I arrived in Berwick to collect Juan and Erika from the railway station for their tour of Lindisfarne and the North Northumberland coast and a first for NEWT – clients from Argentina!
We headed down the coast in some unforecast rain and in the mighty shadow of Bamburgh Castle we watched Purple Sandpiper and Turnstone as they picked their way through the rocks within inches of the frothing surf. Common Eider, Common Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Guillemot and Puffin were all rising and falling in a deep swell and Kittiwakes were passing by as we set the telescope up on the side of the car that was sheltered from the wind and rain. Heading north we came across lots of Shelduck, Wigeon, Teal, Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit and Lapwing, as well as smaller numbers of Shoveler, Goosander and Common Redshank, and a lone Kestrel hanging motionless facing into the wind, then over on to Holy Island where the sky was blue, the clouds were white and fluffy and the wind was still howling…
Grey Seals were hauled out on the mud at low tide and as their mournful calls carried on the breeze across the island Skylarks were singing, tiny black dots against the sky, Meadow Pipits were song-flighting and there were at least 21 Roe Deer feeding in a remarkably dense herd. Red-breasted Merganser were having their crests ruffled by the wind, Pied Wagtails were searching for insects around the car park and panic rippled through the birds out on the mudflats. Grey Herons stalked through marshy edges, the eerie cries of Curlew drifted through the dunes and, as we made our way back across the causeway with the tide rising and the sun setting, Common Eider were displaying, Common Redshank and Pale-bellied Brent Geese were on the edge of the rising water and a Curlew decided to sit on the road right in front of us 🙂
Day 1. 19/02/17. I arrived at the Bamburgh Castle Inn for the start of our Winter Wonderland holiday, then met up with with Christine, John, Linda and Rosie in the bar and outlined the plan for the next two days while we enjoyed a fantastic meal.
Day 2. 20/02/17. Our first full day was targeting Lindisfarne and the North Northumberland coast. Stopping at Budle Bay on our way north we soon found a Spotted Redshank amongst the Common Redshank, Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler, Mallard, Oystercatcher, Shelduck and Curlew as Pink-footed and Greylag Geese and Lapwing swirled distantly against a leaden grey sky on a stiff breeze and Red-breasted Mergansers looked even more comical than usual with their tufts blown to odd angles. A heavy misty drizzle took hold, yet cleared within minutes, leaving a beautiful azure sky draped in fluffy white cloud. A Kestrel perched obligingly as we stopped along a hedgerow that was heaving with Chaffinches. As the receding tide cleared the Holy Island causeway, waders dropped in to feed along the edge of the recently exposed mud. Knot, Dunlin, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Turnstone and Bar-tailed Godwit were all close to the road and easily observable by using the car as a nice, sheltered, warm hide as Pale-bellied Brent Geese flew over us 🙂 Over on the island we found a mixed flock of Dark-bellied Brent Geese, Curlew and Lapwing. As an unseen threat spooked them and they lifted from the field, it was obvious that the number of birds present was far greater than we thought. Grey Seals were hauled out on the now visible sandbars and we headed back across to the mainland. Lunch overlooking the vast expanse of mud produced more geese and ducks, including Pintail, and a distant Little Stint in amongst a flock of Dunlin and Knot. A Merlin had spooked the Chaffinch flock as we headed back south and a quick stop at Bamburgh produced Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone, Ringed Plover and Eider but nothing on the sea in what the wind had whipped up into a frothing mess of whitecaps. The stiffening breeze was making viewing conditions awkward but the final stop of the afternoon brought Song Thrush, Long-tailed Tit, Greenfinch and Goldcrest before we headed back to Seahouses. Dinner was accompanied by a discussion of the plan for Tuesday, and a target list was quickly developed…
Day 3. 21/02/17. Tuesday saw us heading south towards Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. Our first target for the day was a species that’s scarce and often only offers fleeting views…Willow Tit is a regular visitor to the NEWT garden feeding station but I’d got a different site in mind and we enjoyed prolonged views of at least two of these gorgeous little birds, as well as a detailed discussion about how to separate them from Marsh Tit. Reed Bunting, Common Snipe and Common Buzzard joined the day list as an impressive flock of Lapwing and Golden Plover swirled against the sky as we headed off in search of our next target for the day. This one proved fairly straightforward and we had great views of both male and female Brambling. Little Grebe, Goldeneye and Common and Black-headed Gulls accompanied our lunch stop before we had excellent views of some very obliging Common Snipe, Bar-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Ruff, Tree Sparrow and Little Egret. Shorelark was the one target for the day that eluded us, as we had several flight views of a vocal flock of Twite while Ringed Plover were displaying on the beach, Sanderling were scurrying back and forth and a flock of Common Scoter were offshore with Red-throated Divers and Guillemot just beyond the breaking surf. A handsome male Stonechat flushed from bush to bush ahead of us as we walked along the path and the long-staying Pacific Diver eventually gave great views close to a Slavonian Grebe. There was one target species still remaining on the list for the day though, and I was sure that the last hour of daylight would bring that one for us. Scanning the edges of reedbeds through the telescope revealed a dark shape that hadn’t been there a few minutes earlier during my last scan of the reedbed, and that dark shape stretched and began loping along, still partly obscured by the reeds. Within a minute everyone had located the Otter as it moved quickly around the edge of the pool and then it vanished, only to appear in the water a few minutes later 🙂 We watched as it swam towards us before losing it from sight behind the near vegetation. After a few minutes of calm all of the Mute Swans were suddenly staring towards the bank right in front of us, and the Otter passed by just a few metres away 🙂 A great finish to our final full day in the field.
