Northumberland 2021

Simon McLaughlin
November 6th-12th

This was our annual November tour starting in Northumberland based at Berwick upon Tweed for 3 days followed by 4 days in South-west Scotland in Dumfries and Galloway. The weather started rather rough and challenging especially on day one with high wind and rain however as the days progressed the winds dropped and enabled us to explore the stunning east coast of Northumberland. The weather stayed fairly mild and calm until the 12th when the rain returned, so all in all we were rather lucky with the weather. The group did very well with a varied range of birds including Slavonian and Red-necked Grebes, Northern Goshaw and Lapland Longspur. Also, some opportunities to study waders including Bar and Black-tailed Godwits, Purple Sandpiper, Grey and European Golden Plovers. We were also rewarded with views of a Barnacle/Snow Goose hybrid at Caerlaverock.

In summary on the whole trip we recorded 123 bird species.

November 6th: Musselburgh, White Sands, Barns Ness, Skateraw and Torness
Daily 45 New 45 Running 45
Weather: Started fairly calm until about midday and the winds and rain arrived on a W wind gales 13C

This day, the 6th of November presented an opportunity to check coastal sites south of Edinburgh en-route to Berwick-upon-Tweed, Our first stop was to a habitat of scrapes and pools at Musselburgh, where we started the bird list with fairly common birds - Common Moorhen, Mute Swan and Eurasian Oystercatcher, along with brief views of Dunlin. Following on we nipped into White Sands which is situated north of Torness where we recorded Ruddy Turnstone, Common Redshank, Sanderling and our first raptor of the trip a female Eurasian Sparrowhawk. The weather was getting rather challenging with high winds and showers which meant a brief call at Torness which held Great Cormorant, Whooper Swan and several groups of Common Eiders. Other species observed today at various locations included Common Ringed Plover, Northern Lapwing, Eurasian Curlew, Black-headed, European Herring and Lesser Black -backed Gulls, a very late Arctic Tern, Northern Gannet, Common Buzzard, Common Kestrel, Eurasian Skylark and Eurasian Rock Pipit. Our first mammals were North Atlantic Grey Seal and Roe Deer. The weather was getting worse along with the light so I to our accommodation at Berwick-upon-Tweed where we where are going to be spending the next 3 nights.

November 7th: Holy Island, Budle Bay (Warren Mill), Stag Rocks, Bamburgh, Fenham-le-Moor
Daily 64 New 28 Running 73
Weather: Dry and overcast day W wind F5 11C

After breakfast we headed straight to Holy Island, the tide was low allowing us to cross over the causeway to explore the island. In the afternoon a journey southwards to Bamburgh Castle and along the coast visiting Stag Rocks and the hide at Fenham-le-Moor. We had wonderful views of 2000 Brent Geese, 500 Barnacle Geese, Common Shelduck, Eurasian Teal, Common Eider, Common Scoter, Common Goldeneye, Common Merganser and scattered parties of Eurasian Oystercatcher, Northern Lapwing and European Golden Plover. On the rocky foreshore and exposed mud the group located Grey Plover, Eurasian Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, Ruddy Turnstone, Common Knot, Sanderling, at least 40 Purple Sandpiper a fast declining species. Offshore scanning rewarded us with sightings of Common Guillemot, Red-throated and Great Northern Divers, Great Black-backed Gull, Northern Gannet and good numbers of Great Cormorant. In fields and isolated trees the group located Grey Heron, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard, Common Kestrel, European Stonechat, Meadow Pipit and best of all a single Lapland Longspur (Bunting). Mammals observed included Common Stoat and Field Vole.

November 8th: Widdrington Lake, Druiridge Pools, Tagston Links, Hauxley Reservoir and Budle Bay
Daily 69 New 18 Running 101
Weather: Morning showers followed by drier conditions on the afternoon SW wind 12C

This morning I headed further south past Bamburgh Castle to Widdrington Lake and Druridge Pools which gave us great views of Western Marsh Harrier, Great Northern Diver and Red-necked Grebe.  Northumberland Wildlife Trust reserve at Hauxley gave us close up views of Willow Tit and Eurasian Tree Sparrow. Other birding highlights today were Pink-footed Goose, Whooper Swan, Northern Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Common Goldeneye and 10 Little Grebe. A surprise find was a winter plumaged Red necked Grebe with Great-crested and a lone Slavonian Grebe. Passerines of note included Willow and Coal Tits, Goldcrest, Common Starling, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, 15 Lesser Redpoll and Eurasian Siskin.

