spring which started so late is now rapidly moving into summer and
the island is certainly looking at its best and most colourful.
Many folk have commented on the suddenness
of it all. We seemed to go from a cold early spring which lasted
most of April into full-blown spring within the space of a couple of
weeks. We certainly missed out on the usual slow and rather
leisurely transition with greenery gradually and sedately
It was almost as if Mother Nature, left
groggy by the battering of that famous Beast from the East with its
freezing temperatures and snow, had suddenly awakened. She seemed
then to have suddenly looked at the calendar, realized it was almost
May, got her boots on and decided to do something about it fast.
The result was that the appearance of lush
spring growth, greenery and early blossoms was compressed into just
a fortnight instead of the usual couple of months. This was
particularly noticeable in the lonnens. The transition from tiny
pinpricks of green to full leaf seemed to take no time at all. Trees
in the village were the same, small buds unfurling into full leaf in
what seemed just a matter of days. One crab apple tree I noticed in
bud on a Friday was in full blossom just three days later.
That wonderful spell of warm and sunny
weather we all enjoyed over the early spring bank holiday certainly
supercharged everything. The village gardens now look magnificent,
banks around the Heugh and Jenny Bell's are blazing yellow with wild
Wallflowers and I noticed that the first balls of Thrift or Sea
Pinks in the most sheltered and sunniest spots also burst open
during that period.
By the time you're reading this hopefully
that whole areas of salt marsh alongside the road past the Snook
should be glowing pink with thousands of bursting blooms.
The suddenness of it all brought the
long-awaited big influx of Swallows which until then had been
nothing more than an early trickle. In no time at all pairs moved
into the regular prime sites and started nest building and
refurbishment. Many will now be on eggs or even have small young. It
has all seemed to happen with breakneck speed.
Because of the sunny and settled conditions
which marked the first half of the month many migrant birds seem to
have given the island a miss. When conditions are favourable they
tend just to press on northwards without needing to come down to
rest and feed.
Nevertheless there have been surprises. Each
spring birders like me look out eagerly for "overshoots." That's the
term used for migrant species which turn up, because of wind and
weather or simply poor navigation skill, hundreds of miles north or
west of their intended destinations.
During most spring periods birds which had
intended to occupy nesting areas around the Mediterranean or
eastwards across Europe and even into Asia, tend to turn up in
Britain, much to our delight because many of them are great
There was a classic example at the end of
April when a Glossy Ibis arrived at the Lough. These birds winter in
Africa and breed in marshes in the eastern Mediterranean, the
Balkans, the Black Sea and on into Asia. Long-legged and with long
curving bills, they are closely related to our familiar herons and
egrets and behave in much the same way, feeding in muddy or sandy
areas on small fish, amphibians, invertebrates and insects.
Judging by its plumage this was a sub-adult,
probably one of last year's young. If it had been an adult its dark
brown plumage would have carried the wonderful sheen which provides
its name. It was obviously well off course, perhaps due to
Not the most graceful
of birds but this young Glossy Ibis was nevertheless a great
find at the Lough.|
Picture: Mike S
There have been around a dozen previous
individuals in Northumberland but this was the first for the island
and Lindisfarne area in general.
It fed in the muddy area at the back of the
Lough but flew off with a group of Mallards and didn't return. An
hour later it turned at the Druridge Pools nature reserve where it
remained in the general area, feeding in the shallow water in
flooded fields, for more than a week. It was extremely approachable
and often delved unconcerned by people just 15 or 20 yards away.
As if that wasn't enough, shortly afterwards
an even rarer spring "overshoot" was found on the edge of the
reserve at Waren Mill. This was another marsh dweller, a little
bittern, normally a very secretive species even in areas around the
Mediterranean where they are a reasonably common breeding
There had been only nine previous sightings
in Northumberland, the last at Gosforth Park in 2014, but some going
back to the Victorian era. It proved to be a one-day wonder but at
least was present for long enough to enable a good number of folk to
get along to see it.
These two new birds took the species list
for the reserve and island up to a very impressive 339 and, I'm
afraid, came just too late for inclusion in an updated version of my
book, The Birds of Holy Island, which was at the printer's even
while they were gracing the area. To paraphrase the old song, the
author's lot is not a happy one!