I love watching wildlife, always have done since I was very young and I love watching wildlife with our clients. Sometimes though, people are just as interesting…
I collected Richard and Jan from their b&b in Chatton and we headed down through the centre of Northumberland in search of the Red Squirrel. Our first stop was one of our regular sites for squirrels, but didn’t produce the goods this time. Next was what a friend described as the best ‘guaranteed’ site for Red Squirrel in Northumberland…no joy here either, although it looked perfect. We weren’t the only people in the hide – a couple came in and he set up his camera while his wife tried to keep their dog quiet. Then she dropped his tripod on the hide floor. Unfortunate, and could happen to anyone, but likely to reduce the chance of seeing a squirrel. Then it happened again, careless, but still not helping the cause of wildife watching. Her husband didn’t even flinch as the tripod crashed to the floor and, when it happened for a third time, we were all wondereing if it was his wife’s way of trying to get his attention. If it was she was failing spectacularly 😉 At that point we gave up and headed across towards the coast, where I’d planned to have our lunch stop at another site that has worked well for us on previous Red Squirrel trips. Sure enough, as soup and sandwiches were consumed, a squirrel came down from the canopy in search of it’s lunch 🙂 It made off with a peanut and was soon back for more.
After achieving our main aim for the day we spent the rest of the afternoon around Druridge Bay. Avocet, Spoonbill, Little Egret, Bearded Tit, Black-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover, Great Crested Grebe and much more made for an excellent afternoon birdwatching. following on from a morning of squirrelwatching and peoplewatching 🙂
One of the best bits of being outside and searching for wildlife is the how everything around you ties together to create an experience; the landscape, the wildlife and the weather all come together to produce whatever they may…
I collected Paul and Jeanette from their holiday accommodation in Warkworth and we started out down the coast towards Druridge Bay. Originally the plan had been Harwood and then the coast, but weather conditions suggested it would be better to reverse that. Then there was a sudden change from the poor conditions and it was looking like a glorious morning after all so we reverted to Plan A. The Northumbrian weather responded by throwing everything it could at us; sunshine, azure blue skies, fluffy white clouds, torrential rain and brutal biting winds all came, went and came again 🙂 There was no sign of any Goshawk activity in the good spells but you could hardly blame them 🙂 Eventually we retreated back down to the coastal plain…and had the same sequence of changeable weather all over again! Feeding stations were a hive of bird activity, with Chaffinches, Long-tailed Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit and a very bright male Siskin all entertaining us, but Red Squirrels weren’t to be seen. Some of our coastal ponds have been producing regular Otter sightings over the last few months…but the most notable thing was that the howling gale was generating waves that you could have surfed on! Tree Sparrows and Goldfinches were clinging on to branches as the wind buffeted them and, as Curlew, Lapwing and a nice mini-murmuration of Starlings were tossed about on the breeze, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye; Mallard, Wigeon, Teal, Shelduck and Slavonian, Red-necked, Great Crested and Little Grebe struggled in the waves.
Our final destination for the day was one of our favourite Badger setts. There was rustling in the scrub on the valley sides, but no stripy black-and-white head appeared, at least not before it was too dark to see. What did come along though was a Red Fox. Unusually obliging, this one trotted along just above the sett before stopping and fixing us with a stare. It didn’t bolt, as foxes so often do, but watched us, and some passing dog walkers, before continuing with its exploration of the hillside. Often underrated, undervalued, frequently despised…but a thoroughly engaging animal if you take time to watch the almost feline grace of this wild canine.
Trips with existing clients are always a pleasure, not only because it’s very gratifying to get a booking from someone we’ve taken out before, but also because we already have shared memories. I had 3 things vivid in my mind from when I took Pete and Janet out in September 2008 – it rained, we saw 11 adult Mediterranean Gulls on the beach at Newbiggin and Janet found an Otter.
I collected Pete and Janet from their holiday cottage in Embleton, and we headed across to Sharperton to collect David and Mary. They’re all members of the same Natural History Society, who were our first group booking, back in 2009, and we always enjoy catching up with them, and the other members of their group, at the Bird Fair each August. Tuesday was a bespoke trip, combining Harwood and Druridge Bay, and the weather forecast suggested that it wouldn’t rain…
As we approached Harwood a Roe Deer crossed the track, walked into the trees and then stopped to watch us. This was the first of 11 that we saw on our journey through the forest (well, it was about 11, and if I say 11, it’ll help the punchline to this post!).
Harwood again produced memorable sightings; Roe Deer, Tree Pipit, at least 3 Cuckoos, Siskins, plenty of Crossbills, more Roe Deer and a mouth-wateringly attractive male Common Redstart. A list of species can never really do justice to just how good encounters with wildlife can be though; as 2 Roe Deer bounded across the clearfell area beside the track, 2 Cuckoos were engaged in a frantic chase, calling frequently and mobbed by Meadow Pipits every time they left the safety of the trees, while the male Redstart flicked along the edge of a nearby plantation, red tail shivering as he perched on a tree stump, black face contrasting with his white forehead and supercilium, the subtle grey of his crown and mantle and the orangy-red of his breast.
