Bamburgh Castle

Whales, Waders and Wildfowl day (1 and) 2

by on Sep.11, 2013, under Bamburgh Castle, Birdwatching, Holy Island, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

After getting back to Seahouses harbour at the end of our Whale and Dolphin Cruise, Sarah headed south back towards home, and myself and Bill followed the coast north to Holy Island.  The breeze had been strengthening while we were offshore, and around Holy Island it was close to unmanageable, with even a heavy stable tripod struggling to remain still enough to use the telescope.  We did find Bar-tailed Godwit, Ringed Plover and Dunlin around the harbour, but soon beat a hasty retreat – via the ice cream van 🙂

Heading back down the coast in the shadow of Bamburgh Castle, we watched flocks of Eider loafing just offshore and a mixed flock of Common, Sandwich and Arctic Terns held a surprise in the shape of an adult Roseate Tern.

Dinner at The Swan was followed by discussing the plans for the next day, and on Sunday we concentrated on Druridge Bay and south east Northumberland.  It turned out to be a good day for waders, with Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Curlew and plenty of Snipe.  Perhaps the wader highlight of the day though were flocks of Black-tailed Godwit and Ruff arriving from the north east, pausing briefly to drink and rest and then departing to the south west.  A bird that’s rarely seen made it’s way onto the trip list too, as the long-staying Spotted Crake at East Chevington wandered in and out of the reedbeds.  Goosander, more Eider and lots of Grey Herons were around the River Coquet and it was soon time to head off, collect Sarah and go into Morpeth to eat at the excellent Nadon Thai.  It was an excellent two days, with a client who was excellent company, a keen birdwatcher and knows a lot of sites in and around Norfolk, where we haven’t been for a few years now, really well.

Whales? yes. Waders? yes. Wildfowl? yes.  It was the holiday that does exactly what it says on the tin 🙂

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The power of the sea

by on Jul.06, 2013, under Bamburgh Castle, Birdwatching, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

We rarely let the weather get the better of us.  Apart from our annual programme of North Sea Pelagics, where the weather really can make a difference to a trip going ahead or not, we can pretty much cope with anything the elements throw at us.

I collected Harry and Maureen for their mini-safari on the North Northumberland coast as the first drops of rain began to speckle the windscreen of the car.  Straight down the coast and we were soon watching Eiders and Common Scoter riding up and over the surf, Guillemots, Puffins and Razorbills loafing offshore, Gannets and Fulmars soaring effortlessly over the sea, Swallows hawking insects within a few feet of us and Rooks foraging around the car park in search of discarded morsels of food.  All of this was in heavy rain, but positioning the car at just the right angle to the wind made it possible to watch all of these birds and the dark majesty of the sea as a backdrop.  Along the coast towards Holy Island a huge group of Grey Seals were basking in the improving weather and, all too soon, it was lunchtime and the end of the trip.

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Sailing the ocean blue; Seal Safari 20/06/2013

by on Jun.26, 2013, under Bamburgh Castle, Farne Islands, Grey Seal, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

In any list of ‘Northumberland’s Big 5’ there will always be disagreements about the species that should be included.  One species that really epitomises the wildlife of North Northumberland is the ‘hook-nosed sea pig’…or Grey Seal to give it a less offensive handle than the translation of it’s Latin name 😉

I collected John and Jennifer from Church Point and we drove northwards along the Northumberland coast.  Arriving in Seahouses, ready for our Seal Cruise on Glad Tidings V, conditions were near perfect; beautiful blue sky, calm sea and just the slight breeze that always seems to be present on the coast, even on calm days.  As the distance between ourselves and the mainland increased, streams of Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Puffins, Guillemots and Razorbills were heading to and from the islands, Gannets were passing by in impressive groups, Cormorants and Shags were sitting like sentinels at the gates of some mystical wildlife world and then we came across the seals.  Bathing in the sunshine, and only occasionally lifting their heads to avoid unexpected sprays of breaking surf, they allowed a close approach that had an entire boat full of camera-wielding visitors clicking away like a knitting circle.

