Archive for May, 2018

Yes, this really is southeast Northumberland ;-) Otter Safari 18/05/18

by on May.19, 2018, under Druridge Bay, Otter

In warm but breezy weather I collected Baird and Margaret, and then Jacqui, Paul, Chris and Louise ahead of an afternoon and evening around southeast Northumberland and Druridge Bay searching for Otters

Starting with a woodland walk we could hear Blackbird, Blackcap, Robin, Wren, Woodpigeon, Chiffchaff and Chaffinch all singing but the only movement in the rocky streams was gurgling water. Black-headed Gulls were swarming over the wider rivers, mopping up an obviously substantial hatch of flying insects, and Cormorants were doing their best to impersonate Otters.  Our picnic stop overlooking the North Sea brought a fantastic wildlife experience; with everyone else enjoying soup, sandwich and carrot cake I was scanning the sea.  Common Eider, Guillemot and Razorbill were all rafting as Gannets headed north and then I spotted the concentrated activity of a flock of gulls.  Focusing on the sea below them I soon spotted a couple of dorsal fins breaking the surface…and we had nearly an hour with 9 Bottlenose Dolphins porpoising, breaching, feeding and generally being very entertaining right in front of us 🙂  Tufted Duck, Mallard, Shoveler, Gadwall and Great Crested Grebe all looked stunning in low angled sunlight as Lapwings displayed with their bizarre other-worldly calls and, as the Sun sank towards the northwest a Barn Owl flew across the road ahead of us.

Under a beautiful waxing crescent Moon alongside Venus in the west, and Arcturus and Jupiter visible in the twilight to the southeast, with the giant planet stunning through our telescope, the Swallows, Swifts, House Martins and Sand Martins were replaced overhead by Noctule and pipistrelle bats as dozens and dozens of Black-headed Gulls continued feasting on flying insects and a Roe Deer was in the reeds opposite us.  Tufted Ducks, Mallards, Canada Geese and Greylag Geese were looking agitated and one flock of gulls seemed to be whirling in a dense tight circle over a narrow bay in the reeds before gradually drifting along still following the reed edge…and the Otter that was stealthily making it’s way around the pool 🙂  We watched it for a few minutes before it surfaced right in front of an adult Mute Swan and decided it was time to beat a hasty retreat into the reeds.

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Hazy, lazy afternoon; North Pennines Safari 17/05/18

by on May.19, 2018, under North Pennines

I collected James and Emma from Hexham and we headed into the North Pennines for a day searching for the flora and fauna of the hills and moorland…

We were soon watching our first Black Grouse of the day, which remarkably also proved to be our only Black Grouse of the day, as Common Snipe flew by and Lapwing and Curlew displayed over the road ahead of us.  Crossing heather moorland we started to find Red Grouse, then more Red Grouse and more Red Grouse; engaging in territorial disputes with each other, chuckling from the fellsides or just quizzically raising a big red eyebrow in our direction they provide entertainment whenever we come across them.  Brown Hares loped along the road ahead of our car and almost every fence post seemed to be adorned with a Meadow Pipit.  Our post-lunch walk produced the best display of Spring Gentian and Birds-eye Primrose that I’ve seen in ten years of leading tours in the North Pennines and we could hear, but not see, Peregrines as Grey Wagtails were flycatching along shallow streams.  eventually we did see a Peregrine, spotted by James as it soared distantly before drifting right over the car, and the plaintive call of a Golden Plover heralded a flyby from the beautiful black-bellied gold-spangled ‘Pennine Whistler’ before we headed back across the moors to the bustling metropolis of Newcastle 🙂

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Into the arena; North Pennines Safari 03/05/18

by on May.07, 2018, under Uncategorized

After collecting David from Newbiggin we headed across to Hexham and quickly found Becky, for her 2nd day out with NEWT, and then Emma and Rob before heading into the North Pennines, with one particular experience high on everybody’s wish list for the day…

In a bitterly cold westerly wind, birds were mainly keeping their heads down.  Red Grouse popped up on the heather, Wheatears and Meadow Pipits hopped along drystone walls, Snipe, Curlew and Lapwing were displaying and Buzzard and Kestrel occasionally braved the breeze.  A Red Squirrel ran across the road and vanished into a tree, a Stoat ran up a wall and Roe Deer were grazing in the relative shelter of the valley bottoms.  A quick check of our favourite Black Grouse spot just before lunch produced no birds, and just a lone Blackcock feeding in a nearby field.  A post-lunch walk didn’t last as long as planned, with fairly ferocious wind-chill making it seem more mid-Winter than early May so we headed back to look for grouse

Where there were no grouse a couple of hours earlier, now there were 17 Blackcock, some feeding in long grass and some sleeping in the open.  Then, an unseen trigger launched the lek.  White tail feathers could be seen with the naked eye from our vantage point and the birds were struggling for dominance of the gladiatorial arena.  Some were half-heated about it and quickly stopped displaying and just watched the remaining birds.  Some were aggressively charging at each other and, eventually, just two birds were still displaying.  One seemed to be the alpha male of the lek, perched on a tussock in the centre of the lek he was holding the prime spot.  Undaunted, his one remaining challenger continued displaying and, as far as we could tell, the challenger had more stamina than the ‘king of the castle’ who lowered his tail feathers, dropped his wings, hopped down from the tussock and made a slow dignified exit from the arena into the surrounding long grass before flying away and leaving the one last displaying Blackcock strutting his stuff 🙂

