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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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You never know what’s around the corner; Cheviot Valleys Safari 01/06/17

by on Jun.02, 2017, under Cheviot Valleys

Always expect the unexpected is a good philosophy to hold when you’re out and about searching for wildlife…

I collected Steph from Kingston Park and we headed north for a morning exploring the Cheviot valleys.  Along the streams and rivers Grey Wagtail, Pied Wagtail and Dipper were all sitting on rocks or flycatching, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff were singing and House Martins were gathering mud for their nests as Swallows perched on wires just above our heads and a Rabbit sat, unconcerned, in the cooling shade of an Oak. With temperatures pushing into the 20’s it was always going to be a good day for insects; Wall Brown, Speckled Wood and Red Admiral butterflies were all very flightly in the warm sunshine, Common Blue and Blue-tailed Damselflies added a flash of colour to all of the verges and Green Tiger Beetles were basking on small rocks.  A yaffling Green Woodpecker seemed to be mocking us from it’s hidden position before it flew from cover and Steph finally caught up with her bogey bird 🙂  A Cuckoo was calling fom the canopy as a Great Spotted Woodpecker made it’s way from fence post to fallen tree to fence post to tree trunk before finally vanishing deep into the trees and a Spotted Flycatcher was sallying from a high exposed branch.  Oystercatchers called noisily, the eerie cries of Curlew drifted across the fells and Red-legged Partridge and Pheasant wandered across the roads everywhere we went.

Driving down a single track road we came around a bend and Steph spotted a bird in the road ahead of us.  Hunched over, and picking at a carcass, my first thought was Common Buzzard…and then it sat upright before taking off, attempting to carry the dead Rabbit it had been picking at.  Incredibly numerous in some areas, but still very very scarce in Northumberland; we’ve seen Red Kites on NEWT safaris before, but this was the first one we’ve found on a trip within our home county 🙂

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Lazy days; Otter Safari 25/05/17

by on May.26, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

I’m meticulous about checking the car before a day out with NEWT’s clients.  Oil, air, water, screen wash, tyre pressures.. All checked and adjusted as necessary, at least one hour before I set off from the office.  I went through that routine yesterday, before heading to Newbiggin to collect Carl and Joanne for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.

All was fine…until I was less than 100m from our drive and the car suffered a puncture 🙁  Luckily the fantastic Stakeford Tyre Services is between our house and Newbiggin and the car was soon sporting a new tyre and we were underway…only to be hit from behind by another car just a couple of minutes after we’d left Newbiggin 🙁  I couldn’t see any damage to the back of our car so we headed on.  Orange-tip and Green-veined White butterflies were busy in the warm sunshine, Mallard and Shelduck were shepherding ducklings, Sand Martin, House Martin, Swallow and Swift were harvesting a dense hatch of flying insects and Sedge Warbler, Blackcap, Reed Warbler and Whitethroat were singing from hidden perches.

Our picnic spot was beside a rock pool, with the warm sunshine, flat calm blue sea and lack of people on the beach giving it almost an ‘island feel’ as a dense flock of Herrring Gull and Gannet wheeled around offshore.  Then all of the birds started circling with intent…and below them were 4 Bottlenose Dolphins 🙂  After the dolphins moved around the headland and out of sight we continued on our way.  It’s May but the evening light is still sublime, and the sunshine picked out Mute Swans and Grey Heron against the subtle hues of everything else around as the peace and quiet was disturbed briefly by an altercation between a Coot and a Moorhen.  Towards dusk a Roe Deer was in a distant field and as we headed back towards Newbiggin a Barn Owl flew across the road ahead of us 🙂

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