As we tucked in to our picnic lunch, overlooking a very calm North Sea, the first drops of icy rain began to patter down. Then, a comment from Janet to set the pulse racing “I’m sure I just saw a fin”. With such calm water the sudden appearance of black shapes at the surface stood out, and Janet had found yet another exciting mammal on a NEWT safari. This time it wasn’t the sleek, sinuous predator of our lakes and rivers, but another sleek, sinuous predator. We watched for several minutes as the pod of Bottlenose Dolphins moved slowly south. At least 6 animals, including a very small calf, they surfaced lazily every 30seconds or thereabouts as I texted observers further south to let them know what was coming.
Avocet, Garganey (2 handsome drakes), Common Sandpiper, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, clouds of Swifts, Swallows and martins, and weather best described as changeable, all contributed to an excellent afternoon around Druridge before I completed our circular route, dropping Pete and Janet, and then David and Mary. See you at the BirdFair 🙂
So, it rained, we saw 11(ish) Roe Deer in Harwood and Janet found some Bottlenose Dolphins…
After our first ever Harwood Safari on Saturday, our second came quickly 0n it’s heels. I’d driven through some patchy, but dense, fog on the way to collect Judith and Kevin but as headed towards Harwood we found ourselves in some extraordinarily good weather. The view from the Gibbet was better than on Saturday, and a male Goshawk was seen briefly as he passed along the top of the plantation in the distance.
Crossbills and Siskins were again in evidence as we drove the forest tracks and a Grey Wagtail was catching flies on the surface of a ditch as we watched a Common Buzzard soaring overhead, and a pair of Common Toads, the male clasped tightly to the female’s back, crossed the track ahead of us. We stopped to watch over the plantation where we’d had 2 Goshawks on Saturday, and soon a Common Buzzard soared into view. Almost immediately the male Goshawk rose out of the trees and began displaying high overhead, before finding a thermal that was obviously to his liking and ascending rapidly out of sight, presumably to keep a close eye on his territory.
The second half our our day was spent around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. As we checked rivers and pools, the assembled birdlife wasn’t disturbed by anything other than more birds; Black-headed Gulls were harassing a Grey Heron, Goldeneye, Mallards, and Teal were following other Goldeneye, Mallards and Teal, full of the joys of spring, and Canada Geese were busy showing that even Canada Geese don’t like Canada Geese 🙂 As we left Druridge Bay behind and headed towards Blaydon, the countryside was bathed in an almost sublime light. 10 hour working days have never seemed so attractive 😉
Since we started NEWT we’ve always tried to innovate and keep our tours refreshed. Saturday gave me the opportunity to do something that really was innovative – our first Harwood Safari. We’ve walked the route 5 times during the last 3 winters, but driving it was something of an unknown quantity.
As a business we’re happy to support the Northumberland Wildlife Trust. As well as being a corporate member of the trust, we sponsor the under 13 and 13-18 age categories of the NWT Annual Photography competition. Saturday’s Harwood trip was the prize for last year’s 13-18 winner and his dad. When I collected them from Newbiggin it was worryingly misty, but as we headed inland the mist began to lift.
We started at the viewpoint near Winter’s Gibbet, where Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Crossbill, Siskin, Goldcrest, Lesser Redpoll and Chiffchaff were all calling or singing. As the mist over the forest lifted, it was time to break new ground as we headed off along tracks with no vehicle access to the public. More Crossbills and Siskins were in the trackside trees and Common Buzzards were soaring high overhead giving their mewing calls. Soon after lunch we stopped to check out a distant raptor over the plantation on the opposite side of a clearfell area. Within a minute we were watching 3 Common Buzzards…and a pair of Goshawks that had risen out of the trees to shepherd the buzzards away! As the buzzards moved on the Goshawks quickly melted back into the obscurity of the trees.
A stop to search for Adders didn’t produce any of these fearsome reptiles, but we did find a dozen Common Lizards, lazing in the sunshine and then scuttling out of sight.
Our first Harwood Safari, the air filled with raptors, trees filled with Crossbills…looks like a winner 🙂
Between the slow times of the winter (filled this year by the Northeast Cetacean Project) and the start of our busy season comes a week that is exhausting but enjoyable.
Sarah was away on Sunday so I took myself off for a walk in Harwood. Lots of Siskins and Crossbills were calling throughout the entire 10 miles, and I managed to capture some images. The howling wind made my other intention, recording their calls, a bit trickier. A couple of Common Buzzards were braving the breeze, and a female Goshawk appeared and disappeared before I could get the camera on to her. I’m not sure whether carrying a dSLR, 500mm lens and heavy tripod around 10 miles of, partially snow-covered, forest tracks is an indication of dedication or insanity. Whichever, it was certainly good exercise.
Tuesday was an extraordinary day; first the Hadrian’s Wall Trade Fair and Tynedale Tourism Day, then I drove to Matfen Hall for an Outdoor Show training session and from there up to the Gun Inn at Ridsdale for a pre-breeding season Hen Harrier volunteer meeting. Wednesday was the tourism fair in Berwick, organised by the NNTA, and yesterday I attended the Sustainable Tourism Conference at the Rivergreen Centre in Durham.
