Closer to Home

For local naturalist, Dick Gilhespy, lockdown provided an opportunity to study enjoy wildlife close to home in Newcastle

My idea of engaging with nature is to get out with a pack on my back and wander slowly, stopping, looking. Birds, butterflies, plants, trees and others are all of interest to me. I often attempt to capture something of interest in my sketchbook and try to get at least the pencil outline on-site and add details and colour at home

I had made great plans for 2020 particularly around the subject of butterflies. I carry out surveys in two locations in Northumberland and had in mind to see if I could find Small Pearl-Bordered Fritillary and Green Hairstreak colonies in locations new to me. This idea came about since in 2019 they seemed to be more abundant than I had previously thought.

On my first general survey in March, (I know, but I’m keen), I did manage a zero count just a couple of days before the first lockdown.

Covid then took over. Access to my main survey walk was closed off.

During that first lockdown period I made use of locations closer to home namely the back garden, in Gosforth and the Town Moor.

Nuns Moor North presents possibilities of spotting something along its drainage ditch which backs onto gardens. Birds, Butterflies, Damselflies all showed.

When the first lockdown ended I started to venture further but to quiet areas, and access to my second survey area had now opened up.

A walk from Banks pond over to the coal extraction restoration area at Brenkley was a bit of a surprise with huge butterfly numbers in those areas which had been restored and masses of supporting wildflowers doing their thing.

In the back garden I was amazed to see a frog beside my tiny garden pond. A first for about 15 years.

Kittiwake © Dick Gilesby

I did start to drive a bit further for my wanders but the strangest event happened on my front doorstep. I stepped out one morning to have a bird fly towards me and land on the step.

Quite taken aback it took me a few seconds to realise this was a juvenile Kittiwake. I expected it to fly off again but no, it just kept calling. After a while, I was concerned that the local cats may be a problem so I sourced a cardboard box, picked the bird up and placed it in the passage. Having been here before, but that’s another story of a Razorbill swimming in the bath, white fish was defrosted, cut into slivers and consumed. Was woken the next morning by the bird. A day of constant calling and feeding resolved into a plan to take the bird to the quayside, opposite the Gateshead Kittiwake tower and release. This was achieved the next morning and the bird flew off.

I have also managed to see some of those special autumn migrant birds passing through Northumberland.

But now its lockdown again. Funny old year.

By Dick Gilhespy, local naturalist
Wylam art © Stephen Pardue

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