Tuesday, 6 June 2017

28th May - Lindisfarne NNR Holy Island and Seahouses, Northumberland

We spent the evening at an intimate concert at the B&B we were staying in, St Cuthberts.  It was a n enjoyable night, and set the holiday up nicely for us.  The good weather was still with us when we awoke this morning, and after an attentive breakfast we set out to visit Holy Island, and Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve.  Due to the fact that the only access to Holy Island is by a causeway that leads from the main land, it is important to know the acceptable crossing times, today there was access from 9.30 until 15.00, so as we made our way along the causeway I was not expecting to see the size of the crowds already there.

Looking across from the causeway you can get some idea of the expanse of mud revealed as the tide falls, and the reason why this is a very important area for wintering waders, today though there was only a lonely birder wading across the mud.

The causeway ends in a car park, and it was packed.  The parking meter also did not take the new pound coin which made things a little difficult.  The plan was to head away from the little village and hope that everyone would not want to wander to far away from gift shops and cafes, something else in our favour was the fact that the Lindisfarne castle was being renovated so was closed, meaning there was no need for people to walk to it.

Holy Island has a recorded history from the 6th century AD. It was an important centre of Celtic Christianity under Saints Aidan of Lindisfarne, Cuthbert, Eadfrith of Lindisfarne and Eadberht of Lindisfarne. After the Viking invasions and the Norman conquest of England, a priory was reestablished. A small castle was built on the island in 1550.

We passed the harbour where once again the extent of the mud exposed at low tide could be seen, along with Bamburgh Castle on the horizon.

The castle renovations required the north end to be covered in a tarpaulin or sheet.  This was white, and through the week this could be seen from quite a distance away.  As walked past the castle I was able to at least get a picture that managed to obscure the castle.

The castle was built around the time that Lindisfarne Priory went out of use, and stones from the priory were used as building material. It is very small by the usual standards, and was more of a fort. The castle sits on the highest point of the island, a whinstone hill called Beblowe.

Lindisfarne's position in the North Sea made it vulnerable to attack from Scots and Norsemen, and by Tudor times it was clear there was a need for a stronger fortification, although obviously, by this time, the Vikings were no longer a danger. This resulted in the creation of the fort on Beblowe Crag between 1570 and 1572 which forms the basis of the present castle.

In 1901, it became the property of Edward Hudson, a publishing magnate and the owner of Country Life magazine. He had it refurbished by Sir Edwin Lutyens. It is said that Hudson and the architect came across the building while touring Northumberland

Today it looks quite sad covered in scaffolding, but the hope has to be that it will return to former glory soon.

The walk followed a bank along the shoreline, and above us we could hear the songs of many Skylarks, one bird was much closer though, on the path in front of us.

As we got closer it took to the air, and of course started singing

The path then took us past the Lough, a small freshwater lake, where there was one swan, and in the reeds the songs of several Reed Warblers.  The Reed Warblers kept hidden, but I was able to find a Sedge Warbler singing from a small hawthorn bush.

From the Lough the path followed along a raised bank, probably due to the fact that the fields on either side of the bank were marshy, the point emphasised when we found small groups of Marsh Orchids amongst the grass.

The songs of the Skylarks above us were now joined by the parachuting display song of Meadow Pipits, and the plain song of the Reed Buntings.

As well as the orchids the grassland was also full of Horsetails, and Cotton Grass

The island was still in full sun, and despite the fresh breeze was very pleasant, however around us there were dark clouds gathering, and looking north the light sage colour of the grasses on the dunes and the hawthorn bushes dotted across the rolling hills contrasted with the dark grey of the distant sky.

A caterpillar was on the path as we walked through the dunes.  This is the caterpillar from the Drinker Moth.

The caterpillars can reach up to 7cm in length. They are dark grey with golden speckling and have brown hair tufts along the body. A line of white hair tufts is present on either side of the body. The caterpillars hibernate when part grown and continue feeding in the spring, becoming fully grown by June. In winter they can sometimes be found at rest on grass stems and on the twigs of bushes. In the spring they feed mainly at night, but during the day can be found resting low down amongst the grass.  The adult moths are on the wing at night in July and August.

The path continues around the shoreline of the island, but we decided to take a footpath that stretched through the middle of the island.  The path follwed a stone wall, and the shelter this provided from the wind, and the warm sunshhine was conducive to butterflies, several Green-veined and Small Whites passed us, and then a much larger brown butterfly flew up from the wall.  Fortunately it settled back down again, and i was able to see that it was a Wall Brown.

As it settled it briefly showed the upper side of the wings with the orange brown pattern.  However it did not stay open for long, and the wings snapped shut showing the eye spot on the underside of the forewing.

The Wall is aptly named after its habit of basking on walls, rocks, and stony places. The delicately patterned light brown undersides provide good camouflage against a stony or sandy surface.

