Holy Island

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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Winter Wonderland Day One 04/12/2013

by on Dec.06, 2013, under Bamburgh Castle, Birdwatching, Holy Island, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast, Southeast Northumberland

As I met up with David for breakfast at The Swan on Wednesday morning, ahead of two days on the Northumberland coast, we’d already switched our itinerary round.  The plan to visit Holy Island on Thursday looked as though it might be slightly impacted by the weather, so we switched Druridge Bay to that day instead.

The drive north on the A1 was in glorious weather, with Common Buzzards soaring low over plantations in the chill of the early morning and we were soon on Holy Island in a stiffening breeze, carefully stalking towards a flock of Dark-bellied Brent Geese that posed for David’s camera.  Bar-tailed Godwits, and a lone Black-tailed Godwit were probing the exposed mud of the harbour at low tide and Wigeon and Teal were on the Rocket Pool.  A Common Kestrel was hovering nearby and, as the tide turned, we headed to the causeway to see what would be pushed towards us by the advancing water.  Redshank, Curlew, Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwit, Shelduck and a Little Egret all fed along the swelling channels

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and then a mass of Pale-bellied Brent Geese flew in from the south.  As the water began to lap at the edge of the causeway we drove back on to the mainland, and headed to a quiet stretch of shoreline where I knew David could use the cover of a hedgerow to approach a flock of Pale-bellied Brents whilst avoiding detection.

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Using the car as a photographic hide (something of a theme  for the holiday!) we got very close views of a flock of Wigeon,

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and then we settled in the iconic shadow of Bamburgh Castle and scanned the sea in temperatures that were now bone-chilling 🙂  Purple Sandpipers, Turnstones, Oystercatchers and Redshank were roosting just above the water line and beyond the rafts of Eider were flocks of Common Scoter, with one large group of females looking stunningly orange in the beautiful late afternoon sunlight.  Long-tailed Ducks played hide and seek, utilising their propensity for diving, and the developing swell, to keep me on my toes as I located a group with the ‘scope so that David could see them.  Scanning the scoter flocks paid dividends as a female Velvet Scoter rose up and over one advancing wave crest, Red-throated Divers cruised along in their eternal search for fish and a last scan before we headed back down the coast produced a Slavonian Grebe.  As it turned dark, the clear sky afforded excellent ‘scope views of the crescent Venus, and the thinnest sliver of crescent Moon.  So soon after New Moon would be a spring tide, and the one forecast for the following day was predicted to be a big one…

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The enchanting isle; Lindisfarne Safari 29/11/2013

by on Dec.03, 2013, under Bamburgh Castle, Birdwatching, Holy Island, Northumberland

After a planned 5 week break to recover from surgery I headed to Bamburgh, to collect Laura and Richard for a mini-Safari around Lindisfarne, brimming over with enthusiasm to be back and doing what I love.

Starting in the shadow of Bamburgh Castle, we watched Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone, Redshank and Oystercatcher as they flew from wave-blasted rock to wave-blasted rock with Eiders appearing and disappearing in the swell just beyond them.  A flock of Twite rose briefly from the weedy fields and, sitting on a ridge in adjacent field was the largest Peregrine that I’ve ever seen.  As we neared Holy Island a flock of Pale-bellied Brent Geese were making their way along the shoreline and Grey Plover, Ringed Plover and Bar-tailed Godwit were exploring the recently uncovered mud as a Greenshank slept with it’s head tucked between its wings.  We were using two cars, as Laura and Richard thought it would make more sense then transferring their three dogs to my car.  As we headed across the causeway a Merlin chased a flock of Snow Buntings, but they were up and over the dunes before the second car reached them 🙁

As daylight faded we enjoyed excellent ‘scope views of a crescent Venus in the western sky, and then I was on my way back down the coast to get ready for a full day trip on Saturday 🙂

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Something in the air; Holy Island birdwatching 10/10/2013

by on Oct.15, 2013, under Birdwatching, Holy Island, Northumberland

Mist, drizzle, rain, howling north/northeasterlies, dreich…just what I pray for on our Lindisfarne birdwatching trips in mid-October 🙂

I collected Malcolm from Newbiggin, and we headed north in weather that can best be described as less than pleasant.  Dunlin, Curlew, Lapwing, Redshank, Oystercatcher and Bar-tailed Godwit were on the mud by the causeway as we crossed onto the island, and the heaviest shower of the morning greeted our arrival in the carpark so, as it eased slightly, we set off to walk around the village.  Occasionally, the weather conditions will throw out an oddity with the visible migration of just one species, and this was one of those days.  Although every tree and bush seemed to hold Robins and Song Thrushes, the high-pitched flight calls of one of our favourite winter visitors cut through the rushing wind.  Redwings, those beautifully marked thrushes, were arriving from the north.  Overshooting the island on the strong breeze they turned back into the headwind just over St Cuthbert’s Isle and battled back towards the sanctuary of the trees around St Mary’s Church.  Wave after wave of birds arrived, intertwined with wave after wave of rain and we had one of those frustrating moments that birdwatchers occasionally suffer during poor weather in the autumn.  Malcolm spotted a warbler flitting in and out of cover (the warbler that is, not Malcolm!) and, with rain spotting our binoculars, and the sudden arrival of another heavy shower, we only had a split-second to identify it as a Phylloscopus warbler with an obvious pale supercilium and a yellowish breast before it dropped back into the depths of the bush and we took shelter ourselves.  As the rain eased we checked the bushes again and a Chiffchaff popped out, very different to the earlier bird.  Another rain break, and now both birds had departed…

Down the coast, a short spell of seawatching produced an impressive raft of Eiders on the rather angry-looking sea, and a stream of Gannets heading south as we headed that way ourselves and back to southeast Northumberland.  It’s always a pleasure to have a local birdwatcher as a client on one of our trips.  With local knowledge, and a slightly different perspective on the issues that affect our wildlife and landscape, there’s always so much to chat about that the day seems to go too quickly.

