Atmospheric; Focus on Northumberland Day 3 19/02/18

by on 21/02/18 18:12, under Photography, Uncategorized

Tuesday was the final full day of our Focus on Northumberland holiday and we were heading to the coast for a day of landscape photography…

Blue skies and sunshine can be a bit overrated so the drizzle and fog offered something a bit different.  Daniela had shown me some excellent photographs that she’d taken previously, so I was slightly surprised to learn that her camera was always set to auto.  With a calm sea that only had white along the edge of the breaking surf, and with the impressive edifice of Bamburgh Castle vanishing in heavy mist, Daniela had composed an effective scene looking from the dune tops towards the Farne Islands (also shrouded in mist) so it was time to take the camera off auto and start exploring the exposure trinity of ISO, aperture and shutter speed and the creative possibilities that come once you start to control depth of field.  The drizzle continued as we made our way south along the coast and a very welcome hot chocolate at The Drift Inn came just before we headed west along the line of Hadrian’s Wall and back to The Battlesteads.

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Omens; Focus on Northumberland Day 1 and 2 17-18/02/18

by on 18/02/18 21:21, under Uncategorized

Day 1 17/02/18

After collecting John and Dani from Hexham we headed to The Battlesteads; our base for the next three days.  Saturday’s evening session at the observatory featured some clear sky and we managed a quick binocular tour of Orion, Leo, Gemini, Cassiopeia, Auriga and the Plough before the rain eventually drove us back to the warmth of the dry room.

Day 2 18/02/18

Today was our inland wildlife/landscape photography day and we headed south into the North Pennines.  The road sides still had a fair amount of snow and a couple of the minor roads that we would have used to cross some of the higher hills weren’t safely passable but a brief detour soon had us next to flocks of Lapwing, Starling and Common GullRed Grouse were their usual obliging selves, sitting well within camera range and chuckling away at us before delivering an ominous ‘go back, go back, go back’ – perhaps they’d had a look at the road conditions already?  The avian specialty of the hills was there in good numbers too; 51 Black Grouse during the day included a single flock of 40 birds before drizzle and fog closed in around us.  Flocks of Rook and Jackdaw flew in front of us on their way to roost, dark birds against a darkening sky as the weather followed us down from the hills and we headed back to civilisation and The Battlesteads.

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Ravenous; Otter mini-Safari 13/02/18

by on 14/02/18 11:23, under Druridge Bay

As I collected Simon, Judith, Susanna and Phoebe from Newbiggin ahead of an afternoon searching for Otters around Druridge Bay the sky darkened and rain turned to sleet turned to snow…

Under an overcast sky with barely a hint of a breeze, the uniform colour of the water made it easy to spot any movement.  Goldeneye and Little Grebe were diving and I was watching regular ripples emanating from a small bay in the reeds, just below two Roe Deer, as a Water Rail poked around another bay.  Whatever was causing the ripples remained hidden though, and after admiring a handsome drake Long-tailed Duck our attention was drawn to Goldeneye displaying.  Head thrown back, bill pointing skywards and then neck outstretched and dipped dramatically, one drake Goldeneye caught the eye of a duck and they swam along, closely paired.  Just beyond them a Coot wing appeared on the surface of the water.  Was it fighting with another Coot?  It vanished below the water’s surface before reappearing and heading rapidly across the pool like the sail of a yacht.  A closer look revealed that it was on it’s back, feet in the air and moving quickly.  It sank again and then when it surfaced we could see the head of the Otter that was carrying it!  As the Otter neared the reeds her two cubs came out to greet her and they all disappeared into the reeds with the Coot.  After a little while, and as Canada Geese, Greylag Geese and Whooper Swans arrived noisily, the cubs were visible as they chased around in the reeds.  Then all three Otters swam across the pool, with the cubs pausing to engage in a play fight before vanishing into the reeds again as the low angled sunlight cast a golden glow over the landscape.

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Crashing waves; Druridge Bay Safari 01/02/18

by on 02/02/18 12:23, under Druridge Bay

Arriving at Church Point to collect Jenny and Peter, and Lynne, it was looking like we’d have a dry, but cold and windy day around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland…

With a stiff breeze, every bit of water we looked at, whether river, pool, pond or roadside flash flood was being whipped up into a series of white-capped peaks.  Bullfinches and Robins were very obliging as we walked through woodland, although Goldcrest remained heard but not seen, and on the nearby river Little Grebe, Cormorant and Goldeneye were all diving in search of food.  Red-breasted Merganser had their spiky crests ruffled comically by the wind and a drake Long-tailed Duck was looking superb – as were all of the Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye, Gadwall and a drake Goosander.  A herd of Whooper Swan were grazing in a coastal field and noisy flocks of Canada and Greylag Geese flew by in skeins scattered on the breeze.  Six Grey Herons had discovered a nice sheltered spot to sit and a Little Egret stalked delicately along the water’s edge.

Our exposed clifftop lunch spot was like a wind tunnel with waves cashing below a flock of Great Black-backed, Black-headed, Common and Herring Gulls hanging in the breeze, accompanied by a beautiful ghostly pale adult Mediterranean Gull which settled on the narrow strip of exposed sand that remained and found itself surrounded by scurrying Sanderling.