November 9th: Berwick Harbour, Sandstell Point, Yarrow Slake, The Hirsel and Eskrigg Reserve Lockerbie
Daily 65 New 10 Running 111
Weather: A few light showers but mostly dry with a SW wind 11C

Today we left Berwick-upon-Tweed and headed back to Scotland and the south-western area of Dumfries and Galloway. A visit to the harbour at Berwick added little of note so I pressed onto The Hirsel, a picturesque country house set in rolling parkland and a large loch. On arrival at The Hirsel we gained great views of a Northern Goshawk perched on a dead tree top. The woodland habitat here also attracted Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Great-spotted Woodpecker, Coal Tit, Eurasian Nuthatch, Eurasian Treecreeper, Eurasian Bullfinch, European Greenfinch and Common Reed Bunting. The drive across to Dumfries was broken up with a visit to Eskrigg local reserve, where we were entertained by Red Squirrels. Other birds of interest today at various locations included Whooper Swan, Gadwall, Greater Scaup, Common Coot, Common Moorhen, Little Grebe, Common Snipe and a selection of gulls – Black-headed, Common and European Herring. Two mammal species seen today, both new ones for the list, Grey and Red Squirrel.

November 10th: Loch Ryan – Fleet Bay, Carsluith lay-by and Beach Coll, Cairnryan, Wigsand and Mull of Galloway
Daily 60 New 2 Running 113
Weather: A dry and at times a sunny day with light SW winds 13C

A drive west today towards Loch Ryan and then southwards to The Mull of Galloway. The indented sea loch habitat of Loch Ryan was good for seabirds with great views of divers, geese, sea-ducks and grebes. Notable sightings included Pale-bellied Brent and Pink-footed Geese, Greater Scaup, Common Eider, Common Scoter, Long tailed Duck, Red-breasted Merganser, Great-crested and Slavonian Grebes. Waders comprised of Eurasian Oystercatcher, Northern Lapwing, European Golden Plover, Eurasian Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, Ruddy Turnstone, and Dunlin. In the deeper waters we found Great Northern, Black -throated and Red-throated Divers, Northern Gannet and European Shag. The extensive farmland of the region held Little Egret, Common Buzzard, Grey Heron, Eurasian Skylark and Common Linnet. Our mammal count continues to grow with sightings of Brown Hare and Roe Deer.

November 11th: Glencaple and Caerlaverock WWT
Daily 62 New 8 Running 121
Weather: Overcast but good light and dry for most of the day. Occasional showers on a SW wind 13C

Today one of the highlights of the trip took us to a nearby WWT reserve near the Solway coast which has views towards the Cumbrian Lake district, the hides provided the group with comfortable and carefully positioned hides and screens, allowing us opportunity to view large numbers of geese and swans, including an opportunity to compare the two godwits and a brief yet wonderful view of a female Hen Harrier, the following highlights species seen on this day including Canada Goose and Barnacle Geese, hybrid Barnacle/Snow Goose, Whooper and Mute Swans, Northern Shoveler, Eurasian Wigeon, Eurasian Teal, Tufted Duck, Common Goldeneye, Common Moorhen, Northern Lapwing, Eurasian Curlew, Black-tailed Godwit of the Icelandic race, Common Redshank, Common Gull, Little Egret, Great-spotted Woodpecker, Northern Raven, Eurasian Skylark, Fieldfare, Redwing, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Grey Wagtail, Yellowhammer and Eurasian Tree Sparrows.

November 12th: Carlingwork Loch, Loch Ken, Glen Laggan lay-by, Lowran Burn, Woodhall Loch, RSPB Ken Dee Marshes, NTS Threave Kelton Mains and Sotherness
Daily 45 New 2 Final 123
Weather: This was a rainy day with the odd break in the weather WSW breeze, 15C

Our last day was a wee bit damp but this didn’t hold us back from taking a more driving and stopping trip along the long linear loch of Loch Ken and Ken Dee Marshes. This was a very different day from previous days, seeing Red Kites and Scandinavian visitors that had been avoiding us for a lot of the trip so far. These species included Greylag Geese, Northern Pintail, Stock Dove, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Eurasian Curlew, Common and Herring Gulls, Little Egret, Northern Raven, Fieldfare, Redwing, Eurasian Bullfinch and Eurasian Siskin.

This concluded our tour as three guests were taking an early morning train from Dumfries home and the remaining guests joined me in returning back to Edinburgh to also head home after an extremely variable and enjoyable trip, if I may say so myself. It remains for me to say a huge thank you to all the guests for being kind and supportive on this, leading my first guiding trip for Birdwatching Breaks.  I learnt a lot and thoroughly enjoyed both the birding and company.

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