Heron aid :-) Otter Safari 14/05/19

by on 15/05/19 13:03, under Druridge Bay

Under warm sunshine I arrived in Newbiggin to collect Sue and Caroline, Ellen and Tom and Mark and Kay ahead of an afternoon and evening exploring NEWT’s favourite Otter locations around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland…

Walking through sun-dappled woodland with Robins, Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Chaffinches singing, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Nuthatch calling and Wrens furtively flitting through waterside vegetation we could hear the harsh cawing of two Carrion Crows from a bare treetop, and a few feet below them was the cause of their ire; a Grey Heron just minding its own business…although to be fair to the crows, a Grey Heron just standing still is probably up to something πŸ˜‰

A Buzzard was soaring above the treetops, two more herons were playing cat-and-mouse with us along the river and then Mute Swans, Canada Geese, Greylag Geese, Shelduck, Mallard and Gadwall were all sedate in the afternoon sunshine and Common Sandpipers were sitting on a mid-river log as the short scratchy warble of a Whitethroat came from a bramble patch.

After our picnic spot overlooking the North Sea produced Sand Martins, Swallows, a Gannet heading south offshore and a Grey Seal bobbing around in the surf, the beautiful evening light was bathing Avocets, including several mating pairs, Lapwings, Curlew, Dunlin and a Grey Heron that found itself on the receiving end of an agitated Avocet…once the Avocet had given up on fighting with a Curlew πŸ™‚

With dusk approaching and the waxing gibbous Moon illuminating the landscape Great Crested Grebes were nest-building, Black-headed Gulls were flycatching over the trees and the water and Canada Geese, Greylag Geese, Mallards and Tufted Ducks were all suddenly alert. With dusk taking hold and Vega, Arcturus and Capella all shining through the gloom the tufties took flight after all staring at the same spot, just out of sight behind a reedbed from our position…

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Exultation :-) Bespoke Lindisfarne mini-Safari 05/05/19

by on 08/05/19 14:27, under Lindisfarne

On Sunday I collected Nick, Mel, John and Heather for another day out with NEWT – this time heading to Lindisfarne

Blackbirds and Robins flitted out of the hedgerows as we walked along the Straight Lonnen, Swallows swooped overhead, Meadow Pipits were song-flighting and ten Roe Deer were quietly grazing and resting in one field while another four were away to the east of us. Grey Herons flew by, no doubt looking for a suitable spot to stand motionless in, Mallards and Shelducks flew past, a Curlew was wandering along the edge of the mud with lots of Grey Seals out on the mudflats at low water and a Brown Hare loped across the road in front of us.

One bird was very conspicuously advertising it’s presence though. Around the island the complex song of Skylarks was almost ever-present. It’s a species that’s undergone a dramatic population decline (75% between 1972 and 1996, with the decline continuing since then) so it’s always a joy to hear them and then watch as they perform a vanishing trick as they land.

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Warbling :-) Kielder Bespoke Birdwatching 03/05/19

by on 04/05/19 15:26, under Kielder

I collected Nick and Mel (for their 3rd day out with NEWT) and John and Heather from Bellingham and we took a short drive up the North Tyne valley for a day out around Kielder and the Scottish Borders…

Birdwatching in a dense forest in early May is a challenge and a small flock of Chaffinches feeding on the track ahead of us were particularly obliging. Robins, Blackbirds and Chiffchaffs were singing from the trees around us, flight calls betrayed Siskins and Crossbills as they passed overhead and a Willow Warbler sat out on a dead tree and was visibly shaking with the exertion of delivering that silvery descending scale. Five Roe Deer stared at us over an open grassy bank before nonchalantly trotting off towards the cover of a small copse.

Birds on the reservoir tend to be concentrated in favoured areas and Cormorant, Canada Goose, Mallard, Teal, Tufted Duck, Mandarin and Little Grebe were all on the water as an Oystercatcher waded in the shallows.

On the other side of the border Ravens and a Common Buzzard accompanied our picnic stop, Wild Goats were grazing close to the road and a Sparrowhawk flew low over the valley bottom before heading through the trees and out of sight. Red Grouse were chuckling in the heather and two of them were sitting very still and offering very accommodating views. A pair of displaying Hen Harriers quickly moved over the moor and away out of sight before a lone male quartered the valley bottom, occasionally dropping and apparently tussling with prey.