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Birdwatching in an iconic landscape; Lindisfarne 23/09/2013

by on Sep.24, 2013, under Birdwatching, Holy Island, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

After two long hard days offshore (8hr pelagic on Saturday – blog post coming soon! – and 14hr offshore on Sunday for a North East Cetacean Project transect survey) today brought some light relief from the rolling swell of the North Sea as I headed north to Seahouses to collect Phil and Ann (who had won a morning out with NEWT in a competition on Visit Northumberland) and Rachael and Alex, who by happy coincidence were all staying at St Cuthbert’s House.

In weather that was glorious, even by the high standards set during this year, we headed north towards Holy Island.  In the north of Northumberland, with a falling tide, it was looking like a good waders and wildfowl morning.  Mudflats were dotted with a mosaic of Mallard, Shelduck, Curlew, Dunlin, Lapwing, Redshank, Oystercatcher and Pink-footed Geese and, as we drove along the coastal road towards Holy Island, we had the treat of watching a Sparrowhawk as it flew just ahead of us, only inches above the road.  Ringed Plover and more Dunlin, Curlew and Redshank were feeding in the mud of Holy Island harbour, Pied Wagtails were, well, wagging their tails along the pebbly edge of the harbour, a flock of House Sparrows was engaged in stripping the seeds from grasses just above the tideline and House Martins and Swallows were sallying back and forth in search of insects in the warm autumn sunshine.  Flocks of waders in flight are a spectacle to rival any other and as we watched, and listened to, a group of Grey Seals that were hauled out on the sandbanks between the island and the mainland, the amorphous twisting turning shapes in the air high overhead resolved into flocks of Golden Plover and Bar-tailed Godwit.

The final part of the plan for the morning was a short session of seawatching.  Sandwich and Common Terns were diving close to the shore, Gannets were a bit further out and the sea was dotted with the dark shapes of EidersTurnstones were perched on the top of rocky outcrops, a Harbour Porpoise proved elusive as it surfaced to breathe and an Arctic Skua raced south before everyone could get on to it.  Obligingly it came back north, settled on the sea for a little while and then continued steadily north before breaking off into a aerobatic attack on a Sandwich Tern with another skua joining in as the tern twisted and turned in an attempt to evade the pirates of the sea as they attempted to rob it of it’s recent catch.

Lots of birds, lots of interesting wildlife behaviour to watch, and four clients who were all great fun to spend the morning with – if I ever suggest that I’m going to return to teaching, just point me in the direction of this blog post 🙂

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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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Looking for an angle

by on May.23, 2013, under Holy Island, Lindisfarne, Northumberland, Photography

Landscape photography is a bit of an oddity; unlike wildlife, landscapes tend to not move while you’re trying to photograph them (and if the landscape did start to move, I don’t think having to use a faster shutter speed would the greatest of your worries…).  Composition and light are the two factors that I always emphasise to clients on our landscape photography workshops and bespoke tuition sessions, and Tuesday afternoon gave me the opportunity to do that in one of Northumberland’s most iconic settings – the Holy Island of Lindisfarne.

I met up with Pat mid-afternoon and we headed towards the harbour.  Perhaps a cliched location but with so many boats, so many viewpoints and the ever-changing sky and lighting conditions, there was plenty of scope for playing with exposure, composition and shooting angle.  As Pat took a series of images using her own lens and a couple of mine too (12-24mm f4 and 105mm f2.8) I scouted out different compositions and shooting angles for her to experiment with.

Northumberland has so many iconic locations for landscape photography that you could visit a different location every day and never get bored or take the same image twice.  If you’re a relative beginner and want to learn how to use your camera equipment to the best of it’s ability, or a more experienced photographer and would like to explore Northumberland’s rich opportunities with a local guide, give us a call on 01670 827465 to see what we can do for you 🙂

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Lindisfarne Castle,Holy Island,Northumberland,landscape photography courses,landscape photography holidays,www.northernexperienceimages.co.uk

Lindisfarne Castle,Holy Island,Northumberland,landscape photography courses,landscape photography holidays,www.northernexperienceimages.co.uk

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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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Heading north…

by on Mar.15, 2012, under Birdwatching, Holy Island, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

Living in southeast Northumberland, we’re spoiled by having easy access to some outstanding birdwatching areas.  Holy Island, which we still think is at its best during the winter, is just an hour north up the A1…

I collected Keith and Mary on Saturday morning and we crossed the causeway onto the island for a day of birdwatching around the Northumberland Coast AONB.  Although we encountered wintering Pale-bellied Brent Geese, Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits and other waders and wildfowl, there was a definite spring feel to the day.  The weather was glorious (although a little breezy), and Skylarks could be heard high overhead.  Curlews were in full voice, Grey Herons were stalking through poolside vegetation, Grey Seals were hauled out at low tide and a steady stream of Gannets passed by offshore.  Early afternoon we headed back to the mainland and more waders and wildfowl, as well as a mixed flock of Yellowhammers, Reed Buntings, Linnets and Tree Sparrows (with the male Yellowhammers looking particularly stunning) before finishing in the shadow of Bamburgh Castle with roosting Oystercatchers, Redshanks and Purple Sandpipers, Eiders bobbing about in the surf and a mixed raft of Common Scoters and Slavonian Grebes diving repeatedly in the swell and really testing powers of concentration.

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