Be under no illusion, this is not a romantic landscape. It is not one in which you step to be wrapped in a duvet and shown chocolate box rolling landscapes. Scrape back about a hundred years and all this was industrial mines, railways and farm land. However, it is a landscape which with time has recovered and you can step through the occasional portal and not see another person for several hours.
I have looked forward to this return for several months and it did not disappoint. 3 square kms of opportunities to explore wildlife of the North East of England. There are no expectations of finding a mega rarity, but there are enough good birds for whom their living year provides excitement and interest. Without going over the top, I have missed it. It has helped me think through how I view our place in the natural world.
The sun rose slowly over an expectant horizon. Within moments two Kestrels were alert to the prospect of feeding, now the rain had stopped. With little wind both took a settled vantage point. The male settled in a Hawthorn hedge and with every turn of its head sent 25 Redwing rushing back to the cover of a Holly like the children’s game ‘What’s the Time Mr Wolf?’
The land squeezed water. Everywhere it ran downhill and overhead Golden Plover gave a distant clarion call to action. The time has come to consider all we are loosing by allowing once common birds to slip away. Common birds like Curlew, how can that have happened?
New signs suddenly proclaimed ‘The Oldest Railway in the World’, which made me think I had been away a long time. Two Kites moved through still air, above an increased evidence of Pheasants being reared to be shot -screens, cages and feed bins. This is not a good sign.
Jays noticed me slip into the wood at Causey Arch. I came out with Dipper, Grey Wagtail and Willow Tit on the list, while Great Tits pumped tyres. My guilty pleasure on the patch is having a favorite tree -an Oak that sits on top of a hill. It is a perfect tree shape, the kind a child would draw, made more special knowing that the eggs of Purple Hairstreak butterflies await the Spring sunshine.
Further on I entered the next wood. The narrow path has been cut into by the tyres of a a trail bike, another sign of unwanted change; Bluebell bulbs have been disturbed and lie on the surface. Further on the stream has flowed out of its bound scowering the path to its bed rock -more bulbs will have been lost. The babble of the water hides any sound I may have been making and I frighten a Buzzard from feeding on a crow that has been shot. The roost here, whilst on Public Footpath, had been an easy target before. The ping of a text alert was not from my phone, but I saw no-one.
A hedge full of Reed Buntings (11 min) and Yellowhammers (7 min) was a true delight as they fed in the disappearing sunshine. Linnets bounced in a big flock around subsidence that has appeared in an arable field. By the time I reached the car I was up to 5 Buzzards and two more Kites.
Two Short-eared Owls, one much darker that the other may have been successful in their catches once each in an hour an a half. Three photographers took different approaches to collecting these birds. One had come unprepared and had walked across the top field in training shoes from where he had parked his car. Water marks up to his shins we discussed the merits of standing on the path and allowing the birds to feed, without voices being raised. In return he told me of a dead Otter in the lay-by where he had parked. Whatever was there had gone when I went to look.
So 2015 and NZ26 happened I am back on patch and feel great about my choice. 45 species, only another 55 to go.