The first hour of the 21st annual Dawn Chorus at Ford & Etal was more akin to a January morning than to early May. The temperature was hovering either side of 0°C and the grass as we walked down the steep bank to the River Till was pure white. Those of us who had met there once before recalled the thick mist with which we had been confronted – a morning when birdsong meant everything because it had seemed that we would never see a single thing…
But the sun slowly rose and its rays became stronger. With the light behind us we were able to stand for several minutes and watch – in amazement – a young male Crossbill and two females at the top of a few Scots Pine trees, in an arable landscape and far away from the thick pine woodlands in which they are normally seen. Perhaps Crossbills send out small foraging parties in spring, to investigate every remaining tree in an area that might still bear cones after they have run out of supplies in larger woods? They flew off as we eventually moved to go past them, only to sit on a distant ash tree until we had passed and then fly straight back again.
Down on the river, a male Grey Wagtail gave a wonderful display of dancing at the edge of the rushes, whilst above him a Great Spotted Woodpecker foraged almost upside down under a branch. Further up the steep bank, in the bluebells (and in the sunshine) two Roe Deer made a lovely picture. Two Curlew flew overhead. Linnets, Bullfinches, Greenfinches, Yellowhammers and Goldfinches were busy in the thick gorse bushes beside us and a Dipper flashed past.
Moving up the river, we finally emerged into the sunshine ourselves, stopping to study the scolding ‘chuck’ of two male Blackcaps arguing with each other at a corner of the wood. Looking across the river there were great views of Blue Tits darting in and out of a nest box and a cacophony of Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers. Another view of a Grey Wagtail was possible and a Long-Tailed Tit bounced past. One or two people were intent on identifying the breed of sheep on the bank behind us.
Walking back up to Tindal House Farm, a Garden Warbler’s song burst from a patch of blackthorn and a Whitethroat scratched his song in the bushes below the farm. We finally saw a Swallow – and a fine patch of Yellow Archangel growing on the edge of the wood.
It was a real delight to sit down in the Tea Rooms at Heatherslaw where an unending supply of Bacon, Sausage and Egg Rolls were soon on our plates. Twenty-first birthdays are of course also an occasion for a glass of something celebratory, with or without the orange juice, and a suitable toast was proposed to the next 21 years of the Ford & Etal Dawn Chorus.
The total number of species recorded (43) was a little disappointing; there were some notable absentees. A few members spent went to explore other corners of the estate after breakfast; their results are shown below in an additional list.
Seen/heard: Mallard; Tufted Duck; Pheasant; Grey Heron; Lapwing; Curlew; Common Gull; Herring Gull; Rock Dove; Woodpigeon; Great Spotted Woodpecker; Skylark; Swallow; Grey Wagtail; Pied Wagtail; Dipper; Wren; Dunnock; Robin; Blackbird; Song Thrush; Blackcap; Garden Warbler; Common Whitethroat; Chiffchaff; Willow Warbler; Goldcrest; Long-tailed Tit; Blue Tit, Great Tit; Coal Tit; Jackdaw; Rook; Carrion Crow; House Sparrow; Chaffinch; Greenfinch; Goldfinch; Linnet; Crossbill; Bullfinch; Yellowhammer. Additional species reported: Buzzard; Moorhen; Meadow Pipit; Raven; Lesser Whitethroat; Tree Sparrow; Reed Bunting.
After a successful exhibition in 2013 TillVAS is returning to the Old Bakery opposite Heatherslaw Cornmill with an entirely new exhibition, running from 20th May until 25th September (Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Bank Holiday Sundays & Mondays, 11am-4pm).
Award winning marmalade maker Lynne Allan, who runs Lady Waterford Preserves as part of the Old Dairy Concept Store in Ford, has won a coveted bronze award in The World's Original Marmalade Competition, which was held at Dalemain House in Cumbria at the weekend.
She went back in history 500 years to create a special Flodden marmalade to commemorate the famous battle, which took place in 1513 and beat off competition from accredited marmalade makers throughout the United Kingdom and abroad to win third place in the Any Citrus Marmalade category.
"Once again we are delighted to take a bronze at this amazing marmalade festival," Lynne Allan said. We entered three years ago and won Silver for our Lady Waterford's Marmalade with Chips and since then the competition has got even stiffer. The artisan section is a hard fought and highly prized section of the competition with the likes of the Ludlow Food Centre taking part and a host of other excellent marmalade makers."
Lynne believes there are genuine reasons for inventing a Flodden Marmalade. "To begin with The Scottish King James stayed at Ford Castle before travelling into the hills to join his troops at Flodden. He may even have eaten some marmalade before he left, not on toast as we do today, but as a sweetmeat, served in thick slices for dessert at the end of a feast or dinner. And, who knows, it could have been the last thing James lV tasted, because he was killed during the battle along with 10,000 of his soldiers."
Marmalade really does have a fascinating history. For example it was a very special gift in the reign of Henry V111, equivalent today to a case of fine wine or champagne. And in the King's letters and papers of 1524 it is recorded that Hull of Exeter gave him one box of marmalade and Henry was delighted with it.
The marmalades are judged for taste, aroma, set, looks and style and the two-day festival draws thousands of people interested in the hugely popular world of marmalade making.
Lynne makes her own jams and marmalades to sell and serve exclusively from the Old Dairy coffee shop and new parlour kitchen where they have the latest AGA on hand to make all their preserves. The winning recipe for the Flodden marmalade uses, rather fittingly, blood oranges to signify the connection to the battle!
The Flodden 1513 Ecomuseum is taking part in the 2014 Northumberland Residents Festival on 29th and 30th March with events at Heatherslaw Mill and the Crookham Peace Centre.
Also taking place the same weekend is the launch of the new Ecomuseum site, the Flodden Ridge: a circular walk around the ridge on which the Scots Army was encamped. The route, which offers spectacular views of the Tweed Valley and the Cheviots, will be publically accessible for the first time and during the course of the weekend free guided walks will be led by Flodden 1513 Archaeologist Dr Chris Burgess, HLF-funded Flodden Project Coordinator Alistair Bowden, Dr Chris Bowles, Scottish Borders Council archaeologist and local Flodden-author Noel Hodgson. For more information and to book a place please click here.
We are delighted to hear the announcement from the North Northumberland District Scout Council that Ford Scout Camp with its new purpose built Davison Activity Centre is now open and operational. Go to www.FordScoutCamp.co.uk to have a look at the facilities and for information on booking etc.
A full complement of 20 people Early Birders gathered this year at Slainsfield near Etal for the annual Dawn Chorus outing of the North Northumberland Bird Club, on Saturday 4th May. It was one of the largest parties in recent years.
After the appalling cold wet weather, and with springtime development some 2-3 weeks later than usual, it was no surprise that bird activity was reduced. But the sun was shining and the overnight gale had ceased.
Sadly the temporary exhibiton centre which has been open through the summer in the old Bakery building, opposite the entrance to Heatherslaw Mill , is now closed for the winter. Developed by the Till Valley Archaeological Society (TillVAS) the extensive exhibition, 'Life in a Border Village 1830-1930' included maps, photographs and some artefacts, with a focus on the local villages of Crookham and Branxton. The centre, which was manned by members of TillVAS, reported a very successful season and hopes to return with another exhibition next year.