Archive for June, 2017

Seabird Spectacular; Birdwatching magazine Reader Holiday 25-28/06/17

by on Jun.29, 2017, under Coquet Island, Druridge Bay, Farne Islands

Day 1 25/06/17

After collecting Malcolm, and then John, from Alnmouth railway station we headed to Seahouses and the Bamburgh Castle Inn for the start of a short break concentrating on the seabirds of the Northumberland coast.  Nigel, Janice and Cliff and Lesley had already arrived and at dinner we discussed the plan for the next two days.  I’d brought our Farne Islands day forward from Tuesday to Monday, and moved Coquet Island and Druridge Bay to Tuesday, and had my fingers crossed that it was the right decision…

Day 2 26/06/17

We boarded Glad Tidings IV after breakfast and headed across to Staple Island at the start of an all-day trip to the Farne Islands.  Staple doesn’t have any breeding terns, and has fewer visitors than Inner Farne, so is altogether a much more relaxed experience 🙂  Puffins, Fulmars, Guillemots, Razorbills, Rock Pipits and Lesser Black-backed Gulls were all coming and going as, just north of the island, Gannets were plunging into the sea.  Transferring across to Inner Farne for the afternoon, we made our way past Arctic, Common and Sandwich Terns and up to Lighthouse Point  where, alongside Razorbills, Guillemots, Shags and Kittiwakes, Rock Pipits were carrying food into nests tucked away out of sight in narrow crevices in the cliff face.  At the base of the cliffs the water was so clear that we could watch Guillemot, including a parent joined by a jumpling as we watched, and Razorbill as they swam with slow-motion effort under the water.  Back on the mainland we walked along the edge of the rising tide and watched Little Terns, Dunlin and Ringed Plover as Meadow Pipits song-flighted from the dunes and a maelstrom of Arctic Terns responded to marauding Lesser Black-backed, Great Black-backed and Herring Gulls and a real bonus bird came in the form of a 2cy Glaucous Gull.

Day 3 27/06/17

I woke up to the sound of a stiff breeze and rain, and breathed a sigh of relief that we’d moved our Farne Islands day to Monday.  We headed south along the coast towards Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland and our first stop was to look for 3 Spoonbills which had been reported.  Just before we reached them, Nigel spotted a Cuckoo perched on a tree protector and we quickly found the Spoonbills.  Next stop was for a bird that’s straightforward to find in Northumberland during the winter, but a rare thing indeed in breeding plumage in late June.  The Slavonian Grebe was asleep, tucked up against the wind and rain but soon roused itself from slumber and started feeding.  Sedge and Reed Warblers were playing hide-and-seek with us in reedbeds, Tree Sparrows were feeding on the paths ahead of us and we spent some time watching an entertaining dispute between a Little Gull and a 1st summer Arctic Tern.  The tern seemed to have a case of angry little man syndrome and, as well as persistently harassing the gull, it took umbrage at the presence of Avocet, Moorhen, Oystercatcher, Carrion Crow and ShelduckBlack-tailed Godwits were probing in the shallows, Curlew were in newly-mown fields and the air was filled with Swallows, Sand Martins, House Martins and Swifts.  Soon after lunch the weather deteriorated and as we could hear the sea crashing against the shore is was obvious that our planned sailing around Coquet Island wouldn’t be happening.  There’s always the telescope though, and although distant, we could identify Roseate Terns as Bar-tailed Godwits pottered along the shoreline below us.  As Great Crested Grebes somehow managed to look elegant even in the stiffening breeze and increasingly heavy rain we headed back to Seahouses.

Day 4 28/06/17

After breakfast together, everyone headed their separate ways.  I dropped Malcolm and John back at Alnmouth, and then I was on my way to a physio appointment – really not as much fun as watching Northumberland’s stunning wildlife 🙂

We’ll be adding more holiday dates to our online calendar in the next week, so make sure you book your place early before they’re all gone!

