Friday, 25 September 2015

Sacha Elliott - Burdon Moor/Causey Arch

Thinking of Gateshead doesn’t immediately invoke images of awe inspiring natural places or breath-taking wildlife encounters. The area’s raw and often tarnishing industrial heritage was cemented in the mind with the installation of the now (in)famous Angel of the North, encapsulating what many folk envisage when Gateshead is mentioned. However, seek and you shall find vast areas of rolling countryside (over half of Gateshead's countryside!), teeming with wildlife just waiting to be discovered. One such wildlife haven is Burdon Moor, my local patch. 

Roughly 4km directly west of the Angel of the North, Burdon Moor is one of the highest points in the area, showcasing panoramic views of both the Gateshead and Co. Durham countryside. Originally lowland heathland, this rare habitat was lost to agricultural “improvements” and opencast mining around 100 years ago. In an attempt to restore this location to its once glorious past, Gateshead Council instigated the ‘Bringing Back Burdon Moor Project’ to regenerate heather where it once grew. While the restoration of the site is proving to be a slow process, this doesn’t seem to be negatively affecting the many wild creature which call this site home and have readily adapted to a site still exhibiting signs of its industrial legacy.

Discovering this site purely by accident, I was immediately captivated by its 'diamond in the rough' qualities.  Here, in the heart of an agricultural landscape - and while a little marred by past industrial workings - was a wildlife Mecca and a jewel in the crown of Gateshead for bird lovers.  So enamoured with Burdon Moor, I paid a second visit that day, this time on an evening, to investigate potential nocturnal activity.  While I would have been happy to just watch passerines singing their evening melodies before heading off to roost, I also encountered Brown Hares and Roe Deer contently grazing the site.  However, what captivated my attention that night and cemented a great fondness for the site was the ‘squeaky-gate’ emanating from a tree a few paces ahead of me.  I lifted my trusty binoculars and there, illuminating through the dusk, was the glowing orange eyes of 4 young Long-eared Owls.  I could not believe it - my first real visit to the site and I encounter such enigmatic creatures.  Magic!

From birds to dragonflies to lizards, Burdon Moor is a tantalising experience for any keen naturalist and offers truly wonderful wildlife encounters with often very little effort.  If you’re lucky, the distinctive ‘wet-my-lips’ call of a Quail can be heard during summer and influxes of Short-eared Owls dazzle and perform over the cold and barren winter months. 

It was a natural evolution that I would choose this site for my Patchwork Challenge location, and while uni and work commitments restricted my time there over the summer period, I was pleasantly surprised with my species list so far.  Being a high point in the area, Burdon Moor is often used as a stopping point for birds, so species such as Wheatear, Whinchat, and Stonechat can be easily picked up before they move on to their breeding grounds. You have to be a bit luckier to catch Cuckoo or Ring Ouzel but put the time in and you’ll be rewarded! The site offers an array of common species and I’m ever hopeful that one day it’ll treat the local birders to a Shrike.  There’s also a scrawny, dead tree on site that is begging for a Red-footed Falcon to be perched atop its gnarly branches.  One can dream! For now I’ll look forward to the splendid spectacle of Golden Plover that will begin to amass over the winter. My PWC site also takes in a small section of the woodland and burn surrounding the Causey Arch.  This allows me to mop up a few other common birds like Dipper and Tawny Owl.  I’ve got four species of owl on my PWC list, however, I’m still sadly lacking Barn Owl for the area.

With the summer survey season winding down at work, I fully intend to hit the patch with enthusiasm and spend many a relaxing day enjoying the site for all that it offers. I’m not sure I’ll improve on my current total of 92 species with 102 points scored, but the time spent outdoors with be worth it nonetheless, and you never know what bird will drop in next! 

- Sacha Elliot (Burdon Moor & Causey Arch)

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