What an odd summer it’s been! I’m sure we’re all tired of hearing the word ‘unprecedented.’ But, thank goodness, the problems bringing our society to something of a standstill haven’t disrupted the cycles of nature. I’m not alone in finding it calming to get out of town, and to socially distance from the rest of humanity in a nature reserve of some kind, often without seeing many other humans.
Over the last few years, my daughter (now 16) has become passionate about wildlife photography. She certainly didn’t get her photographic interests from me, nor her knowledge of the natural world. It’s been a lovely learning experience for both of us, and a part of that is finding out places within day-trip distance of Newcastle which allow for pleasant walks and a good chance of seeing things interesting enough to capture on camera. So, I’d like to share our favourite day-out places with you! Of course, Covid-19 has changed a lot of things, and so it’s always advisable to check opening times before heading out. For example, not all the hides are open. Sites run by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) require booking in advance, too. It’s not an exhaustive list, of course, and as the summer is ending, many of these sites will not be at their best for wildlife-watching. But they’re all lovely to visit for a sense of getting away from it all. I’ve listed them in order of distance from Newcastle, and my daughter has chosen a picture from each place.
Gosforth Nature Reserve
Run by the Natural History Society of Northumbria, and currently only open to members, this gem of a reserve is tucked away by the racecourse. Woodlands and wetlands, with frequent sightings of roe deer as well as various birds.
A very good trip out, especially with younger children, as there’s a collection of captive birds including flamingos, as well as captive otters. The reserve section attracts terns, herons, all sorts of waterfowl, and occasional birds of prey; and Hawthorn Woods is a fabulous place to watch small songbirds.
An hour away
This is a big site, near Middlesbrough, for a nice walk around the lake and through fields and wetlands. It attracts big flocks during the migration season, and wonderful starling murmurations. In turn, this attracts regular visits from birds of prey. We’ve also seen stoats there
A pleasant walk along the edge of the dunes from Newton Steads car-park. In summer, the fields are full of skylarks, and hundreds of terns breed along the dunes and on the beach, including the Little Tern, which is exactly what you’d expect. National Trust rangers look after the site, and cordon off sections of the beach as required to protect the colony.
See photo at top of article.
The Farne Islands
A wildlife photographers’ dream in the summer! Take an all-day boat from Seahouses, for puffins, terns, kittiwakes, guillemots, and razorbills. One of the greatest places in the world to see these sea-birds, right on our doorstep. People rightly travel for miles to make it the highlight of their holidays. (The main islands have been closed to visitors this year. Fingers crossed for 2021!)
Two hours away
Something for the diary for October… Back in the 1960s, the conservationist Sir Peter Scott couldn’t convince farmers to stop shooting barnacle geese on their annual migration. So he bought the land where they spend the winter, near Dumfries, and turned it into this reserve. Thousands of Icelandic ‘barnies’ stay here; dawn and dusk are spectacular, as they move between their roosts and the lakes where they spend the day. Lots of swans, too, and small birds in the hedgerows.
RSPB Leighton Moss
This is our personal favourite, near Lancaster. Sweeping reed-beds and lakes, attracting various waterbirds (and also Bearded Tits, lovely little birds). Home to a number of Marsh Harriers, which are fairly reliably seen overhead or in the distance, as well as to many very friendly robins.
One thing that I’ve found is that the wildlife, birdwatching, and photography communities are all incredibly friendly, willing to talk about what they’ve seen and to give tips; or to leave you be, if you just want some peace and quiet. The North-East really is a spectacular region, and I’m so happy to have made it my home after years down south. Head out with a camera, and good luck!