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Bombardment; Bespoke Farne Islands Safari 22/06/17

by on Jun.29, 2017, under Farne Islands

Here at NEWT we love all of the trips that we run; whether we’re searching for Black Grouse and Ring Ouzels in the hills of the North Pennines and the Cheviot Valleys, Otters in the rivers and pools of southeast Northumberland, scarce migrants on Holy Island, Goshawk and Red Squirrel in Kielder or whales, dolphins and seabirds on a pelagic trip out onto the North Sea – the thrill of the chase and the pleasure of spending that time with our clients, who are always really lovely people, makes every day different and a joy.  The trip I haven’t mentioned yet is the one that really should be one everybody’s bucket list…

I collected Malcolm and Carole from Seahouses and we headed south along the coast to visit the Arctic and Little Tern colony.  The weather was a bit drizzly, but Skylark and Meadow Pipit were song-flighting above dense areas of Bloody Cranesbill and by lunchtime we were on the dunes overlooking the Farne Islands, the sea looked calm and the weather was improving 🙂  The journey across to the islands on St Cuthbert II was soon accompanied by Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills, Fulmars, Kittiwakes and Gannets then we were soon across at the inner group and Grey Seals lazing on the rocks and watching our boat.  This far into the breeding season the seabird colony is well-ripened, and a really assault on your sense of smell as the loud cries of Kittiwake and the persistent low grumbling of Guillemots start to overwhelm your hearing as Cormorants watch sentinel-like from nearby islets.  Landing on Inner Farne brought excellent close views of nesting Puffin, Guillemot, Razorbill, Shag and Kittiwake, once we’d made it through the barrage of attacks by Arctic Terns as we made our way towards Lighthouse Point.  Common and Sandwich Terns nest a little bit further from the boardwalk than the feisty Arctics and don’t pester visitors, which is a real bonus in the case of Sandwich Tern given the size of their beaks 😉

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Summer days; Cheviot Valleys Bespoke birdwatching 18/06/17

by on Jun.20, 2017, under Cheviot Valleys

An early start on Sunday saw me collecting Jill and Steve for their 4th day out with NEWT (and Steve’s 5th trip with us as he was on this memorable pelagic!)…

Our destination was the Cheviot valleys, but we headed to Bothal first to search for the Ruddy Duck that had been there the day before.  There was no sign of it, but consolation came in the form of a stunning summer-plumaged Slavonian Grebe before we continued on our way north west.  Red-legged Partridge and Pheasant were wandering along the roads and sitting on the tops of walls and we were soon searching for Ring Ouzel and Whinchat – the two target species for the morning.  Curlew called from the moors high above, Meadow Pipits were song-flighting and Pied Wagtails were picking insects from the grass as Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler were singing, Mistle Thrushes flew back and forth and Oystercatchers were probing the soil under short vegetation.  Persistence is often the key and I finally spotted a Whinchat perched on a small bush, and then 2 Ring Ouzels foraging on a small rocky outcrop.

Our picnic spot beside a fast flowing stream produced an obliging Common Sandpiper and more Whinchats as the buzzing trill of Lesser Redpolls drew our attention to small dark specks travelling between plantations and the scratchy song of Common Whitethroat grumbled from nearby bracken.  A Great Spotted Woodpecker sitting in the road was an unexpected encounter before we finished the day with an hour of woodland birding.  In the hot afternoon sunshine the birds seemed to be keeping their heads down, other than a very obliging Spotted Flycatcher as Speckled Wood butterflies rested in the sun-dappled edges of the wood and a Giant Pied Hoverfly Volucella pellucens made a couple of flyby inspections as we walked back to the car.

Another really enjoyable day out with Jill and Steve, in very summery weather!

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Stoatally amazing ;-) Druridge Bay Safari 16/06/17

by on Jun.19, 2017, under Druridge Bay

I collected Eileen, Malcolm and Ben from Newbiggin and we headed up the coast for a day around Druridge Bay

We started a bit further north, with Fulmars and Kittiwakes battling the breeze as Common Whitethroats sang from deep cover and Shelduck sat on the sea far below our clifftop position.  Common Swifts were heading southeast in numbers and we went the same way ourselves.  A flycatching Grey Wagtail was jumping up from mid-stream rocks as Chiffchaffs darted around the trees and a stiff breeze was developing.  Down into Druridge bay and Avocets, Little Egrets and Great Crested Grebes provided a touch of elegance alongside dainty Little GullsBlue-tailed Damselflies were remarkably obliging, tolerating Eileen and Malcolm’s cameras and not worrying about the close approach of smartphones either, but the real star of the afternoon was one of my favourite land mammals.  Bounding along a fence line before disappearing to the grass, the Stoat was soon back out and running towards us, mobbed by Lapwings as it carried a Short-tailed Field Vole.  A few minutes later and it was back out again, vanishing into a reedbed as the Lapwings continued to fret and panic. Nature, red in tooth and claw and just really impressive 🙂

