My obsession with birds began on the NE coast of England where I grew
up in one of the best birding spots in Northumberland: Stag Rocks at
Bamburgh. With Lindisfarne (Holy Island) and the seabird colonies on
the Farne Islands visible from the house it was inevitable that birding
would form a substantial part of my life. I never had a
The following books give an excellent overview of the birdlife of Holy
Island, providing a status list for all species recorded and a good
guide of what to expect at a given time of year. The old bird
observatory at Monkshouse is mentioned extensively in bill Oddie's
"Little Black Bird Book"
few of the
visited most are described below. At some of these locations the state
of the tide will have a very significant effect on the
birding. Depending on the species and type of activities planned (and
not least one's own safety) the tide must be taken into consideration.
Some further information about seawatching can be found here.
A selection of
trip reports will be included below to indicate the
birding potential of the area:
locality provides year-round interest, although it is
possbily best known for its wintering divers, grebes and Purple
A respectable number of rarities have turned here with Isabelline
Wheatear, Dusky, Pallas's and Yellow-browed Warblers to name but a few.
Skuas, terns and shearwaters are all regular. With well over 200
species from our garden at Stag Rocks the birding potential of Stag
Rocks cannot be underestimated. Wintering seaduck, divers and grebes
are all well represented.
viewed from the North
Stag Rocks, Bamburgh.
The Farne Islands can be seen
in the background.
of the lighthouse at Stag Rocks
dunes south of the castle and north towards Budle Bay hold
Grasshopper Warbler, Sedge Warbler
and Stonechats as well as plenty of Meadow Pipit and Reed Bunting. In
winter Short-eared Owl and Water Rail are regular.
During suitable weather "anything" can turn up in the woods, bushes and
copses in the dunes.
Sandpiper at Stag Rocks - a common wintering bird. Picture
taken in April 2009
Grebes with Eiders - a common sight at Stag Rocks
Turnstone, Stag Rocks, 17 July 2006
Ducks with young, July 2006
There are a number
of localities within easy walking distance of
Bamburgh / Stag Rocks which are well worth a vist. Budle Bay to the
north and the beaches towards Seahouses to the south.
Between 1985 and 1990 I performed regular wader counts year round
along a stretch of coast approximately 1.5km long. Data from these
counts were used by the RSBP to develop coastal plans.
am back in the area I still conduct spot checks to keep an
The main wader species recorded are listed below. Click on the English
name for further information.
Seahouses is a group of houses nestled on the foreshore - Monkshouse.
Over the road on the landward side is Monskhouse Pools; after many
years abscence it seems these pools may be back to stay - brilliant
news for birds and birders as permanent areas of freshwater such as
this are not common near the coast. These pools have a superb history
for attracting waders and other species and being close to the road
should not be passed without being checked.
used to be a bird
observatory - made famous by the
bird artist Eric Ennion and mentioned extensively in Bill Oddie's
"Little Black Bird Book".
Part of Monkshouse
between Seahouses and Bamburgh
ex-bird observatory, now holiday homes
Godwit, Monkshouse Pools, 17 July 2006
Ringed Plover, Monkshouse Pools, 17 July 2006. This individual was
ringed (ring just visible on right leg in this picture).
Brent Geese - a North Northumberland speciality.
Monkshouse shore, December 2010
Knot, a common passage migrant and winter visitor along the
Monkshouse shore, December 2010
These islands are the most famous tourist attraction in the area and
are visited by thousands of people a year. Huge numbers of seabirds
breed there including over 50,000 pairs of Atlantic Puffin. Good views
I have always used Billy Shiel's boats, the "Glad Tidings" on my visits
to the Farnes. Details of his trips can be found here.
is a holiday village with
a harbour - it is here the
trips to the vast seabird colonies on the Farnes Islands are based. The
harbour itself is worth checking for rare gulls at any time of year,
especially so in winter. Glaucous and Iceland Gulls are reasonably
regular and Ivory Gull has also been recovered here. It
remains to be seen whether or not the harbour will remain as attractive
to these birds with the demise of the fishing fleet. The
Eiders in the harbour can be very tame and will home in on anyone
coming down to the waters edge with food; many of them will even take
food from the hand.
