Northumberland

Dabbling in duck ID ;-) Druridge Bay Safari 28/02/19

by on Mar.01, 2019, under Druridge Bay

I collected Toni and Tom from Newbiggin and we headed off to explore NEWT’s local patch, Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland…

Late winter often features wildfowl expressing their affection, and yesterday was no exception. Drake Goldeneye and drake Red-breasted Mergansers were enthusiastically following ducks around and a violent altercation between two Mute Swans eventually ended and the victor returned to their mate and a display of mutual affection. Lots of other birds were just getting on with the important business of feeding; Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Mallard, Pintail, Teal, Wigeon, Shoveler, Shelduck, Greylag Goose, Canada Goose,Whooper Swan and a rarity, Green-winged Teal – which eventually turned side on to us and gave very obliging views of it’s key ID feature. A sudden panic, and birds scattering in every direction, heralded the arrival of a female Sparrowhawk that twisted and turned before grabbing a Redshank and going down behind a clump of rush.

Roe Deer were grazing among the rushes and our attention turned from wildfowl to waders. Dunlin were busying themselves in shallow water, a Ringed Plover put in a brief appearance and Oystercatcher, Curlew, Redshank, Lapwing and Snipe were all feeding or roosting. 5 Avocets were a reminder that winter’s over and spring is nudging it’s way in. Disclaimer – don’t base any decisions on Avocet-based weather predictions 😉

As a misty dusk began to descend we had an entertaining chat with an angler on the banks of the Wansbeck. I didn’t have to translate too much of what he was saying 😉

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Fretting; Otter mini-Safari 24/02/19

by on Feb.27, 2019, under Druridge Bay

I usually say that the only weather condition that isn’t good for wildlife-watching is really strong wind. There is another one though, but it’s pretty infrequent…

I collected Barry and Bridie from Warkworth under blue sky and beautiful late winter sunshine and we headed towards Druridge Bay for a few hours. I knew what we were heading towards though as I’d driven through fog on the way north. We started with an hour or so of rolling sea fret that brought visibility down to tens of metres, as Cormorants did their very best Otter impersonations and the loud calls of Oystercatchers carried through the mist as they flew overhead. Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Red-breasted Merganser, Shelduck, Whooper Swan, Canada Goose, Greylag Goose and Pink-footed Goose were all feeding, resting or diving, two drake Pintail were stunning in the low-angled sunlight, the squeals of Water Rail emanated from the reeds as the chill of late afternoon began to probe and nip at our exposed faces and the evocative calls of Curlew cut through the hazy mist of dusk.

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Spring has sprung? Otter mini-Safari 23/02/19

by on Feb.24, 2019, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

After a break from Safaris and blogging, after I was diagnosed with a rare illness last year and had surgery in early January, it was great to be back out in the field with clients yesterday.

I collected Paul and Jennifer, Paul and Kirsty and Alastair and Jess from Newbiggin and we set off for a few hours around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. With temperatures in double figures, Robins, Chaffinches and Dunnocks were singing and a noisy flock of Long-tailed Tits moved through the riverside vegetation. Goldeneye, Gadwall, Mallard, Little Grebe and Cormorant were on the water and a Little Egret was stalking along the edge of a rapidly filling tidal channel. Grey Herons were nest-building and you could be forgiven for forgetting that it’s still winter here…

As daylight faded small flocks of Starling were heading to roost, a Roe Deer was close to the water’s edge and Whooper Swans noisily heralded their arrival. A pair of Canada Geese were looking alert and agitated then Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Goldeneye, Tufted Duck and the geese took off in a panic. From the direction they scattered we could tell where the source of their consternation was…hidden from view by a reedbed in front of us.

As darkness began to exert it’s grip on the eastern sky hundreds of Pink-footed Geese arrived at their nighttime roost, still coming in from all directions when they were only visible as a dark speckling against a leaden grey sky and we headed back to Newbiggin.

