen Marsh produces a Spoonbill and the incongruous sight of several Common Seals lazing amid the marsh several miles inland from the sea!
This morning we head a short way north up the coast from Bamburgh to Lindisfarne, where we first find a few Black-tailed Godwits in a freshwater marsh and then Bar-tailed Godwits on the sandy shore along with Grey Plover, Eider, Red-breasted Merganser and a Red-throated Diver. Moving on toward the castle, we find a mixed flock of around 600 dark-bellied Brent Geese from Arctic Russia and pale-bellied Brents from Greenland, along with Ringed Plovers, plenty of Curlews and another Grey Plover, followed by Turnstones and Rock Pipit along the shore below the castle. North of the castle, combing the shore, we find a small flock of Golden Plovers hunkered down among the rocks, along with some Wigeon and a Purple Sandpiper.
After a café lunch back on the mainland, we return south to Lowmoor Point, finding hundreds of Shelduck just offshore, along with a few Pintail, plenty more Eiders and another Red-throated Diver sailing by close inshore.
Back at Bamburgh, overlooking Harkess Rocks, we find yet another close in Red-throated Diver, more Purple Sandpipers and Red-breasted Mergansers, a couple of Razorbills and a distant raft of around fifty Common Scoters. Last sighting of the day is a very obliging Harbour Porpoise, raising cheers while cruising by just offshore, and repeatedly showing a small black body with a small triangular dorsal fin; fantastic!
This morning we return to Lindisfarne to explore the north end of the island which is surprisingly quiet apart from the usual suspects, plus Billy Barnacle Goose and both Red-throated and Great Northern Divers from the pyramidal beacon on Emmanuel Head.
After a café lunch on the island, we enjoy sun, sea and sand back on the mainland at Ross Sands, a long sweeping beach between Lindisfarne Castle to the north and Bamburgh Castle to the south, with several clean white Sanderlings running along the edge of the surf. Offshore we enjoy a productive seawatch with at least two drake Long-tailed Ducks, three more Red-throated Divers, at least six Slavonian Grebes, plenty more Eiders and Red-breasted Mergansers and a spectacular show by many hundreds of Common Scoters, in large synchronised diving rafts and fly by squadrons. This was rated by several members of the group as the “best seawatching ever”!
We begin our last day back at Harkess Rocks with loads of Purple Sandpipers on the weedy rocks and Fulmars gliding by on the stiff breeze, which makes seawatching difficult this morning, in marked contrast to our visit here two days earlier when the porpoise cruised by.
Next we head south to the Hauxley Nature Reserve, where new birds include Tree Sparrow, Bullfinch, Coal Tit, a couple of Pink-feet among all the Greylags, and a Willow Tit on the car park! After lunch here we head south for a ‘twitch’ at the Big Waters Nature Reserve on the edge of Newcastle, hoping to find the regularly reported American Wigeon and a more erratic Lesser White-front. With neither bird showing today we still enjoy new sightings like Treecreeper, Siskin, Yellowhammer and Great Spotted Woodpecker, as well as great scope views of a pair of rare Grey Partridge and a super male Redpoll feeding on seed heads at eye level just ten yards away! Finally, a last scan of the lake reveals an Otter swimming behind a group of Goldeneyes! What a grand finale to a lovely visit to the friendly northeast.