Archive for August, 2012
As I drove through the rolling hills of rural Northumberland to the west of Morpeth, the weather was looking superb; blue sky, sunshine, a nice breeze. I collected Mark and Nicola and we headed back towards the coastal plain, for an afternoon of birdwatching around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.
The conditions looked good for raptors, and it wasn’t too long before we had our first Common Buzzards of the afternoon. Then another raptor appeared, soaring just overhead. With long, thin wings, and a long narrow tail, it didn’t look like another buzzard, but it had the sun behind it so was a difficult to view silhouette. Eventually it moved away to the north and, as it engaged in some mid-air sparring with one of the buzzards, its identity was revealed; juvenile Marsh Harrier. As the two protagonists drifted further north, the orange crown of the harrier flashed in the sunlight as the bird soared in circles, contrasting with the rich dark chocolate brown of the rest of its plumage.
Reaching the coast, we stopped off at Newbiggin to look for Mediterranean Gulls and it didn’t take too long before we spotted our first as it flew across from the southern end of the bay and landed on the beach right in front of us. More followed, including a juvenile bird, and Nicola soon commented that, regardless of any plumage differences, the structure of the birds was noticeably different to the nearby Black-headed Gulls. Leaving the Meds behind we began our journey along the coastal road through Druridge Bay. A quick check of the Bewick Drift Flash produced 9 Ruff, 10 Dunlin and a Curlew Sandpiper and we spent a little while comparing the differences between the two sandpipers as well as having a very close view of just how different male and female Ruff are in terms of size.
Our picnic stop, overlooking the North Sea, produced a beach filled with Ringed Plovers, and a lone Sanderling, as well as soaring Fulmars and rafts of Eiders, bobbing in the gentle swell far below us. It was starting to turn colder, breezier, and the first drops of rain started to fall. Cresswell Pond was very productive, as it has been for a few weeks now, but a few species really stood out; a Spoonbill, which had been at East Chevington during the afternoon, flew in and made its way right round the edge of the pond, sweeping that extraordinary bill from side to side in search of food, Yellow Wagtails arrived to roost and sat along the base of the reeds, where they provoked a very aggressive response from the Common Snipe that were feeding there and a Barn Owl came out following a heavy shower and caught a vole in the dunes away to the north before carrying it within a few metres of where we were sitting.
The finale to the trip came beside a fast flowing river, downstream was dark, inky blackness, but upstream the water was lit by the eerie glow from a nearby town. Daubenton’s Bats were trawling the water surface, their presence betrayed by the expanding circles where they’d gaffed prey at the surface. Then, a ripple too big to be from a bat; and an Otter surfaced for a few moments before disappearing into the dark.
August is always a stressful month for NEWT. As well as leading our regular safari days, it’s British Birdwatching Fair month, and the week leading up to the Bird Fair is always frantic; checking that we’ve got everything for the stand, mounting a new series of limited edition prints for sale, liaising with all of the other Birdwatching Northumberland partners to make sure that everybody knows exactly which aspects of the project they’re responsible for, and making sure that we’ve got a supply of local beer for the 4pm ‘free bar’ on our stand
Then, after a busy three days, it’s all over and we head north…this year to the thankfully cooler temperatures of Northumberland. From leaving Rutland at 6pm on Sunday to arriving back in Northumberland just after 10pm, the temperature drop was an impressive 14C.
