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  • Julie Muller

BIRDWATCHING FOR BEGINNERS From Pond to Pond - Cresswell to Druridge Bay



Two dogs sit on a sandy beach between sand dunes. the sea is creeping up the beach behind them
Shep and Bruno are keen to start their walk on the beach

Off to the beach again but this time Julie was clutching a pair of binoculars – I didn’t need to ask why. On so many of our beach walks, she has felt so frustrated because she couldn’t see the shore birds clearly – now at least she stood a chance!

 

Our first port of call was Cresswell Pool, a Nature Reserve that is looked after by the Northumberland Wildlife Trust and, it is also another Site of Special Scientific Interest. Many years ago, the coal mine that once stood here collapsed and since then, the site has filled with a mix of sea and freshwater. As a result, there is an amazing assemblage of invertebrates living here which are adapted to both types of water. These are rich pickings for any bird passing by, whether resident, overwintering here or stopping off during a long-haul flight. As we got out of the car, we were treated to a chorus by several of the local skylarks who were soaring somewhere high above our heads. The song of a skylark is only slightly less beautiful than that of the nightingale. It is the male birds that we hear, and they sing as long and as varied a song as they can in order to attract a mate.

As we approached the lake there were several green- camouflaged humans peering through enormous lenses perched on top of strong metal tripods.  Julie couldn’t resist asking if they had seen anything ‘special’. She was very excited when avocets were mentioned. So, she semi dragged us along to see if she could see them too.

 

We trotted away past a flooded field which was opposite the pond and full of black and white oyster catchers, as usual, all facing in the same direction. I think they were just trying to avoid the cameras!!

Although there was a lot of activity on the pond, there were no avocets in sight, – and so, we headed off, through the sand dunes, on to the beach.

 

Here the wind was blowing up a gale and whipping mists of spray off the waves as they crashed on to the shore. The sun was shining, and the sand was soft and damp to our paws.

 



two dogs running on the sand between seaweed covered rocks. The tide is coming  in behind them and the sun is shining
Shep and Bruno chase each other across the beach

We chased each other back and forth – it was heaven.  However, it wasn’t very long before the binoculars came out again. Julie had noticed a group of   small birds right at the water’s edge scurrying into and out of the water as the tide ebbed and flowed.

 

It was obvious from the way that these birds moved that they were sanderling.

 

These tiny birds have travelled a tremendous distance to be here. Every year they make a journey from well within the Arctic Circle to the Northumberland shores. That is a journey of close to a thousand miles!

They must be so hungry when they arrive – but luckily there are plenty of shellfish, worms, and fish for them to eat. They have even been known to feast on jellyfish!

 

We wandered along the sand towards Druridge Bay. There were a few other dogs and their humans about but all of them seemed completely unaware of these tiny birds trotting about like mechanical toys – they do look so funny but they can’t help it – they are missing their hind toe, so they have to rely on their three front ones. Most of the other dogs walked and played with their humans on the sand just like us. But there were others who couldn’t resist bounding through the surf. They were having such a wonderful time, but this left the poor sanderlings with no other option but to find somewhere else to grab a bite to eat.

 

As we walked, we saw a blue coated woman wandering through the sand dunes above us, clearly hoping to find a way down onto the beach. However, the tides this winter have been so strong that they have ripped the dunes away, so it is almost impossible for anyone to get down    gracefully – let alone safely – even our four-paw drive makes it difficult!

Every now and then Julie scanned the water with her binoculars – we sat patiently,

 and waited - that is until we saw yet another couple of spaniels chasing through the water – I just had to bark at them and tick them off!

 

Soon we reached our exit from the beach and were surprised to see a gaggle of blue jacketed humans milling around the car park. Their coats were emblazoned with the Northumberland Coast National Landscape logo, and it was clear that they were taking part in a volunteer litter pick. It was amazing how many bags of litter they had collected in just one morning- and there were loads of dog bags – we felt quite embarrassed. Sadly, there are no litter bins here and, despite notices asking humans to take their litter home with them, the messages just aren’t getting through.

 

The Northumberland Coast National Landscape reaches from the Coquet Estuary right up to Berwick upon Tweed and this stunningly beautiful coastline (and countryside) is considered to be so special that it has legal protection. It is managed by a dedicated team who are assisted by a whole army of volunteers and they  carry out a whole suite of conservation tasks besides  litter picks!

Bruno was so delighted to see them – he wagged his tail and ‘smiled’ and made everyone his friend. I was a bit more cautious – some humans can be scary, but these humans were more than okay.



Two dogs walk along a track between hedges of grass towards a bird hide. They have their blue leads on
Shep and Bruno pull Julie towards the bird hide at Druridge Bay Ponds

We reluctantly left our new human friends – once again we were back on our leads because we were off to look at birds at another Nature Reserve owned and managed by the Northumberland Wildlife Trust. – Druridge Ponds.  The hedge lined path took us between two reedbed fringed ponds and there were bird hides facing in each direction.  The Canada geese were making a hell of a racket as we approached. I felt quite sorry for the other birds, but the coots and the moorhens just seemed to glide past and duck dive beneath the surface.  Some of the ducks were having a whale of a time, flying up and dipping themselves repeatedly in and out of the water. It looked such fun, but we were quite happy to rest our weary paws whilst Julie watched them.

 

It is strange to think that only forty years ago there was an open cast mine in this very spot – and now wildlife flourishes all around us – both seen and unseen – there are even otters living here.

Across the country, British wildlife is very vulnerable to disturbance by both us dogs and our humans and so it is imperative that,  in special refuges such as  this, we are kept on our leads and under close control.

 



A view from a bird hide towards reed beds and open water - cloudy grey sky but sun shining on the pond water
A view from the bird hide at Druridge Bay Ponds

It was lovely just lying down in the hide whilst Julie watched the birds – In fact we didn’t really want to get up when it was time to leave.



A dog stands on the sand between sand dunes on a path on to the sandy beach. the sea is gently lapping on to the shore
Bruno is keen to go on to the beach again

We traipsed back on to the beach through the dunes. The grasses were swaying in the wind and Julie seemed intent on walking through them, but I had other ideas. The tang of sea air, the sound of the waves on the shore and that vast sandy beach were just too inviting. It didn’t take much to convince Julie and so we walked down on to the beautiful soft sand once again. The tide was even further out and there were no humans about – just us – the sea, the sand, the wind and down at the water’s edge, loads of little sanderling running in and out of the tongues of tide. It was wonderful.

In no time at all, we retraced our steps back to the car park. Our paws were tired and so Julie took pity on us and drove down to Cresswell Pond once again – she really wanted to see those avocets.

 

We parked on a rough track and found our way across a board walk hedged with hawthorn which was just coming into leaf to a yet another bird hide. Again, we had it all to ourselves and Julie scanned the pond with her binoculars to see what she could see – A Whooper swan glided gracefully past us and, then on the far shore, Julie could just make out a group of black- capped avocets with their long-upturned bills. Once upon a time these birds were so close to extinction but now it is  amazing to see them this far north. A real success story – and a very apt logo for the RSPB -

 

It was such a wonderful way to end another lovely day on the beach.


a map of the walk between Cresswell pond and Druridge Bay pond
Map of walk from Cresswell pond to Druridge Bay Pond


 

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