Choppington Woods

Contrast and compare

by on Apr.19, 2011, under Bamburgh Castle, Choppington Woods, Northumberland, Photography, Southeast Northumberland

Sunday and Monday illustrated the range of things that NEWT do on a regular basis.

Sunday saw me leaving the office at 03:30 and driving to Alnwick.  Highlight of the drive was a Barn Owl, hunting alongside the A1 near Eshott.  After collecting Helen and Steve, two of our returning clients, we headed to Bamburgh, and a rendezvous with the sunrise.  Landscape photography tuition was first on the menu, followed by some macro photography around the rock pools at low tide.  All the while, the crowds were building further along the beach in the shadow of Bamburgh Castle, enjoying views of the Black Scoter just offshore.  Once the sun was well above the horizon, and the shadows were getting too harsh, it was time to drive back to Alnwick.

A walk around Choppington Woods in the afternoon produced plenty of butterflies, Small White, Large White, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock and Comma, and the unexpected patch tick of Hooded Crow.  We weren’t finished yet though, and  an evening excursion in southeast Northumberland produced excellent views of 2 of our favourites; Tawny Owl and Badger.

Yesterday morning, the day dawned overcast and calm; ideal for our latest Northeast Cetacean Project Transect Survey.  I met up with Maeve, Claire, Rachael and Steve at Royal Quays and we set out on just about the flattest sea I’ve ever seen.  Even 4 miles offshore it was glassy calm.  Cetacean sightings were down compared to the February/March surveys, with a pod of 4 Harbour Porpoises being the only sighting of the day.  Avian highlights were our first Manx Shearwater  and Pomarine Skua for the year, and lots of Puffins throughout the day.

Now it’s Tuesday morning and I’m getting ready for 9 tours with clients in the next 11 days.  Hopefully I’ll find time to blog…

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Familiarity breeds content

by on Feb.23, 2011, under Birdwatching, Choppington Woods, Northumberland, Photography, Southeast Northumberland

During the winter, when I’m busy with admin and business development, I do most of my birdwatching close to home.  Studying Jackdaw and Starling roosts involves a short walk, but with a constant level of activity around the feeding station (conveniently placed to be visible from the office window) I can enjoy the hobby that has been with me since early childhood throughout most of the day.

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve had my camera and tripod set up in the kitchen.  Any newcomers to bird photography could do worse than concentrate on the birds in their own garden.  I blogged about our feeding station recently, but I make no apologies for adding a few more images to the blog now 🙂

Brambling, bird photography, Northumberland

Brambling

Goldfinch, bird photography, Northumberland

Goldfinch

 One species I finally managed to get some good images of is a bird that captivated me when I first saw a flock of them, nearly 40 years ago, in my neighbour’s Pear tree.  With their almost non-stop movement, persistent vocalisations and, let’s face it, looks that are so cute it should be illegal Long-tailed Tits are enchanting.  In previous years they’ve been infrequent visitors to our garden but this winter they are here pretty much all day every day.  A lot of our clients have made similar observations and wondered why this change of behaviour has happened.  Long-tailed Titsare insectivorous and it seems that likely that the hard winter weather, coming so early in the winter has had a devastating impact on their natural food source and made them increasingly reliant on artificially provided food.

Long-tailed Tit, bird photography, Northumberland

Long-tailed Tit

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Feeding time

by on Feb.10, 2011, under Birdwatching, Choppington Woods, Northumberland, Photography

I’ve never been good at sitting in the office and concentrating on one task for any length of time.  Having an office window that looks out over the 76ha of mixed woodland of Choppington Woods LNR is a real blessing, allowing me to mix work and birdwatching.  When I need to stretch my legs, a quick trip downstairs lets me open the patio door and turns the kitchen into a very comfortable and convenient bird photography hide.

Our garden is currently hosting at least 8 Bramblings, along with Greenfinches, Goldfinches, Chaffinches, Bullfinches, Blue, Great, Coal and Long-tailed Tits, occasional visits from Siskin, Redpoll and Treecreeper and regular fly-throughs by our local Sparrowhawks.

It’s a wonder I ever get any work done 🙂

European Goldfinch, bird photography, wildlife photography

Goldfinch

Chaffinch, bird photography, wildlife photography

Chaffinch

Bullfinch, bird photography, wildlife photography

Bullfinch

Brambling, bird photography, wildlife photography

Brambling

Brambling, bird photography, wildlife photography

Brambling

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Early morning – Choppington Woods

by on Feb.08, 2011, under Choppington Woods

Early morning, and the ground underfoot varies from frozen crunchy to treacherously boggy.  The sky overhead is a deep blue, the first rays of sunlight yet to bathe the fields, hedgerows and woodland in that magical golden glow. Clattering wings herald the departure of nearly 1000 Woodpigeons from their overnight roost, and a Blackbird rustles through the vegetation in the hedge bottom.  A menacing shape carves through the air just above the treetops; the menacing flap-flap-glide of our local male Sparrowhawk, beating the bounds of his territory in search of the wintering flocks of Siskins, Redpolls, Crossbills, Chaffinches and Bramblings.  The pungent scent of a Red Fox marks an area that I’ll want to stake out with my camera on another day, and as I head back towards home a Roe Deer springs across the path just a few metres ahead of me and disappears into the plantation just behind our house.  An excellent way to prepare for the day ahead 🙂

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Another big freeze

by on Nov.29, 2010, under Birdwatching, Choppington Woods, Family and friends, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

Here we go again...