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Wet and windy; Farne Islands Safari 15/06/17

by on Jun.19, 2017, under Farne Islands

I collected Richard and Chris, Anne and Howard and Paul and Julie from Seahouses and we headed a little way down the coast to visit the Arctic and Little Tern colony before heading back to Seahouses for a trip across to Inner Farne

The dunes were a hive of activity in the warm sunshine; Common Blue butterflies, Yellow Shell, Cinnabar and burnet moths and an impressive display of our county flower, Bloody Cranesbill, before we reached the terns.  After lunch it was time to board Glad Tidings and head towards the ‘Galapagos of the North’.  Eiders were escorting their chicks around the harbour and the first Puffins and Guillemots were sitting on the sea just out of the pier ends.  As we approached the islands, in a strengthening breeze, the number of birds increased dramatically  with lines of Guillemot and Puffin, and the odd Razorbill, streaming back to their nests and hungry chicks.  Gannets soared by and the sound, and smell, of a cliff full of Kittiwakes was an all-out assault on the senses.  Grey Seals were lazing on the rocks and we landed on Inner Farne with it’s remarkably obliging Shags, Guillemots, Puffins and Sandwich, Arctic and Common Terns.

What can we say about the Farne Islands?  If you haven’t already visited them, start making your plans 🙂

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Owling; Bespoke Otter Safari 14/06/17

by on Jun.19, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

There are days when our quarry evades us, but even then there’s usually something good that comes along anyway…

I collected Marg and Rob from Alnwick and we headed southeast towards Druridge Bay for an afternoon and evening searching our favourite spots for Otters.  A Roebuck and a Roe doe were peering at us from deep grass and Great Crested Grebes were elegantly serene and just quite stunning.  Cormorants were resting or drying off after fishing, wings outstretched like heraldic black dragons.  A mini-murmuration of Starlings was a long way from the huge flocks we’ll be watching by the end of the year, but impressive nonetheless.  As dusk approached we found ourselves watching a hunting Barn Owl as it passed by on silent wings before plunging into the grass in search of a hapless rodent as Cuckoos were pursued by angry Meadow Pipits from bush to bush along the dunes and the light faded, as it always does, to unmanageable…

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Picnic; NEWT’s North Sea Pelagic 13/06/17

by on Jun.19, 2017, under North Sea

We started our 2017 pelagic season earlier than usual, with a private booking for Teri’s birthday.  There were some familiar faces on board, including Paul…who was on the first ever NEWT Safari back in January 2008!

By the time we were back at the marina, the volume of cakes, sweets and crisps that had been consumed would put an entire school of small children to shame.  Interspersed between all the cake consumption were flocks of gulls, guillemots and gannets plundering shoals of sandeel and, almost inevitably, some dramatic light over the North Sea 🙂

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Making the most of the weather; Bespoke Cheviots Safari 08/06/17

by on Jun.09, 2017, under Uncategorized

I have a bit of an obsession with the weather.  It can have a real influence on the outcome of our trips and we always try to be as flexible as we possibly can.  If the forecast is really poor we always offer clients the option of rescheduling; either for a different time on the same day, a different day close to the planned date (if they’re visiting the area) and a rescheduled date suitable for them if they’re local.  I’d been watching the forecast for Thursday all week, and it had finally changed to be reasonable until mid-morning, so with an early start planned I set off to collect Malcolm, Judy and Andrew from Longframlington for a morning exploring the Cheviot Valleys

As soon as I was on my way the weather deviated from forecast and the heavy drizzle was still present when I reached Longframlington.  Then a break in the clouds and we had warm sunshine and blue skies before the rain started again as Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges scuttled across the road in front of the car and a Brown Hare sat motionless in the middle of a field.  Reed Bunting, Greylag Goose and Canada Goose, the latter two with goslings in tow were unperturbed by the increasingly heavy rain as were the clouds of flying insects we were walking through.  The cries of Curlew and Oystercatcher echoed around the valleys and rabbits sat still before eventually deciding they didn’t want to be observed and raced off.  The riparian triumvirate of Grey Wagtail, Common Sandpiper and Dipper were all on mid-stream rocks as the buzzing trill of Lesser Redpoll was heard overhead, Tree Pipits called in display flight, a Whinchat perched on a fingerpost before flying to perch in the bracken, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush and Blackbird were all by the roadside, a Spotted Flycatcher was sallying forth in increasingly heavy rain, the descending silvery cadence of a Willow Warbler  drifted from the branches of a nearby birch, a Treecreeper put in a brief appearance as it scaled a vertiginous trunk with ease and Cuckoo and Chiffchaff were calling with persistent rhythmical eponymous onomatopeia.

