Archive for June, 2019

London buses; Bespoke Red Squirrel Safari 25/06/19

by on Jun.26, 2019, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

Yesterday was one of those days with a very specific target, this time one of our favourite mammals, and a real Northumberland specialty, Red Squirrel

I collected Lynne and Rob from Lowick and we headed down the Northumberland coast towards Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. I’d got an itinerary in mind, based around good wildlife locations that have squirrel feeders. Plan A was the site where I was sure we’d find squirrels but they weren’t showing so we headed off to Plan B. We’ve been stocking feeders there and Sarah had replenished them all on Monday evening…and every scrap of food had gone by the time we arrived there on Tuesday morning! The extraordinary number of Jays flying around, as Goldcrests sang from dense dark conifer plantations and Bullfinches called from pathside hedgerows, may have been a clue to where all the food had gone and the only squirrel we saw was a Grey Squirrel. Plan C was a site we haven’t visited for a couple of years, and the well-stocked squirrel feeders there were a very positive sign, but Great Tits, Coal Tits, Chaffinches and a Magpie were the only visitors to the feeding station while we were there. Plan D is a site that has produced some memorable squirrel experiences for our clients over the years, but it’s also a site that is periodically overrun by Grey Squirrels and the unstocked squirrel feeders left me less than optimistic, although a small flock of Bullfinches added a touch of colour in the increasing gloom as the first raindrops began to fall.

Finally to Plan E…which was a reprise of Plan A. No sign of any squirrels but it’s always good to catch-up with Anthony – and in the 30s I looked away from the feeders to tell him where we’d been during the day…one popped up on top of a feeder! It’s always a relief to get a target species safely observed then, as Lynne used her ‘phone to photograph the squirrel through the eyepiece of our telescope a second one appeared and they disputed the right to be on the feeder. Then a third Red Squirrel appeared above the feeder as the second one launched a sneaky attack from below and the squirrel occupying the feeder was knocked clean out of the tree. Like London buses, you wait ages and then three come along together 🙂

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Gloom; Druridge Bay mini-Safari 23/06/19

by on Jun.24, 2019, under Druridge Bay

The NEWT team had been out for a walk yesterday afternoon, in bright, hot sunshine but by the time I arrived in Newbiggin to collect Gordon, Judy and Mike, for an evening exploring Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland, it was a few degrees cooler and no longer sunny…

We started with a riverside walk and with Song Thrushes singing from the trees around us, and Great Spotted Woodpeckers posing obligingly for a minute or so as Mallard ducklings skittered across the water, our attention was drawn to a commotion in the trees on the opposite side of the river. Jays, Magpies and Blackbirds were all hopping around the branches and alarm-calling although we couldn’t see the source of their annoyance.

With the gloom getting gloomier we watched Avocets preening and feeding, a Grey Heron stalking patiently in shallow water, Lapwings, Curlews and Black-headed Gulls, with a 1st summer Mediterranean Gull, roosting as Reed and Sedge Warblers flitted in and out of cover, Reed Buntings sang their simple songs from the reed tops and a Barn Owl ghosted along the water’s edge before settling on a fence post.

A Kestrel hanging almost motionless above the cliff top indicated that the direction of the wind that was starting to bring the first drops of rain was north easterly as Mute Swans fed in an impressive group, Great Crested Grebes still managed to radiate elegance in the enveloping gloom of dusk and the staccato laughing cries of Little Grebes echoed across the water as we headed back to the car and down the coast to Newbiggin.

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About tern :-) Farne Islands Safari 20/06/19

by on Jun.21, 2019, under Farne Islands

Yesterday was an opportunity to head to ‘the Galapagos of the North‘ and I collected Ruth D from Newbiggin then Ruth S and Margaret from Seahouses before heading a few miles down the coast for a morning walk to the Long Nanny…

With brilliantly coloured Common Blue butterflies, some very worn Painted Ladies and a Cinnabar moth in the middle of the track, the dunes were a stunning carpet of Bloody Cranesbill, studded with Pyramidal and Northern Marsh Orchids. Skylarks and Meadow Pipits were song-flighting and with the breeze carrying sound out to sea, we were almost at the tern colony before we heard them. Little Terns were sitting quietly on the sand and Arctic Terns were feeding chicks just a few metres away from us. As each adult tern arrived with food, every chick it passed over raised a wide-open beak in hope of being fed 😉