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Low light; Bespoke Otter Safari 25/11/18

by on Nov.28, 2018, under Druridge Bay

I collected Colin and Tricia from Newbiggin ahead of a tour around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland searching for Otters and we were soon at our first site…

Little Grebes, Goldeneye and Cormorants were all fishing in water ruffled by a stiff easterly breeze and a Little Egret was trying to fish but constantly harrassed by a juvenile Mute Swan which wouldn’t let it settle in any one spot.  Long-tailed Tits called incessantly as they made their way through the trees and we headed to our picnic spot…with a short detour to the NEWT office for me to change my boots after the sole of the pair I’d been wearing came loose as I tried to lift my foot from some very sticky mud at the bottom of a puddle!

The afternoon was similar to recent days out; a stiff breeze and big flocks of birds.  Teal, Wigeon, Lapwing, Golden Plover, Greylag, Canada and Pink-footed Geese and Starling all being tossed around on the wind and battling to keep their intended course.  Scaup were alongside Tufted Duck and Dunlin, Curlew and Redshank were roosting together, facing into the breeze and taking shelter in the lee of a reedbed.  With dusk encroaching on the gloomy daylight Roe Deer were running along field margins, small groups of Starlings coalesced into one extended murmuration that quickly went to roost with the ghostly apparition of a Barn Owl drifting across in front of us marking the point where the light faded to impenetrable.

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A hard act to swallow; Otter Safari 20/11/18

by on Nov.21, 2018, under Druridge Bay

In March last year I was knocked off my bike by a car in Bedlington (which is our local town).  The day after the incident, I posted in our local Facebook group, thanking everyone who helped me.  “I don’t know if they’re in this group but I’d just like to say a huge thank you to the people who looked after me until the paramedics and police arrived after I was knocked off my bike opposite the market place, especially the lady who held my hand and talked to me...Laid in the road, unable to move your head and with one leg twisted painfully, is a scary experience so it’s hard to put into words how much it helped having people who stopped the traffic, held my hand, talked to me and kept me calm.”

I collected Stephanie and Gary yesterday, just up the road from the NEWT office and Stephanie said “My friend Leigh was the one who held your hand when you were knocked off your bike.” and told me that Leigh decided to train as a first-aider after helping me 🙂  Bedlington and it’s surrounding villages is a small world…and then we headed to Newbiggin to collect Susanne and Leanne.  As they walked across the car park towards us, Leanne looked familiar – one of my chemistry students from 14 years ago!  Small world indeed!

We headed out to explore Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland in search of Otters and, from the state of the sea crashing against the breakwaters of Newbiggin Bay it looked like the wind would present a challenge for the day.  The rest of the day was a series of squally showers, increasing in intensity as the day progressed.  Noisy flocks of Long-tailed Tits foraged in pathside trees and Cormorant, Little Grebe, Red-breasted Merganser and Goldeneye were diving in search of fish.

A Cormorant managed to generate a false alarm as it wrestled with a large Eel – the bird’s black body and the tail of the fish combining to do a remarkable impression of an Otter fishing with it’s tail up out of the water 🙂  Having managed to swallow the Eel, the Cormorant caught an even larger one a few minutes later and we were able to watch as it tossed the Eel until eventually grabbing it around the head and swallowing it in one go.  That was followed by a couple of minutes of watching the Cormorant’s neck bulging and writhing as it struggled to get the Eel down into it’s stomach.  Incredibly it started fishing again straight away and caught and swallowed a much smaller Eel.

A theme in the last couple of weeks has been Sparrowhawks causing consternation among roosting wader and wildfowl flocks, and yesterday was no exception.  Knot, Dunlin, Redshank, Lapwing, Golden Plover, Curlew, Teal, Mallard, Gadwall and Wigeon all took flight repeatedly before the Sparrowhawk eventually flew past us.  A dense flock of Kittiwakes flew along over huge rolling waves and foaming surf and as Starlings, Lapwings and Golden Plover struggled against the strengthening breeze and geese arrived to roost the next squall took the light levels from challenging to near dark in a matter of minutes and we headed back toward he bright lights of Newbiggin 🙂

