Small things; Druridge Bay 24/05/16

by on 26/05/16 09:33, under Druridge Bay

Waders are often spectacular, seabirds are enigmatic and raptors are, well, raptors, but sometimes the smaller birds deserve a lot more attention…

I collected Stephen from North Shields for his 7th day trip with NEWT and we headed north to Druridge Bay.  Days out with Stephen are always enjoyableStarting in bright sunshine under blue skies, it soon clouded over, then cleared, then clouded again.  Wigeon, Shoveler, Mallard, Tufted Duck and Gadwall all looked in excellent condition, and a Whimbrel was good to see.  Great Crested Grebes had their feathers ruffled by a stiffening breeze as Swallows, Swifts, House Martins and Sand Martins were all feeding only a metre or so above the water.  Tree Sparrows are always very smart looking birds and a male Yellowhammer provided an extraordinary touch of brilliant colour as the northerly wind brought the first spots of rain.  As we sat eating lunch on the clifftop at Cresswell, Fulmars were gliding effortlessly by and a Rock Pipit appeared, carrying food back to it’s nest as the scratchy warble of a Whitethroat carried on the breeze.  The rhythmic ranting of Reed Warbler and scattergun song of Sedge Warbler emanated from deep in the reeds and a Reed Warbler obligingly shuffled to the reed tops close to a singing male Reed Bunting.

Tree Sparrow,Passer montanus,Northumberland,Northern Experience Wildlife Tours

As we headed back to the car Swifts were racing by at head height and the wind seemed to be strengthening…

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Cheviot Valleys Bespoke Birdwatching 23/05/16

by on 25/05/16 19:56, under Cheviot Valleys

Monday was Pete and Jan’s 8th trip with NEWT, and we were heading back to the Cheviot valleys where we’d watched a Cuckoo together back in 2013.  It’s always a pleasure to have a day out with them and catch-up on what’s been happening since we last met, as between us we’re keen recorders of a range of wildlife and the other members of their local Natural History Society are always busy recording some weird and wonderful species…

In glorious sunny weather the verges were alive with insects.  Lots of hoverflies (I’m just starting to take an interest in these…) and a very bright Orange-tip as well as a couple of unidentified female damselfliesWillow Warbler and Chiffchaff were singing enthusiastically as Oystercatchers plundered the earthworm population of grassy fields before returning to feed their chicks.  Brown Hare sat motionless in short crops, as if we couldn’t see them, before realising they were being watched and loping off.  The triumvirate of riparian nervous energy all put in an appearance; Grey Wagtail flycatching above the rushing stream, Common Sandpiper bobbing up and down as it made it’s way upstream in a game of avian hopscotch from one bankside rock to the next and Dipper, almost invisible until it turned and revealed it’s bright white throat and breast.  On the edges of the heather moorland, Red Grouse were standing, sentinel like, and territorial disputes were revealed by the resonant cries of ‘go back, go back, go back’.  Common Buzzards soared on the breeze, a Kestrel flew quickly by and the plaintive cries of Curlew echoed around the valley sides.  Throughout the afternoon, our walk towards the Scottish border was accompanied by the onomatopaeic calls of Common Cuckoo.  As the air buzzed with the trill of Lesser Redpoll, a Goldcrest showed itself briefly after a burst of song, Spotted Flycatchers sallied from trees and fence posts and Cuckoos were calling from every plantation.  One perched in a treetop and was quickly mobbed by Meadow Pipits, another flew over the neighbour it had been having a vocal dispute with, prompting a harsh grumbling response, and others flew across the valley.

