Yesterday was Pete and Jan’s 9th trip with NEWT and we headed to a location that they haven’t visited with us previously…
Heading north from Embleton we soon encountered the first rain of the day, and by the time we reached the Holy Island causeway the mud and shallow water around the array of Redshank, Greenshank, Curlew, Dunlin and Bar-tailed Godwit was being battered by a fairly torrential shower. As the rain eased, everything scattered as a Peregrine flew over; a muscular menace above mudflats where Grey Seals were hauled out as the tide fell, and a dense flock of Golden Plover settled once the danger had passed. Once the rain eased, we headed across onto the island and began the entertaining game of hide-and-seek that characterises mid-October birdwatching on the coast with birds arriving from the east. Blackcap, Reed Bunting, Robin, Linnet, Stonechat and Meadow Pipit all appeared, vanished and reappeared as the air overhead was filled with calls of Lapwing, Curlew, Grey Plover and Skylark. Three Roe Deer were in a nearby field and a Firecrest put in an unobligingly fleeting appearance in one of many, many bushes that held Goldcrests. We eventually made our way to the north side of the island and joined the twitch of a very obliging Isabelline Wheatear. Every bush seemed to hold Robin and Goldcrest and, along the Straight Lonnen, Redwing, Song Thrush and Blackbird were feeding avidly and a very grey ‘eastern’ Goldcrest stood out from the more typical birds as a Ring Ouzel flew over before diving for cover in a hawthorn bush. After lunch, another bush full of ‘crests produced two Firecrests in view at the same time before we headed back across to the mainland.
Another great day out with Pete and Jan, and the weather forecast looks like it could bring even more arrivals from the east over the next few days 🙂
I collected Phil and Richard and we set out for a day birdwatching around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. The forecast suggested there was the possibility of a rain shower sometime in the early afternoon…
Eider were well-appreciated, as Golden Plover carpeted the mud at low tide, and other ducks are starting to look very smart as they moult into breeding plumage; Teal, Mallard, Gadwall, Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Shoveler and a lone Scaup. Tuesday’s Long-tailed Duck was still present, consorting with male and female Wigeon, although quickly vanished from view. Grey Herons, Little Egrets, Curlew, Redshank, Lapwing, Avocet and Black-tailed Godwit were either in the shallows or on the muddy edge, Cormorants were doing that fantastic Otter impression that they’re so good at and the bushes along the footpaths held Song Thrush, Blackbird, Goldcrest, Chaffinch, Blue Tit, Coal Tit and a vocal Ring Ouzel that expressed it’s annoyance as we walked by. The southward migration of Pink-footed Geese continued, and two each of Brent Goose and Barnacle Goose were less expected. Dunnocks were subjected to greater scrutiny than usual (with the recent arrivals of Siberian Accentors, you just never know…) and Goldcrests were watched at close range as they made their way through willows.
As for that rain shower…an almost apocalyptic 5 minutes that just happened to coincide with us walking back to the car from the Oddie Hide at Druridge Pools. Driven by a NNE wind though, I wasn’t too distressed by it 🙂
A day around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland was in store as I arrived at Church Point to collect Sam, Luke, Perdi and Georgina.
Ghostly white Mediterranean Gulls were drifting through the assembled cloud of Black-headed Gulls as we prepared to head a few miles inland, and a Swallow over the caravan park was an unexpected find. A Long-tailed Duck on the river Wansbeck was a nice surprise, alongside Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Goosander, Red-breasted Merganser and Mute Swan. Skeins of Pink-footed Geese passed overhead, making their way south, as Little Egret, Grey Heron and Little Grebe feasted on what seemed to be a never-ending supply of tiny fish, Common Redshank flew back and forth and a Sparrowhawk panicked Woodpigeons in the riverside trees as it flew through. In the dunes along Druridge Bay Stonechat, Reed Bunting and Meadow Pipit flicked between bushes and fence posts. The recent wet weather, accompanied by easterly winds has left the coast dripping with Goldcrests, and a feeding flock of around a dozen of these tiny gems was scrutinised for anything different. Lapwing and Curlew were calling over the fields and a Common Scoter offered views that were vastly different to the usual dark dots riding the crest of waves offshore that typify the species. An incredibly pale grey Chiffchaff joined them briefly before diving into deep cover and not being as obliging as we hoped. As we neared the end of the afternoon one of the species that always enlivens a day birdwatching on the Northumberland coast through the autumn and winter put in an appearance. Dashing and elegant, the Merlin zipped along the dunes before flicking up, over and out of sight, in pursuit of an unidentified small bird. A handsome bird to end a fine day on the coast 🙂
Sunday’s Otter mini-Safari started at Church Point with an intense rainbow visible away to the east, and variable weather conditions depending on which direction we looked…
I collected Gemma and Jay, then Arthur and Gill and we headed up into Druridge Bay to start our search. Pink-footed Geese, one of the great harbingers of the coming winter, were grazing in roadside fields, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Coot, Moorhen, Teal, Gadwall, Cormorant, Little Grebe and Great Crested Grebe were all looking just too relaxed, Starlings were starting to assemble ready for the evening’s murmuration and Greylag and Canada Geese filled the air with a cacophony that most would find it hard to describe as pleasant 🙂 Grey Herons and Little Egrets stalked along the water’s edge at dusk as skeins of geese flew to roost, Mallard and Teal scattered nervously from one heavily shaded area close to the bankside but the cause of their distress remained unseen and, in the gloom of fading light, a flash of iridescent blue as a Kingfisher flew by and perched on a rock just upstream from us before plunging into the water and returning to its perch with a small fish. That was repeated with the bird using a range of rocks, twigs and branches as a perch before it vanished into a bush as two Grey Herons engaged in a noisy dispute and disturbed it’s hunting.
