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
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.
Standing on the Heugh on Holy Island with Jill and Steve, we’re all scanning towards Guile Point. Cormorants, Shags, Red-breasted Mergansers and Eider are all bobbing about on the water, Pale-bellied and Dark-bellied Brent Geese, Bar-tailed Godwits, Grey Plover, Curlew and Oystercatchers are flying by, Common and Grey Seals are splashing in the surf as the tide falls…and I’m focused on the sea with one species in mind. Then 2 distant white dots, gradually narrowing the gap toward us, and I know I’ve achieved that primary target. Soon, I’ve got 2 very happy clients watching an immaculate drake Long-tailed Duck. Outrageously attractive, he waved that eponymous tail in the air before taking off and vanishing out of sight around the headland.
At the other end of the day we watched a flock of 20 Slavonian Grebes and a similar number of Common Scoter, another 6 Long-tailed Ducks, an elusive Black-throated Diver and 3 equally elusive Red-throated Divers and 2 Harbour Porpoises as the light faded to the point where even the impressive assembly of optical equipment wasn’t offering an advantage any more.
Sandwiched in between though, was a veritable feast of raptors; we’d already had a couple of Common Buzzards (and I’d had 2 on the drive to Hauxley before collecting Jill and Steve), 2 Sparrowhawks and several Kestrels by lunchtime, but the best was yet to come. First a Merlin perched on a post in front of us for 10 minutes, then we found 2 Peregrines sitting on boulders at low tide. Soon a wave of panic spread through the assembled waders, and the Barnacle, Greylag, Pink-footed and White-fronted Geese, as the 2 Peregrines swooped back and forth. Then, our second Merlin of the day began harrassing one of the Peregrines. As chaos raged across the mudflats, one of the Peregrines made a kill; an unfortunate Redshank. It took it’s prize to a rock and began plucking it…and 2 more Peregrines arrived! All 3 tussled over the spoils of the hunt, before 2 of them conceded and sat a little distance away. A dry, cold wintry day and spectacular drama played out by some excellent wildlife. The Northumberland coast in the winter – there’s nothing better
Just as I arrived at Harkess Rocks to collect Andy and Helen for an afternoon of birdwatching around the Holy Island of Lindisfarne and the North Northumberland coast, the first drops of sleety rain began splattering on the windscreen. We haven’t really had any sort of winter yet, apart from an hour of snow on December 16th, but yesterday afternoon did feel positively chilly. Undaunted by the easterly wind and icy showers we enjoyed the wader and wildfowl spectacle that is the Northumberland coast in the winter. Curlews singing as they flew by must have a joie de vivre that lets them vent that emotional haunting call wherever they may be. Other wading birds entertained as they probed, prodded and buried their bills face-deep in the mud; Grey Plovers, Bar-tailed Godwits, Redshanks and Oystercatchers were all making the most of the exposed mud at low tide. A big flock of Yellowhammers, Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Goldfinches, Tree Sparrows, House Sparrows and Reed Buntings held our attention for a good while and wildfowl were well represented with Shelduck, Eider, Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Goosander and Pintail. As we watched a very obliging Dark-bellied Brent Goose, it was a sobering thought that our wintering birds are generally here because conditions in the areas where they breed are too harsh at this time of the year. Mammals were braving the cold too; 7 Roe Deer, a Brown Hare and 5 Common Seals made a not too shabby mammal list for the afternoon.
I often reflect on my decision to return to Northumberland from Arizona, and as we watched that lone Brent Goose, with the biting wind driving waves of showery rain, were my thoughts of the warmth and sunshine of Tucson? No, what I was thinking was that this is the weather I came home for…and the reason that good outdoor clothing is a necessity
by martin on May.29, 2011, under Bamburgh Castle, Birdwatching, Cheviots, Druridge Bay, Farne Islands, Holy Island, Lindisfarne, North Sea, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast, Southeast Northumberland
We’ve just finished what has almost certainly been our hardest week since we started NEWT; organising and guiding a 7-night Northumberland birdwatching holiday for no less than 18 clients.
The Bamburgh Castle Inn was our accommodation base for the week and the upstairs conservatory, with it’s excellent views over the harbour, Farne Islands and Bamburgh Castle, was reserved for our dinner each night of the holiday. Many, many thanks to Sean and his team for the entire week
The unseasonal high winds weren’t going to get the better of us, and our original itinerary for the week was shuffled/re-jigged/abandoned as we took some calculated risks to ensure that our planned boat trips to the Farne Islands and Coquet Island both went ahead. They did, and we’re eternally grateful to Billy Shiel’s Farne Island Boat Trips and Dave Gray’s Puffin Cruises for the incredibly professional way that they handled our clients.
