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 🙂
Wednesday brought a first for me – arriving at Church Point to collect Lucy, Jon, Hattie and Lily, the car park was completely full! That’s nice weather for you though…
We started our afternoon around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland with a search for Red Squirrel. With lots of people around it wasn’t entirely surprising that our quarry eluded us, but Chaffinch, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Goldfinch and Dunnock were all benefiting from the supply of free food as everyone tried to get to grips with the contact calls of Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler. Dragonflies were hawking around the tree tops and a range of insects finished up in our sample pot before being released back to the plants we’d taken them from. On to wetter habitats and an attempt to catch a Blue-tailed Damselfly ended comically when it flew from its perch and settled on my finger instead 🙂 Common Snipe, Curlew Sandpiper, Common Redshank, Ruff, Curlew and Lapwing were a nice little haul of waders and a calling Greenshank stayed out of sight as Little Egrets stalked along the water’s edge and Grey Herons tried to remain inconspicuous amongst the clumps of rush. I was called on to answer some tricky questions during the afternoon – “would a Grey Squirrel attack a person?” was slightly easier to answer than “what sort of cloud is that?” 😉
As often is the case, there was a discussion about best wildlife of the trip. Common Snipe and Cinnabar Moth caterpillar both got the seal of approval, although the vote did come before we were heading back down the coast and a Barn Owl was quartering the roadside fields. Death on silent wings, beautifully backlit by the later afternoon sun and the finale to Jon’s 40th birthday wildlife tour 🙂
Northumberland is a sparsely populated county where it’s relatively easy to get away from it all and enjoy watching wildlife without the hustle and bustle of large numbers of other people…
I met up with Lynsey, Francis, Gregory and Thea in the main car park on Holy Island ahead of an afternoon mini-Safari around the island. The car park was busy, really busy, and there were lots of people walking to and from the village and the castle. There’s so much more to Holy Island than that though, and we set off along the Straight Lonnen and away from the crowds 🙂 Gannets were passing by offshore, Oystercatchers were roosting just above the tide line and Grey Herons were stalking through rockpools as Goosander swam rapidly past them with their heads submerged in a search for fish. Little Grebe, Moorhen, Coot, Mute Swan and Mallard were on The Lough and Curlew flew overhead. Viper’s Bugloss and Grass of Parnassus were still in flower as the sharp eyesight of Thea and Gregory brought hoverflies, bees, moths and Meadow Brown, Painted Lady and Small Tortoiseshell flicked back and forth across the path in front of us. Meadow Pipits appeared out of the grass and vanished almost as quickly and a Pheasant broke into a trot ahead of us. As the rising tide began to flood over Fenham Flats, the eerie moans of Grey Seals carried on the breeze and a dense swirling cloud of distant waders soon resolved into the familiar shape, and sound, of Golden Plover. As we returned to the car park, there were only half a dozen cars still there and the island was incredibly quiet as the rising tide had brought the usual mass departure 🙂
At this time of year, some of our favourite activities are mini-safaris for families with young children. With reasonable weather mammals, birds, insects. flowers and stargazing can all be wrapped up into an evening around Druridge Bay and the southeast Northumberland coast…
I collected Niall, Emma, Betty and Pearl from Cresswell and we headed off to search for our first target species for the evening. Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Dunnock and Great Tit were all around the feeding station where I thought we’d find a squirrel, and sure enough, Niall spotted one coming through the trees nearby. This was a young Red Squirrel though, and it was struggling with the concept a of a feeder with a hinged lid; sitting on the lid and peering wistfully through the transparent front of the feeder didn’t hold it’s attention for long so it set about plundering the bird feeders, stretching across from the tree trunks and swinging from the feeders like an Olympic gymnast. Then it returned to the squirrel feeder and sat on the platform, lifted the lid and made off with a hazelnut 🙂
Heading up the coast we were treated to the sight of a Barn Owl quartering the dunes on silent wings before hovering and plunging into the grass then rising and flying off carrying a hapless vole in it’s talons. Little Egrets, Grey Herons and Canada Geese were all studied through the ‘scope and Rabbits made brief appearances throughout the evening.
As dusk began fading to darkness, with Shoveler and Teal silhouetted against the final rays of daylight, Noctule Bats were hunting overhead as the near-full Moon made an excellent subject for study with the ‘scope. Turning on the bat detector allowed us to listen to them as well as watching their hunting flight. If you’ve never heard a Noctule then treat yourself by listening to a recording of one. Betty’s comment really sums them up though “It sound’s like it’s beat-boxing”. With the dark cloak of night finally starting to take a grip, stars and planets appeared as if a light switch had been flicked on. Mars, eeriely red low in the west, Vega, one of the three bright stars that make up the Summer Triangle, and then the grand finale, Saturn; appearing elongated through binoculars, and resolving to the giant planet and it’s rings in the telescope view 🙂
If you’re visiting Northumberland with your family give us a call on 01670 827465 to find out what we can do for you 🙂
If you’d like something different, and outstanding photographic opportunities during the Parade of Sail during the Tall Ships regatta on August 29th, we’ve got a boat reserved (sailing from Amble at 10:30 and returning there once the Parade of Sail has finished which will probably be mid-afternoon) that will sit offshore from Blyth as the Tall Ships head out on the next leg of their journey. Numbers are limited and at £50/person offers exceptional value. Click on August 29th on our website calendar http://www.northernexperiencewildlifetours.co.uk/calendar and follow the buy now link to reserve your place