Gorgeous weather, and clients who are great company – an ideal start to the summer…

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Sounds of Spring; Druridge Bay Bespoke Safari 21/05/16

by on 24/05/16 08:21, under Druridge Bay

Ever improving weather tends to make days out with clients slightly more relaxed than those days where we’re contending with the elements – although I personally prefer the more challenging days 😉

I collected Julie and Mike from The Plough Inn, not much more than a stone’s throw from the sea, and we set out for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  The reedbeds were resonating with the song of Sedge Warbler and Reed Bunting as Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler were singing from the trees that had grown above the height of the hedgerows, Great Crested Grebes crossed the water with elegant grace and Mute Swan, Greylag Goose and Canada Goose kept a watchful eye on their fluffy babies.  A hatch of flying insects had attracted the attention of Swallow, Sand Martin, House Martin and Swift as well as an impressive flock of Black-headed Gulls and at least six 1stSummer Little Gulls.  The eerie cries of Curlew carried on the southerly breeze and Lapwing displayed so close that we could hear their wingbeats as well as the nuances of their remarkable calls.  Just as remarkable, if not more so, was a Common Snipe ‘drumming’ impressively as it flew back and forth right in front of us while we were dazzled by a shockingly bright Yellow Wagtail.

With the sun appearing beneath the dark grey cloud layer as it neared the horizon, the landscape was suddenly bathed in extraordinary light.  Intense greens and yellows contrasted with the subtle hues of areas still in shadow as a Barn Owl ghosted by on silent wings, a Grey Wagtail was flycatching from midstream rocks, a Grey Heron stalked the shallows and Mallard and Goosander swam downstream, carried on the rushing bubbling flow where insects trapped in the surface layer fell prey to hungry fish lunging clear of the water and briefly inhabitating an alien world before splashing back down into the watery darkness.

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Transition; Otter Safari 14/05/16

by on 19/05/16 15:33, under Druridge Bay

I’ve been wondering why it is that I prefer wildlife-watching in an evening rather than at daybreak, and I think I may have an idea…

I collected James, Ruth, Stuart, Jane, Alex and Lawrence from Church Point and we set out for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  Against a chilly breeze, Cormorants were drying their wings and flying out to sea, Sedge Warblers were belting out their song from hidden positions in the reeds, Chiffchaff sang their name incessantly, Reed Buntings perched obligingly in view, Great Crested Grebe were diving, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Gadwall and Teal were dabbling and Greylag Geese were shepherding their goslings along, looking alert as well they might when they’re at a site that’s produced regular sightings of Otter recently.  Shelduck and Oystercatcher flew by and, as afternoon progressed into evening, we headed off to one of NEWT’s favourite spots.

With the breeze subsiding it was turning into a sublime evening.  A Dipper flew along just above the water, Moorhen were nervously tail-flicking as they stalked through the bankside vegetation, a drake Goosander drifted downstream, shortly before a pair of these big impressive sawbills flew by, a Grey Heron was unusually confiding, Swallow, Sand Martin and Swift hawked the insects that had managed to escape the gaping jaws of the fish that were rippling and leaping from the water, Rabbits were sitting on the bare earth at the edge of a field, close to the safe haven of the hedgerow, Brown Hares were running through crops that they were almost completely hidden by, occasionally pausing and sitting upright with just their ears and the top of the head visible, and then a harsh barking alerted us to the presence of a Roe Deer in long grass nearby.

The transition from our daytime world to the twilight world of some incredible wildlife is what makes it such a special time of the day 🙂

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Welcome to the dance; Druridge Bay Safari 11/05/16

by on 13/05/16 17:03, under Druridge Bay

The influence of the weather on our wildlife can never be underestimated.  Strong cold winds are often a signal for everything to go into hiding, seeking warmth and shelter in reedbeds, bushes, behind rocks…pretty much anywhere where they’ll be tricky to see.  Last Saturday was in that cold and windy category so I was pleased that Wednesday’s Druridge Bay trip looked as though it would be blessed with warm sunshine 🙂

I collected Karen and Richard from Newbiggin by the Sea and we set out for a day birdwatching around NEWT’s local patch.  With a slight change in the weather, the wildlife responded obligingly; the onomatopoeia of Chiffchaffs was near constant throughout the day, as was the rough throaty warble of Whitethroat.  A remarkably obliging Sedge Warbler sat in the reed tops in front of us, occasionally sallying forth in song-flight before returning to his stage, close to a male Reed Bunting who was singing his somewhat simpler song.  Avocets were an elegant study in black and white, Dunlin and Ruff are both attractive birds in breeding plumage, Little Gulls are incredibly tiny when seen alongside other birds, Skylarks were dust-bathing, Tree Sparrows were hopping around on the footpath just a few feet away from us and goslings were grazing close to the water’s edge.