A short walk to
the south brings
one to Annstead point where a
seawatching hide can be found - this hide is owned by the North
Northumberland Bird Club. Annstead is one of the best seawatching
localities in North Northumberland and it is only lack of coverage
which keeps it out of the "news". Good numbers of skuas and shearwaters
can be seen here under the conditions. More details about seawatching
at Annstead can be found here.
Point and the lookout as seen when approaching from Seahouses
morning view of the harbour entrance, Farne islands in the background
nest on the cliffs south of the harbour
Plover are present all year at Seahouses with several breeding pairs in
Crossing the Golf
to the public right of way) takes one
onto the beach where there are usually a variety of waders, gulls and
terns. The Golf
Course itself attracts pipits, wagtails, wheatear and the like; Sand
Martin breed around the old quarry pools which occasioanlly hold some
Bamburgh castle and the Farne Islands visible in the distance
312 species have been recorded on Holy Island including a host of
rarities - indeed, a Roller
was present on my most recent visit on 09 October 2006. Famed not just
for its birdlife but for its rich history Holy
Island and the Lindisfarne nature reserve is a "must" for birders
visiting the area. The island has become a real mecca for "normal"
tourists too but many of the good bird areas remain relatively
undisturbed. There is year round interest and although it is possible
to cover parts of the island quite quickly one could easily use a few
days here. The numbers of Common Seal resting on the sandbanks (see
bottom of page for picture) is often quite large - and their "singing"
can be heard over long distances.
Extreme care should be taken
to cross the causeway during
crossing times indicated at each end of the causeway. The tides are
deceptively strong and there is a tidal range quite unfamiliar to those
from many parts of the world .
causeway at low tide - incredible views of a variety of wader species
can be had here
Priory - once ransacked by Viking maruaders this site is now
popular with tourists and Black Redstarts (in season!)
start of the Straight Lonnen - a must do if there are passerines on the
Lough is the most permanent area of fresh water on the island and can
be comfortably viewed from the hide there.
route invloves going
down the "Straight Lonnen" (migrant
passerines), then heading through the dunes (Short-eared Owl) to the
North Shore (waders) and on to Emmanuel Head for a seawatch before
heading to the Lough (wildfowl) and back into the village via the
"Crooked Lonnen" (more migrants). From here I generally check
the Rocket Pool (waders) and then the Heugh (grebes in season) and, if
time permits, the Churchyard and other gardens in the village. There is a lot
more to Holy Island
than this route and it is quite
possible to leave the crowds even further behind by following other
Crane, Beal, April 2005. Photo : Chris Knox
Fenham-le-Moor Another vantage
over the mudflats this location is one of the better ones in the area
for Pintail. The hide is worth a visit but is often quiet at high tide
- it tends to perform better on the flood or ebb.
Bay has a lot to offer the birder; thousands of
and waders form the mainstay of the birding. One can park by the white
railings by the roadside and scan the main apart of the bay without
walking a step. Care should be taken not to disturb the birds on the
mudflats. The "Lime Kilns" are another good vantage point and if one
heads south / east from here towards Budle Point the large gull and
tern roosts can be viewed.
mudflats hold good numbers
of geese (largely Greylag and Pinkfeet),
Shelduck, Wigeon, Teal and Mallard. Other wildfowl such as Pintail are
inevitably present if one scans carefully through the flocks.
main wader species are
Dunlin, Common Redshank, Ringed Plover, Red
Bar-tailed Godwit and Grey Plover. In season many other wader species
turn up with Greenshank, Spotted Redshank, Little Stint, Black-tailed
Godwit and Curlew
Sandpiper all regular - although one may have to work for some of these
species. Avocet has been recorded here more than once and Little Egret
is becoming more regular here.