It’s hard to believe that we posted on the blog back in January about the big freeze last winter and here we are again in a similar position already before the end of November (although at least at the moment it isn’t so prolonged).

I went in to Newcastle last Wednesday for a seminar about the IMCORE project, and there was a bit of light snowfall.  When I came out of the Ridley Building an hour later the world was white, and it’s just gone on from that point.  After Sarah got home from work on Thursday evening the next time we used either of the cars was when we dug her car out of the snow this morning so she could go to work.  We’ve made the most of the last few days though; walking the 2 miles there (and 2 miles back) each day to visit a friend who’s now in a residential care home, doing most of the admin in 3 days that we would usually do through the winter (including adding all of our 2011 trips to the website) and finalising a couple of projects that we’ve been working on.

Birdwatching in our little part of southeast Northumberland has been interesting for the last few days.  We’ve got an ever-expanding flock of Coal, Great and Blue Tits, Dunnocks and Wrens are now ever present around the feeding station and a very optimistic pair of Collared Doves were mating at the top of the Apple tree earlier this morning.  Two pairs of Bullfinches are regular visitors but other finches are in short supply; there’s just a single pair of Chaffinches, we’ve only had one visit from Goldfinches in the last few days and, particularly worrying, we haven’t seen any Greenfinches around the feeders at all.  A Sparrowhawk is still regularly patrolling over Choppington Woods and a flock of 50-60 Redwings flies out from the woods each morning.

Now, after a morning of blue skies, it’s just started snowing again.

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Frenetic Friday

by on Oct.23, 2010, under Choppington Woods, Farne Islands, North Sea, Northumberland

Yesterday involved a real mixture of my favourite places, and a wide range of activities.

Starting just after 07:00 I checked the 12 Longworth traps that we set on pre-bait in Choppington Woods earlier in the week.  With 9 of the 12 having been emptied of food, the small mammals we’re interested in had obviously found the bait.  The one slight problem was that initially I could only find 11 traps!  Despite having a GPS location for each, and marking adjacent vegetation with tags, it took 20 minutes to locate one of them.  Veronica Carnell, who is supervising me while I gain sufficient experience to run a trapping programme on my own, had warned me that this would happen 🙂

Then I had a short drive across to Blyth for the second day of the Netgain regional hub meeting.  It’s been incredibly educational to listen to the views and concerns of other stakeholders, who don’t necessarily approach things from a conservation point of view.  Equally, it was impressive to see such wide and varied viewpoints coalescing into a concensus by the end of the meeting.  Although I have an interest in the project from a nature tourism angle, my main input was on the distribution and seasonality of cetaceans and seabirds off the Northumberland coast.  The protection of the marine habitat is so important to us that, as a business, we’ll keep making my time available for Netgain meetings until the conclusion of the project.

After the meeting I drove to Seahouses and collected a journalist from the Edinburgh Evening News, for a trip across to the Farne Islands.  We occasionally run press trips where the journalist will be accompanied by wife/husband/partner, but 2 adults, a 6-year old, a 3-year old and a baby was pretty much a first (apart from a guy from a local paper in Cumbria who managed to blag a free holiday, for himself and his family, from accommodation providers, activity providers and attractions in Northumberland in 2008…and then never wrote the article that was used as the hook for getting all the freebies – ah well, live and learn).  The trip across to the Farnes was everything I would expect in late October; breezy, cold and a fantastic wildlife experience.  The Grey Seal pups were predictably cute, and at least 3 Peregrines were hunting the Feral Pigeons that live on the islands.  We’ve got a Seal Safari next Friday, which includes a trip around the Farne Islands (weather permitting), a Landrover safari and picnic so give us a call on 01670 827465 for more details or to book (especially if you are a family – it’s 1/2 term week so we’re offering generous discounts on family bookings).  With 5 trips out with clients over the next 5 days (including 2 days where we’re fully booked already) it’s going to be  a busy week.

