Winter’s Gibbet, a decrepit relic of a bygone age when the public display of corpses was deemed acceptable, is a rather eerie place to visit. The structure, standing on the site of an ancient boundary stone, marking the spot where, following his execution for the 1791 murder of Margaret Crozier, the body of William Winter was displayed for all to see. It is, however, also a rather beautiful location; overlooking the shady depths of Harwood Forest and surrounded on adjacent sides by rolling expanses of moorland. Perfect for a touch of upland birding.
Today’s visit to the gibbet started well; blazing sun and soft winds providing the prime conditions for raptor watching, and the ever-present chorus of upland passerines lending the day a distinctly atmospheric feel. Indeed, our stay was accompanied start to finish by the singing of Meadow Pipit and Skylark and, from within the wood, the incessant calling of Siskin, Goldcrest and Coal Tit. With the undulating notes of some not too distant Curlew thrown in for good measure – the birds observed later, back on territory alongside many and more Lapwing, Golden Plover and even Snipe.
As mentioned previously, raptors were, of course, the target of our venture; this is, after all, a vantage point known to many as a prime location from which to ogle a great number of our predatory bird species. Our hopes soon rising as more and more Buzzards (I counted nine in total) lifted as if from nowhere to ride the thermals above the bottle-green wood. Lazy wingbeats striking a sharp parallel to the rapid hovering of a nearby Kestrel who hunted the roadside heath for the duration of our stay. The unhurried, almost fatigued, flight of the Buzzards allowing for easy recognition of a male Goshawk when it eventually joined the fray. Showing well, albeit distantly, as it broke cover – circling a few times in the company of the larger birds before dropping, once more, from sight.
A Raven was nice to see here too – gliding across the distant wood on inky wings and marking my first encounter with this species in 2017.
Heading home via the coast; a handsome drake Ring-Necked Duck was at the Northumberland Wildlife Trust’s Hauxley reserve and a Great White Egret was observed at Druridge Pools. With other interesting titbits including Avocet, at Cresswell, Scaup and Slavonian Grebe, at East Chevington, and many more Kestrels and Buzzards enjoying the radiant sun along our route home.