Author Archive

A touch of gold

by on Oct.24, 2017, under Family and friends

Our garden has a wealth of wildlife: Red Squirrel, Red Fox, Hedgehog, Common Pipistrelle and over 100 species of bird have turned up over the last 17 years that we’ve lived here.  Of course this means that Martin is frequently distracted from whatever he’s supposed to be doing…

On Sunday he was working in the office and I was downstairs when there was a thump against the patio doors…and a Goldcrest had stunned itself by flying into the window!  It flew up into one of our bonsai trees and spent a few minutes regaining it’s senses before flying off and resuming it’s relentless pursuit of insects in the ivy along our wall.  For those few minutes in the bonsai, it didn’t seem aware that there were two humans just a couple of metres away and Martin couldn’t resist taking a few photographs of a species that is usually less than obliging 🙂

A few images of the Goldcrest that crashed into the patio doors of the NEWT office

A few images of the Goldcrest that crashed into the patio doors of the NEWT office

A few images of the Goldcrest that crashed into the patio doors of the NEWT office

A few images of the Goldcrest that crashed into the patio doors of the NEWT office

A few images of the Goldcrest that crashed into the patio doors of the NEWT office

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There’s something exciting in the fridge

by on May.26, 2010, under Family and friends

Now, those are the words that a girl wants to hear when she gets home after a hard day at work…

What could it be?

A bar of chocolate? 🙂

A nice steak? 🙂 🙂

A bottle of champagne? 🙂 🙂 🙂

But I paused, and asked the question “Is it edible?”.  The reply “it could be” didn’t exactly fill me with confidence that we were talking about ‘exciting’ in my terms rather than Martin’s.

Just to explain my hesitation; as many of you know, Martin has lots of enthusiasm for anything connected with natural history.  Birdwatching, whales and dolphins are just the tip of the iceberg.  Lichens are a bit esoteric by anyone’s standards, but he’s approaching that apparently mind-bending subject with the same enthusiasm that I’m assured he approached fungi, mosses and liverworts while he was still at infant’s school.  Moth-trapping is one of his favourite activities though, and with our garden list now approaching 250 species there’s always a sense of anticipation whenever we open the trap in a morning.  On workdays that’s usually done after I’ve left for work…

With an ever-growing media library (images, video and now sound recordings), and a house filled with gadgets, nets and sample pots it could be just about anything waiting in the fridge…

And here it is;

An Elephant in the fridge

Do you think he’ll get the hint about champagne? 😉

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Garden Birdwatch

by on Mar.27, 2010, under Choppington Woods

I had not planned to have a birding weekend this weekend – with fine weather forecast and no appointments that would take me out of the house for more than an hour or so, this is the first weekend this year that I have been able to get into the garden, and it needs a lot of tidying up. Although some would say that the “wild” effect was good, there is wild and there is wild! Following an early(ish) morning run by the River Wansbeck, where Jays were active in the overhead canopy, Moorhen and Mallard were on the river and the sound of a Mute Swan in flight just over our heads alerted us to its presence, it was back home for more physical effort in the garden. It was clear that the garden was already a hive of activity. Blackbirds have been busy gathering nesting material, Dunnocks are dancing for their lives (which could keep me entertained all morning) and the air was filled with the sound of Robins and Great Tits. I am having a rest from the garden now, but the birds are still active, now that they can get back onto the feeders without me in the way!

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Skating on thin ice

by on Dec.28, 2009, under Birdwatching, Choppington Woods, Family and friends

After seeing my photos appearing in Martin’s blog posts for the last couple of days, I thought I’d turn my hand to writing today’s blog.

I started the day by taking my father-in-law for a birdwatching walk around Choppington Woods although, with everything frozen solid, there were very few birds to be seen.  We did find a couple of distant Roe Deer but, on the whole, the walk consisted of a consistent attempt to not fall on the ice.  With the partial thaw and heavy rain of yesterday, followed by another hard freeze overnight, all of the footpaths were covered with a treacherous layer of transparent ice.  A couple we passed were complaining about their new walking boots not being any help to remaining upright.

Back at home, lunch was home-made vegetable soup, baked ham and a selection of cheeses.  Just the thing in this weather.  Martin had spent the whole morning in bed with a sore throat, ear-ache and a splitting headache; probably the outcome of having a puncture on the Landrover late last night and being outside in the bitter cold…without a hat or gloves!  I have to wonder sometimes…

He did perk up a bit once lunch was ready though, and then spent most of the afternoon processing and backing-up the images from the last few days.  Tomorrow the plan (weather permitting) is to try and photograph Kingfishers, and to get closer shots of Roe Deer. Good job we’ve got two cameras 🙂

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Birdwatching on the Costa del Druridge

by on May.25, 2009, under Druridge Bay, Northumberland

The fabulously warm summer weather that has blessed us this bank holiday has meant that the participants on this weekend’s otter safaris could do without their coats and gloves and were able to enjoy some fantastic wildlife and birdwatching in glorious sunshine under brilliant blue Northumberland skies.