We always try to provide a weather forecast a day or two before a trip; it helps people to decide what footwear would be appropriate for example. Sunday’s update for everyone booked on yesterday’s Otter Safari was ‘Current weather forecast suggests dry and warm with only a very light NE breeze.’ By yesterday morning that had changed to ‘…likely to be cooler than anticipated, damp/misty and windy…’
I arrived at Church Point to collect Pamela, Conrad and David & Dianne, and we set off for an afternoon and evening searching for Otters around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. A beautiful ghostly pale adult Mediterranean Gull in the car park provided a nice comparison with the Black-headed Gull it was sitting next to and in the heavy mist that was about as far as we could see at the start of the tour. Another Mediterranean Gull, this time a juvenile moulting into 1st-winter plumage provided an even more educational experience. Gulls may not be everyone’s cup of tea but they’re great for learning all of the basics of moult and aging 🙂 Cormorant, Little Grebe, Canada and Greylag Geese, Mute Swan, Gadwall, Mallard, Wigeon, Teal, Tufted Duck, Grey Heron and Lapwing were just about everywhere we went, Ruff demonstrated their obvious sexual dimorphism, Starling murmurations were developing in the misty gloom of mid-afternoon and Little Egrets were delicate, luminous, silently stalking along the water’s edge. A juvenile Marsh Harrier quartered the edges of nearby fields but was subjected to continuous harrassment from corvids and a late brood of quite well-grown Swallows watched us from their nest. As dusk approached we were overlooking a stretch of water that I had high hopes for. Suddenly, hitherto unseen on the water in the dark shadows of bankside vegetation, Teal scattered in an almost perfect circle, including some that flew straight into the tree-lined bank and the impenetrable darkness was bisected by the typical line of bright water of the wake of an Otter 🙂 In the deep gloom of dusk, and the softening blanket of mist, it was proving difficult to pin down, and not everyone managed to, and the sequential flushing of Grey Heron along the bank hinted at it’s progress before it eventually surfaced near a group of Mute Swans, diving in a slightly more obliging location for a minute or so before it disappeared into the darkness.
My obsession with the weather forecast tends to intensify whenever we’ve got a pelagic wildlife trip coming up, and even more so when it’s one of our 10hr ‘Northumberland Ultimate Pelagic’ sailings. In the far reaches of the Farne Deeps even a fairly benign wind direction like southwesterly (which isn’t a problem in nearshore waters) can produce ‘interesting’ conditions…
I’d been out on Friday carrying out survey work for the North East Cetacean Project, and the southerly wind had piled the sea up into a white-capped deep rolling swell. Sunday’s forecast was for similar, but Saturday looked as though we’d have a nice weather window 🙂 Heading north from the Tyne we had the wind and the swell behind us, so it was a fairly smooth journey. By the time we reached the edge of the Farne Deeps, having encountered our first group of White-beaked Dolphins along the way, that swell was up around 1.5-2m. Then the dolphins started to appear – a group of 10 were joined by more and we’d soon got up to 25 White-beaked Dolphins around us 🙂 At one point we had 11 bow-riding between the hulls, packed together like sardines in a tin, and another ten alongside us. Eventually they stopped playing and gradually peeled off to return to feeding, just before Anthony spotted a Minke Whale ahead of us…which proved to be two Minkes, an adult and a juvenile. As we headed back south, with a Harbour Porpoise putting in a typically brief appearance in a flat, glassy calm, sea and odd Sooty Shearwaters added to the day total (which was around 50) Anthony asked me if I would scan the horizon out the east through my binoculars, as he’d seen what looked like very distant splashing. Sure enough, there were the splashes, which eventually resolved into a group of at least 30 White-beaked Dolphins and a memorable end to a stunning day.
