Sunday, March 4, 2012

Wildlife Viewed Through Beer Goggles: 3. Urban Birding

After sampling tipple number 4 in this investigation of wildlife-themed beers - Allendale Brewery's Wagtail Ale - I've been keeping a lookout for the bird in question, to justify this tenuous excuse for indulging in alcoholic refreshment. Before I got any further though - and to ensure that I don't get hauled before the Leveson Inquiry for corrupt practices in journalism - I should emphasise that although most of the beers here have come from the same brewery - and there are a few more from the same source still to come - I have no affiliations with the Allendale Brewery whatsoever - its products just happen to be conspicuously available in some of my favourite local outlets. I have some wildlife-themed products from other brewers lined up in the fridge and their turn will come in due course..... and if you are a brewery company that would like your products featured here, just stick a label on it featuring a plant, animal or fungus and I'll add it to my workload. Deathcap bitter? Wild Pansy lager? Great Crested Newt ale? Bring it on......

Anyway, my quest for wagtails led me to this unlikely spot - the Ouseburn in Newcastle, which runs through Jesmond Dene, then under the city to appear again near Byker bridge, where it flows down to the Tyne about a mile downstream of the Tyne Bridge. The lower Ouseburn, once the recipient of some of the worst effluents that the industrial Revolution could invent, is rapidly being redeveloped, and this much-abused waterway is now relatively clean and becoming the focus of all sorts of artistic and high-tech enterprises. It's also a good spot for urban birding, especially along this stretch that the developers haven't had much impact on yet. These are moorings for small pleasure boats, many of which are converted ships' lifeboats. Ironically, the wreck you can see bottom right in this picture is called the Toontanic (yes, really) and - predictably - sank a few years ago (no one hurt) but has been raised and dragged back to the quay.

The stony riverbed looks a bit unsavoury but I often see kingfishers fishing in the pools here at low tide, and redshanks, along with the resident mallards that have already produced their first brood this year. It's also a favourite haunt of grey wagtails ..... 

... like this one catching flies on the wall of the quay .....

..... and this one exploring the stream bed. That vivid orange colouring on the rocks looks a bit alarming but it's probably not as toxic as it looks - it's most likely due to iron metabolising bacteria that thrive in iron-rich water.

You can pretty much guarantee to find grey wagtails here at almost any time of the year .... and the pub called the The Cluny next to the Ouseburn City Farm sometimes has wagtail bitter on tap. Some things are just meant to be..... 


  1. I see lots of Pied Wagtails but have only ever seen a Grey in France. Their colouring is lovely.

  2. If you get inundated with beers Phil, you can always send some down here lol

    These beers are all new to me so far.
    Lovely birds these Grey Wagtails; captured him well.

  3. Hi Phil, I've been poking around the ouseburn higher up a bit recently and seen grey wagtail and kingfisher there too but also a dipper under Armstrong Bridge. Not bad for a grubby old city centre gut really...

  4. Their flight is very balletic too, toffeeapple...

  5. It would be good a share a beer or two with you Keith!

  6. Hi Allan, these urban habitats have always fascinated me. There's a resident sparrowhawk too, and nesting goldfinches. Found deadly nightshade nearby last year. Have you read Edgelands by Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts - they have some interesting things to say about this no-man's land habitats.