It was barely getting light when the noise of geese got me running to the window and looking upwards. A few seconds later some 200 or more Pink-footed Geese flew right over the hotel and pushed the year list up to 127. Flocks of Pink-foots are winter residents in the Northumberland coastal area and these would be heading out into fields to feed or maybe onto a marsh nearby.
But first we would visit the Harkness Rocks close to Bamburgh. Locally known as the Stag Rocks since, for some unknown reason, a white stag had been painted onto the rocks and is maintained regularly by the adjacent lighthouse keepers. I had discovered the Stag Rocks for myself last February after staying at another local hotel and had had a fabulous time watching and photographing one of the most enigmatic of Wader species, the Purple Sandpiper. I have a feeling that a visit to the rocks will be become an annual tradition in the Old Caley diary.
|The Stag painted onto the rocks|
|Purple Sandpipers and Turnstone|
I noticed a couple of Fulmars and some Razorbills flying past, both year list additions and a few Kittiwakes too. When I returned my attention to the rocks some Purple Sandpipers had crept in from my right and were now feeding within 20 metres of me allowing me to rattle off some nice shots. Mostly though I was just content to watch them prying into miniature cracks and voids within the rocks after stranded morsels to eat. I mused on the notion that surely "Rockpiper" would have been a better name than Sandpiper for these birds since I always see them on rocks and never on sand. On the rocks Purple Sandpipers are completely at home and surprisingly well camouflaged blending in effortlessly. Fortunately in keeping with many small wading species they are restless, scurrying endlessly over the rocks so can be seen more easily.
By sitting still the "Purps" had become comfortable in my presence and a few of them had encroached to just 10 metres or so. This is why I had fallen in love with this place and I envy anyone who has this on their doorstep. It's a far cry from Oxfordshire although we do get close encounters with wading birds at Farmoor where the concrete embankments rudely imitate rocky shores such as here.
One particularly inquisitive, or so it seemed, Purple Sandpiper put on an excellent show for me and after just a few photos I actually put the camera down and just watched the bird at length, not even needing my binoculars to do so. I wish now that I'd had the foresight to take a video via my phone.
We'd been at the rocks for about an hour and we needed to get on the road northwards so a few more quick shots and then I shuffled backwards along the rocks to the lighthouse wall and we departed back to the car, this time choosing the lower path that traverses the landward edge of the rocks.
I scanned the sea once more but there was now no sign of either the Long-tailed Duck or of the Slavonian Grebes. The Common Scoters were still present and I walked out onto the rocks to get a closer view. The closer I got to the sea, the more slippy the rocks became and keeping a firm footing was proving tricky. Too tricky since a few moments later I was laid on my back staring up at the sky! Thankfully my ample posterior had taken most of the blow and the optics were undamaged. You need claws not boots for walking on slippery rock surfaces! When I regained my composure and managed to upright myself I furtively took a few frames of the Scoter raft (I'm sure I could hear chuckling from their direction) and retreated back to Mrs Caley.
|Common Scoter chuckling away!|