The rapidly rising tide of the early afternoon was pushing waders up off the beach and rocks with Curlew, Oystercatcher, Redshank and Dunlin all arriving to roost.  Lapwing were tossed on the breeze and, along with dense twinkling flocks of Golden Plover rising from a nearby field with geese and Starlings, peppered the sky.  The reflections of grey clouds darkened the water as low-angled sunlight illuminated the reeds and the contrast between dark grey and glowing gold was just sublime and as we headed back down the coast towards Newbiggin we paused to admire a flock of noisy yapping Pink-footed Geese.

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Mum to the rescue; an Otter encounter 24/01/18

by on 25/01/18 10:38, under Otter

After Tuesday’s Otter Safari, and spectacularly close view of three Otters, I headed back out yesterday with my camera.  The wind direction had changed, and not for the better, and the breeze had strengthened to bone-chilling…

In the fast flowing water one of the Otter cubs was struggling and became separated from it’s mother and sibling.  It made its way to the closest point of land, calling constantly, before getting out of the water, still calling, and waiting for mum to come and help, which she did, and before heading back to the holt together they stopped and had a good stare in my direction 🙂

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Eurasian River Otter, Lutra lutra, Northumberland, Northern Experience Wildlife Tours, Otter Safari, Otter spotting, Otter Safari Northumberland, Otter Safari England, Otter Safari UK, Otter spotting Northumberland, Otter spotting UK, Otter spotting England, Nikon D500, Sigma 300mm f2.8, wildlife photography, wildlife photography workshops, wildlife photography tuition

Eurasian River Otter, Lutra lutra, Northumberland, Northern Experience Wildlife Tours, Otter Safari, Otter spotting, Otter Safari Northumberland, Otter Safari England, Otter Safari UK, Otter spotting Northumberland, Otter spotting UK, Otter spotting England, Nikon D500, Sigma 300mm f2.8, wildlife photography, wildlife photography workshops, wildlife photography tuition

Eurasian River Otter, Lutra lutra, Northumberland, Northern Experience Wildlife Tours, Otter Safari, Otter spotting, Otter Safari Northumberland, Otter Safari England, Otter Safari UK, Otter spotting Northumberland, Otter spotting UK, Otter spotting England, Nikon D500, Sigma 300mm f2.8, wildlife photography, wildlife photography workshops, wildlife photography tuition

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Snowmelt; Otter Safari 23/01/18

by on 24/01/18 12:48, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

Double figure temperatures, blue sky and hardly any hint of a breeze were a revelation as I collected Kellie and Sean from The Swan for a day around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland searching for Otters.

Improved weather and the forecast gales and torrential rain were nowhere to be seen…what could go wrong?  Flight views of a Bittern in beautiful light were a good start, a very obliging Kingfisher perched on reeds in front of us before diving into the water and returning to it’s perch with a small fish and a drake Long-tailed Duck looked resplendent in the sunshine.  Two Water Rails were also rather obliging as they fed in a gap in the reeds, before walking on the still frozen margins of the pool.  Goldeneye, Coot and Little Grebe were all avoiding one edge of the reeds, although Mute Swans were feeding right against the reeds, although the hoped-for Otters didn’t appear…and there was the ominous low hum of a strengthening breeze.

By the time we reached our next site the wind had really picked up, and as I pointed out where any Otters were likely to be Sean spotted them 🙂  An adult female and two cubs feeding in a fast-flowing river that was being bolstered by an impressive volume of water from further inland.  Monday’s rain, and melting snow, were adding to the flow as the Otters hunted.  After ten minutes they headed towards the bank and vanished, before reappearing a bit further away.  They started heading towards us and one of the cubs got out of the water before rejoining it’s mother and sibling…and they came closer still.  Suddenly they were out of the water in front of us, following each other in and out of gaps between the rocks and calling noisily.  It was hard to imagine how this encounter could be any more spectacular…then one cub suddenly appeared from behind a rock and ran straight towards us!  It was probably only 3 metres away when it vanished in the rocks and we could hear it having an altercation with the others.  They headed off before quickly heading back in our direction and by the time they all vanished into a gap in the rocks on the opposite side of the water, carrying a large fish, we’d been watching them for nearly two and a half hours and dusk was starting to exert it’s grip as the Sun sank behind dark clouds away to the southwest.

I’m not often lost for words…

Here are the three Otters when I was photographing them last week 🙂

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Ice, ice baby; Otter mini-Safari 20/01/18

by on 24/01/18 12:11, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

I collected Judy and Gary, Jess and Jarrod, and Ben from Whitley Bay, ahead of a few hours around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland for possibly the first time that a NEWT mini-Safari has been a birthday present for a 6-year old.  No ordinary 6-year old though…a 6-year old who wants to be a marine biologist and watches Blue Planet when he should be doing his homework 😉

It was cold, with most footpaths and tracks still covered in either snow or ice, but that did allow us to study some Rabbit tracks and think about how they’re formed.  A thin layer of ice on the river had left Goldeneye, Cormorant and Little Grebe close to the margins or picking their way through the maze of small gaps of clear water and a rabbit was on the bank near the water’s edge.