Back on dry land we sat and had lunch, just along the coast from the impressive bulk of Bamburgh Castle, and then continued north to look for more seals.  As high tide approached they could be seen ‘bottling’ close to Holy Island, and we made our way back down the coast.

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Early rise

by on Apr.04, 2013, under Bamburgh Castle, North Sea, Northumberland, Photography

Saturday 03:30 and the alarm clock starts ringing.  After eight long days out of the office, things were going to be topped off nicely with an early start for our ‘Dawn on the Coast’ Beginners Photography session.  I arrived just ahead of Dave, and met up with Steve who had arrived early.  In the shadow of Bamburgh Castle, with the North Sea washing close to our feet, we worked our way through the holy trinity of photography (shutter speed, aperture and ISO) and various compositional techniques as the approaching dawn illuminated the landscape around us.  Snow, driven by a strong northerly breeze, passed by almost horizontally and the broken cloud to the east produced intermittently good lighting conditions.  Red-breasted Mergansers and Fulmars flew by, Common Scoters and Eider were riding on the swell, Purple Sandpipers crept around the base of the rocks and we finished our session as less amenable weather approached from the east.

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The power of the sea

by on Mar.25, 2013, under Bamburgh Castle, Holy Island, North Sea, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

Friday was a safari on the North Northumberland coast for Kathryn and Linda.  As I collected them from the Lindisfarne Inn, the biting wind carried a flurry of snow, and I guessed this could well be a day for birdwatching from the warmth and comfort of the car.

Over the next few hours we had close views of Bar-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Redshank and Oystercatcher as they probed in the mud, seemingly oblivious to the breeze, a Peregrine shot by, menace on pointed wings, and a Brown Hare sat majestically in the middle of a field.  From the car park at Stag Rock we could see the MV Danio, still stranded near the Longstone lighthouse, as Common Scoter and Eider rode up and over the impressive swell and Gannets battled into the breeze.  Black-headed Gulls and Rooks were almost perched on the car, and the South Low below the Holy Island Causeway offered impressive views of Eider, Long-tailed Duck and Scaup.

Our lunch stop was the Bamburgh Castle Inn, which gave us a good view of the extent of the swell rolling from the south east…and the approaching snow, which got to us just before we got back to the car 🙂

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Northumberland at its best

by on Feb.25, 2013, under Bamburgh Castle, Birdwatching, Holy Island, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

As we walked home from The Swan on Friday night, serenaded by the tremulous song of a Tawny Owl, the air was damp and chilly.  With a Lindisfarne mini-safari on Saturday morning I was hoping that the weather would be fine, and the forecast suggested it would be…

So, when the alarm went off and I looked out of the window, I was quite surprised that there was a good covering of snow.  A few minutes later the snow started again, and I wondered what conditions would be like in the north of the county.  It turned out that we were near the northern edge of the snow, and as soon as I was through Morpeth and on the A1 there was just an occasional light flurry, and no snow on the ground.

I collected Emily and Warren from St Cuthbert’s House and we headed straight for Holy Island so that we would be on the island for a couple of hours before the tide encroached onto the causeway.  Dark-bellied Brent Geese were roosting and bathing in the Rocket Pools, Curlews were feeding in the fields by the Crooked Lonnen and a lone Fieldfare hopped along the track ahead of us.  We could see that the weather was doing something ‘interesting’ out beyond the Farne Islands, and the icy wind coming in off the sea made it a day to really appreciate the resilience of our wintering birds.  As we left the island, flocks of Lapwings were being blown on the breeze, Pale-bellied Brent Geese and Bar-tailed Godwits were working their way along the edge of the incoming tide and Eider and Long-tailed Duck were in the South Low, competing for the title of ‘most attractive duck of the day’.  Kestrels were a regular feature of the morning, and we enjoyed good views of nine very obliging Roe Deer.

