coquet nature lover

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Four Seasons in magical Northumberland

Coquet nature lover's stress free zone

Northumberland, England's most northern county, is renowned for it natural beauty and geographical diversity. From the deep north with its wild moorland, rugged heather-clad hills and wooded valleys... to the beautiful coastline with its wide sand dune backed beaches and iconic castles... And of course, don't forget Holy Island which can be reached by a causeway. Then there's Coquet Island and the Farne Islands too, both of which have important seabird colonies. Now, that's just for starters!

Vivaldi, the great Italian violinist and composer, may have represented the moods of the four seasons through his amazing concertos but for my final post of 2016, I have selected twenty-five photos which I hope will evoke seasonal memories of the natural beauty, especially those to be found in this beautiful county. For those of you who don't know the area, perhaps you will be inspired to pay a visit. The coastal footpath running from Cresswell in the south, to Berwick-upon-tweed in the north, is over sixty miles long and was made possible through funding from the EU. Yes, Northumberland is a great place for nature lovers with something to offer for everyone.

(with short extracts from Vivaldi's text of sonnets, translated from italian to english)
Spring – Concerto in E Major  
Springtime is upon us.
The birds celebrate her return with festive song,
and murmuring streams are softly caressed by the breezes.
Thunderstorms, those heralds of Spring, roar, casting their dark mantle over heaven,
Then they die away to silence, and the birds take up their charming songs once more.

Song thrush
(Fr-grive musicienne D-singdrossel)

Wood pigeon  
(Fr-pigeon ramier D-ringeltaube)

River Coquet bathed in sunlight

Summer – Concerto in g-minor
Beneath the blazing sun's relentless heat
men and flocks are sweltering,
pines are scorched.
We hear the cuckoo's voice; then sweet songs of the turtle dove and finch are heard.
Soft breezes stir the air…. 


Red admiral on echinacea
Purple hues of heather
Inquisitive grey seals off Coquet Island

Arctic Tern at Beadnell Bay 
(Fr-sterne arctique   D-kustenseeschwalbe) 
Puffins skimming over the North Sea
(Fr-macareux moine   D-papageitaucher)
Autumn – Concerto in F Major
The peasant celebrates with song and dance the harvest safely gathered in.
The cup of Bacchus flows freely, and many find their relief in deep slumber.
The singing and the dancing die away
as cooling breezes fan the pleasant air,
inviting all to sleep
without a care. 

Bacchus, the God of wine, has a white grape variety named after him. Supposedly, it is easily grown outdoors in the UK but here in the north, it would almost certainly need the protection of a greenhouse. If you have a vine, it needs cutting back well at the end of the year. Vines are prolific growers so if you want a healthy crop, make sure you continue to prune and train it throughout the growing season.

For my french readers, here is an entertaining song written in honour of Bacchus that you may be familiar with. A lyre was considered to be the most suitable instrument to entertain the audience.

C'est lui qui fait que les années
Nous durent moins que les journées ;
C'est lui qui nous fait rajeunir,
Et qui bannit de nos pensées
Les regrets des choses passées
Et la crainte de l'avenir.
'Bergeries' Recueil d'Idylles
Grapes ready to harvest in my greenhouse - variety unknown
Sleepy wood pigeon 
Autumn reflections downstream on the River Coquet
I was very lucky to spot this rare visitor sheltering in the vegetation from the Lough hide on Holy Island. Due to the poor weather, it was probably stopping over on its journey to winter in warmer southerly climates. The Latin name for this bird is Ficedula parva which translates to ‘small fig-eating bird’. Rather strange as although they do eat fruit, they feed primarily on insects!  
Red-breasted flycatcher waiting for the mist to clear
(Fr-gobemouche nain   D-zwergschnäpper)
Sunset over Dunstanburgh Castle
Sunset over Simonside Hills

Winter – Concerto in f-minor
Shivering, frozen mid the frosty snow in biting, stinging winds;
running to and fro to stamp one's icy feet, teeth chattering in the bitter chill.
To rest contentedly beside the hearth, while those outside are drenched by pouring rain.
We tread the icy path slowly and cautiously, for fear of tripping and falling.

Two sanderling probe for food in the wet sand left by receding waves
(Fr-bécasseau sanderling   D-sanderling) 

Soft winter light at Boulmer beach
Redshank feeding on low tide
(Fr-chevalier gambette   D-rotschenkel)
Greylag geese coming home to roost
(Fr-oie cendrée   D-graugans)
Hen harrier hunting on the dunes
(Fr-busard Saint-Martin   D-kornweihe)
Goldfinch perched on teasel 
(Fr-chardonneret élégant   D-stieglitz)
Robin defending its territory from a prominent perch
(Fr-rougegorge   D-rotkehlchen)
And finally to talk about something topical, the Christmas tree on display in front of the Houses of Parliament in London is, for the fifteenth consecutive year, from Kielder forest in Northumberland! I plan to do a post on Kielder (Europe's largest man made lake and England's largest forest) next year so look out for that one!

Click here for link to Christmas tree at Westminster

Thank you for reading and following my blog which I only started earlier this year! If you have any requests for future Northumbrian travel ramblings and photos, please let me know.