I asked the group for their highlight of the week…and got a lot of answers; A mixed flock of waders, resplendent in breeding plumage, along the coastline of Druridge Bay. An Otter, lazily fishing in a coastal pool. Sailing around Coquet Island as the sky darkened and all of the terns flushed from the island when the RSPB warden walked up the slipway. A pair of very pink Roseate Terns mating. Walking through the dunes at Newton in the howling gales of Monday afternoon. Staple Island and Inner Farne. Red Grouse wandering through the heather on our day in the Cheviots.
All too soon, the week was over and I led a brief foray into the North Pennines for a few of the group as they headed south. There, in the driving rain and howling gale, a Black Grouse sat hunched in the bracken – looking even more annoyed than they usually do
The week wouldn’t have run so well without the quality of service from all of the other companies we worked with, but I want to say a massive thank you to Sarah. Client care, liaison with suppliers, running the NEWT office for the week and realising what I was going to ask before I had even asked it were all taken in her stride and made the week work. Thank You
We’re already dealing with enquiries for group holidays in May 2012, so get in touch to find out what we can offer you and your group; whatever time of the year, whatever the size of your group…
As the start of the main season approaches, it’s been a busy few weeks for NEWT. I attended the latest Netgain meeting, as this important part of the North Sea Marine Conservation Zones project nears its conclusion, plans are developing for the Birdwatching Northumberland stand at this year’s British Birdwatching Fair, Tourism fairs/leaflet distribution days gave us a chance to catch up with a lot of the accommodation providers we work with, final preparations are in hand for a big group holiday we’re running in May and 2 smaller holidays in July, and days out with clients are increasing in frequency.
Yesterday we had a Lindisfarne Safari; Pale-bellied Brent Geese, Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits, Grey Plover, Wigeon, Teal, Golden Plover and Dunlin were still around in good numbers, Skylarks and Meadow Pipits were singing literally everywhere that we walked, and Long-tailed Ducks were displaying their breeding finery. When discussing bird songs and calls with clients, I always mention The Sound Approach, which I’ve always found to be such an inspirational book, so was really pleased to learn that Brenda has a copy of the book, and an interest in how different people describe the same bird sounds.
At the end of a really enjoyable trip, I made the long drive to Otterburn Mill for a meeting with the Chair’s of some of Northumberland’s other tourism associations. Some strong, and often conflicting, views were expressed but we all agreed that what is best for Northumberland is for us all to move in the same direction. So we will…
After enjoying an all too brief view of the ‘super Moon’ on Saturday as I drove eastwards across Northumberland on my way home from the North Pennines, we’d got something completely different in the booking diary for Sunday; guided birdwatching on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. Having Sarah along as an additional guide was a real bonus as well.
Gillian and Roger are existing clients, and this time we’d got other members of the family along as well – Roddy, Lucy and Alec. We’ve done plenty of family trips with young children, but a request to see “Seals, Lions and Tigers” from a 2-year old was a new experience for us! We managed one of those three
Black-tailed Godwit (a stunning bird, well on it’s way to breeding plumage), Pale-bellied and Dark-bellied Brent Geese, Oystercatchers, Bar-tailed Godwits, Red-breasted Mergansers and Long-tailed Ducks were all well appreciated. Gillian picked out a tiny dark dot, high overhead, as a Skylark sang his evocative melody, and Roger spotted a Goldcrest, with a very very gold crest, as we ascended The Heugh. 18 Whooper Swans flew over the island, accompanied by a single Bewick’s Swan. With that species so scarce in Northumberland during the winter, we wondered if it was the same bird that we first found, a few miles down the coast, in late December. All too soon, it was time to return the family to the starting point of the tour and make our way down the Northumberland coast, along Druridge Bay and back to the office.
It wasn’t a relaxing afternoon for the birds in Budle Bay yesterday, as a juvenile Peregrine worked it’s way back and forth, causing havoc as it went through. Further north, and looking towards Holy Island from the mainland, flocks of Wigeon and Pale-bellied Brent Geese were moving as the tide fell, and Redshank, Dunlin and Grey Plover all took advantage of the newly exposed mud. A Common Buzzard perched in a hawthorn hedge at the roadside flushed as we approached but then hovered lazily over the fields.
Looking the opposite way, from Holy Island back towards the mainland, dark steel grey clouds on the horizon were outlined in gold by the setting sun, Bar-tailed Godwits were feeding along the water’s edge and a quite stunning aural backdrop was provided by Grey Seals. As the sun slipped out of sight, Grey Herons became inky black silhouettes against the shimmering golden reflection of the sky and the air was filled first with the plaintive calls of Grey Plover and then with the high yapping of Pink-footed Geese. Skein after skein rose from the dark backdrop of the clouds on the horizon, appearing like swarms of bees against the dying embers of the day’s light. A Little Egret flapped by, a ghostly white heron vanishing into the night. Then, a grand finale to the afternoon’s birdwatching as the sky darkened, revealing a stunning array of stars, and the dark shapes of more Pink-footed Geese passed overhead, briefly cloaking the pin-points of light. Relaxing, sublime, awe-inspiring…
We had back-to back birdwatching trips earlier this week, covering two of our favourite areas.