As dusk took hold the Tufted Ducks and Coots were forming an increasingly dense flock…as the water around them froze, leaving an ever-decreasing circle at it’s centre.  Skeins of Pink-footed  Greylag and Canada Geese were all heard before they were seen, as the calls of Mallard, Wigeon and Teal resonated through the cold air and a Grey Heron stalked through the icy shallows.  Time to head back to the warmth of the car, and the bright lights of Whitley Bay 🙂

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Chilly; Otter mini-Safari 09/01/17

by on 10/01/18 12:39, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

Cold and breezy has been a recurring theme over the last couple of months, and when I arrived at Church Point to collect Andrea and Ian ahead of a few hours around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland searching for Otters a stiff breeze had whipped the sea into a frothy white mass and was biting at all of the layers I’d donned…

I’d got two sites in mind for the afternoon and the first one had a very obvious sign of the presence of Otters; Goldeneye, Mallard, Coot and Little Grebe were everywhere – except in the lee of the reedbed that would have sheltered them from the wind.  Mute Swans were staring at the reeds, but whatever was in there remained hidden as the wind whistled around the reeds and us.  Lapwings had flushed and were being tossed on the breeze like leaves as we headed to our second site.  Coot, Canada Goose, Mallard, Wigeon, Teal, Goldeneye and Gadwall were all feeding or roosting as the biting wind dictated that most wildlife just kept their heads down.  It won’t be too long until the spring.

Our clients have a wide range of wildlife (and other) interests, but yesterday was the first time that we’ve ever had anyone on one of our trips who has an obsession with sloths.  So today I’m watching ‘Meet the Sloths’ on YouTube 🙂

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Ten years on…

by on 04/01/18 14:41, under Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland Coast

Ten years ago we had our first Safari Day with clients and back then we didn’t have a blog (that was something we only added to our website in June of that year) so here’s a short trip report from my memory…

4th January 2008 was a cold, gloomy day as we headed to the North Northumberland coast.  We’d had a minor setback in that the council hadn’t got their heads around how to license a vehicle that was going to be used to carry paying clients but was clearly neither a hackney carriage or a private hire vehicle – so our insurers wouldn’t let us use it for it’s intended purpose.  That’s how I found myself as navigator and wildlife guide, but in our clients’ car instead of in the NEWT Landrover.  When Karen booked the day for herself, Paul and Ash a few weeks earlier, there was one particular target species – Roe Deer.  I’d got 2 or 3 sites in mind that should produce sightings of deer, and we did eventually track down a small group as they grazed in a coastal field 🙂  Early January doesn’t have a lot of daylight and in the gloom of dusk we watched a Harbour Porpoise in the shadow of Bamburgh Castle as a lone surfer demonstrated that there are far crazier things to do on the Northumberland coast in the middle of the winter than search for wildlife 😉

Over the following weeks the calls from journalists and radio presenters started to come; “Wildlife Safaris in Northumberland?” “Wildlife Safaris in southeast Northumberland?” “Is this really what you’re doing?”  “Who would want to come to Northumberland for a Wildlife Safari?  This isn’t Africa.”

Along with skepticism from local media, there was the harsh assessment by a local tourism marketing expert – “You’ll never make it work.  There simply isn’t the market to support a year-round wildlife guiding business in Northumberland. You might survive a couple of years.”

Ten years on and we’re still here, still growing, still developing – we’ve been an active member of the Birdwatching Northumberland/Wild Northumberland consortia, promoting our beautiful county as a nature-based tourism destination, we’ve delivered press/media trips ranging from stargazing on Holy Island to a week identifying potential filming locations along Hadrian’s Wall with a Belgian TV presenter and producer,  we’ve grown our pelagic trip programme from 2-3 sailings each year to 19-20, led a marine conservation project that became the first to identify the key feeding and calving areas for White-beaked Dolphins off the Northumberland coast, supported the process that’s designating Marine Conservation Zones in the North Sea and never stopped looking for new wildlife locations around our stunning county  🙂

Some huge thank yous are due here: Iain Scott, Karen Davies, Keith Raine and the Go Wanbeck project for all of the support pre-NEWT and in the very early days when we were on an occasionally terrifying learning curve, all of the partners in Birdwatching Northumberland/Wild Northumberland, all of the other businesses who we’ve worked with over the last ten years, and to all of our clients – you’re just as important a part of the experience as the wildlife, and your love and enthusiasm for Northumberland and its wildlife keeps us continually motivated to deliver a more engaging experience.

Here’s to the next ten years of sharing our passion for Northumberland’s wildlife with clients on NEWT trips 🙂

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Common Eider; NEWT’s photo of the day 01/01/18

by on 01/01/18 21:57, under Photography

2018 started with some very obliging photogenic Common Eiders [Somateria mollissima] along the River Coquet. Common Eider, Somateria mollissima, Northumberland, bird photography, bird photography courses, wildlife photography, wildlife photography courses, wildlife photography tuition, bird photography tuition

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