It is found around the coast as far north as southern Scotland. Inland, it is more widespread in northern England and southern Scotland. It is a similar size and colour to the Gatekeeper, but the Wall is much more heavily patterned and appears to be larger which can confuse it with small fritillary butterflies.

In the shelter of the wall there were more groups of the Marsh Orchids, some with impressive spikes of purple spotted flowers.

Looking back across the open fields Helen found a lone Roe Deer making its way through the crops.

We found the island a very wind swept place as could be expected, the dunes on the north side the main area of height.  Across the fields were plenty of the traditional Northumberland stone walls that had an individual sense of beauty to the scenes.

The path then took us past some sheep pens, and then through a small area of Elderberry bushes.  Again in the sheltered spots the butterflies appeared, a Red Admiral.

While at last a green-veined White settled long enough to be photographed.

 As the path reached the village we came across farm buildings with lots of Chickens and what looked to be "real" Rock Doves.  A Blackbird singing from the roof of one of the farm buildings was not too unusual, but this one appeared to be doing so, lying down.

 A raised part of a lawn provided a nice aspect to catch this Pied Wagtail catching insects.

Back in the village we had a wander around, but the number of tourists was becoming a little unbearable, so in the end we decided to return to the car, and head back to Seahouses to have a look around the beaches there.  As we returned across the causeway we passed a Transit van that was stuck in the mud, and was in the process of being towed out.  A timely reminder of the dangers around the island.

Back in Seahouses we left the car at the B&B and walked down into the centre of the town.  As you would expect it being a Bank Holiday weekend it was rather busy, but I didn't expect to see so many people.  We stopped for a drink in the a pub that overlooks the sea and it cost £11.30 for a pint and a small shandy, quite scandalous really.

After the drink we headed off around the harbour.  The clouds we had seen earlier in the morning had now come all the way across us, and there was even the odd spot of rain.  In the harbour were several female Eider and a lone male.

With the monochromatic reflections in the water, the black and white plumage of the Eider complemented quite well.

As we came past the harbour the bay opened out into a series of rock pools, and a little further on some sandy cliffs that were about 10 metres high. From the cliffs and the the pools we could hear the familiar calls of the Kittiwake, and as we got closer we could see the Kittiwakes sitting on nests on the face of the cliff.

Once closer we could watch the Kittiwakes carrying sea weed up to the nests, and generally flying around announcing their presence with their eponymous calls.  The lovely sea grey of the upper wings contrasts so beautifully with the pure white of the head and neck and the jet black wing tips.

In amongst the Kittiwakes were at least three Fulmars.  They would fly back and forth using the cliff face to obtain lift to be able to swing out over the beach.

It then became clear that there was a little squabble going between the birds flying and one sitting on the cliff.  

The flying birds were attempting to land in the grassy ledge but would be warned off by the sitting bird.

Close in you can see the tubes on the beak, Fulmars are a Petrel and are a part of the wider order Procellariformes, or "tubenoses" which include albatrosses, shearwatwers and petrels.  These birds spend a considerable amount of time at sea, and drink sea water.

As a result these birds have an enlarged nasal gland at the base of the bill, above the eyes and this salt gland removes salt from the system and forms about a 5 percent saline solution that drips out of the nostrils, or in some cases is forcibly ejected.

Away from the noise and conflicts many of the Kittiwakes just sat calmly on their nests.

The footpath then crossed a couple of the greens on the local golf course, then dropped down towards the next beach, past Snook Point.  The tide was well out, and on the beach alongside a small stream leading down to the sea were several waders, Ringed Plover mainly but also a few summer plumaged Dunlin and Sanderling.

As we walked down on to the beach the majority of the waders flew off, but left some Sanderling still busily feeding along the edge of the waves.

Their runs with their clockwork like feet always a joy to watch.

The grey winter plumage is now being replaced by hints of black, red and orangey brown feathers.

The pools of water on the beach were again a source of some interesting reflections as the waders and gulls roosted.

Off shore were more Eider, a male and four females hanging about in the waves but not really doing much.  A pair of Sandwich Terns were fishing in the shallow water, moving up and down the beach.

We headed up the beach towards the road.  At the head of the tide line there were large mats of kelp washed there by the sea.  This was where the waders were, scurrying through the sea weed snatching at the insects.  I was able to get quite closer to this smart looking summer plumaged Dunlin.  It is always nice to see them in there breeding plumage as there are only very few that retain it when they arrive in the south.

More Kittiwakes were on the beach, taking the chance to preen and rest away from the madness of the breeding colony.

Gulls are not usually very photogenic, but the Kittiwake is the exception, it has a dove like peaceful look.

The rain that had started earlier had continued as we walked the beach, but it never came to much and was quite bearable.  As we walked through the outskirts of the golf course we decided though that to try and walk any further would be a risk.  As the time was now late in the afternoon we also decided to head back as there was dinner to prepare for. 

Tomorrow all eyes would be on the weather as we had a trip booked to the Farne Islands, for me one of the reasons we had traveled this far.

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