On Sunday, our group had fantastic views of an adult Mediterranean Gull which was easily compared to close by Black-headed Gulls (in fact it is the Mediterranean Gull that has the black head, but ‘Dark Chocolate Brown-headed Gull’ isn’t too catchy!). Warblers were singing along our walk of a very tranquil River Blyth, including Blackcap, Garden Warbler, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff. Later on in the day, Whitethroat and Reed Warbler were added, with the latter even being viewed from not too far away. A lunch stop near the coast allowed a Fulmar that wheeled around the cliffs to be photographed, whilst the rest of us enjoyed a well earned picnic lunch! Further up the coast it was the unexpected that caught our eye. A Pheasant had mistakenly wandered into a Lapwing’s breeding territory and the Lapwings called in reinforcements to deter the clearly very confused Pheasant. We had a very entertaining 10 minutes watching as the Lapwings dive bombed the Pheasant who did not know what to make of the whole debacle as it just stood there are put up seemingly no resistance before wandering off to comparative safety. We were hardly able to tear our eyes away from this to watch the Grey Partridges who had appeared close by, but who wisely decided not to follow in the Pheasant’s footsteps. A little later it was another unexpected sighting that had all of our binoculars pointing skyward as two adult Spoonbills flew over. We watched them fly northward and speculated on where they might land but we did not manage to catch up with them again as we meandered back north along the coast to return our guests to the Red Lion in Alnmouth.

Today we were out again, as it seemed was almost everybody else, keen to enjoy the warm sunshine. A Roe Deer came to drink from a pond where we were watching Herons, Gadwall, Lapwing and Ringed Plover, amongst other things. It disappeared into the willow to graze. As we headed off for our lunch stop, House Martins were busy gathering mud from a roadside puddle to use as cement for their nests, and starlings and House Sparrows came to bathe. Then, as we were busy eating lunch, overlooking one of our favourite otter spots, we were able to enjoy views of an otter diving as it looked for lunch. Then as it moved off to relax, it was joined by not one, not two, but three other otters, presumably youngsters as they were play fighting in the water together. They entertained for at least another half an hour before moving on, which was a shame because we could have sat there all day watching had they allowed us to!

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The Early Birder catches a big breakfast

by on May.03, 2009, under Birdwatching, Lee Moor Farm, Northumberland

It was cold, dark and wet this morning as we headed out of bed and up the A1 for our Dawn Chorus Walk at Lee Moor Farm. We were however quietly optimistic as the weather forecast had promised that the showers would die away and the cloud lift as the dawn rose.

A Roe Deer by the side of the A1 and a Barn Owl flushing from the old tree where it had been ‘on duty’ looking out over the fields at Lee Moor filled us with hope. We arrived just as it was getting light followed by our eager participants. As we were busy getting coats and gloves on, for whilst the days may be warm the nights can still be very chilly, Common Gulls flew overhead and Wrens were starting their early morning song. Wrens can sing very loudly for such a small bird and the farm has a healthy population.

As we walked the field edges towards the wooded areas Hares could be seen bounding around, Wood Pigeons began their softly cooing song and a Whitethroat did its best to make itself heard. Jackdaws that make their nest in the kestrel and barn owl boxes that are attached to old telegraph poles began to stir and Skylarks ascended to great heights for their aerial song. As we approached the wooded areas of the farm Willow Warblers could be heard, keeping their neighbours in check by clearly marking their territories with song. Song thrushes and Chaffinches were busy announcing their presence and then in the hedge was a very distinctive song; that of the Sedge Warbler. It was just a few feet away but could only be glimpsed when it moved deeper into the hedge! Those stalwarts of the Dawn Chorus, the Blackbird and Robin were also heard. Ian Brown, farmer at Lee Moor Farm was able to provide interesting information on how his stewardship of the farm and his management of it for conservation had helped attract the wealth of wildlife that we were able to see and hear. As we headed back to the farm we were all then very hungry and eagerly anticipating the hearty Northumbrian cooked breakfast that was waiting for us and we were not disappointed. The Black Olive café did a fantastic job of filling us up after our early morning start! As we left the warmth of the café the sun was beginning to warm the morning air and the clouds were indeed lifting, and the birds were still singing. We are all looking at our diaries to see whether we can arrange a ‘not quite the Dawn Chorus’ walk in a few weeks time. Birds continue to sing until mid morning and so a start at say 7am should still enable us to hear the magnificent bird song of the early morning. As always, we’re waiting for your enquiries and bookings on 01670 827465.

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Change is all around

by on Feb.16, 2009, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland

There has been a noticeable change in the weather over the last couple of days with much warmer temperatures clearing away the snow that had fallen so hard at the end of last week. We may even avoid any frosts over the coming nights too. Being out and about over the weekend we saw our first snowdrops of the year, blanketing the ground in swathes of green and white as they did indeed push up through the snow and frozen ground to make us all think of spring. Skeins of Pink-footed Geese were heading north over Druridge Bay yesterday, perhaps already departing the wintering grounds in Norfolk, and Martin demonstrated his ability to pick up flyover birds on call as he pinpointed a small movement of Skylarks, presumably now dispersing from the large flocks in which they spend the winter (it’s a shame he isn’t so good at picking up the close range voice of his wife…). It’s noticeable too that the evenings are staying lighter for longer and dawn is getting earlier, giving all of our wildlife more daylight hours in which to feed up for the biggest change of all; getting ready to breed and raise the next generation. Collared Doves are cooing and preening on our extension roof, and spending more time near to last year’s nest.