As the rain intensified we watched a Grey Heron as it stood motionless at the water’s edge and three well-grown juvenile Goosanders swam by it before taking flight and disappearing upstream and we finshed the morning with our picnic by the riverside.  The rain doesn’t deter wildlife watchers 🙂

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The golden hour; Bespoke coastal birdwatching 07/06/17

by on Jun.09, 2017, under Druridge Bay

I collected Nicky and Mick from Newbiggin and we set off for an afternoon and evening exploring Druridge Bay and south east Northumberland.  The weather was somewhat nicer than it had been 24h earlier, in fact postively summery although with a fairly stiff breeze.  Sometimes I could write a blog post by skipping to the last hour or so of the trip and, after a challenging afternoon including a good look at Black-headed, Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Whitehroats song-flighting from bramble scrub and a couple of woodland walks with Jays playing hide and seek with us, Treecreepers creeping up the trunks of trees, Robins and Wrens singing from deep cover and Fulmars gliding on stiff wings along the clifftops that’s where we find ourselves…

Against a stiff northwesterly the Barn Owl was struggling; already bearing the heavy burden of a plump vole it was flying northeasterly and sideways to make progress to the north, forced out over the sea before battling it’s way back onshore and dropping from the remarkable height it had chosen to fly at as Great Crested Grebes radiated elegance on the choppy water in front of us and a Starling murmuration numbered a couple of hundred birds.  As the light levels dropped to absolutely sublime it was time for more owls to put in an appearance;  first another Barn Owl, then another, another and incredibly our fifth of the evening, with three of them in one binocular view 🙂  With an aural backdrop of Mallard, Gadwall, Wigeon, Curlew and Lapwing, and the air filled with Swifts the scene was set for another owl, this time a Long-eared hunting through the dunes, it’s dark plumage providing a stark contrast to the pale ghostly Barn Owls.  There was another surprise waiting for us too as Nicky asked “what are those birds along there?”.  I turned and looked through my binoculars and the impression was raptor-like, combined with a hint of thin, long-tailed Woodpigeon…a closer look therough our ‘scope, and there were two Cuckoos!  The final hour is often the highlight of a day watching wildlife, but this hour was just shoveling the quality in 🙂

 

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Localised; Bespoke coastal birdwatching 06/06/17

by on Jun.09, 2017, under Druridge Bay

I left the house to head to Newbiggin to collect Andy and Caroline, ahead of an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and south east Northumberland, in weather that was slightly less than pleasant with heavy drizzle covering the windscreen in flowing water every few seconds…

…12 minutes later and I’m Newbiggin, where all the roads and pavements were bone dry and there hadn’t been any rain.  Unfortunately we couldn’t restrict the trip to the one dry corner of the coast so we headed on.  Swallows, Sand Martins, House Martins and Swifts were feeding frantically on a vast hatch of flying insects that were emerging into the warm, damp air.  Little Egrets were standing by the water’s edge, Grey Herons were stalking so slowly that they barely seemed to move and Cormorants were sitting around drying their wings or generally doing nothing.  Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff were flycatching in the leaves of tree canopies and proved difficult to pin down, and Fulmars were soaring along the cliff edge as the drizzle became more persistent.

Just as thought I’d seen a dark shape beyond a group of roosting Cormorants, Caroline asked if there was any chance of seeing an Otter, as she’d seen the same stealthy shape 🙂  We watched as it fed for nearly an hour before vanishing from sight and then we continued on our way.  Mallard, Wigeon, Teal, Gadwall, Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Ringed Plover, Curlew and Lapwing were all feeding on marshy fields and Andy spotted a couple of stunningly bright Yellow Wagtails, standing out against the backdrop of drizzle and general murk.

We were once asked, “what do you do if it’s cold and wet?”.  The answer’s simple; wear warm, waterproof clothing…or get cold and wet 🙂

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