Birdwatching

Elementary; Bespoke Birdwatching 05/11/2014

by on Nov.13, 2014, under Birdwatching

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.

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From the sublime to the gloomy; Bespoke Birdwatching 04/11/2014

by on Nov.13, 2014, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

The first of two bespoke birdwatching days for Alan and Sandra began when I collected them from Weldon Bridge and we headed across to Druridge Bay and the southeast Northumberland coast.

A ghosty pale Mediterranean Gull was a good start to the morning, Redshank, Turnstone, Oystercatcher and Purple Sandpiper were roosting just above the breaking surf and Eiders were rafting just offshore.  Atlantic Salmon heading upstream on the River Coquet provided lunchtime entertainment, then the afternoon brought beautifully sublime light conditions that illuminated Golden Plover and Lapwing as they twisted and turned while Common Snipe slept, fed and bickered with each other in the muddy margins, a Little Egret stalked patiently along the edges of the reeds and a Spotted Redshank stood out like a shining beacon as the sun sank below a thick bank of cloud on the western horizon and it turned cold and gloomy.  Starlings came to roost, although with little appetite for a full-blown murmuration, and Pink-footed Geese arrived from surrounding fields, yapping noisily as they dropped from the air towards the water.  When it was too dark to see anything and we headed back to the car, the yapping of the late arrivals still cut through the gloom overhead.

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Wading through the waders; Beginner’s Birdwatching 31/10/2014

by on Nov.03, 2014, under Birdwatching, Holy Island

Friday was a Beginners Birdwatching session and I collected George from Beadnell and we headed towards Holy Island.

Most of the afternoon was spent concentrating on waders, with Purple Sandpiper, Oystercatcher, Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Golden Plover, Grey Plover, Turnstone and Redshank all studied in detail.  A pale, elegant, wader swimming in the channel under the Holy Island causeway turned out to be a Spotted Redshank – possibly the bird I heard calling in the dark on Thursday‘s trip – and flocks of Wigeon and Pale-bellied Brent Goose carpeted the mudflats.  It’s amazing how time flies when you’re engrossed in watching birds sticking their faces in mud, and three hours quickly passed and I dropped George back at Beadnell before heading down the coast to home myself.

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Wild Goose chase; Bespoke Birdwatching 30/10/2014

by on Nov.03, 2014, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Holy Island, Natural History, Northumberland Coast

Thursday was Pete and Janet’s 6th trip with NEWT, and the dismal, gloomy, drizzly south easterly weather as I drove to Embleton seemed ever so slightly promising 🙂

We started around Druridge Bay, checking a small area of woodland close to the coast, and soon encountered one of my favourite passerines, with three Brambling feeding quietly high in the canopy and two more flying over noisily.  Everywhere we went there were Robins and Blackbirds, although little sign of any other migrants other than a large flock of Redwing over Cresswell and a flock of Fieldfare near Beadnell.  Leaping Salmon on the River Coquet provided a lot of entertainment and a Cormorant which had been catching small fish, dived, causing a large Salmon to leap clear of the water.  The fish splashed back down and the Cormorant surfaced, gripping it behind the gills.  As the bird drifted downstream with its catch, we couldn’t believe that it would be able to deal with such a large fish…then it manouvered it so that the fish’s head was pointing down it’s throat and swallowed it whole!

As dusk approached, we were on the coast near Holy IslandLittle Egrets, Grey Plover, Curlew and Redshank were on the mudflats and the high yapping sound of Pink-footed Geese could be heard distantly.  Skein after skein appeared against the dark clouds overhead, settling close to the oncoming tide.  Then more, and more, and more…thousands and thousands of geese, still arriving when it was so dark that they were just a slightly darker speckling against an almost featureless backdrop.  Finally, as we headed back to the car, the ‘teu-it’ call of a Spotted Redshank cut through the gloom as the geese continued to arrive.

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Under a darkening sky; Northumberland Coast 27/10/2014

by on Oct.28, 2014, under Birdwatching, Dark Skies, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

Yesterday was a safari day on the Northumberland coast, with a plan to enjoy the birdwatching around our regular Otter sites and then a stargazing session in Druridge Bay.