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Easterlies; Druridge Bay Safari 19/11/18

by on Nov.20, 2018, under Druridge Bay

There was a gentle breeze as I collected Nigel, Corina, Victoria and Rob from Longframlington and we headed towards the coast for a day around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland…

Waders and wildfowl were in abundance, as they tend to be in the late autumn.  A huge roosting flock of Golden Plover and Lapwing were restless and vocal and Redshank, Dunlin and a lone Curlew were sleeping until disturbed by a marauding Sparrowhawk.  Drake Shovelers and a lone drake Scaup were still patchy, coming out of eclipse plumage, a flock of Eider flying north over white foaming surf on a strengthening easterly contained a mix of females, young males and a couple of pristine adult males and Mallard, Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Red-breasted Merganser and Teal drakes were all sporting their very best finery.

Our picnic spot was graced by a Kestrel hanging on the stiff breeze so close that we could see how he held his head stationary while making minor movements of wings, body and tail.  An apparent absence of small birds was suddenly broken by a noisy foraging flock of Great, Coal, Blue and Long-tailed Tits.  Hunched against the wind, a Grey Heron looked even more miserable than they usually do and, as Little Egrets shone in the gloom, at least 20 Little Grebes, including a group of 12 together, were along one stretch of river.  With dusk fast approaching a noisy mixed flock of Canada, Greylag and Pink-footed Geese arrived to roost as Starlings passed by in small groups, foregoing the murmuration in favour of a quick dash to the reeds and Whooper Swans trumpeted their own arrival and the light faded to a barely penetrable gloom.

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Mesmerising murmuration; Druridge Bay Bespoke birdwatching 15/11/18

by on Nov.17, 2018, under Druridge Bay

A lot of our clients muse on the possibility of retiring and moving to Northumberland, and John had done just that and booked a bespoke day out with us to explore some of the lesser-known birdwatching sites around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland

With an almost cloudless blue sky and a chill wind we set out and were soon watching Common Redshanks as they probed the mud along the waterline with Red-breasted Mergansers in the background, a Grey Wagtail flycatching from rocks amidst fast flowing water, and a Sparrowhawk against the azure sky mobbed by a swarm of JackdawsBullfinches and Goldcrests called from hidden positions in hawthorn bushes and a Short-eared Owl quartering rough grassland plunged out of sight after prey repeatedly without ever appearing carrying anything.  The plan for dusk was a visit to (hopefully) a Starling roost.  With Water Rails squealing from reedbeds, and Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Gadwall, Goldeneye, Mute Swan and Whooper Swan on the water around roosting Lapwings, Golden Plovers and Cormorants, Starlings started to arrive.  Cloud after cloud of birds landed in a small section of reeds before leaving again in groups of a few hundred birds every few seconds.  A sudden panic ran through the flock and as they bunched tightly, twisting and turning, a Sparrowhawk came through before settling on the ground before reappearing around the end of the reeds and flying past us carrying a Starling.  With dusk descending to darkness the murmuring rustle of birds in the reedbeds faded to silence as we walked back to the car.

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Fireworks; Bespoke Druridge Bay Safari 04/11/18

by on Nov.07, 2018, under Druridge Bay

If there’s one thing that’s even less predictable than wildlife it’s the weather, so when I collected Ted and Elaine for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay searching for Otters, with stargazing planned for the end of the trip, we were at the mercy of both…

Dense flocks of Golden Plover and Lapwing were roosting, and alternating between unremarkable under overcast skies and stunning whenever the sun broke through the cloud.  They repeatedly flushed in panic and a Sparrowhawk eventually revealed itself as the cause of their consternation.  Once that had gone they settled back down before taking off again, this time deserting completely as a large falcon came through.  Maybe a Lanner, maybe a Gyr x Saker hybrid, whatever it was it was big and the waders were really not happy about it.  We’re moving to the time of year when male ducks start to out on their finery and Mallard, Wigeon, Teal, Goldeneye and Tufted Duck were looking very smart as a Long-tailed Duck played hide and seek with us.  Among a group of Common Snipe roosting close by a Jack Snipe revealed itself with rhythmical bobbing before it shuffled off and out of sight.

