Thursday 30 June 2016

Birds Again and Brilliant ones too

27th to 29th June Two new birds and a 'carbon day.'

The two days previous to today were cycling days. After my few days rest, during which I celebrated my 60th birthday with my family and voted Remain in the EU referendum and cried at the result, I was back on the road heading north from York.
The bike had been serviced and repaired and I reached Thirsk on Saturday evening and camped.
Nine hours solid sleep, I cycled on Sunday to Blackhall Colliery. I had been feeling very low due to the EU referendum result yet three things that occurred along the way brought me back to my usual optimistic, happy self.
I had called in at the superb RSPB Saltholme nature reserve north of Middlesborough and met a lovely couple who shared my feelings and opinions over the referendum. Talking about it with like-minded people was therapeutic. Refreshed by a drink in the visitor centre cafe I continued north through the land of the monkey hangers, Hartlepool. OK, this needs to be explained.

Legend has it that during the Napoleonic Wars of the early 19th century, a shipwrecked monkey was hanged by the people of Hartlepool, believing him to be a French spy! To this day, people from Hartlepool are affectionately known as 'monkey hangers'.
A French ship was spotted floundering and sinking off the Hartlepool coast. Suspicious of enemy ships and nervous of possible invasion, the good folk of Hartlepool rushed down to the beach, where amongst the wreckage of the ship they found the only survivor, the ship’s monkey which was apparently dressed in a miniature military-style uniform.
Hartlepool is a long way from France and most of the populace had never met, or even seen, a Frenchman. Some satirical cartoons of the time pictured the French as monkey-like creatures with tails and claws, so perhaps the locals could be forgiven for deciding that the monkey, in its uniform, must be a Frenchman, and a French spy at that. There was a trial to ascertain whether the monkey was guilty of spying or not; however, not unsurprisingly, the monkey was unable to answer any of the court's questions and was found guilty. The townsfolk then dragged him into the town square and hanged him.
So is the legend true? Did the good folk of Hartlepool REALLY hang a poor defenceless monkey?
There could perhaps be a darker side to the tale – maybe they didn’t actually hang a ‘monkey’ but a small boy or ‘powder-monkey’. Small boys were employed on warships of this time to prime the canons with gunpowder and were known as ‘powder-monkeys’.

Over the centuries the legend has been used to taunt the residents of Hartlepool; indeed still today, at football matches between local rivals Darlington and Hartlepool United the chant, “Who hung the monkey” can often be heard. Most Hartlepudlians however love this story. Hartlepool United’s mascot is a monkey called H'Angus the Monkey, and the local Rugby Union team Hartlepool Rovers are known as the Monkeyhangers.
The successful mayoral candidate in the 2002 local elections, Stuart Drummond, campaigned dressed in the costume of H'Angus the Monkey, using the election slogan "free bananas for schoolchildren", a promise he was unfortunately unable to keep. However this appears not to have dented his popularity, as he went on to be re-elected two more times. Whatever the truth, the legend of Hartlepool and the hanged monkey has endured for over 200 years.

Great story!

Eventually in warm, sunny weather, I reached Blackhall Colliery and small town along the coastal road towards Sunderland. A woman with two young seven year old boys waved me down, having herself parked in a layby. They wanted to give me a donation having passed me and seen the collection cans on the bike. Hence I meet Jac and his Mum, Zoey with Jac's friend Lennon who proudly said he was named after John Lennon and that so was his Dad, John! They were from nearby Hesledon and gave me a small furry cuddly for the bike. It looks like a small tribble from an old Star Trek episode. The boys name it Maximore. I am unsure of it's gender!

As I cycle on up a slight incline a gentleman gestures to me asking whether I needed a drink. Hence I meet the lovely Jan and Ron. An hour or so I spend enjoying a coffee with them and a chat. Ron used to be an electrician in the coal mines back when such things existed in Britain. He talked of the train that went seven miles out under the North Sea that took the miners out to the coal face. A fabulous couple, so kind of them to help a stranger.