Budle Point large gull
and tern roosts form and are worth
scanning through for rarer species: Little Gull, Black Tern and Roseate
Tern are all annual. Little Tern probably breed in the vicinity as they
are often to be seen feeding in the bay along with the more prolific
Sandwich, Common and Arctic Terns.
so many waders and
wildfowl present the bay attracts its fair
share of raptors with Peregrine and Merlin perhaps the most regular
is within easy walking
distance of Stag Rocks at Bamburgh and the
two places can easily be combined in a days birding.
Budle Bay, with Ross
Back Sands and Lindisfarne in
Budle Bay, looking in
towards the mudflats
Bay from "the white railings"
across the mouth of Budle Bay from Black Rock towards Ross Links
Ross Back Sands Ross
Back Sands lie between Budle Bay and Lindisfarne
Island). The miles of sandy beaches are worth a visit in their own
right but birders have plenty of other reasons to visit this area. The
shallow beaches are home to plenty of seaduck, divers (of three
species) and grebes (Red-necked and Slavonian are the commonest but
both Great Crested and Black-necked have been recorded). Thousands of
wildfowl and waders can be viewed from both ends of the beach.
Sanderling are very common here and it is a typcial winter sight to see
them scampering up and down the beach in front of the waves.
The dunes and beaches are home to a range of species, although
wintering Snow Bunting and Shorelark are the two species most birders
associate with the area. Short-eared Owl, Merlin and Peregrine are all
regular in winter. Harriers are less regular, though Hen, Marsh and
Montagu's have all been observed here.
Depending on the species one is after the state of the tide can be
critical; care should be taken not to disturb roosting birds at the
various high tide roosts. The tip of Ross Back Sands nearest Holy
Island can also become cut off at high tide, although not dangerous one
must either wade back to the mainland or wait until the tide goes out
Photo: Chris Knox
Ross Back Sands
viewed from Budle Point
Female Stonechat - a
common breeder in the dunes along
the coast. Ross Back Sands, 18 July 2006
Coquet Island This island lies
just of the coast near Amble. For birders the main attraction is the
breeding colony of Roseate Terns which nest there. However, most of the
species one sees on the Farne Islands can also be seen here including
the crowd-pulling Puffins. Boat trips run from Amble Harbour and take
about an hour to go around the island - but note that these trips do
not land on the island. Coquet Island is well worth considering not
just for the Roseate Terns but also if one is short on time and cannot
spend a few hours doing a boat trip.
not in North
Northumberland Newbiggin is included here as I lived here for a few
years and had my eyes opened to the true potential of the place. A vast
array of rairities have occurred here, too many to list exhaustively. Newbiggin is a
short drive north of
probably the best place for seawatching in the county. It is also famed
for the number of rarities that turn up there, either at "the mound" or
along the Golf Course. Its proximity to Newcastle makes it a popular
place among the many birders in the area.
typical day at Newbigigin
starts at Church Point with seawatching. On
a good day one won't get any further than this. Normally a couple of
hours will produce enough of interest and the next step is to head
along the beach or the Golf Course checking for waders and passerines.
"The Mound" is on the inland side of the Golf Course next to some
allotments -it has attracted more than its fair share of rarities over
the years. Some more detail
seawatching at Church Point can be found here. There
number of other
localities in the Newbiggin area which are
also worth checking if one is in the area. These include Woodhorn
churchyard. One of the speciality species at Newbiggin in Mediterranean
Gull which is very regular along the promenade. Other regulars include
Roseate Tern (which come from the breeding colony at Coquet Island to
the north), Manx Shearwater and Sooty Shearwater.
a 2 minute scan of
the sea immediately after this
picture was taken 8 Manx Shearwater and 2 Roseate Tern flew past!
Druridge Bay is worth visiting at any time of year. There are a number
of nature reserves and other sites to explore which give plentiful
opportunities to see and photograph both migrant and breeding birds.
Little Owl, Druridge Bay, July 2016
Avocet, Druridge Bay, July 2016
is not just birds that can be seen in Northumberland - there is plenty
of other wildlife to be seen.
Red Fox are a
common sight in North Northumberland
large numbers at Lindisfarne
Seals - one of the highlights on a trip to the Farne Islands