With the first few spots of rain speckling the windscreen we headed back towards Bellingham and civilisation πŸ™‚

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Calm; Otter Safari 30/04/19

by on 01/05/19 09:39, under Druridge Bay

Arriving in Newbiggin to collect Marilyn, Lesley, Penny, Dave and Trai ahead of an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland the first thing that struck me was just how calm the sea was, and how the mist hanging over it left water and sky linked by an invisible horizon…

We started with a riverside walk, accompanied by the songs of Chaffinch, Blackbird, Blackcap and Chiffchaff as a Grey Wagtail sallied from mid-stream rocks in pursuit of flying insects, a Jay showed briefly as it flew from one tree to the next and a Grey Heron flew adeptly between branches overhanging the water. Along a wider stretch of river, Shelduck, Gadwall and Mallard were up-ending, a Cormorant was perched on a dead tree mid-river and a Whitethroat was song-flighting as the crunchy aggressive warble of a Blackcap came from deep cover.

Our picnic spot overlooking the North Sea brought Fulmars soaring effortlessly along the clifftop, a Tree Sparrow calling as it passed overhead and a Grey Seal just offshore.

Avocets were feeding, sleeping and squabbling as Dunlin probed the mud in the shallows, a Lapwing ran across the mud in short bursts, Black-headed Gulls engaged in some very noisy display and posturing, Carrion Crows pursued a female Marsh Harrier and a Bar-tailed Godwit slept through it all.

With the approach of dusk a female Marsh Harrier was heading to roost as Mallard, Gadwall, Tufted Duck and Teal remained calm and unflustered on the water below, a Canada Goose lifted its head above the vegetation surrounding its nest and the incessant reeling of a Grasshopper Warbler contrasted with the scattergun song of a Sedge Warbler as sunset, and then dusk were just a darker shade of grey than mid-afternoon.

As much as watching wildlife I really enjoy spending time with our clients, and with a range of topics discussed that included Natural England’s general licence controversy, open-casting, wind farms and the good, bad and ugly of wildlife photography the afternoon passed just too quickly πŸ™‚

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Waiting on the weather ;-) Druridge Bay Safari 26/04/19

by on 27/04/19 10:14, under Druridge Bay

As I arrived in Newbiggin to collect Sue, Nick, Mandy and Ian for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland the sea was looking much calmer than it had done on Wednesday, but the sky was ominous and the forecast more so…

We started with a couple of riverside walks through woodland dripping with bird song. As Blackbirds and a Mistle Thrush fed in open grassland and Chiffchaff, Song Thrush, Chaffinch, Goldcrest and Robin sang from exposed, and not-so-exposed, perches, Grey Wagtails were flycatching from rocks in the fast flowing water and a pair of Dippers were taking food to their nest. Cormorants were perched on dead trees mid-river, Canada Geese were fighting and calling, Gadwall were dabbling serenely and a Grey Heron stalked patiently along the water’s edge in the shadow of the trees as the forecast weather seemed to have arrived, with cold rain driven on a southerly breeze making viewing a challenge.

The rain soon eased though and on the coast Mandy spotted a Barn Owl perched on a fence post, sheltered from the wind. It left it’s perch and was soon offering very obliging views as it quartered and hovered over rough grassland as a Meadow Pipit perched on a wall nearby and a handsome male Wheatear hopped along the track ahead of us. Avocets, Lapwings, Oystercatchers, Redshanks and a lone Curlew were standing in the shallows as Bar-tailed Godwits probed incessantly in the mud while wading belly deep in the wind-ruffled water and three Grey Herons did that very heron thing of flying around after each other rather than just accepting that there’s plenty of space for everyone to hunt in.