With this in mind we were pleased to hear of proposals to reintroduce set aside; the scheme where farmers are encouraged to leave part of their farms free from production to enable nature to take over, which provides plenty of food for some of our most endangered species such as Yellowhammer, Grey Partridge, Tree Sparrows and Skylarks. Introduced when European farmers were producing too much food, it was abandoned as food production became more critical. Reintroduction is planned on a voluntary basis, so let’s hope that room can be found for a little bit of nature to find its way back into our agricultural landscape to help support and conserve those declining species that were once so common.

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Footprints in the Snow

by on Feb.08, 2009, under Birdwatching, Choppington Woods, Family and friends, Northumberland

I returned home yesterday lunchtime, after having put in a few extra hours at work, to see that there was still a covering of snow in our garden. Martin had spent the morning watching a red squirrel bury hazelnuts in the garden and he was able to point out the tiny squirrel footprints to show where they had been. Along with the prints of blackbirds and other garden regulars there were some large bird footprints. Without a second thought we assumed that one of our neighbour’s chickens had come to take advantage of a free breakfast of spilled bird seed under our feeders.

I was definitely ready for some fresh air in the afternoon and we decided to head out to see if we could find some more footprints in the snow before it all melted. Unfortunately, despite an icy chill in the air the snow was beginning to disappear and the only footprints that we could find were those of the many folk that had beaten us to it and their trusty four legged companions. We did have some excellent views from a local vantage point but as the afternoon wore on we were ready to head home for a warming mug of hot chocolate.

As I was waiting for the kettle to boil I looked out into the garden as the feeders provided the local finch and tit population sustenance to make it through another sub-zero night. Then the owner of the large footprints in the snow wandered into view. Definitely a new addition to our garden bird list, and whilst by no means an unusual or rare bird, one that neither Martin nor myself would have predicted to be in our garden. Not one of our neighbour’s chickens but a Moorhen!

We would love to hear of any unusual birds that you have seen in your garden over the recent cold spell; let us know by e-mailing us at: blog@newtltd.co.uk

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What’s in a name?

by on Jan.17, 2009, under Birdwatching, Family and friends, Lindisfarne, Northumberland

I have recently been dipping into an old book that a friend had given to me when he was having a clear out. The book, published in 1936 is called “Birds of the Wayside and Woodland” and is a fascinating insight into a bygone age and just reading it can transport me back through the decades. It does give a fascinating insight, however, into names and how they have changed. I was particularly reminded of this today when we were travelling down the A19 to take Martin’s grandma out for lunch on her birthday. We passed fields of pheasants, and usually you may not give this colourful game bird a second glance, but look closely and you will see wide variation. These birds, which feature in the Northern Experience logo, are really quite remarkable. Some of the males can be almost black in colour and some have vividly marked neck rings whilst others have none. My book gives some indication as to the reason for this under the entry for Pheasant. It refers to two species: the “Common Pheasant” Phasianus colchicus, introduced into this country centuries ago, and the “Ring-necked Pheasant” Phasianus torquatus introduced more recently. Of course, the pheasants that we see now are a mixture of various species and races and it is impossible to distinguish their ancestry. One of the distinguishing features of all pheasants, the long tail, does mean that the name is given to other species, colloquially, and I was interested to read in my book of “Reed Pheasant” and “Sea Pheasant”. I had never heard of these species before but, turning to the relevant pages, all became clear. They referred to Bearded Tit and Pintail, respectively birds of reed and sea and both with long tails. Whilst Bearded Tit is a rare bird in Northumberland, Pintail can be seen off the Northumberland coast in winter and is a spectacular sight on our Lindisfarne safaris.

Browsing through the book, I also got to discover some other local and now forgotten names for other bird species, for example ‘Black Curlew’ (Glossy Ibis – a rare visitor to Britain), ‘Common Bunting’ (Corn Bunting – now almost absent from Northumberland) and ‘Blueback’ (Fieldfare – a winter visitor from Scandinavia).

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While Martin was out…

by on Nov.16, 2008, under Choppington Woods, Family and friends, Northumberland

Martin was leading an Otter and Red Kite safari today, and I wasn’t feeling well so stayed at home. No sooner was he out of the house than I looked out of the office window and saw a Red Squirrel in our apple tree! Normally they run around a bit and quickly disappear into the trees but this one hung around for half an hour, scrabbling about in the shrubbery, swinging on the bird feeders and checking out our squirrel feeder from every conceivable angle. Plenty of time to find Martin’s camera, check the settings, put in a blank memory card and then fill it with images of the squirrel 🙂 and, just for good measure, I took some decent shots of a Willow Tit as well. When Martin got back he was full of tales of Red Squirrels, Red Kites, kids swimming in one of our favourite otter spots and flocks of Jackdaws heading to roost (that seems to be developing into a bit of an obsession). So, I showed him the photos…

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