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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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Save the best ’til last; Druridge Bay Safari 20/04/18

by on Apr.26, 2018, under Druridge Bay

All of our Safari Days have developed over the last ten years, and even on our familiar, regular Druridge Bay Safaris there’s always the possibility of changing the route slightly and visiting sites that we visit ourselves regularly but haven’t taken clients to yet…

That’s how I found myself with Ian and Elaine & Becky and Helen along a stretch of river that was a new one for a NEWT safari.  We were having an afternoon and evening searching for our favourite sinuous predator around the NEWT local patch and in the warm afternoon sunshine Great Spotted Woodpeckers were drumming and Chiffchaff, Robin, Blackbird, Nuthatch, Blackcap, Chaffinch and Coal Tit were all singing.  On a shallow coastal pool there were no fewer than 19 Avocets (genuinely rare up here when we moved to the north east 25 years ago…) and, while Sand Martins and Swallows fed on the rich hatch of flying insects, Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Teal, Gadwall, Great Crested Grebe and Shelduck dabbled and dived as a pair of Garganey remained unobtrusive until the drake started singing his raspy song.

Our picnic spot, overlooking the North Sea produced a high-tide roost of Redshank, Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Dunlin and Purple Sandpiper as Fulmars soared by and Sandwich Terns were plunge-diving just offshore.  The descending silvery cadence of Willow Warblers came from hawthorns alongside footpaths and the afternoon was feeling more Spring than Winter (at last!).

A Little Owl glared balefully from a roadside tree, but remained obligingly perched in full view and we headed to our final location for dusk.  A Short-eared Owl drifted across one reedbed as a female Marsh Harrier quartered another one and Water Rails squealed from a third as the Mute Swans and Greylag Geese seemed to be the only birds in a fairly large area of water…

The Short-eared Owl emerged from the dunes and settled on a distant fence post and I set the ‘scope up so that everyone could have a look at it.  I was scanning the foreground and I thought I saw a dark shape just a few feet behind a Greylag.  I mentioned it but it seemed unlikely that it was an Otter, unless the goose hadn’t seen it and it hadn’t seen the goose…which is what seems to have happened as an adult Otter appeared a few metres further along the reed edge  🙂  After a few minutes with no further sightings a Grey Heron and a Marsh Harrier both flushed from a reedbed further round the pool – and there was an Otter cub too 🙂  We watched as it made it’s way along the edge and then out across the open water with dusk approaching.

 

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Signs of spring, remnants of winter; Lindisfarne Safari 19/04/18

by on Apr.20, 2018, under Lindisfarne

I collected Gordon and Mandy for their 6th day out with NEWT, and 2nd this week, from the Bamburgh Castle Inn and we headed up the coast towards Holy Island under clear blue sky and warm sunshine…

Lapwing were displaying over the fields; twisting, tumbling and calling with their very unbird-like song.  Roe Deer were quietly grazing nearby and Little Grebe and Moorhen were around the edges of the Lough.  A small flock of Golden Plover flew by as Meadow Pipits were song-flighting from fences and Skylarks were everywhere, occasionally landing on the ground where we could see them but mostly high against the deep blue background.  Around the edge of the harbour Bar-tailed Godwits, Ringed Plover, Redshank and a lone Grey Plover were exploring the mud as a Wheatear perched on an old drystone wall and a Fulmar arced effortlessly past the castle.

On a fast rising tide, Shelduck and Curlew came closer to the land and a pair of Pintail drifted past with small groups of WigeonEider and Common Scoter were riding the gentle swell, Red-breasted Mergansers flew by, a White Wagtail was with a dozen or so Pied Wagtails and on the increasingly isolated tops of rocks a lone Dunlin was with a flock of Purple Sandpipers, no doubt all enjoying the Northumberland sunshine as they prepare to head back north to their breeding grounds 🙂

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A wet day in the borders; Kielder Safari 17/04/18

by on Apr.18, 2018, under Kielder

I collected Gordon and Mandy from The Battlesteads for their 5th day out with NEWT and we headed towards Kielder.  The forecast suggested occasional showers, so I was hopeful that the breaks in the rain would encourage raptors to be up and about…

6 hours later the rain eventually stopped 🙂  We’d had views of Dipper and Grey Wagtail along a shallow fast-flowing rocky stream as Sand Martins vanished into nest holes in the steep riverbank.  A Common Buzzard seemed unperturbed by the rain and patience and persistence finally paid off when Gordon spotted a male Hen Harrier quartering a skyline ridge as Wild Goats grazed below.  We moved along the road and another male Hen Harrier flew across the road ahead of us and was joined by a ringtail.  As they worked they way along the ridge, more buzzards could be seen distantly and blue sky, fluffy white clouds and warm sunshine replaced the rain as Chaffinches and Robins sang from the trees close to the border, Siskins gave their high pitched calls as they flew over and Common Crossbills flew through without being obliging enough to settle where we could see them and more buzzards rose on thermals in the afternoon sunshine.

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Mist, murk, mud and mergansers; Otter Safari 12/04/18

by on Apr.13, 2018, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

I collected Stephen and Soraya from The Swan, then Martyn and Colin, and Jo, from Church Point, ahead of an afternoon around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland searching for Otters

On a stiff easterly breeze with drizzle, mist, murk and heavy rain showers, spirits could have been dampened but having a car filled with cheerful enthusiastic guests with a great interest in conservation was just the right thing to keep everyone going.  Fulmars were arcing along the clifftops and a Kestrel impressed with it’s geostationary approach to hunting, facing directly into the wind and hanging near motionless.  A Little Owl perched on a low horizontal branch, in the lee of the tree trunk where it would have had some respite from the cold, and occasional groups of Starlings rushed by like mini-murmurations taking a quick route to roost.  A male Stonechat perched at the top of a clump of rushes before a sallying flycatching flight and then back into cover.  As the deafening clamour of hundreds of Black-headed Gulls added a surreal touch of discordance to the sight of Great-crested Grebes drifting elegantly across the water, and Goldeneye engaged in some less than enthusiastic display, Curlew, Lapwing, Dunlin, Redshank, Turnstone and 5 pairs of Avocet were all wading in the shallows as a group of Common Snipe, unusually out in the open, were flushed by a Grey Heron stalking along the edge of the reeds.  The menacing dark shapes of Cormorants sank from view as they hunted the myriad small fish that were dimpling the water’s surface and a Great-crested Grebe very obligingly decided to start hunting just a few metes away from us.  We might have expected all of the birds to be keeping their heads down in the wind and rain, but if there’s one species that you can rely on to provide a spectacle, it’s Red-breasted Merganser; shaggy crests waving in the breeze, the males were engaged in their comical ostentatious posturing.  Necks outstretched and dipping with a theatrical bow that looks like they’re trying to upend themselves, they were completely unconcerned by either the weather, or that fact they they’re not anywhere near their breeding grounds yet 🙂

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