After an afternoon of what seemed like permanent dusk, light levels did start to dip towards darkness as a female Marsh Harrier quartered a roadside field, a Sparrowhawk hedge-hopped over the road in front of us, Pheasants and a Red-legged Partridge took their chances crossing the road, a Brown Hare loped away along tractor tracks through deep cover, a Roe Deer raced backwards and forwards through long grass and Coot, Moorhen, Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Teal, Mallard, Pochard, Great Crested and Little Grebe and Mute Swan were all on the water as the squealing of a Water Rail cut through the gloom before we headed back towards civilisation πŸ™‚

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Misty, murky :-) Druridge Bay Safari 24/04/19

by on 25/04/19 16:06, under Druridge Bay

As I collected Patrick and Susan from Newbiggin for an afternoon and evening exploring NEWT’s local patch, Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland, there were some impressive waves breaking in the bay…

A flock of Black-headed Gulls were pestering a Grey Heron that flew off, voicing its disapproval, and then they turned their attentions to a female Red-breasted Merganser who had to surface and dive in quick succession to avoid their attentions as a Curlew probed the mud along the water’s edge, Cormorants sat sentinel-like on dead trees mid-river and a handsome Grey Wagtail had taken an unusual perch on a folding chair πŸ˜‰ Robin, Chaffinch, Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Blackbird were all singing and a song-flighting Whitethroat settled in a spot where we could see him through the branches as a charm of Goldfinches landed in a small tree nearby.

For the last year we’ve had a really nice Dipper nest site that can be watched without disturbance and a Dipper with a beakful of food soon appeared and flew up to the nest. It returned to a mid-stream rock and spent a little while preening before sticking it’s head into the water and looking around for food. A second bird brought food to the nest and then the first bird was remarkably obliging and fed underwater almost directly below us so we could see it as it darted around and probed in the river bed as Great Spotted Woodpeckers and Long-tailed Tits called nearby and the trilling of a Nuthatch cut through the trees around some open grass where two Song Thrushes were gathering food.

Our picnic spot overlooking the huge crashing waves of the North Sea produced lines of Gannets offshore, Eider riding the swell just beyond the breaking surf and a Kestrel hovering on the wind nearby and demonstrating it’s scanning technique very obligingly.

Dusk came sooner than expected in increasingly heavy mist and as a flock of Oystercatchers, Lapwing, Redshank, Avocet and Curlew repeatedly flushed, Grey Herons disputed feeding spots and Water Rails squealed from the reeds the hectic warbling of Sedge Warblers and the reeling of Grasshopper Warblers cut through the gloom as we headed back to the car.

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Warm spring evenings :-) Otter mini-Safari 20/04/19

by on 22/04/19 15:16, under Druridge Bay, Otter

As much as I love the winter, there’s something special about warm spring and summer evenings with Otter Safaris and Druridge Bay Safaris finishing at dusk…

I collected Andy and Helen from Bedlington for their second trip with NEWT, following a cold wet Lindisfarne Safari in 2012, and Kate and Rob and Keely and John from Newbiggin and we headed out for a few hours searching Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland for Otters

16 Avocets, with some displaying and mating, was an impressive total as Oystercatchers, Common Redshanks and a Little Ringed Plover patrolled the mud in search of food. At least 4, and possibly as many as 6, Little Egrets were stalking in and out of channels between the reeds and a Barn Owl hunted over rough grassland before perching obligingly on a fence post in beautiful evening light. Β Then Rob spotted an Otter and we watched it for a few minutes as it fed before vanishing out of sight into the reeds πŸ™‚

With dusk approaching we headed to the site that I was confident would produce an Otter sighting in twilight. A Roe Deer was standing on the far side of the water before racing off up the bank and heading into cover as Little and Great Crested Grebes dived in search of fish. Tufted Ducks were suddenly looking alert and small groups started flying off. Kate thought she’d seen something close to the Tufties but it had gone out of sight behind the reeds. With daylight giving way to dusk and Arcturus and Capella both shining through the twilight sky I was scanning a patch of flat calm water and realised that there was a fine trail of bubbles and a pattern of swirls…then an Otter popped up πŸ™‚ It quickly moved away towards the dark shadows of a reedbed and a small group of Mute Swans, with it’s presence eventually only betrayed by the ring of bright water each time it surfaced.