After a picnic lunch on the beach (“winning at life” in the words of Ruth S), it was time to head to Seahouses and board Glad Tidings III for the sailing to Inner Farne. I first did that trip with Sarah while were students at Newcastle Uni in the late 90’s, and there’s still the same sense of wonder as you leave the harbour with it’s creches of Eider and head the short distance to the islands…

First there’s an occasional Guillemot or Puffin sitting on the sea or flying past. Within a few minutes there are rafts of auks on the water and the air is filled with lines of Puffin, Razorbill and Guillemot returning from foraging trips, or heading out to sea, as Kittiwakes shriek their name from precipitous cliff ledges, Gannets soar by effortlessly, Grey Seals laze on the rocks and the smell, the indescribable smell of a colony of seabirds that have an almost entirely fish-based diet, hits you for the first time 😉

Once your visual, auditory and olfactory senses have all been given a good hammering it’s time for the final assault. Sandwich and Common Terns are relatively peaceful, Razorbills, Guillemots, Kittiwakes and Shags are apparently indifferent to humans standing just a few feet way from their nest sites, Black-headed Gulls reserve their menace for kletoparasitism of the island’s Puffins who have become rather adept at flying straight into burrow entrances and the Puffins themselves wander across the boardwalk in front of you or poke their heads out of burrows and have a look at you as you walk past.

Arctic Terns though, they’re a different kettle of fish-eating aggression altogether. Occasionally you’ll get a loud chattering warning, some of them will jab at your hands from fence-post perches if you’re getting too close to the edge of the boardwalk or if you have the temerity to lift a camera to take a photograph of them and some will just decide to perch on your head, giving themselves a ‘king of the castle’ view of their nest. Then there are the ones that relentlessly swoop and peck at your head/hat/ears/sunglasses. Wear a hat and keep moving 🙂

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Magic tricks; Druridge Bay mini-Safari 06/06/19

by on Jun.18, 2019, under Druridge Bay

With a busy week and a bit ahead of me (guiding a 7 night wildlife photography holiday and then recceing landscape photography holiday locations in the Lake District) I headed to Amble to collect Val and Jimmy for a morning around Druridge Bay

The rhythmic chuntering of Reed Warblers and scattergun song of Sedge Warblers filled the warm air as we watched several Avocets sitting on nests. One pair seemed agitated but the others didn’t which is unusual in an Avocet colony, where they’re nearly always up for a fight, and then one of the pair adopted an unusual crouched position…and laid an egg!

Next we stopped to look for our regular Little Owl. It wasn’t where I expected it to be…and then suddenly it was 🙂 Next up was a genuine rarity…although it remained stubbornly asleep while we were watching it – I’ve seen a Baikal Teal in the UK previously but this one is just 15mins from our office and had a small audience already watching it when we arrived. Displaying Lapwings, Canada and Greylag Geese (with goslings) and Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Shoveler and Shelduck were all on the marsh.

Great morning, with surprises and a rarity 🙂

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Getting ahead of the weather; Cheviot Valleys Bespoke Birdwatching 04/06/19

by on Jun.05, 2019, under Cheviot Valleys

I collected John from Cramlington, earlier than originally planned because the weather forecast wasn’t looking great and I wanted to stay ahead of what promised to be some heavy rain, ahead of a day in the Cheviot Valleys and we headed north west in bright sunshine…

Roadside verges left unmowed are a haven for invertebrates and Common Blue and Blue-tailed Damselflies were alongside Red and Black Froghoppers and bees busied themselves searching for pollen and nectar as Oystercatchers engaged in noisy aerial chases.

The riparian triumvirate of Dipper, Grey Wagtail and Common Sandpiper all put in an appearance, Willow Warblers, Chaffinches and Song Thrushes were all singing as the buzzing calls of Lesser Redpolls wrapped around the taller conifers, Meadow Pipits song-flighted over open ground, the eerie cries of Curlew rolled down the valley sides and a Peregrine soared in the updraft over a ridge. Green Tiger Beetles were around areas of the path left puddled by recent rainfall, Red-legged Partridges and Pheasants added a touch of the exotic (both very underrated birds…), a lone Brown Hare on one side of the valley contrasted with a field full of Rabbits on the other and a Common Buzzard in heavy moult laboured up the fell side. A pristine Adder slithered away from it’s newly shed skin and as we returned to the car the first few raindrops began to fall 🙂 A trail runner came down off the hillside, having hit ‘the wall’ 32 miles into a 36 mile run and we gave him a lift into Wooler before heading south as the rain intensified.

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