Archive for February, 2017

Last light; Otter Safari 24/02/17

by on Feb.26, 2017, under Otter, Red Squirrel

After some wild weather the blue skies and fluffy white clouds, as I set off for a day searching for Otters around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland with Jo, Pat, Rachel and Dave, came as a welcome sight…

Now that we’re in the late winter, wildfowl are looking at their finest and are starting to display with an impressive level of determination.  Red-breasted Merganser were strutting their stuff in their engagingly comical bowing display, Goldeneye were delivering their similar, though slightly less elaborate dance and Tufted Duck, Mallard, Wigeon, Scaup, Teal and Pochard were all clad in spring finery, but the long-staying Pacific Diver remains alone.  A pair of Common Buzzards were soaring against the clouds at a site where I’ve never encountered them breeding previously.  Huge clouds of Pink-footed Geese were replaced by an impressive Starling murmuration as dusk approached, and Common Snipe were uncharactersitically obliging as they fed away from cover amongst Redshank, Lapwing, Curlew and Black-tailed Godwit.  On a good day for mammal-watching we saw at least 2, possibly 3, maybe even 5, Red Squirrels and 3 Roe Deer.

With light levels dropping rapidly we had brief sightings of 2 Bitterns, as Water Rail squealed from deep in the reeds, and we were on the verge of admitting defeat to the Otters when Rachel said “what’s that in front of us?”.  I turned to look, and the first thing I noticed were the Mallards quickening their pace…as they headed away from the Otter that Rachel had spotted on the bank right in front of us 🙂  We watched it for 10mins, until it was too dark to see it as it twisted and turned in the water, before heading back to Newbiggin.

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Northumberland in the win(d)ter; Winter Wonderland holiday 19-22/02/17

by on Feb.23, 2017, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Grey Seal, Lindisfarne, Northumberland Coast, Otter, Southeast Northumberland

Day 1. 19/02/17. I arrived at the Bamburgh Castle Inn for the start of our Winter Wonderland holiday, then met up with with Christine, John, Linda and Rosie in the bar and outlined the plan for the next two days while we enjoyed a fantastic meal.

Day 2. 20/02/17.  Our first full day was targeting Lindisfarne and the North Northumberland coast.  Stopping at Budle Bay on our way north we soon found a Spotted Redshank amongst the Common Redshank, Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler, Mallard, Oystercatcher, Shelduck and Curlew as Pink-footed and Greylag Geese and Lapwing swirled distantly against a leaden grey sky on a stiff breeze and Red-breasted Mergansers looked even more comical than usual with their tufts blown to odd angles.  A heavy misty drizzle took hold, yet cleared within minutes, leaving a beautiful azure sky draped in fluffy white cloud.  A Kestrel perched obligingly as we stopped along a hedgerow that was heaving with Chaffinches.  As the receding tide cleared the Holy Island causeway, waders dropped in to feed along the edge of the recently exposed mud.  Knot, Dunlin, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Turnstone and Bar-tailed Godwit were all close to the road and easily observable by using the car as a nice, sheltered, warm hide as Pale-bellied Brent Geese flew over us 🙂  Over on the island we found a mixed flock of Dark-bellied Brent Geese, Curlew and Lapwing.  As an unseen threat spooked them and they lifted from the field, it was obvious that the number of birds present was far greater than we thought.  Grey Seals were hauled out on the now visible sandbars and we headed back across to the mainland.  Lunch overlooking the vast expanse of mud produced more geese and ducks, including Pintail, and a distant Little Stint in amongst a flock of Dunlin and Knot.  A Merlin had spooked the Chaffinch flock as we headed back south and a quick stop at Bamburgh produced Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone, Ringed Plover and Eider but nothing on the sea in what the wind had whipped up into a frothing mess of whitecaps.  The stiffening breeze was making viewing conditions awkward but the final stop of the afternoon brought Song Thrush, Long-tailed Tit, Greenfinch and Goldcrest before we headed back to Seahouses.  Dinner was accompanied by a discussion of the plan for Tuesday, and a target list was quickly developed…