6 clients, 4 hours, 2 sites, 2 Otters, 1 great evening of wildlife watching on the Northumberland coast πŸ™‚

Here’s an image of an Otter family in January 2018 from one of our regular sites πŸ™‚

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Cold westerlies; Otter Safari 29/03/19

by on 31/03/19 11:29, under Druridge Bay

There was a chilly breeze as I collected Kev and Heidi from Newbiggin ahead of an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland, but the weather is otherwise quite pleasant at the moment…

A Cormorant in proper heraldic pose was well appreciated, as they always are, as Goldeneyes and Little Grebes dived in the clear water, Redshank and Curlew awoke from their slumber to probe in mud freshly covered by the rising tide and a Grey Heron stood motionless while a Little Egret close by was taking a much more proactive approach to feeding. As it put each foot down it kicked around in the mud before darting at any prey that it managed to disturb. Compared to Tuesday there was noticeably less wildfowl, so it looks like there’s been a substantial movement out of wintering sites and back towards breeding areas. Great Crested Grebes are back so the changing seasons take with one hand and give with the other. A Water Rail put in an appearance in glorious sunlight as a Roe Deer grazed in deep bankside vegetation. In low-angled evening sunlight Lapwing, Redshank and Oystercatcher were all raised way above the level of ‘ordinary’ and Avocets woke from roosting to start busily sweeping back and forth in shallow water as noisy yapping flocks of Pink-footed Geese lifted from nearby fields before dropping back out of sight, Grey Herons disputed feeding spots and daylight turned to dusk turned to darkness.

Another great day out with clients, talking cycling, running, Scotland, camper vans and wildlife πŸ™‚

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Everything ‘adding’ up to a great day; Cheviot Valleys Bespoke Birdwatching 28/03/19

by on 29/03/19 09:15, under Cheviot Valleys

Yesterday was Sue’s 9th day out with NEWT, and the first time we’d headed into the Cheviot Valleys together…

In warm sunshine and under blue skies we started with a search for Adders. Sue’s sharp eyes spotted two, and we watched both from a respectful distance so they continued basking in roadside vegetation. Great Crested and Little Grebes were perhaps expected, but a Little Egret was a first for our Cheviot Valleys safaris before we headed deeper into the hills and a Brown Hare loped up the road ahead of us.

Dipper was next on the target list and Sue spotted one as it sat motionless on a mid-stream rock. Grey Wagtails were resplendent in breeding plumage and Goosanders gave brief flight views as they headed up a narrow valley. Chiffchaff and Chaffinch were singing, Common Crossbills called overhead, Green Woodpeckers yaffled from the woods and the eerie calls of Curlew rolled down the wind-blasted fells. Meadow Pipits and Skylarks were in song flight as a Ring Ouzel foraged in rough rocky pasture and as Red Grouse engaged in territorial disputes on the hillsides a remarkable few minutes brought Common Buzzard, Kestrel, Peregrine and then a pair of Ravens in glorious synchronous display flight. When the Ravens reappeared from behind the high peak they were in pursuit of an interloper before dropping out of sight again. Common Buzzards were surprisingly scarce on higher ground, although there was little flying in a stiff breeze that it wasn’t easy to stand up in, but suddenly conspicuous in the afternoon sunshine as we headed back down through lower sheltered valleys.

Great weather, great company and great wildlife. See you again soon Sue πŸ™‚

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A herd of pygmies; Otter mini-Safari 26/03/19

by on 28/03/19 08:47, under Druridge Bay

I collected Jennie and Dean from Newbiggin and we set out for a few hours exploring Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland…

A chilly westerly wind kept temperatures down and the wildlife was a mixture of winter and spring; Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser and flocks of Mallard, Teal and geese were a lingering reminder of the big flocks of the winter, while Chaffinch, Robin, Wren and Great Tit were all singing as we found ourselves next to a group of Pygmy Goats who’d been let out of their usual enclosure to graze on a verdant pasture. Conversation switched to how much space would be needed to keep some πŸ˜‰ Another sign of spring was provided by 2 Avocets that flew from the muddy shallows that still held Redshank and Curlew in the shadow of dead trees festooned with Cormorants. A Roe Deer was out in the open before settling into bankside vegetation with only its ears betraying its hiding place and a splash of colour was provided by Shelduck and Great Crested Grebe. A Water Rail gave uncharacteristically obliging views as it fed in the gap between two reedbeds and time passed quickly and we were on our way back to Newbiggin.

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