Summer staggered onto the stage slowly, apparently offering more freedoms and a return to normality so why does it feel like we’ve gone down a rabbit hole and there’s no turning back no matter how much we wriggle and squirm?
The first day of June felt like distant summers past as some warmth helped persuade the younger half of the tribe to head out with me into the deep south to while away a few hours along the River Allen walking between Allen Banks and Plankey Mill. The grandeur of the steep wooded gorge sides here always feels cathedral-like in places during the summer, with the distant sounds of singers offering worship hidden in the leafy rafters; both Common Redstart and Pied Flycatcher were easy enough to pick out the choir. A good site for Dipper the eddies of the Allen were echoed in the air by the swirling flocks of tens of thousands of insects parading low over the water in meditative circles.
Avoiding the roadworks at Hexham on the road home took us on a short detour past Grindon Lough where a brief stop offered distant views of the returning adult female Red-necked Phalarope.
Later in the week I had a classic example of right place, wrong time when Ella and I had a late afternoon walk checking through the Common Starling flocks at Newbiggin looking for anything pink late on the Sunday afternoon. Early Monday morning news from Tariq Farooqui that he had scored pink in the exact spot we’d been the previous night. At least this particular 1st-summer Rosy Starling hung about until I got there.
Four days later work done for the day I headed out for an evening jaunt up the road to Far Letch NR. A small, new nature reserve on former opencast mining land it has some small pools, newly planted woodland and lots of grassland. Twenty minutes walking from the car berated by a nearby Lapwing and the phone rings, as i lift it out of my pocket I note it’s Josh who I’d handed over to at work a couple of hours earlier. At this point it’s worth noting that these days I have my Whatsapp notifications permanently switched off, with over 30 birding groups it’s just too distracting to receive that many notifications when not working. Answering the call I was expecting that something of mild interest had turned up that he wanted to twitch at his beloved Baston & Langtoft Pits but instead was greeted with the ominous “hope you’re on your way to Blyth…”. His next sentence stopped me in my tracks “Alan Curry’s got a stunning Red-necked Stint on the Blyth Estuary” – several expletives later I was jogging back to the car with a pissed off dog who hates moving that fast.
What was without question one of the birds of the year has been suitably put into words by AC for BirdGuides here suffice to say it was satisfying to pull back a bird that due to various personal circumstances I missed back in 1995 despite it being less than 3km from my then home.
A two hour hike around the golf course at Newbiggin on 8th confirmed that summer was in to stay, two Yellowhammers were the pick of the birds, a species that has been scarce on the patch for many years. A male Sedge Warbler was singing from the ever-burnt gorse and Common Shelducks were commuting between golfers from the barren beach to the Ash Lagoons.
A quiet circular walk around the bridleway at Blubbery Scrogs on 10th was enlivened by a distant Red Kite that attracted the attention of a local Common Buzzard. Thinking this would be the best bird of the day I headed to the Longhirst Flash area and walked to the Abyssinian Pool to look for dragonflies. After a few Large Red and Common Blue Damselflies I headed home via Bothal Pond, no scope as they’re not much use for dragons. I was a little taken aback to lift my bins to a pristine drake Ring-necked Duck loafing at the south end of the pool. A long (very long) overdue British self-found tick for me, as is often the case no skill involved here just right place, right time and fortuititously before anyone else on this occasion.
An away day walking in the Yorkshire Dales with my partner and friends on 12th was interesting though relatively quiet birdwise, Little Owl, several singing Common Redstarts (and my first juvenile of the year) was as good as it got. A few Curlew were noted and a couple of Spotted Flycatchers but the real story was the almost complete absence of raptors in the air on a perfect day for thermalling and very few butterflies or bees in the numerous flower-filled grazing meadows en route.
I won’t lie, not being around for that Swift stung a little but you can’t win them all. Luckily the 1st-summer American Golden Plover at Cresswell Pond, also discovered on 12th hung around for my return the following day.
The latter half of June has been almost empty of birding, a heavy work schedule and another 10 day isolation for two of the kids due to ‘close contact’ reduced my available time to fleeting visits here and there. Add to that the general lethargy caused by my heart drugs that seems to come and go and there’s little to write about. A sea-watch on the afternoon of 22nd produced a dozen Manx Shearwaters, the first real pulses of foraging Atlantic Puffins with 88 flying north in around 90 minutes and a single adult Bottle-nose Dolphin close inshore moving through south in a hurry. Perhaps some small saving grace has been the small numbers of moths that have occasionally found their way into the garden trap on the half dozen days I’ve bothered to get it out.
Roll on July…