Wishing all my readers across the world a
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Bonnes fêtes de fin d'année

Fröhliche Weihnachten und ein gutes neues Jahr

Click here to listen to the 4 Seasons by Vivaldi

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Wildlife on the River Coquet, Northumberland

Coquet nature lover - upstream from Amble

Today's blog features the River Coquet which flows through Northumberland, from its tributaries in the Cheviots, to the North Sea at Amble. This fast flowing river is designated by Natural England as a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) for both its woodlands and river habitat. With such a diverse environment, which includes rocky outcrops, riverside shingle, sand and valley woodlands, the Coquet attracts many visitors including common sandpipers, oystercatchers, kingfishers and curlews - not to mention the resident dippers, herons and goosanders to name just a few.

The photos I have selected to share with you start downstream from the Coquet's estuary at Amble harbour. Then we will head upstream via Warkworth and on towards Thropton in the middle part of its course from the Cheviots to the North Sea.
he River Coquet meanders past rolling moorland, rocky outcrops, ancient hay meadows, picturesque villages and towns. - See more at:

Wild at Heart

This inquisitive grey seal was swimming in the harbour just a few metres from the moored fishing boats at the seaside town of Amble.

I have to admit that I'm not a great lover of gulls but I thought that, given that these birds are a traditional part of the seaside environment, this photo of a young herring gull taking off to scan the harbour for food deserved a mention. Herring gulls take four years to reach adult plumage and they are easily identified with their light grey backs, black wingtips, and white heads. You've probably noticed they have a red spot on their bills and without doubt, you have heard them squawking loudly!

The next two photos are of a turnstone foraging for food on one of the fishing boats in the harbour

and here is another looking for scraps around the Sunday market  

The Northumberland coast is a favoured location of Eiders. Known locally as "Cuddy's ducks", and named after Saint Cuthbert, Amble harbour is good place to get close up views as they are often  seen here on the lookout for shellfish. Eider ducks are quite partial to mussels which they eat whole! The shells are then crushed in their stomachs and excreted. Crabs are a bit more complex as before eating the body, they need to remove the claws and legs!

According the the RSPB, Eider ducks are "UK's heaviest duck, and its fastest flying". The males are very splendid with their black, white, green and dusky pink plumage whereas the females are a very plain mottled brown as you can see in the third photo.

This young male Eider is starting to change into its adult plumage. 

Tidal shift

A little further upstream at Warkworth, the river is still tidal and cormorants and herons can often be seen fishing here.

Redshanks can also be seen feeding on the muddy riverbank...

... and here are some jackdaws sunning themselves on a sandstone outrop by the river.

Spot the moorhen

Dense vegetation provides an ideal habitat for wrens as they like to forage close to the ground, feeding on insects and spiders. Although these birds are often found in woodlands, they are also regular visitors to our gardens so look out for them in the undergrowth and hunting insects on walls. Wrens are tiny so they can be hard to spot. Despite their size, they have quite a distinctive voice which you can listen to here: wren singing

Murky waters

Continuing upstream, this photo of a goosander was taken on the stretch of river between The Thrum and the 'steppy stones' (twenty in all) which you can use to cross to the opposite bank in Rothbury when the water levels are low

Unfortunately, the image of the goosander is rather blurred as when I spotted this sawbill duck cruising downstream, the visibility was poor. The muddy brown appearance of the river is due to the heavy rainfall a few days earlier however, it did not deter the goosander which was diving frequently for fish.

The rugged Simonside Hills, a sandstone ridge, provides a beautiful backdrop on the southern side of the River Coquet with the Cheviot Hills to the north-west.

River Coquet winding down the valley

Snow on the Cheviots - source of the River Coquet

Grey wagtails are often present on the River Coquet in summer but much rarer in the winter months. They tend to be well camouflaged but you can see it in the centre of the photo.

The Coquet also provides an ideal habitat for dippers - a typical bird of this part of the river that often perches on rocks or near the water's edge. The stretch of the river from Rothbury to Thropton is fairly fast-flowing with plenty of exposed stones from which they dive into the water in search of invertebrates and small fish.

Dippers are extremely difficult to photograph as with their dark black-brown plumage, they tend to blend into the backgrounds of the riverside.  With a bit of patience, as they move, you will soon spot them with their pure white throats as you can see in the photo below. They often call to each other along the riverbank so it's helpful to know their call. Click here for the song and call

looking for lunch

Following very heavy rain in late November, the river valley flooded with huge chunks of the riverbank collapsing. Although this is clearly bad news, the instability of the riverbank can be seen as good news for some species including sand martins.

This photo shows a section of the river where, between April and August, colonies of sand martins can be seen zooming up and down the river, as well as flying over adjoining farmland. Sand martins, also known as bank martins, like to nest in burrows on the upper part of the bank so this newly eroded area will provide an additional nesting place for them when they arrive in the spring. To date, I've not managed to take a decent photo of a sand martin - maybe next year!

The riverbank has greatly eroded in recent years and on some stretches, where cattle can be found grazing, there is very little vegetation. The banks are more susceptible to erosion here as there aren't many trees or hedgerows to strengthen the ground. Where the banks are steeper and lined and well vegetated, the riverbank is not only more secure but also an ideal habitat for otters to loiter.

This photo was taken back in the spring - see previous post 'A walk by the river'. It's an old favourite so I'm sure you won't mind seeing it again!

On the verge

Unfortunately, I have not spotted any otters recently so instead, here are some snaps of the locals which are well insulated with their furry coats!

This atmospheric photo of the sun setting was taken from the northern bank of the Coquet, looking towards Simonside.

Well, that's all folks !

See you next time - A la prochaine !