Archive for June, 2012
They’re the sort of words I always want hear at the start of a day out with clients “The sole reason for coming to Northumberland on this holiday was to see an Otter“. So, no pressure there, then…
I collected Ann and Glyn from their b&b in Seahouses and we set out on an exploration of the best birdwatching and otter spotting locations on the Northumberland coast around Druridge Bay. Avocet and Whimbrel were among the birdwatching highlights of the afternoon then, as dusk approached, it looked as though everything was going to go wrong; wave after wave of torrential rain battered down so the surface of the pond looked as if it were boiling and columns of mist were drifting across our field of view.
I was still confident though. The ducks, swans and other waterbirds were looking nervous, and that’s always a good sign. Then it happened, as Ann said “what’s that over there by the reeds?”, I got the end of the reedbed in view, steadied my binoculars, and an Otter surfaced before swimming along, allowing all of us to get it in focus, and vanishing into the reeds; Ann had managed to see her first wild Otter and she’d found it herself As the rain cleared a Long-eared Owl flew straight toward us and the Otter reappeared, this time trying to grab a Moorhen that was perched half-way up the reeds. It twisted and turned, sleek and sinuous, and once again sought the cover of the vegetation at the water’s edge. As the waterfowl settled and began to look much less worried, we left the hide and waded back to the car
I managed a good bonus bird myself on the drive back down the coast as a Little Owl flew from a roadside fencepost.
Sunday was something quite different for NEWT, with a guided walk for 14. We met Linda and her family, who had arrived from all parts of the UK to celebrate several special occasions in one weekend, in Druridge Bay and set out for a walk in rather nice weather. One or two of the group had to be encouraged to take waterproof jackets with them though…
Skylarks were soaring over the fields, a Reed Bunting was singing from a nearby hedgerow and a very amiable local, who had worked at East Chevington while it was still a coal mine, stopped to tell us a little of the history of the area. Perhaps the most unexpected sighting of the morning was a Barn Owl, roosting in a pine tree and staying put as all of the group enjoyed ‘scope views of it.
The question that led one of the ladies to make the comment that forms the title of this blogpost came as we were appreciating the beauty of a group of Common Spotted Orchids, when she asked “why are some ‘Orchids’ and some ‘Orchis’?”. As Martin explained that the word orchis means testicle, and that’s where the Orchids get their name from, there was a ripple of laughter through the group at the comment “Ooh, I wish I hadn’t asked”.
Just a couple of minutes from the car, at the end of a walk that it was a real pleasure to lead with a group who asked plenty of questions, the first raindrops began to fall and we finished in a ‘refreshing’ summer shower.
Our Farne Islands Safari last Wednesday continued the theme of returning clients; Christina was on her third successive day out with us (and fifth in total), Barry and Maureen were back again after an Otter Safari in 2010 and Rob and Lesley were with us for the first time (but have another trip booked for September).
I’ve visited the Farne Islands countless times over the years, and it’s still as magical an experience as it was the first time. As the boat pulls out of Seahouses harbour, and you can see the islands on the horizon, the pulse starts to quicken. Soon you’re sailing through rafts of Shags, Puffins, Guillemots and Razorbills, birds are racing by with beaks filled with fish and then the characteristic smell of a seabird colony hits you, Grey Seals are bobbing up and down in the water and the nesting cliffs tower overhead. Once you’re on the islands the real experience is the aggressive nest defence by the Arctic Terns. It always amazes me how many visitors to the islands seem either unprepared, or simply unaware, of what’s waiting for them once they get off the boat
What made Wednesday so special though was the weather. The sea was mirror-calm and once we were on the islands conditions were stunning. It was a real privilege to be there with a group of clients, to experience the delights of a seabird colony with them, and to be able to appreciate the wider landscape of Northumberland from that offshore position. It was interesting to see everyone taking their own approach to enjoying the experience; having a good walk around and looking at everything…finding a quiet place to sit and savouring the whole experience from that spot…concentrating one that one seabird species that’s missing from the photo archive.