As dusk approached, thousands of Starlings streamed out of one reedbed and in front of us before settling into a different one and the three Pink-footed Geese on the mud in front of us became 3000 as the sky was suddenly filled with dark shapes and high yapping calls, leaving a dark impenetrable mass of birds in the gloom with fireworks illuminating the sky behind them and a break in the clouds revealing Cygnus, the Summer Triangle, Cassiopeia and a faint glow of the Milky Way overhead 🙂

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Fantastic Mr Fox; Another walk in the woods 02/11/18

by on Nov.03, 2018, under Choppington Woods

Under a leaden overcast sky the cold air wraps its damp tendrils around every exposed bit of my skin.  Jays are making their way across open ground between the plantations with a stuttering flight, white rumps flashing in the gloom, and a Woodcock heads out as the unseen sun dips below the horizon.  A last good feed of the day for Coal, Blue, Great and Willow Tits is on offer at a makeshift feeding station as I start scanning the hedgerow along the southern edge of a field of verdant green with new growth.  In the distance a lump breaking the gentle undulations of the field isn’t straightforward to identify in the half-light.  Moving along the hedgerow a few metres at time I get close enough to identify it as a Red Fox.  Closer still and I get a great view as he stands up and has a good stretch.  Now awake, he trots along for a few seconds and then sits, gazing intently around him.  I move through the hedge and watch him from a well concealed position and then parallel his movements, stopping regularly to watch what he’s doing.  By the time he eventually disappears through a hedge and into a small plantation 45mins have passed and I make my way home along dark paths wrapped in the scent and sound of the woods at dusk.

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A walk in the woods 01/11/18

by on Nov.02, 2018, under Choppington Woods

It’s been a difficult couple of weeks in the NEWT household.  We’d had a week away in and around Glencoe checking locations for a landscape photography holiday I’m leading over Christmas, then a couple of days after we got back home I wasn’t feeling well.  Sarah took me to see our GP and they sent me straight to the excellent Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital in Cramlington.  Four days later I was discharged, limited to a liquid-only diet and with surgery scheduled for early January.  Luckily I’m well enough to work, as we’ve got a very busy November ahead of us.  This week has been mainly recuperation at home, but I need to keep my mind and body active and daily walks in the woods behind our house are the best medicine…

With the light of day fading to dusk, the harsh ‘chek’ calls of Jackdaws and deep ‘rawk’ of Rooks gathering together to roost were layered with the staccato ratting of Magpies.  The woods are familiar and comforting, and a place to clear my mind.  We’ve walked them countless times over the last 18 years and the benches, interpretation boards, boardwalk/dipping platform and well-surfaced paths were the result of a successful funding bid that I presented back in 2009.  We know which intersections of the footpaths and tracks will produce the pungent scent of Red Fox, temporarily overwhelming the sweet earthy smell of Autumn decay and the heady perfume of Himalayan Balsam, which areas of the wood will have Goldcrest and Long-tailed Tit and where to search for Red Squirrel and the other inhabitants of this reclaimed colliery site.  Woodpigeons were gathering in treetops frosted orange by the setting Sun and, applying the shape, shadow and shine elements of concealment I chose a position on the shaded side of an Ivy-covered hedge.  Willow Tits and Coal Tits gave quiet alarm calls as a Sparrowhawk flew along the hedge and a Kestrel hovered over the field in the half-light.  Jays were crossing between plantations, Roe Deer ventured out from cover to forage close to the field edge, Redwings arrived to roost and the chacking calls so typical of pre-roost Blackbirds penetrated the crisp, cold air under a clear blue sky layered over the pastel pink of the Belt of Venus away to the east as I had a feeling that there was something close by.  A brief whirr of wings so I turned my head slowly…and found myself eye to eye with a handsome cock Pheasant 🙂

A connection with nature allows us to disconnect, even if only for a short while, from our connection with everyday life.  It’s good for body and soul and so many of our clients comment that one of the things they most enjoy about their days out with NEWT is just how relaxing it is to be taken away from work and the stresses of life.  Applying that to myself is working well too 🙂

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