A food pass between male and female Marsh Harriers happened in front of us, Great Crested Grebes were engaged in their elaborate courtship dance and two male Lapwings left a cloud of feathers as they came to blows over what was presumably a prime patch of mud and rushes.  With the warmth of the sunshine and an obvious hatch of insects, the air overhead was filled with Swifts and it finally felt like the summer was here as they started screaming 🙂

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Bird of the Day; Lindisfarne Safari 10/05/16

by on 13/05/16 16:27, under Lindisfarne

I can’t think of a species of bird that I don’t enjoy watching.  Every last one of them has something special, but some just have more than others…

I collected Steve and Carrie from the Bamburgh Castle Inn and we headed north towards Lindisfarne.  Starting with a walk along the Crooked Lonnen we’d soon found Spotted Flycatcher, Fieldfare and a stunning male Whinchat.  Surely the rest of the island would be dripping with passage migrants?  As it turned out that was pretty much it for migrants, but the rest of the day produced a wealth of great birds.  The male Whinchat was a clear leader in my own personal bird of the day competition, but a plethora of Meadow Pipits and Skylarks were pretty impressive.  Male Reed Buntings are always strikingly contrasty birds and Turnstone, Purple Sandpiper, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Red-breasted Merganser, Eider and Common Scoter are in really excellent condition at the moment.  Lines of Gannets flying south were impressive and Sandwich Terns were plunge-diving right in front of us.

Then, as we were about to leave the island (after all, it wouldn’t do to get stranded by the incoming tide…) Carrie spotted a Short-eared Owl.  I soon found a second one, as they hunted through the dunes, and the Whinchat had been unceremoniously kicked off the top step of the podium.  I find it hard to think of any time that an owl wouldn’t be my bird of the day…and then we came across a couple of breeding-plumaged Grey Plovers 🙂

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Sounds like an 80’s video game; Otter Safari 07/05/16

by on 13/05/16 16:02, under Druridge Bay

I’ve been asked some strange things – not usually by our clients, but members of the public who we’ve bumped in to.  “There’s a bird and we’re not sure what it is.  It sounds like an 80’s video game”…

I collected Carolyn and Pat from Warkworth and we headed out for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  The first thing we noticed was a stiff breeze, straight from the north and with an icy bite that effortlessly knifed it’s way through as many layers as you tried to don against it.  Tufted Ducks watched one area of reeds in a state of high alertness, as Goosander, Red-breasted Merganser and Great Crested Grebe all radiated elegance.  Cormorants battled against the wind as they headed out to sea and Mute Swan, Mallard, Gadwall, Wigeon and Teal dabbled in the choppy water.  Oystercatcher were feeding and engaging in noisy disputes, and as we sat and had our picnic, Fulmars soared effortlessly along the cliff edge as Gannets speared into the breeze heading north.

As dusk approached and the wind continued its relentless assault, a noticeable hatch of flying insects attracted the attentions of Pipistrelles which passed just over our heads.

As for the “80’s video game”…would anyone like to take a guess at that one?

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Welcome home to Northumberland; Bespoke Coast Safari 28/04/16

by on 03/05/16 12:28, under Druridge Bay, Otter

As I arrived at Church Point to collect Tom and Sue, the weather was slightly breezy but dry.  The forecast suggested that it might be showery later during the afternoon and promised a bit of a contrast with Tom and Sue’s home country of Australia. Tom’s a Northumbrian so I was really looking forward to showing him parts of the coast that he wasn’t familiar with, hopefully with the weather showcasing Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland at its best…

Cormorants air-dried their wings in the stiffening breeze and a Coot took umbrage at a Moorhen that was doing nothing more sinister than just wandering along the water’s edge, Woodpigeons, Jackdaws, Greylag Geese and Canada Geese speckled the dark grey sky.  A typically nervous Great Spotted Woodpecker watched us warily from behind a tree trunk, Tree Sparrows were chipping in the hedgerows, a Magpie was going back and forth presumably from it’s nest, Robins flicked across paths just ahead of us, Curlew, Redshank and Oystercatcher probed in the mud in conditions that were starting to resemble the winter and a Little Egret was a shockingly bright bundle of white feathers in an ever darkening vista of Northumberland’s coastal wildlife as Avocets, delicate visions in black and white, swept their heads from side to side through shallow water in seach of food.