Whether I’m leading a ‘normal’ Safari Day, or working with photography clients, we always hope for the sort of weather that last week delivered
Tuesday was Christina’s second day out with us this week, and we had a very specific target for our afternoon and evening of birdwatching and photography, luckily I’d already spent a lot of time this year checking out breeding locations for the species concerned…
As the stunning weather illuminated the North Pennines AONB in beautiful light, Mountain Pansies and Cotton Grass were gently swaying in the breeze, Curlews and Lapwings were calling as they traversed the fellsides, Skylarks were singing from high overhead, Ring Ouzels and Mistle Thrushes flitted from tree to boulder to grassy slope and back again, a lone Woodcock (presumably with a faulty body clock) was roding in bright sunshine and there, on a fence post not 50 metres away was our quarry; stretching, posturing and delivering a haughty stare with piercing yellow eyes, the Short-eared Owl sat obligingly as Christina rattled off frame after frame of pin sharp owl portraits. The owl was just one small part of the whole experience, but it was the part that the afternoon had been structured to deliver and it slotted into its appointed place in the vast landscape and soundscape. Our wildlife doesn’t always perform to plan (and it would be rather dull and predictable if it did!), but when everything comes together perfectly it feels sublime.
Monday’s Otter Safari featured a quite surreal evening, as mist developed over the pools, close to the Northumberland coast, really playing tricks on the eyes. As Coots scattered and Mallards and Mute Swans all stared in the same direction, our quarry remained hidden from view. Roe Deer were bounding around the poolside vegetation, and a magnificent Long-eared Owl ghosted silently by. As darkness approached we headed back towards Church Point to drop Erin and Adrian off before taking Christina and Sean back to their respective holiday accommodations. Along the road we came across 2 Barn Owls and then a Tawny Owl, sitting on prey in the middle of the road before flying to a nearby fence post and glaring balefully at us.
Three owl species in little over an hour, and Tuesday’s trip was a bespoke photography outing for Christina to photograph Short-Eared Owls. I’ll blog about that one tomorrow
Monday was an all-day Farne Islands Safari with Mike and Maggie, who I was really happy to meet up with again after their two trips with us last October.
All-day trips to the islands always face one particular hurdle – landing on Staple Island. Big tides and any appreciable swell make getting on to the island an interesting proposition and, after our boatman had looked at the swell and decided it wasn’t safe, we had a tour around the outer islands before returning to Staple as the tide fell. This time all were able to disembark safely, although a number of passengers were struggling to follow the very clear instructions they had been given by Billy and Bobby about how to get off the boat and on to the island!
Staple is always a popular island with our clients. You can get on with your photography without the constant aerial bombardment from the Arctic Terns that make Inner Farne such an exciting place to visit Mike has the same camera that I use so we went through the custom settings to make photographing birds in flight a (slightly) easier proposition, and I settled to spotting approaching photo opportunities while Mike concentrated on the scene through his viewfinder, with Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills, Kittiwakes, Shags and Fulmars all performing well. Inner Farne in the afternoon was a different proposition altogether; early June is the time when the Arctic Terns are at their most defensive and aggressive - pity the visitors who turned up without hats Judging wind speed and direction, and the position of the Sun, led us to the right spot to photograph Puffins as they arrived back from their fishing expeditions and Mike was able to put his newly learned techniques into practice. After a day,which seemed much too short, we were on our way back to the mainland, and discussing Mike and Maggie’s next trip north and what we’d do next time. When the company of our clients is as enjoyable as the wildlife, it’s always a good day
Our Marine Wildlife Festival pelagic trip should have taken place on Saturday, but the poor weather led to several ‘phone calls and e-mails, and a re-scheduling to Sunday instead.
We lost a few participants who couldn’t make the rearranged date, but we gathered a few extras on Saturday/Sunday too, and arrived at Seahouses Harbour full of enthusiasm for our first pelagic trip this year. In the extremely capable hands of John, onboard Glad Tidings V, we headed across to the Farne Islands and the Guillemots, Razorbills, Puffins, Shags, terns, Kittiwakes, Fulmars and Grey Seals. After a journey through the islands we sailed south and then east before heading back north along the coast. Harbour Porpoises provided the cetacean interest, lots of Gannets were soaring majestically by and three Manx Shearwaters flew north. The number of positive comments by text, e-mail and ‘phone, since Sunday evening has been great and it’s always good to see how much people appreciate the marine environment of the North Sea, even if it sometimes seems impenetrable.