Now, at the end of the week, it’s the Alnwick Tourism Fair, followed by a SENTA member event at The Old Ship in Newbiggin.
Saturday was planned as the next survey day for NEWT/Marinelife…and then in the early hours of Saturday morning the sea began to turn ‘a bit lumpy’ (c)Allan Skinner. With over 3m of swell smashing it’s way through the harbour mouth at Amble there was no chance of getting the boat out.
With all three NEWT guides having the day together we headed inland to finish our BTO Winter Atlas timed tetrad visits in Harwood. Ironically, given the wintry weather on the coast, there was less snow than on our last visit. Birds were few and far between and, after what turned out to be a strenuous 4 miles over rough ground, as we headed back towards home the late afternoon light looked just about perfect for a visit to Nursery Park to photograph the Waxwings. The light was as good as we could have wished for and the 20 or so birds that were still present were much more obliging than they had been in previous days.
On Sunday we separated out to do different surveys; Sarah covered the WeBS count stretch from Cresswell-East Chevington and back (taking her total distance walked over the weekend to nearly 12 miles) and Martin and Andy set out from Amble along with Tim Sexton, on calmer seas, to start surveying the Farne Deeps. Remarkably, all three surveyors on this trip used to live within 100m of each other in the late 90’s, on Percy Park in Tynemouth. Tim was on the famous Wilson’s Petrel pelagic back in 2002, and Andy only missed that one as he was delayed while heading back from Mull. The journey out to the deeps was unremarkable, other than for the number of Gannets that we found, and a lone Common Seal was an interesting find. Fulmar and Guillemot were also seen throughout most of the survey, and a small number of Puffins were around as well. As we headed east on the first transect we could see some very dark clouds massing to the south. By the time we’d completed the 13 mile run and turned to follow the next transect west the clouds had caught up with us. Sea state 5 in a near white-out was one hell of an experience, but we continued to keep our attention on the sea, still surveying in the hope that the weather would soon pass by. It did, and we completed that transect before heading north and then east along the next survey line. Ten miles along the transect we were hit by another winter storm, this time coming from the east. With the turning tide making our skipper’s task increasingly difficult, we made a note of the position we’d reached and headed back to the warmth and comfort of the shore. Two days, three NEWT guides, four surveyors.
Now I’ve got a couple of days of office stuff to catch up on; press trip proposals to write, images to process for articles I’ve written and we’re already well into planning for the Birdwatching Northumberland stand at the British Bird Fair. I reckon I’ll be able to fit in some time for photography though 🙂
We went up into Harwood today, to undertake our late-winter visit to two of the tetrads we’re surveying for Bird Atlas 2007-2011. The weather was fine, with big fluffy clouds against a beautiful blue sky, and quite warm; at least it was quite warm while we were out of the wind… The winter is a great time for a walk in the forests of Northumberland, although the density of birds is somewhat limited. A pair of Mistle Thrushes caught our attention and, as we scanned the area for more birds, a pair of Stock Doves were up and displaying, a single Skylark flew overhead and a Buzzard soared above the trees. With a strong breeze and excellent visibility we expected to find more raptors, and two Kestrels hovering over an area of clearfell were a good addition to the list. Inland winter birding is often characterised by periods of nothing, interspersed with sudden concentrations of birds, and today was no different; after a long time with nothing to add to the list we came across a field that held 50 Fieldfares, 12 Redwings, 6 Mistle Thrushes, half a dozen each of Chaffinches and Goldfinches and a single Song Thrush. A pair of Stonechats ‘chacked’ angrily at us and flicked their tails as we had the temerity to cross their clearfell territory. The best was yet to come though; as we walked along the forest rides a Great Spotted Woodpecker flushed from close by and we rounded the edge of a plantation…and our ears were assailed by the maniacal screaming of a male Goshawk who had been sunning himself near the top of a spruce tree and didn’t take too kindly to being disturbed. His escape route was across a clearfell so we enjoyed the best views we’ve ever had of this phantom of the forest. When our Kielder trips begin on March 24th, this will be one of our target species; powerful, secretive but always impressive.
…a big, black, hairy bull? He’s got a ring through his nose” Not exactly the words you want to hear from a farmer on a quad bike, when you’re in the middle of nowhere doing some more tetrads for the BTO Atlas. No, we hadn’t seen him, and weren’t entirely reassured by the farmer’s assertion that the bull was very placid. So, we headed on into the forest anyway. No sign of any bulls, friendly, angry or otherwise, and no sign of any birds. The howling, icy-cold gale was probably encouraging them to keep themselves tucked away in the densest areas of vegetation. Eventually we did find a tit and ‘crest flock. Plenty of Long-tailed Tits, those entertaining balls of pink, black and white fluff, Goldcrests, Coal Tits and the regular churring of Wrens (now there’s a species with ‘angry little bird’ syndrome) along our route. Then, nearing the end of our eight mile walk, there he was; contentedly munching the pathside vegetation, and clearly very placid.