Day 3. 21/02/17.  Tuesday saw us heading south towards Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  Our first target for the day was a species that’s scarce and often only offers fleeting views…Willow Tit is a regular visitor to the NEWT garden feeding station but I’d got a different site in mind and we enjoyed prolonged views of at least two of these gorgeous little birds, as well as a detailed discussion about how to separate them from Marsh TitReed Bunting, Common Snipe and Common Buzzard joined the day list as an impressive flock of Lapwing and Golden Plover swirled against the sky as we headed off in search of our next target for the day.  This one proved fairly straightforward and we had great views of both male and female BramblingLittle Grebe, Goldeneye and Common and Black-headed Gulls accompanied our lunch stop before we had excellent views of some very obliging Common Snipe, Bar-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Ruff, Tree Sparrow and Little EgretShorelark was the one target for the day that eluded us, as we had several flight views of a vocal flock of Twite while Ringed Plover were displaying on the beach, Sanderling were scurrying back and forth and a flock of Common Scoter were offshore with Red-throated Divers and Guillemot just beyond the breaking surf.  A handsome male Stonechat flushed from bush to bush ahead of us as we walked along the path and the long-staying Pacific Diver eventually gave great views close to a Slavonian Grebe.  There was one target species still remaining on the list for the day though, and I was sure that the last hour of daylight would bring that one for us.  Scanning the edges of reedbeds through the telescope revealed a dark shape that hadn’t been there a few minutes earlier during my last scan of the reedbed, and that dark shape stretched and began loping along, still partly obscured by the reeds.  Within a minute everyone had located the Otter as it moved quickly around the edge of the pool and then it vanished, only to appear in the water a few minutes later 🙂  We watched as it swam towards us before losing it from sight behind the near vegetation.  After a few minutes of calm all of the Mute Swans were suddenly staring towards the bank right in front of us, and the Otter passed by just a few metres away 🙂  A great finish to our final full day in the field.

Day 4. 22/02/17.  Departure day dawned dry, bright and with an icily cold breeze as we gathered for breakfast before all heading off our separate ways.

We’ll be adding 2017 and 2018 dates to our holiday page shortly but please do get in touch if you’ve got any questions about what we offer.  Our short break holidays have a maximum of 6 participants, and a relaxed pace, and we’re always happy to create something bespoke too 🙂

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“Keith Chegwin did what?”; Otter Safari 07/02/17

by on Feb.10, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

Watching wildlife tends to involve also having to spend some time waiting for it to appear, and conversations are occasionally slightly surreal…

I collected Jo and Crawford from Eshott ahead of a day searching for Otters around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  Heavy overnight rain had cleared but the roads were liberally strewn with deep puddles as we headed to the coast.  Crawford has spent a lot of time watching and photographing Otters in Shetland and it was great to compare observations, and discuss photography, as we scanned the water looking for any sign of the elusive predator.  Little Grebe, Goldeneye and Mute Swan all appeared unmolested, then I noticed three Mallard swimming slightly faster than all of the other ducks…and there was an Otter twisting and turning, surfacing to crunch whatever it had just caught before submerging again 🙂  We watched it for a little while but it was moving away from us so we moved along to a section of bank closer to where we’d last seen it.  Better views there, and then another shift of position saw us on the water’s edge, with the Otter performing around 20m in front of Crawford’s camera.  Our encounter lasted nearly an hour, and included several ‘porpoising’ dives with the Otter leaping almost completely clear of the water and diving near vertically.

The cold and damp of the afternoon brought views of a very obliging White-fronted Goose and, approaching dusk, Lapwing and Curlew called as Starlings hurried to roost and a Barn Owl ghosted by.  Wildlife presenters featured in a very entertaining discussion which led on to game shows and the revelation that Keith Chegwin – that’s right the cherub-faced star of Multi-coloured Swap Shop, Cheggers Plays Pop and Saturday Superstore – had once presented a game show naked.  Now two of us thought this unlikely, but a quick search on Google confirmed that Crawford wasn’t imagining it and that Cheggers had indeed hosted a one-off show called Naked Jungle, wearing nothing other than a hat!  Every day’s an education…

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Setting sun; Bespoke Wildlife Safari 05/02/17

by on Feb.06, 2017, under Northumberland Coast

Sunday was a second day out for Edward and Isabel, although this time a bespoke trip.  I collected them from Greycroft and we headed south.  Brambling was the first target on our list for the day and an impressive flock was alongside Nuthatch, Chaffinch, Coal Tit and a male SiskinRed Squirrel was another target species for the day, and we enjoyed prolonged views of one, as another male Brambling called from a treetop nearby and Goldfinches plundered a feeding station.  Long-tailed Tits fed just above our heads and Fulmar found themselves in range of Edward’s camera as we had lunch overlooking the North Sea.  Twite, Pied Wagtail and Sanderling on the beach were our first post-lunch stop and then we headed further north to our last site for the day, with a brief glimpse of a Stoat as it ran across the road in front of us.