By now it was early evening and rain had started to fall. I passed a large, rough-looking pub and asked whether they did bed and breakfast. Immediately I was surrounded by a few loud and in your face tough lads. The bike was carried inside and the girl behind the counter tried to ascertain what I wanted through the loud music blaring out and as the lads tried out their strength in lifting the bike. As each lad expressed their opinion over each one's strength they each put coins into the collection boxes and asked what I was up to. Salt of the earth I believe the expression might be, I eventually managed to get upstairs to a superb bedroom. Newly furbished, it was comfortable with bath in a large bathroom. Perfect.

Three occasions of kindness restore faith in humanity. I slept happier than of late. 

Monday 27th June

After a massive Full English breakfast I was off into a fresh northerly heading north. It is about time the weather changed, that is I would love to have a wind behind me for a change.
Through Sunderland and South Shields, over the Tyne to North Shields and north to the A189, along the busy dual carriageway I reached the high bridge over the Wansbeck estuary. Taking the bike down the grassy slope down to the water's edge I arrived at the spot where a Bonaparte's gull had been seen for a few days. Now I had dipped out on a Bonaparte's down on the Exe Estuary, Devon back in January. I had spent four days searching for that bird.
I scanned along the shoreline. 

Black-headed gull, OK...... oh there it is..... 

Bonaparte's gull on the list, bird number 257. A great addition to the year list the bird waded along the water's edge quite nearby and occasionally flew for a while before always returning to the same spot.

After an hour or so and after enjoying some tea whilst watching it, I continued north to Cresswall Ponds and enjoyed watching avocets, dunlin and curlew as the strong now west wind blew.

28th June

An early morning of g
lorious sunshine has me on top of a sand dune looking over to Coquet island, another RSPB reserve which has nesting roseate terns. Out over the bay there were plenty of terns yet there was no way I could be totally convinced that any of them were roseates. None of them came close and I decided to try the harbour and adjacent rocks at nearby Amble. 

Eider and red-breasted mergansers in the harbour. arctic terns were here and a few sandwich terns too but still no roseates. I retired to a cafe for lunch.
Back on the beach again in the afternoon, by now rain was falling yet my hopes were high as the tide was very low and I could get a lot nearer to the island.
A figure appeared on the distant sand dunes and proceeded to walk towards me. Gareth Hughes! Brilliantly Gareth had decided to do some tern watching whilst on the way to Aberdeen. A bit of a detour on the way to see a white-winged scoter but here he was and almost immediately a roseate tern flew over our heads. Bird number 258 and a witness to witness the event.

Rain fell, we watched and then walked to some freshwater pools hoping that some roseates would head there to get washed.
After this we ate fish and chips together and talked bird listing. On the Bubo BOU year list page for 2016 Gareth is top with 298 (he is now on 299 having had the rare scoter). The top carbon twitcher sits with the top Green Birder.,BOU,1,2016,0

29th June

A day with my daughter, Rebecca, we head for The Farne Islands in a hire car. How strange to be travelling north in a carbon-fuelled vehicle and along roads that I will have to cycle along tomorrow.
Onto a Billy Shiels boat at 10 o'clock, we head out to the Outer Islands, to islands I have never been to before. The Birding Clams and I came this way a couple of years ago to see a very rare bridled tern but that was on the Inner Farnes. This time we were to stand on an island free of head pecking terns, instead there were thousands of very close guillemots with good numbers of puffins and kittiwakes. Shags, razorbills, various gulls, rock pipits and oystercatchers were also there in smaller numbers. All the birds were so close and not bothered by the milling people.

Back to Alnwick with rain pouring we visit Barter's Bookshop and meet up with Rebecca's wonderful boyfriend, Les. Coffee and cake, the best flapjack of the year, they buy me a book, The Big Year by Mark Obmascik; the book of the story made into a film, The Big Year of the Big Year of 1998. The story of three carbon twitchers. I wonder if ever Green Birders will make it into a book and a film?

1 comment:

  1. I always enjoy reading your updates but reading this one with the people you met along the way was a little extra enjoyable (definitely much needed after the political mess of the last few days)!


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