Yesterday was our first post-BirdFair trip, a day of birdwatching around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. I collected Alex from Church Point, and we started with a good scan of the beach. 4 Mediterranean Gulls were close by and a small group of waders contained Oystercatcher, Common Redshank, Sanderling and Ringed Plover. Waders proved to be a theme for the day and we added Common Sandpiper, Spotted Redshank, Lapwing, Ruff, Dunlin, Knot, Curlew Sandpiper, Curlew, Greenshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Turnstone, Wood Sandpiper, Common Snipe, Golden Plover and Avocet to the day list as we made our way around NEWT’s local area. With an impressive supporting cast that included Water Rail, 3 Little Egrets and a Spoonbill it was a great day to be watching the edges of our local ponds, and a real education in just how much inward and outward movement of birds there is from the feeding and roosting wader flocks that grace southeast Northumberland at this time of the year. It was a great day too, to appreciate just how friendly and helpful local birdwatchers are in Northumberland – many thanks to Len and Gill for pointing us in the direction of the Wood Sandpiper, and Gill’s sharp eyes picked out the Spotted Redshank which then vanished without trace soon after being found and appreciated
In very summery weather I arrived at Newton to collect Yvonne, Mark and Marie. Sunglasses and sun cream were the order of the day and we headed down to Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. Family trips are always a bit of an unknown, but having a sharp-eyed 10 year old on her first visit to Northumberland really helped
I’ve pondered a great deal over the last few years on what it is about wildlife that can really grip the imagination and attention of the younger generations and I’m still not certain that I really have the answer. In fact, there probably isn’t one simple answer. I’ve been involved with mini-beasting sessions with our local First School and seen children get really enthused about slugs (not my own personal favourite…), I’ve seen teenagers get excited about bats, owls, Otters and beetles but, one thing is almost always true…and that’s that ‘cute’ is good I’m in my mid-40s, I could be cynical and jaded, but ‘cute’ still works for me too. And cute was 3 Avocet chicks, paddling in shallow water and swinging their heads from side-to-side in the way that their parents do when feeding. A Barn Owl gave repeated fly-bys in the sublime evening light, flushing 27 Common Snipe at one point, and we headed back to Newton, where the Stilt Sandpiper (the rarest bird we’ve seen with clients) was still present, and wading between Black-headed Gulls. In the twilight, bats passed low over our heads and a froglet hopped across the path in front of us. Even the sometimes apparently ‘wildlife-poor’ days of the summer can produce incredible experiences, and the contribution our clients make to that experience is vital.
Despite protestations from Sarah, I still think that you really can’t beat the evening when it comes to wildlife experiences.
As the rain poured (and I really do mean poured) down on Sunday afternoon, I ‘phoned Peter to check that he was managing to make his way to Northumberland successfully for our evening mini-safari around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. As I collected him at 6pm, the weather was improving and we headed to the coast. Our regular Little Owl was perched at the entrance to its nest hole, soaking up the warm rays of the evening sunshine, lazily turning its head to peer at us from above. An adult Mediterranean Gull was a surprise find just south of Cresswell village and, as Gannets soared offshore on those remarkably long thin wings, we headed to Cresswell Pond. All of the assembled Lapwings, Curlew, Golden Plover, Dunlin, Oystercatcher and Avocets lifted in alarm as a Barn Owl passed by on its way to the dunes in search of voles. Willow Warblers were flycatching, Linnets were looking shockingly red in the low sunlight and we continued on our way up the coast. Three more Barn Owls gave an impressive tally for an evening’s birdwatching and a female Marsh Harrier perched very obligingly on a fence post. The light was deteriorating and as we stood by a river, swollen by the heavy rain, a leap, a small splash and the top of its head racing across from one bank to the opposite was the one Otter of the evening. A ferocious predator making its way into the darkening gloom.
In near-perfect conditions we arrived at Seahouses yesterday evening for our 3hr coastal cruise on Ocean Explorer. As well as some of our ‘regulars’ we had Andy, Jan and Sam on board, on their final evening in Northumberland.
Soon after heading south down the coast towards Dunstanburgh we came across a couple of Harbour Porpoises. Typically shy, they surfaced a few times and then vanished into the depths. Gannets featured throughout the evening, passing both north and south, and one or two were seen diving. Puffins, Guillemots and Razorbills were bobbing about on the water and a mixed flock of Arctic and Common Terns and Kittiwakes had found something to hold their interest. We stopped to see if anything else would come along, and were soon joined by a Fulmar, stunning in the beautiful light.
We gradually headed north, and approached the Farne Islands as the sun began to set. Grey Seals poked their heads out of the water and came off the rocks to investigate our boat, Cormorants and Shags perched sentinel-like on the rocky islets, Turnstones prodded and poked their way around the edge of the mass of Seals and Sam punched the air in elation as his first Curlew flew by The setting sun provided an opportunity to experiment with an aspect of photography that I’ve never really been able to get to grips with, and one which I’ve always been fairly ambivalent about. Excellent light, excellent location, all the ingredients were there to convince me…