Bird of the day though, was the one that was only seen by a couple of very lucky participants. We were a couple of miles south of the islands when someone asked the question “Martin, which Storm-petrel is it likely to be that we saw back there?”…
The changing weather on Thursday afternoon hadn’t filled me with confidence for Friday’s bespoke birdwatching and Otter Safari and, as the rain hammered against my office window on Friday morning, several ‘phone conversations with Vicky explored our options for the day. Eventually we settled on starting early evening and going through until dark – perhaps that way the rain would have passed over?
As I arrived at Shieldhall to collect Vicky and Dave, it was still looking like an ‘interesting’ evening. We made our way to our favourite Otter site and had our picnic in the car. The rain stopped…and was replaced by heavy mist Never mind, we’ve had some fantastic wildlife experiences with clients in misty conditions so we made our way to the pool and settled into position and waited. All seemed calm, and it was only out of the corner of my eye that I thought I saw a distant, small black shape vanishing beneath the water’s surface. As I turned my binoculars in that direction, a Mute Swan began hissing and the Otter resurfaced As the insistent alarm calls of Blackbirds rattled in the distance (perhaps they’d found a Long-eared Owl to harrass?) the Otter made it’s way menacingly across the water before finally disappearing into the dark depths of the reedbed. Even when the weather’s inclement life goes on for our wildlife and, so long as we can stay reasonably sheltered and it isn’t too dark to see, excellent wildlife experiences still happen
Thursday was another day for returning clients, as I collected Louise from her holiday accommodation at Brockmill farmhouse for a bespoke photography trip to the Farne Islands. We began, as most of our Farne Islands trips do, with a visit to a mainland tern colony. As happens so often, the Little Tern colony had been washed out by a very high tide – with all 42 pairs having abandoned their nests. The 250 pairs of Arctic Terns was also a long way below the number that had been there, with the tides having washed away the majority of that colony as well. Lots of the Arctic Terns were displaying, so they may well manage to re-lay.
The Farne Islands, once we arrived on Inner Farne following our journey on Glad Tidings, were as spectacular as ever. Guillemots, Puffins, Razorbills, Shags, Kittiwakes and the terns offered up many photographic opportunities and it was great to enjoy all of that with a client whose views on photo agencies, camera equipment and manufacturers are always entertaining. As we stood above lighthouse cliff on Inner Farne, the weather began to change – and not for the better…
Returning clients have been a bit of a theme this year, and I was really looking forward on Wednesday to be collecting Carolyn and Brian for a day of birdwatching in and around Kielder. The weather was looking less than promising but, as I collected them from their holiday cottage in Cresswell with it’s stunning view out over the North Sea and Druridge Bay, we agreed that we’d make the best of the weather, whatever it was doing.
On the edge of the border forests a Roe Deer watched us with great interest and a Common Buzzard was perched at the top of a spruce tree that seemed barely able to support it’s weight. As if that perch wasn’t precarious enough, the bird was hanging it’s wings out like a Cormorant, presumably trying to dry them during a lull in the rain.
As with many of our trips there was a species that was particularly sought after. On this occasion it was our old favourite, the Dipper. With several bits of excellent river, that could be viewed from the car if the showers returned, it wasn’t too long before we found one, then another. With Sand Martins zipping in and out of nest holes, Common Sandpipers, Reed Buntings, Stonechats, Whinchats, Pied Wagtails, Oystercatchers, and Goosanders (another lifer for Carolyn and Brian) the rivers were a real hive of activity. Curlew were flying up the valley and we headed across the border. Red Grouse were a third lifer for the day, some majestic Wild Goats watched imperiously as we had a post-lunch walk, and a Peregrine was perched on a rock on the moorland high above us. It launched from it’s vantage point and flew directly over our heads before dropping to the ground and furtively creeping around before disappearing into a nearby gulley.
As we made our way back east, we found ourselves in a patch of sunshine with a handsome male Siskin and a Spotted Flycatcher just ahead of us, and we continued our journey back to Cresswell.