Monday, 3 September 2012


I've been birding, and observing the wildlife at Holywell for roughly 8 years now, it was in fact Holywell which kick started my passion, and without it I wouldn't be where I am today. Back in 2004 I was out on a bike ride with a school mate, at 13 years old we still had some boundaries which are mothers enforced upon us, but thankfully these generally went in one ear and out the other. We headed out of Whitley Bay and along the backtrack, the Dene was a familiar place to us, so instead of going straight into the woods we headed out to explore the surrounding fields. This is when we found the pond. I don't have any memory of visiting the public hide, I can only remember venturing down to the members hide, finding it locked. 

A number of returns later, desperate to find out what was inside, I eventually arrived to find it open. A regular birdwatcher called Sid kindly let me in, he asked me if I would like to look at a Great Crested Grebe nest and I jumped at the chance! From that moment Holywell had me hooked. I kept thinking to myself, how could something so different and unusual and rare be found so close to my house, what else was there to be seen?

It wasn't long before I became a member of Northumberland Wildlife Trust and bought a key for the hide, biking down to the pond almost every day. One morning I arrived to find a birdwatcher leaving, this man was Eric Galloway, he took me under his wing and I began visiting Holywell Pond every Sunday morning, arriving early, as Eric said, this was the best time. He taught me how to become a birdwatcher.

Soon after my Granddad began joining me on Sunday mornings, and we visited every Sunday morning for a number of years.

I've dug up my first notebook, with the first entry dated 2nd October 2004. It was a struggle to read my own handwriting:

' Holywell Pond (07:45)
3 Whooper Swans, 1 Otter, 1 Male Scaup, 10+ Black Headed, 25+ Lapwings, 1 Grey Heron, 1 Pochard, 5+ Jackdaw, 15+ Woodpigeon, 2 Juv Herring Gulls, 1 Adult Mute Swan, 3 Moorhen, 4+ Great Tits, 5+ Crows, 3+ Blue Tits, 4 Magpies, 1 Tufted Hybrid, 2 Coot, 1 Wren, 1 Great Blacked Backed Gull, 7 flocks of geese flew over unidentified, 1 Robin, 1 Tufted, 55+ Greylag, 1 Female Chaffinch, 1 Male Chaffinch, 1 Wigeon'

Not a bad morning by the sounds of it, 3 Whooper Swans and an Otter. I'm not sure what the Tufted Hybrid I noted was, and I presume the unidentified Geese would have been Pink-Footed Geese.

Since I've began watching Holywell local and regular birdwatchers have always told me it was a shadow of its former self. Stories of wintering Smew, Bitterns, and Short-Eared Owls, at one time being one of the best wintering sites in the county for the latter.

Last night it felt like I reconnected with this shadow, as I arrived at Holywell to find the lone summering Short-Eared Owl to be joined by at least another 3 companions, hunting the ground from the pond, through the cattle field all the way to the Obelisk and across to the Dene. Nights like these go unforgotten, the fact that these Owls were on my patch, in 8 years I hadn't seen this many Short-Eared Owls at Holywell.

Tonight I revisited with the camera, the pictures don't do these stunning birds justice, but I was more than happy to photograph them on patch.

Hopefully they'll hang round for a few days.


  1. Excellent post Cain.
    I haven't been birding that long and Holywell was one of my first regular haunts and i always appreciated questions being answered by those very much more experienced than myself about sightings from the members hide. Yourself being one of the main contributers. Meeting people like you who shared information with a birding "dodo" like myself spurred me on in a similar way to your early days. I'm sure you have planted many seeds with the young 'uns that have crossed your path.

  2. Yes, an excellent post Cain.
    I remember very clearly meeting you with your grand-dad at the hide some years ago, on what was possibly my first visit. I think you were 14 at the time and I had you marked down then as quite a naturalist and quite a guy. I've been proven correct on both counts.:-) I never did find the Kingfisher you told me about then, but I did find an area I have grown to really appreciate. I know I'm not the only one you've helped as John's and others words will testify to.
    I was down at Holywell with Sam yesterday evening too, and we spotted one of the Short Eared Owls being harassed by a crow. Cheers.

  3. Was that his grandad Brian ?? I thought it was Crammy Birder !!
    (Sorry Crammy)

  4. Great post Cain! It's very promising that more Short Eared Owls are returning to Holywell.