I collected John and Pam from home in Cullercoats and we drove up the coast.  As we ate our picnic lunch in the shadow of Bamburgh Castle, we could see Gannets diving offshore, beyond the rafts of Common Eider that were surfing the gentle swell.  Kestrels were seen throughout the afternoon and a real ‘from the car’ bonus came in the shape of three Roe Deer.  As so often happens as we approach the winter, wildfowl dominated the birdwatching.  As well as the Eiders, with males resplendent in their breeding finery, Teal, Mallard and Goldeneye looked at their best.  As a Grey Wagtail perched on a mid-stream rock, and fish swirled and leapt from the water, a male Kingfisher perched on a branch overhanging the river, flocks of geese peppered the sky wherever we were, and a flock of Greylag Geese began to flush as the search and rescue helicopter passed noisily overhead.  Whooper Swans looked as stunning as ever, flocks of Lapwing and Golden Plover swirled in the stiff breeze  and, as dusk approached, Pink-footed Geese began arriving to roost.  Flock after flock of Pink-feet appeared out of the gloom, announcing their imminent arrival with their yapping calls, eventually in near darkness when they were just a black speckling against the dark grey brooding clouds.

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Once Bittern; Druridge Bay mini-Safari 22/10/2014

by on Oct.23, 2014, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland

Yesterday afternoon brought quite different conditions to Tuesday evening; still cold and windy, but the clear skies had been replaced by gloomy cloud as I collected Charlotte, Ali, Ben and Thomas from Newbiggin for their second NEWT trip in two days.

In difficult light, and occasional rain, we didn’t manage to find an Otter, but there was a wealth of birdlife to enjoy; a Cormorant was drying it’s wings as Little Grebe, Shoveler, Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Moorhen and Mute Swan fed nearby, flushed briefly by a Sparrowhawk that landed on a small rock in the water before heading off to menace something else.  As dusk approached, although it was hard to discern any difference from mid-afternoon, Starlings began a murmuration, Greylag and Pink-footed Geese arrived noisily to roost, Whooper Swans were whooping loudly and there was the ‘is it a heron, is it an owl?’ moment as a Bittern flew lazily from the reeds, passing by us on it’s way to another reedbed 🙂

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The Chase; Kielder Safari 14/10/2014

by on Oct.15, 2014, under Birdwatching, Kielder, Northumberland

We’ve always tended to stick to the coast during the autumn and winter, but our Dark Skies experiences are attracting a lot of interest, particularly with clients who’d like to combine a wildlife tour with stargazing.  Of course, the stargazing is rather weather dependent…

I collected Lorraine, Steve, Debbie and Gary from their holiday cottage in Longframlington and we headed west, along the Coquet Valley, nestled between the Cheviot Hills and Simonside and across into Kielder.  The border forests aren’t blessed with quantity of wildife at this time of the year, but there’s no doubting the quality 🙂  Red Squirrels were the main target species for the trip, which Lorraine had booked as a wedding anniversary surprise for Debbie and Gary, and they didn’t disappoint, with two animals engaged in a furious chase around the trees as they struggled for dominance over a feeder.  One quickly prevailed and began hoarding nuts, coming so close that you could almost reach out and touch it.  Ravens were soaring over the road, and the one bird that was present in good numbers, as expected, was Chaffinch.  We crossed over the border into Scotland, enjoying close views of Common Buzzards as they held position in the breeze above a ridge, a Kestrel perched on a telegraph pole and Stonechats in roadside vegetation.  A covey of Red Grouse burst from the heather, then another, and then the source of their distress drifted by – a ringtail Hen Harrier 🙂  The harrier quartered back and forth over the moor for a few minutes before dropping out of sight and we made our way onward over the desolate moorland road.

As daylight faded and roosting Cormorants squabbled noisily, a Roe Deer was grazing quietly by the water’s edge.  It came right down to the water to drink and then we could hear the splashing of ducks frantically trying to take off from the reeds.  Had the deer disturbed them? No, by the edge of the reeds an Otter made its way menacingly along from where the ducks had flushed…and then got out of the water, spooking the deer and chasing it a few metres up the bank 🙂  It would have had to be an optimistic Otter to try and predate a Roe Deer, so they may well have just startled each other.