Driving back down the coast, I could see that the ‘interesting’ weather seemed to be over Bamburgh Castle and Seahouses, so it was no surprise that snow started to fall as we passed Budle Bay.  Then it got heavier…and heavier.  Eventually, as we reached Stag Rocks, there was an incredible blizzard coming in off the North Sea, reducing visibility to only as far as the shore.  Emily jumped out of the car as soon as we’d stopped, revelling in the snowfall; I’m not the only one who enjoys the winter and really loves snow 🙂  As the blizzard passed over us and made its way inland, the Farne Islands gradually faded into view and we made our way back to Seahouses.

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Winter birdwatching

by on Nov.30, 2012, under Bamburgh Castle, Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

With the cessation of the rain that plagued Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, Wednesday dawned cold and breezy; almost ideal for a day out on the birdwatching paradise that is the Northumberland Coast in the Winter.

As I collected Ele and Lisa from their holiday cottage in the shadow of Bamburgh Castle, the icy northerly wind cut through the multiple layers that I’d put on before leaving the house.  We started our day’s birdwatching at Budle Bay, where the wind somehow seemed even icier, and Oystercatchers, Redshank and Curlew were probing the oozing mud as a distant Peregrine flushed flocks of Lapwing and Golden Plover. Eiders were surfing the top of the impressive swell on the open coast and we headed south towards Druridge Bay. Mediterranean Gulls drifted overhead, ghostly pale, as Oystercatchers, Curlew, Turnstone, Redshank and Sanderling worked along the edge of the surf.  Among all the immaculate ducks, two species really stood out; Goosander sleek and menacing, and Red-breasted Merganser drakes all trying to out do each other in their attempts to attract the ladies. A flock of Pink-footed Geese fed in a nearby field

As daylight faded a flock of Waxwings were in the distant tree tops and two species that are always a pleasure to see put in an appearance.  Short-eared Owl and Barn Owl drifted along the edges of the reedbeds; death on silent wings.  Here are a couple of pictures of them from earlier this year (in better light and a gentler breeze!).

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Focusing on the coast

by on Oct.19, 2012, under Bamburgh Castle, Lindisfarne, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast, Photography

Having lived on, or near, the Northumberland coast for 15 years (apart from my 6 month sojourn to Texas and Arizona) it’s a location I return to time and again with my camera/binoculars/telescope/camcorder/sound recording gear (delete as applicable depending on my mood and/or aim for the day).  The coast is my favorite location for one-to-one photography tuition with clients too (although the North Pennines AONB runs it pretty close!).

I drove down to Wallsend to collect Mac for his day of photography tuition, and we set off along the coast of southeast Northumberland and Druridge Bay.  I’ve always seen dilapidated farm buildings as ideal locations for Little Owl and Barn Owl, but one group of buildings made an ideal location to explore the reciprocal relationship between shutter speed and aperture, before we headed north and Mac added immeasurably to my knowledge of the opencast mining operations of the area.  Next stop was on the top of the dunes overlooking the north of Druridge Bay and, as well as the impressive scene looking across the rolling surf out to sea, a high-tide wader roost was building up on the rocks below us.  Redshank, Turnstone, Oystercatcher and Curlew were all arriving as the surf lapped at their feet.  Then they all scattered.  Sadly this didn’t herald the arrival of a Peregrine or other predator…but, instead, a jogger.  As luck would have it, I was due at a meeting with a Lead Adviser from Natural England a few days later, to discuss coastal activities and wildlife disturbance.  The conclusion of  a brief discussion at that meeting was that jogging through a high-tide wader roost in a SSSI is mindless stupidity, sheer ignorance and possibly an offence.  People really should know better.

Boats at Boulmer and Holy Island came under the focus of Mac’s camera before we arrived at our final location for the day.  Breaking surf, rock pools and the Northumberland coast’s stunning edifice of Bamburgh Castle provided our last shoot before the sun dipped behind the dunes and out of sight, and we headed back south.  The light wasn’t the best, although it was a good day to experiment with exposure settings, so here’s a shot of Bamburgh Castle in the sort of conditions that I really enjoy.

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Seal of approval

by on Sep.18, 2012, under Bamburgh Castle, Farne Islands, Grey Seal, North Sea, Northumberland

There’s always something special about days out with clients who have a connection with the north east; often we’ll visit locations that they haven’t seen for a long time, and they’ll share their memories of the place.  One thing that’s constant though, is that they always have a passion for Northumberland, no matter how long they’ve been away, or where they live now.