Great Crested Grebes comported themselves with their usual elegance as more Cormorants stood hunched in the wind and then, as Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler must have been wondering if they were in the right place at the right time of year, the heavens unleashed hail, sleet and snow from an apocalyptic sky and a Water Rail scurried mouse-like between reedbeds as two Otter cubs appeared just beyond the grebes 🙂  Their first appearance was fleeting, just a few seconds before they vanished from sight behind a reedbed.  Then they were back, and porpoising side by side, back and forth, before once again heading into the shelter of the reeds.

As Fulmars soared along the clifftops and Gannets rode the uplift just above the waves offshore, we ended the day with the clouds overhead breaking to reveal blue sky and sunshine in a remarkable area of glorious weather that was surrounded in every direction by leaden grey clouds and storms.  Atmospheric wildlife watching…

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Springtime in the hills; Bespoke Cheviot Valleys Safari 20/04/16

by on 26/04/16 16:43, under Cheviot Valleys

mid-April can be a strange time inland.  Some summer visitors will have arrived, but you can never be quite sure which ones…

I collected Richard and Florence from West Acre House and we headed westwards towards the central massif of Northumberland.  An unexpected, and very pleasant, surprise was bumping into Dean from Cheviot View who was enjoying a walk in the glorious sunshine.  Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Great Crested Grebe, Canada Goose, Greylag Goose and Oystercatcher were all pottering around on old gravel pits as Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Blackcap all sang and fed, a Brown Hare loped through the trees and we headed deeper into the valleys as lunchtime approached, encountering Pheasant after Pheasant, and Red-legged Partridge after Red-legged Partridge, as well as Mistle Thrush and Song Thrush obligingly feeding next to each other and offering an opportunity for comparison as a Dipper bobbed up and down on a mid-stream rock before flying up to it’s concealed nest.  Red Grouse cackled, the trilling buzz of Lesser Redpoll punctuated the air overhead, the eerie cries of Curlew echoed around the valley, the swee-wee-wee-wee-wee of a nervous Common Sandpiper pierced the excited bubbling of the stream and Common Buzzards soared lazily on the warm breeze as the shocking yellow of a Grey Wagtail added a splash of colour to the dappled light of the valley bottom.  Swallow and Sand Martin harvested the bountiful insects overhead and, as we walked back down the valley towards the car, I could hear a simple song from the steeper ground above us.  Focusing my attention on the direction that the sound was coming from brought not one, not two, but three Ring Ouzels 🙂

Certainly felt like the spring…

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Hidden; Otter mini-Safari 09/04/2016

by on 11/04/16 12:16, under Druridge Bay, Otter

The best thing about wildife, and at the same time occasionally the most frustrating thing, is that you can’t ever predict exactly what it’s going to do…

I collected Jeff and Helen, and Kevin, from Church Point and we set off for an afternoon around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  The afternoon had an almost constant aural backdrop of Chiffchaff song, and Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Robin, Blackbird and Goldcrest all added to the springlike feel of the afternoon.  Curlew, Redshank and Oystercatcher were all probing in gooey mud but with no sign of agitation to suggest that there was an Otter around.  A family of Whooper Swans were a reminder that winter is only just behind us, while Swallows and Sand Martins heralded the move towards the summer.  Skylark and Meadow Pipit both demonstrated that they’re more than brown and uninteresting, Marsh Harriers and Common Buzzards are likely to remain a feature of our Druridge Bay trips for a few months, a handsome Roebuck ran across the fields and vanished behind a hedge and the assembled wildfowl had got their eye on something in the reeds…Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Canada Goose and Greylag Goose were all fixated on one small area of a reedbed.  Alert, nervous and barely breaking their gaze they’d obviously spotted something.  What though?  Whatever it was remained hidden from our sight, although it held the attention of the birds for a long time.  The reedbed was probably a much better option than braving the keen northerly breeze!

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