We made our way back across Northumberland, hoping for a break in the weather and a starry sky but it wasn’t to be and the first drops of rain peppered the windscreen as we reached Longframlington.  Then I just had a short journey home to a delicious birthday dinner 🙂

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Halcyon Days; Otter Safari 13/10/2014

by on Oct.15, 2014, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

Monday was a day around Druridge Bay and the southeast Northumberland coast, and an extraordinary contrast with Sunday’s summery weather…

I collected Trish and Carol from Dunstan and we headed south along the coast.  Kingfisher is always a spectacular sight, and one flew under a bridge beneath our feet, adding a touch of sparkle to a day that was developing into cold, windy and gloomy.  Ducks are, for the most part, out of eclipse plumage now and Wigeon, Teal, Tufted Duck and Gadwall were all looking resplendent.  Little Grebes were engaged in non-stop fish catching, Curlew flew noisily by and a Little Egret was stalking elegantly along the River Coquet.  We were joined for the latter part of the day by Michael and Fiona and we settled into position to search for Otters.  In such gloomy windy conditions even my eternal optimism was dampened slightly, and although there were occasional panicky moments among the ducks, which included a beautifully elegant Pintail, the enigmatic predator didn’t put in an appearance.  What we did get though was a Starling murmuration so close we could hear the wingbeats, thousands and thousands of Pink-footed Geese flying to roost and flock after flock of Golden Plover and Lapwing appearing out of the gloom of the dusk sky and dropping into nearby fields.  Dusk is still my favourite time of the day, and if you’ve never experienced it surrounded by wildlife you really should give it a go, even the common birds are transformed by numbers and there’s always the chance of a mammal or two 🙂

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The Island; Lindisfarne Safari 12/10/2014

by on Oct.15, 2014, under Bamburgh Castle, Birdwatching, Lindisfarne, Northumberland

After a break from work and blogging, and our first proper holiday in quite a while, I got back into the swing of things on Sunday with a visit to probably my favourite mid-October location…

Crossing the causeway to Holy Island is always accompanied by a sense of anticipation, and when I collected Graham and Joan from the Manor House they mentioned that Yellow-browed Warblers had been seen the day before.  Checking the bushes and trees in the Vicar’s Garden didn’t produce any sight or sound of the Siberian speciality, but everywhere was heaving with Robins – presumably recent arrivals from the continent – and Grey Plover, Pale-bellied Brent Goose, Bar-tailed Godwit and Grey Seal could be seen, and heard, by turning through 90 degrees from the trees.  After checking other suitable spots around the village, and finding a couple of Goldcrest, we crossed to the mainland and down to Bamburgh.  Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Curlew, Purple Sandpiper and Knot were around the rocks as Eider and Guillemot rose and fell with the gentle swell of the sea and Gannet and Sandwich Tern plunged into shoals of fish offshore in conditions that wouldn’t have been out of place in mid-June.  We made our way slowly back up the coast, taking in vast flocks of Wigeon over the mudflats and a Weasel that responded obligingly to my imitation of a dying mouse (the sound, rather than a visual imitation!).  Little Egrets and Shelduck were exploiting the food supply on the exposed mud and we crossed back on to the island…only to learn that a White-tailed Eagle had been soaring high inland of us while we were watching the Weasel 🙁  We headed down to the causeway, to see if the eagle would make a reappearance, as flocks of Sanderling, Dunlin, Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit, Pale-bellied Brent Goose and Golden Plover concentrated on the rapidly diminishing areas of mud above the rising tide and a Peregrine powered across our field of view before it was time for me to cross back to the mainland and head south.

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Waders; Druridge Bay Safari 31/08/2014

by on Sep.10, 2014, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland

You wouldn’t think that birds which spend much of their lives face deep in mud would be that fascinating, but July and August is one of my favourite times on the coast, precisely because of those birds 🙂

I collected Carole and Gareth from Church Point and we headed a little way up the coast for an afternoon around Druridge BayCommon Snipe, Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Lapwing, Redshank, Oystercatcher and Dunlin were all roosting as four Mediterranean Gulls flew in to join the assembled Black-headed GullsLittle Egrets are becoming a regular sight on our coastal trips and Grey Herons patiently stalk the water’s edge around every pool and river.  Little Grebes were their usual busy selves, popping up to the water surface to consume small fish before diving in search of the next one, and there’s an air of change around the coast at this time of the year.  Those wading birds are a sign that summer is nearing its end and, as time moves on so do the birds.  Perhaps the biggest change though is that, by the time it gets beyond 19:30, light levels are falling, large flocks of geese and Starlings are coming to roost and evenings are decidedly chilly.  As we headed back to the car, there was a real autumnal feel to the evening.

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