As a wildlife guide I’ve become ever so slightly obsessed with the weather, and weather forecasts…
I arrived at Church Point to collect Steve and Christine ahead of a day around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland, and looking inland there seemed to be a lot of low, dense, cloud. The forecast suggested showers late morning, and a brighter afternoon, so we headed north along the coast with the intention of spending the first hour or so out in the open, before seeking the shelter of the various Druridge Bay hides once the poor weather arrived. A Kingfisher flew by, whistling, adding a touch of sparkling iridescence to the gloom as the first few raindrops began to add a dimpled pattern to the water’s surface. Suddenly it was dark, really dark, and the rain intensified as we drove to our next location. Then the heavens opened while Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Curlew, Cormorant and Grey Heron just got on with whatever they were doing. House Martins and Swallows strung out in lines along telephone wires must have been seeing the long journey south as an even more attractive prospect 🙂 More Cormorants followed, as did even heavier rainfall, and then the weather started to break – passing through an extraordinary transition where we had bright sunshine, heavy rain and an incredibly intense rainbow low above the horizon as a juvenile Marsh Harrier quartered the nearby reedbeds. Lunch time overlooking the North Sea produced a beach with plenty of Ringed Plover scuttling around and then, for the afternoon, glorious sunshine brought out Painted Lady butterflies and dragonflies that weren’t going to hang around to be identified! Two more juvenile Marsh Harriers obligingly settled amongst clumps of rush before one of them engaged in a fruitless pursuit of an adult Moorhen, during which it flushed lots of Common Snipe. Our final juvenile Marsh Harrier delivered probably the most impressive spectacle of the day as it disturbed Lapwing and Curlew, forming a dense nervous cloud of birds as it passed by, and at least 17 Little Egrets. We finished the day with a walk through some mixed woodland in vastly improved weather, although the trees were now bending in the rapidly strengthening breeze.
Friday was the latest of our 2016 pelagic trips from Royal Quays and, once we’d recovered the participant who’d inadvertently headed to the ferry terminal, we sailed north east from the Tyne. A few Sooty Shearwaters passed by and one was rafting with Guillemots, Fulmars soared effortlessly in the stiffening breeze and an Arctic Skua (a worryingly infrequent find on our pelagic tours over the last couple of years) was harassing Kittiwakes. A feeding flock of Gannets revealed the location of our first White-beaked Dolphins of the day, unidentified (but obviously very large) cetaceans were breaching on the edge of the Farne Deeps and another small group of White-beaked Dolphins came alongside as the breeze, and swell, started building.
Heading inshore to calmer waters we decided to search the nearshore from Druridge Bay down to Souter Point. Everything seemed quiet and I’d just taken my usual ‘end of pelagic’ shot of St Mary’s Island when Teri said she was sure that she’d just seen fins breaking the surface near a pot marker. A couple of minutes of searching didn’t produce any more sightings…and then suddenly the sea erupted with Bottlenose Dolphins 🙂
Yesterday was our annual Whale and Dolphin Cruise from Seahouses and, after Manx Shearwater, Gannet, Fulmar, Puffin and Guillemot, the marine mammals put in an appearance. Harbour Porpoises were typically brief and shy, but the White-beaked Dolphins drew plenty of ooohs and ahhhs from everyone on the boat 🙂
We’ve got very limited places available for our 10hr ‘Northumberland Ultimate Pelagic’ sailings on 2nd, 10th and 24th September, so give us a call on 01670 827465 to reserve your place before they’re all filled!
All wildlife tends to have it’s own niche, and those can be temporary…
I collected Meryl and Kate from The Swan and we headed towards the coast to spend the afternoon and evening searching for Otters around Druridge Bay and south east Northumberland. The weather forecast wasn’t great but, as Little Egrets, Grey Herons, Cormorants and Goosanders helped themselves to small fish, and much larger fish leapt out of the water nearby, it was slightly misty but the forecast rain stayed away. Common Sandpipers flew low across the water with their odd flicking wingbeats, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Common Redshank, Lapwing, Dunlin and Ringed Plover were all either feeding or roosting, House Martin and Sand Martin were enjoying a plethora of flying insects in the humid conditions and Goldfinch and Linnet flushed from the riverside scrub each time a walker came along the path. Heading towards dusk, although with waves of low cloud passing through almost continually it was difficult to discern a change in light levels, Greylag Geese came to roost, emerging noisily from the mist, and Starlings began their murmuration. A quick trip up to Amble allowed the ladies to sample the delights of Amble’s finest fish and chips before we headed to our final site for the day.
Great Crested Grebe chicks were begging in near darkness, a Great Crested Newt was a surprising find and, as the rain had finally arrived, Common Toads and Common Frogs were everywhere along the footpaths and roads in the damp, drizzly dark. Another one of those transient niches that creates quite a spectacle when conditions are just right 🙂