Day 4. 22/02/17. Departure day dawned dry, bright and with an icily cold breeze as we gathered for breakfast before all heading off our separate ways.
We’ll be adding 2017 and 2018 dates to our holiday page shortly but please do get in touch if you’ve got any questions about what we offer. Our short break holidays have a maximum of 6 participants, and a relaxed pace, and we’re always happy to create something bespoke too 🙂
Although Druridge Bay was still planned to be the focus of part of the day, we decided to start with a quick trip into the Cheviot Valleys first. Lapwings were displaying, newly arrived Willow Warblers seemed to have comandeered almost every bush and tree, Dippers were bobbing up and down on mid-stream rocks, a Peregrine soared along the top edge of the valley as Red Grouse chuckled and chuntered from the heather-clad slopes below and then, in a bare tree in a narrow steep sided valley, a real prize – a stunning male Ring Ouzel 🙂 Roger spotted another Peregrine and then a female Ring Ouzel perched obligingly in another bare tree.
The coast had lots of what we would expect…but the ‘quality over quantity’ of the hills won out on the day 🙂
After two unsuccessful searches for Otters in the last week, I decided to spend some time this morning out in the field on my own. Time to track down the elusive predator and get a handle on current activity patterns…
A cold north-easterly and persistent rain maybe aren’t the best of conditions to be sitting around on the edges of rivers and ponds, but putting in the hard hours on my own when the opportunity arises is how we manage to deliver great wildlife experiences for our clients. Wildlife watching may rely to a certain extent on a good deal of luck, but being in the right place at the right time means that the odds are stacked in our favour (as much as they can be when wildlife is involved!).
A lone Chiffchaff was optimistically delivering it’s song from the shelter of a small bush, Little Egret, Cormorant, Goldeneye and Red-breasted Merganser were all making a dent in the local fish population, Grey Herons somehow managed to look even more miserable than usual, Sand Martins were probably wondering why they’d arrived back in Northumberland already and then the discomfort of sitting in the rain paid off. First a Kingfisher flew along the water’s edge; bright orange and electric blue shining through the gloom. As I watched it’s progress through the drizzle, three Goldeneye crossed my field of view, all apparently in a hurry to be somewhere else – and that ‘somewhere else’ proved to be anywhere that the two Otters weren’t 🙂
Saturday was the first of three ‘Beginners Wildlife Photography’ workshops that I’m leading for the Northumberland Wildlife Trust, and the morning had started grey and gloomy, progressed to sunny with beautiful blue skies by 09:00 and then was back at grey, gloomy and threatening to rain by the time the workshop started. After waiting a while for everyone who had had booked to turn up, we set off for East Chevington, and the relative comfort of a hide and feeding station. Chaffinch, Robin, Goldfinch, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Great Tit and Reed Bunting all performed well in front of Karin’s, Jean’s and Terry’s cameras, offering ample opportunity to explore aperture, shutter speed, ISO settings and composition, but a real highlight of the afternoon was the arrival of, and several encores by, a flock of Long-tailed Tits. These subtly beautiful birds are one of my personal favourites, and a species that I’ve always found tricky to photograph – talking to other local wildlife photographers revealed that it isn’t just me who finds them difficult though. Here’s a Long-tailed Tit, photographed at one of my feeding stations a few years ago.