Dusk often brings the best of the day and, as Whooper Swans swam across the reflection of the setting Sun, a Kingfisher dived from the reeds, a Water Rail flew between reedbeds, Grey Herons squabbled over prime feeding spots and the assembled wildfowl followed the progress of a Red Fox as it trotted along the bank.  Once it was too dark to see anything in front of us we headed back to Alnwick.

Another great day out with clients who were really good company.  It’s never really any other way 🙂

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Patience; Otter Safari 04/02/17

by on Feb.06, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Otter, Southeast Northumberland

I collected Roger and Jackie from The Swan and then Edward and Isabel from Church Point and we headed off in search of Otters around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  After watching Little Grebe, Cormorant and Goldeneye all fishing unmolested by sinuous predators we moved on to our second site for the day and the sky was filled with Pink-footed and Greylag Geese and a vocal White-fronted Goose flew by.  Fulmars soared along the clifftops as we had our lunch and Pacific Diver added a touch of rare to the day’s proceedings.  By mid-afternoon we were at the site where I suspected we needed to be at dusk…

In the cold wind Starlings were going straight to roost without putting on a murmurating display and, as light faded and the reflection of the setting sun cast a beautiful glow on the water, Edward spotted an adult Otter 🙂  We watched it fishing as it gradually made it’s way towards a flock of Mallard, Tufted Duck, Coot, Wigeon and Teal and then it was lost from sight…before a flock of Lapwings taking panicked flight right in front of us betrayed the presence of an Otter out of the water!  After a few minutes of unsuccessful chasing it went into the water and started feeding.  This was a second Otter though, this time a cub that we lost sight of in the deepening gloom of dusk.  With a fairly cloudless sky Venus, Mars, the Moon and Orion were all looking mightily impressive as we made our way back to the car after another successful Otter search 🙂

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Planning; Bespoke Otter Safari 03/02/17

by on Feb.04, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Northumberland Coast, Otter, Red Squirrel

In glorious sunshine I arrived in Longframlington to collect Lisa and Lucy ahead of a day searching for Otters, Red Squirrels and Kingfishers around Druridge Bay and the Northumberland coast.  I was greeted by Ridley, Lisa’s cockerpoo, and it was quickly decided that he would be joining us on the trip 🙂

Our first Otter site had an obvious area of water that the Mallard, Teal, Gadwall, Tufted Duck and Little Grebe were all avoiding, and Greylag Geese left in a bit of a hurry, but no sign of the sinuous predator we were searching for.  A change to our usual picnic spot brought a brief glimpse of a female Merlin as she chased Lapwing and Wigeon, and then a Bittern flew between reedbeds.  Red Squirrels were next on our planned route for the day and I had 20mins dog-sitting while Lisa and Lucy checked the edge of the trees that I suggested.  Sure enough, they returned with photographs of Red Squirrel and we were on our way to the next Otter site 🙂  Through binoculars I could see dark shapes twisting and turning at the water’s surface and, with the additional magnification of our telescope, those shapes resolved into two Otter cubs in a play-fight 🙂  We went along to where they were, but by that time they were out of the water and running around on boulders and through the dense undergrowth before quickly vanishing.

We headed to our final Otter site to finish the day, and the weather was starting to deteriorate.  As the breeze whistled in our ears, the temperature dropped so our breath was condensing into lingering clouds, a cold damp mist took hold over the water and Red-breasted Merganser and Goldeneye were displaying, Starling arrived to roost, foregoing the elegant ballet of the murmuration in favour of quickly finding shelter, the eerie cries of Curlew echoed across the pool and Lapwing formed a tight panicked flock as a Sparrowhawk flew low over the reeds, a Bittern flew by in the gloom and Little Grebe scattered as an Otter swam across in front of us, tucked in to the reed edge and sheltered from the breeze 🙂

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