I collected Dickie and Caroline from Church Point and we set off on the drive north along the Northumberland coast, heading towards Seahouses.  The main part of the trip was a Seal Cruise on Glad Tidings 5, although in the ‘stiff’ breeze I wasn’t certain that we’d be sailing.  We arrived in Seahouses to be greeted by the good news that we would be sailing, and the ‘interesting’ news that a party of 30 schoolchildren was booked on the same sailing.  As we headed across to the islands, with John expertly guiding the boat to avoid everyone getting wet (as far as possible!) the school party were having a whale of a time.  Then when the first Grey Seals began to bob their heads up out of the water and stare at the boat they got really excited 🙂  Gannets were soaring overhead, Turnstones and Purple Sandpipers were fluttering around the base of the rocks, staying just above the breaking surf, and Shags and Eiders were bobbing around in the increasing swell.  After an exciting journey back to the mainland, we had our picnic stop in the shadow of Bamburgh Castle, and only a few hundred yards from where Dickie and  Caroline used to live.  A big bull Grey Seal made his way north just beyond the surf, and Caroline went for a paddle in the icy-cold sea 🙂  As we made our way back down the coast (after a Caroline-requested stop at Swallow Fish in Seahouses), the weather was an extraordinary mixture of blue sky, sunshine and that breeze…

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Some Hobby

by on Jul.02, 2012, under Bamburgh Castle, Birdwatching, Farne Islands, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

Wednesday was a trip that I’d been looking forward to for some time.  Syd is a regular client, and always very entertaining, and this time around his son Gavin was booked with him as well, for a Farne Islands safari.

With plenty of comments on Twitter in the weeks leading up to the trip, we were all praying for good sea conditions for the day.  The forecast suggested that the afternoon could be a bit wet so I thought about visiting Staple Island instead of Inner Farne, before satisfying myself that it would stay dry for us in the afternoon and sticking with my original plan of walking along the dunes at Newton in the morning, and catching the 1pm boat to Inner Farne.  The morning walk produced lots of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits as well as Common Blue Butterflies and Northern Marsh, Pyramidal and Bee Orchids. The tern colony was a hive of activity, with the Arctic Terns bringing food to their chicks and some  Little Terns engaging in some late season breeding activity.  While we were there, the terns kept lifting from the dunes in a ‘dread’ but the source of their concern wasn’t immediately obvious.  Myself and the wardens commented that it was what we would expect if a Peregrine was passing over, but scanning the sky overhead didn’t produce the menacing shape of that particular predator.  Eventually we did spot a raptor, although not an expected one, as a Marsh Harrier flew south along the fields inland from the terns.  After having our lunch stop in the shadow of Bamburgh Castle, we took the short drive to Seahouses.  Approaching Monk’s House Pool, Syd and Gavin had the bird of the day as a Hobby flew north over the roadside fields.

We boarded Glad Tidings IV for the journey across to the islands and sat next to local birder TC, who had watched all of the hirundines in Seahouses start alarming…just a few minutes before the Hobby was between Seahouses and Bamburgh.  After the sailing around the islands, with their Grey Seals, Guillemots, Razorbills, Puffins, Kittiwakes, Fulmars, Shags and Common, Sandwich and Arctic Terns, we landed on Inner Farne and Gavin concentrated on photographing Puffins.  We were ‘treated’ (if that’s the right word…) to an example of just how cruel nature can be as a Kittiwake chick wandered away from it’s nest and towards the edge of the ledge.  It turned back from the edge, made it’s way unsteadily back to the nest, and was promptly tossed over the edge of the cliff by the adult!  As it landed on the next ledge down, it was attacked and killed by 2 juvenile Shags in front of a group of horrified onlookers.

After nearly 2 hours on Inner Farne, we boarded Glad Tidings for the journey back to the mainland…and the first few drops of rain fell as we reached the top of the steps on the harbour 🙂

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