With everyone enchanted by the birds, the conversation turned to whether or not there’s a collective noun for Long-tailed Tits and none of us could bring one to mind. Apparently the collective noun is ‘volery’, but I think I’ll go with Jean’s suggestion… a ‘cuddle’ of Long-tailed Tits 🙂
During quiet periods of the year, we keep going out and checking excellent wildlife sites all around Northumberland. Although we can never predict exactly what we’ll see, and where, those days out on our own are the basis of successful days out with clients…
I arrived at Church Point to collect Gordon and Michelle and we set off in search of Otters. I love the pressure of a client being obsessed with Otters but never having seen one in the wild, it keeps me focused 🙂 Soon we were watching a distant Otter as it fed in mirror calm water! A slow, steady approach took us much closer and then another two Otters appeared, eventually coming so close that we could hear a splash, each time they dived in search of fish, and the crunching, munching sound of them devouring their catch 🙂 We’ve been watching this group of Otters since mid-December, so we’ve got a few images of them…
After 90 minutes they’d moved on and so did we. Our next wildlife star of the day was another one that we’ve been watching and photographing over the last few weeks – a Little Owl.
As the afternoon passed, and the cold damp air held us in it’s icy grip, more stunning wildlife put on a show that demonstrated just how good Northumberland is during the winter. An array of wildfowl in breeding finery is a highlight of the winter months; Teal, Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallard, Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Red-breasted Merganser, Eider and a Long-tailed Duck. A Barn Owl, ghostly white, bringing death on silent wings to unsuspecting mice and voles is always a crowd pleaser while Kestrels, Buzzards and a brief view of a Hen Harrier were the reward for a session of raptor watching as dusk approached. Another ghostly white winter speciality put in a typically fleeting appearance – a Stoat in ermine 🙂 Possibly my favourite land mammal, here’s an image of one from last winter.
Finally, as the light faded to the point where it was getting difficult to see anything and flocks of Pink-Footed and Greylag Geese peppered the sky, one of our most elusive birds wandered out into the open and entertained us. Probing and prodding at the marshy ground between two reedbeds, the Water Rail gave obligingly prolonged views. Surprisingly small, remarkably beautiful, and a great way to end the day with clients who’ve persuaded me (almost…) that there are destinations so spectacular that I really need to get on a ‘plane at some point next year…
The Northumberland coast in the late autumn is a birdwatching destination that I’ll never tire of. Even in weather that could best be described as inclement, there’s a wealth of wildlife to enjoy.
I collected Mike and Janet from the Dunstanburgh Castle Hotel and we headed north for a day birdwatching around Lindisfarne and the North Northumberland coast. Starting with a walk around Holy Island village, a harsh chuckling call betrayed the presence of a Fieldfare in a small tree. Two others joined it, before they all departed noisily. Then more chuckling Fieldfare, and the high seee calls of Redwing, carried through the air from high overhead and we could make out, in the mist, a mixed flock of these thrushes arriving high from the north east and bypassing the island on their way across to the mainland. A Sparrowhawk raced by, hedge-hopping and swerving out of sight behind The Heugh, as thousands of Pale-bellied Brent Geese flew out onto the exposed mud of the wildfowl refuge area and Shag, Eider and Red-breasted Merganser dived just offshore. A couple of very obliging Rock Pipits showed the subtle, dusky beauty that can only be appreciated with close views and Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Redshank, Oystercatcher and Grey Plover were reaping the rich bounty of the mud, as Dark-bellied Brent Geese settled in the newly exposed mud of the harbour, and the high whistling calls of drake Teal carried across to us from the Rocket Field, a Little Auk flew along the main street through the village. Crossing back to the mainland, a Little Egret was stalking through the shallows along the roadside and Curlew and Oystercatcher were so close we could have almost reached out of the car and touched them. As the falling tide exposed sandbars, Grey Seals were moaning eerily and splashing about in shallow water. Suddenly, there were thousands of Wigeon and Golden Plover in the air. They settled but then flushed again so I started a methodical check of every rock that I could see on the mud. Then I found what I was looking for – a rock that was just too vertical…and the view through our ‘scope revealed the impressive muscular menace of a female Peregrine 🙂 She shuffled around and took off, only to settle on another rock closer to us. Our attention was drawn to a charm of Goldfinches feeding nearby, and the Peregrine departed while we weren’t looking.