All of that would have a been a busy day…but there was one thing left, and it was something that I was really looking forward to.  As Newcastle University graduates, myself and Sarah both have an emotional attachment to the Hancock Museum (or Great North Museum:Hancock as it’s now named…but you won’t find either of us, or many other local naturalists, calling it that).  So, yesterday evening I felt quite honoured to be standing in the Clore Learning Centre at the museum giving a lecture about the Northeast Cetacean Project to the Natural History Society of Northumbria.  With an attendance of over 100 at the lecture it’s a subject that people are really interested by.  One of the question asked at the end of the talk was “how will the data be used?  what value does it have?”.  Which took us nicely back round the loop to the day and a half of Netgain meetings.

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Autumn arrivals

by on Sep.28, 2010, under Birdwatching, Choppington Woods

Rare and scarce migrants are always a delight to find (and, in fact, I’m going to be heading to the coast shortly to try and do just that) but for me there are two sounds that are evocative of the autumn and birdwatching at this time of the year and just as enjoyable as tracking down a ‘rare’.  After seeing so many Pink-footed Geese arriving at Budle Bay last week, it could only be a matter of time before they were closer to home.  Sure enough, on Sunday afternoon, the distinctive high-pitched calls could be heard in the skies over our southeast Northumberland village and we watched a skein of 100+ birds heading south.  The second call comes from one of those species that first grabbed my imagination many many years ago;  our primary school playing field played host to a flock of Redwings each winter.  I knew that they were something special and only graced us with their presence for a short time each year and now, nearly 40 years later, I still eagerly await the high pitched ‘seep’ calls as they pass overhead in the early autumn.  Yesterday morning they began passing westwards over Choppington Woods and I thought to myself “that’s it, summer’s gone, winter’s coming”.  Then a Chiffchaff started singing 🙂

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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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Deskbound

by on Jan.29, 2010, under Birdwatching, Choppington Woods, North Sea, Northumberland, Surveys

Not something I particularly enjoy but I’m currently trying to juggle at least four separate projects ahead of the ‘busy season’ starting in February.  That means a lot of time in the office and birdwatching limited to our garden and the edge of Choppington Woods.  After a couple of months of the Chaffinch flock containing almost exclusively male birds (the species scientific name Fringilla coelebs means ‘Bachelor Finch’ – a reference to the habit of male and female birds wintering separately in parts of it’s range).  now though, the girls are back.  The party’s over, boys.

This morning has seen the Press Release about an exciting offshore survey project that NEWT is a partner in.  Working with Natural England and Marinelife, with additional support  from the Northumberland and Tyneside Bird Club, we’re furthering the existing knowledge of seabird and cetacean distribution in the North Sea.

As I look out of the window this morning there’s a howling northerly and it’s snowing.  Back to the wintry weather 🙂 and a weekend of birdwatching, photography and filming wildlife ahead for all three NEWT guides.

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A bit of this…

by on Jan.25, 2010, under Birdwatching, Choppington Woods, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Surveys

The last few days have been fairly quiet, although quite varied.  On Thursday I was at the North Northumberland Tourism Association AGM at Paxton House.  On arrival the car park was close to full, with just a couple of spaces not occupied.  I reversed my Mondeo into one of them, thinking that the snow sounded very crunchy, and went into the meeting.  For me the highlight of the event was a talk by Laurie Campbell, covering things that he’s photographed in and around North Northumberland.  Returning to my car and the inevitable…it wouldn’t move anywhere with the wheels spinning on the snow.  Luckily Chris Calvert from Bamburgh Castle was leaving at the same time and, along with Verity from the Grace Darling Museum, he helped to push the car clear of the snow.  I wouldn’t have had that problem in the Landrover…

On Friday I chaired a committee meeting of the Southeast Northumberland Tourism Association.  As a new project, all of the committee are putting in a lot of effort and our AGM will be in February, the website should be up and running soon and we’re designing a leaflet to highlight the tourist attractions in our area.

On Sunday we carried out our WeBS count (a week late but the Birdwatching Northumberland Press Trip coincided with the scheduled count date).  Northeasterly winds at the start of the month have deposited huge volumes of sand a long way up the beach (and along the footpath in Cresswell village) almost to the height of the dunes in some places.  The highlight was a loose group of divers on the sea, 15 Red-throated, 2 Great Northern and 1 Black-throated.  As we approached the Chibburn mouth, the end of our survey section, Sarah commented on the sheer walls of sand next to the Chibburn as it wound it’s way down the beach.  Not surprisingly, Sarah took the sensible approach and walked well away from the edge…at least I earned some brownie points by removing Sarah’s ‘scope and tripod from my shoulder and throwing it clear as the sand gave way beneath my feet.

Now I’ve got a day in the office and it’s gloomy and overcast.  Two Jays and a Great Spotted Woodpecker are in the apple tree and Siskins have started visiting the feeders (after merely flirting with the boundary of our garden earlier in the winter).  Lesser Redpolls are still around the edge of Choppington Woods.  Can we set a new high total for our garden when it’s the Big Garden Birdwatch next weekend?

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