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Mediterranean; Druridge Bay Bespoke Birdwatching 30/04/18

by on May.02, 2018, under Druridge Bay

I collected Pete and Jan from Embleton for their 11th day out with NEWT, and our intended destination was the Cheviot Valleys.  That isn’t where we headed though as the howling northerly wind would have made several hours on exposed moorland quite unpleasant so, after a quick chat, we decided to head down the coast to Druridge Bay

Our first stop produced probably the bird of the day as a Dipper sat obligingly on a small rock.  Occasionally stretching it’s wings it did little more than turn around, and burst explosively into song when any other Dippers flew along, before eventually flying up into a nest hole.  The scratchy warble of Blackcaps came from deep cover, a Great Spotted Woodpecker drummed briefly, Chiffchaffs were singing their eponymous song, Nuthatches were delivering their entire repertoire of calls and a Treecreeper – incredibly the first I’ve seen this year – shuffled furtively up an ivy-clad trunk.

Lunch overlooking the North Sea produced Fulmars soaring effortlessly on stiff wings and lines of Gannets heading north into the wind.  The next couple of hours could have been set somewhere much further south, and warmer, with only the wind-chill reminding us that we were in Northumberland.  Glossy Ibis, Spoonbill and Little Egret were alongside Garganey and a Channel Wagtail feeding on a marshy field as Sand Martins and Swallows gathered insects overhead and, after we’d left the ibis behind we saw it again as it flew north past us.  Brief songbursts from Sedge and Willow Warblers were mixed in with another scratchy warble as Common Whitethroats advertised their presence, another first of the year for myself and NEWT, and the insect-plundering hordes over the coastal pools included a couple of Common Swifts – as sure a sign as any that the summer is here 😉

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…and more persistence :-) Bespoke Cheviot Valleys birdwatching 29/04/18

by on May.01, 2018, under Cheviot Valleys, Uncategorized

Driving towards Bywell to collect Peter and Pat for a day in the Cheviot Valleys I was considering the weather forecast that had suggested it would be dry, bright and breezy.  I was mainly considering it because it was raining…

Dippers were carrying food to their nests, and carrying faecal sacs away to throw in the river.  A Common Sandpiper went swee-wee-wee-wee-wee along the shallow bubbling stream and Grey Wagtails were proving elusive.  Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Chaffinch and Blackbird were singing and a yaffling Green Woodpecker eventually flew by and perched where we could see it for a minute or so.  Red Grouse were chuckling on the heather-clad slopes above us and a male Merlin dashed by and over a ridge.  With hail showers, and snow on much higher ground, Meadow Pipits were coming down by the dozen, off the moor to the valley bottom as Curlews were song-flighting .  After lunch we headed up a narrow steep valley in search of Ring Ouzel.  For around 30mins we could hear one singing, but we couldn’t see him.  A Cuckoo called from the opposite side of the valley and then flew by before perching on a dry stone wall, and the ouzel continued to sing from a hidden perch.  Then, in a moment that couldn’t have been scripted better the Sun broke through the cloud and illuminated a small crag on the skyline – just as a male Ring Ouzel settled on it after chasing another ouzel across the heather 🙂

Another great day out with clients who are serious birdwatchers 🙂

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Persistence :-) Otter Safari 27/04/18

by on May.01, 2018, under Druridge Bay, Otter

I collected Paul and Jenny from The Swan and we set off for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland, searching for Otters

So far, 2018 has been another one of those years where we should be adding our regular Little Owls to the payroll, and the tiny predator scowling at us from a bare tree was like a toddler trying to look fierce while not really being very tall and scary at all 🙂  Fulmars soared over the North Sea, which was looking remarkably calm, as Eiders rafted just offshore and Grey Seals dived languidly before resurfacing a short distance away.  While Teal, Mallard, Gadwall, Goldeneye and Tufted Duck all looked pristine in their breeding finery, two other ducks really stole the the mid-afternoon show; Garganey and Pintail are both incredibly attractive, and both unusual enough in Northumberland in late April to be elevated above other wildfowl 😉  A Little Egret flew by and a Spoonbill was, very typically, asleep in the rushes as a White Wagtail stood out as pale and strikingly marked compared to Pied Wagtail.  As the Sun sank towards the horizon in the north west a Barn Owl flew by, radiantly golden in the sunlight, and Starlings began to gather in small numbers compared to their winter murmurations.

A lone Whooper Swan was with Mute Swans as Roe Deer grazed close to the edge of a pool and dusk descended.  Cormorant, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye and Great Crested Grebe all left ripples as they dived, but their were ripples from one edge of a reedbed with no obvious cause.  Then there were 2 Otters 🙂  We lost sight of one of them quickly, but the other could be seen, keeping low in the water and trying to sneak up on Mute Swans which were having none of it.  As the light faded to a point where we couldn’t seen clearly anymore, the Otter was still swimming back and forth in it’s incessant search for food.

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