As the weather moved through in waves of varying grot, we watched a group of three Roe Deer grazing in a roadside field, and then headed a bit further down the coast. Dusk was approaching rapidly as we watched more waders feeding busily as the tide rose, Lapwings flew over like giant bats and thousands of Black-headed and Common Gulls arrived to roost. Wave after wave of mist and drizzle, wave after wave of birds, wave after wave of waves 🙂
Even after 40+ years birdwatching, there are times when I’m not sure whether the thing that excites me the most is a lone rarity, a life or death interaction involving one of the predators we encounter, or an impressive flock of something common…
I collected David and Dot from Gosforth and we made our way across to the coast for a day of mid-November birdwatching. This proved to be a day of flocks; Pink-footed Geese rose then dropped in nearby fields, peppering the sky and cutting through the autumn air with their yapping calls. Mini-murmurations of Starlings twisted, turned, bunched and swirled, demonstrating that they don’t just reserve that spectacle for the fading light of evening. Common Snipe were sitting in the vegetation close to the water’s edge, extraordinarily well camouflaged when asleep and only really betraying their presence once they woke up and started probing in the soft mud of the shallows. Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Redshank, Curlew and Eider are almost a given on the coast in the winter, a lone Sanderling hurried back and forth in a flock of Ringed Plover and Teal, Wigeon and Goldeneye are eyecatching whether in flocks or alone. Elegant Pintail glided by and Stonechats flicked their tails nervously perched in the tops of bushes in the dunes along the coast. One isolated tree brought a memorable spectacle, with a charm of Goldfinches, and a lone Greenfinch. For a couple of years now, a lot of our clients have reported increasing numbers of Goldfinch, and a tremendous decrease in Greenfinch. No matter how numerous Goldfinch become, it’s hard to imagine that we could ever become blase about them; strikingly patterned, with their red face, black and white head and yellow wing flashes, and with liquid, twittering songs and calls, they really are quite charming 🙂
Last Thursday was Sue’s second Otter Safari with us this year, after an unsuccessful search in early July…a trip that was followed by five consecutive successful Otter Safaris for other clients! I was really looking forward to this trip – Sue is great company and pleasure to be out birdwatching with – but the added pressure of already having one Otter Safari not produce our target species had me planning, re-planning and then planning some more…
I’d got two sites lined up that I was confident would produce Otter sightings, but the one spanner in the works was the weather forecast. If it was accurate (and, as it turned out, it was) we’d got three hours of good weather, and four of poor, ahead of us. As I drove to Church Point, I was mulling over the options for the two sites, and decided to go with the one that’s been our most reliable this year during the good weather, and then head to the other one towards dusk. Then I thought about it again – would the reliable site, where I can usually predict to within a few metres where the Otter will first put in an appearance, be better in the poor weather just before dark? I decided to trust to my first instinct and we were soon watching over the water as the wind strengthened and the first drops of rain were carried towards us on the breeze. As Goldeneye and Cormorant dived in the ruffled water I noticed a dark shape in the corner of my field of vision. It might have been nothing, but I held my concentration on that spot and just over a minute later an Otter cub surfaced in front of us 🙂 Twisting, turning, porpoising, diving and feeding, it kept us entertained for 90 minutes before slipping out of sight as the next wave of raindrops stung our faces on the now howling wind.
We retreated to the car and sat eating lunch overlooking the North Sea, as a distant speck heading towards us over the waves revealed itself to be a Blackbird that paused for a few minutes on the cliff face before continuing its migration inland. Then a Wheatear came ‘in-off’, and soon after that three Redwings arrived, following what must have been an arduous sea crossing, as the rain intensified. As dusk approached, and the rain somehow became even heavier, we watched flocks of Teal and Wigeon, Common Snipe and Dunlin probing in soft mud, Curlew appearing as if from out of nowhere, Starlings and Jackdaws heading to roost, and Blackbirds, Robins, Fieldfare and more Blackbirds, and more Blackbirds 🙂
There are days when it’s calm, still and sunny, but those days are rarely as good as the days when the weather adds its own weight to the whole experience of being in Northumberland.
I collected Alan and Sandra for their second day out with NEWT and we headed north, to explore the exceptional birdwatching that the north Northumberland coast has to offer in the late autumn. The closer we got to the coast. the grimmer the weather looked, and as we settled ourselves into position by the Holy Island causeway the rain began pattering against the windows of the car. Using the car as a birdwatching hide can be a very profitable approach in poor weather and I positioned it so that Alan and Sandra’s side of the car was out of the wind and rain. Flocks of Pale-bellied Brent Geese were shuffling along the edge of the rising water, and we could pick out a few Dark-bellied Brent Geese amongst them too. The rising tide brought Curlew, Redshank, Bar-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Oystercatcher and Grey Plover towards us in changeable weather – at one point we were in bright sunshine and heavy rain at the same time, while the mudflats away to the north of the causeway were under a perfect double rainbow 🙂 Three Little Auks flew north towards the causeway and conditions improved. Flocks of Redwing and Fieldfare were typical of poor autumn weather and every bush and tree seemed to hold several Robins. Gannets were feeding offshore from Bamburgh, where some impressive waves were battering the shore, Red-throated Divers flew by and we finished the same as 24h earlier with Pink-footed Geese yapping in the darkness.