On Tuesday afternoon I collected Keith and Jen from home in Monkseaton and we headed northwards up the Northumberland coast. Our destination was the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, one of the birding hot-spots of the entire country. The strong winds were the only downside to the afternoon, but the birdwatching was good. After checking out a large group of Grey Seals we covered the area around the harbour and the Rocket Field. Bar-tailed Godwits, Common Redshank and lots of Ringed Plover were along the shoreline and a delightful charm of Goldfinches were around the Heugh. A distant group of Lapwings, Starlings and Golden Plover took to the air and the cause of their alarm was glimpsed briefly, although too briefly and too distant to make a positive ID. Holy Island birdwatching stalwart Ian Kerr put us on to a Little Stint and, as we headed back through the village, groups of Golden Plover passed overhead. Re-tracing our route back down the coast and checking the Budle Bay on the rising tide, we were just discussing the indications of the presence of predators when a huge number of birds lifted from the mud. As well as the gulls and waders, Jackdaws, Rooks and Woodpigeons joined the throng as they came out of adjacent fields and trees. This time the culprit was seen and identified; a Peregrine, that most majestic of raptors and one of the highlights of any birdwatching day on the Northumberland coast in the autumn and winter. A quick seawatch produced Sandwich Terns feeding, and Gannets soaring effortlessly on the breeze.
Wednesday was a full day out around Druridge Bay and Southeast Northumberland. I collected Jayne and Andrew from Seahouses, and then Hilary and John from Alnmouth, before beginning our tour of some of the best birdwatching spots in our local area. While we were watching Lapwings, Redshanks, Greenshanks, Ruff, Herons and Cormorants on the River Wansbeck I could hear a rough ’sreee’ call from high overhead. The strong breeze meant that it wasn’t straightforward to locate the bird, but eventually I picked it out. It was an unfamiliar call, but a familiar species; a juvenile Common Cuckoo. The walk back along the river produced a nice flock of Long-tailed Tits. After lunch we stopped off at Cresswell Pond. Hilary and John mentioned that they’d visited Cresswell once before – when they noticed a large group of birders and stopped, managing to see a Buff-breasted Sandpiper.With luck like that, we joked about what this visit could produce...
When we arrived at the hide, Jaybee mentioned that he’d had a juvenile Sandwich Tern. I scanned the pond but couldn’t see the tern anywhere and we settled to enjoying the quite remarkable views of Common Snipe that were available. After checking through the assembled ducks, gulls and waders I scanned across the pond again and spotted a tern dip-feeding near the causeway. The bird’s behaviour, combined with it’s very dark back, white rump and silver-grey wings caused me to get rather excited. White-winged Black Tern is a very special bird, and a personal highlight as it’s the third Chlidonias tern that I’ve found in Northumberland. Whiskered Tern is very rare and Black Tern is always a nice bird to see but White-winged Black Tern is such a beautiful species. Jaybee kindly sent me some images to useAs other birders began to arrive to enjoy the fruit of our good fortune we continued up the coast. Eiders and a Goosander, as well as some very obliging Grey Herons, were seen as we stopped by the River Coquet. A superb couple of day’s birdwatching, a beautiful rarity and clients who were excellent company.
There are times in the winter when I’m mainly office-based and what I really look forward to, during what often seem like interminably long days, is the arrival of the Spring and increasing numbers of ‘client days’.
On Tuesday morning I headed to Newbiggin to collect John and Christine, clients from last year’s Beginners Birdwatching ‘Seabirds and Waders’, who were back in Northumberland for a birdwatching morning in Druridge Bay. The weather was erratic to say the least, with bright warm sunshine, a bitterly cold northeasterly wind, sleet and even snow it was a morning to be wrapped up warm. The birding was as excellent as we would expect in mid-May; the morning’s highlights included a male Ruff in full breeding plumage, eight elegant beautiful Black-tailed Godwits, a pair of Garganey and some incredibly close views of Whitethroats as they warbled their scratchy song from hedgerows, trees and telegraph poles.
This morning brought something completely different; a Lindisfarne Safari with our first Spanish clients. Alfredo and Nieves had managed to get across from Ibiza, despite the disruption caused by the Icelandic volcano, and were looking forward to a day birdwatching on Holy Island and the north Northumberland coast. The weather was changeable again but, as yesterday, we stayed dry. A flock of 80 Ringed Plover on Holy Island were very vocal as they repeatedly flew overhead, 2 Little Egrets in Budle Bay flew by calling and a Little Gull and a White Wagtail at Monk’s House Pool were both nice surprise finds. Eventually we found ourselves bathed in warm sunshine as pairs of Arctic Terns displayed high overhead against the azure sky and, looking inland, we could still see a lingering snowfield on the Cheviot. Alfredo and Nieves both have a broad, and quite detailed knowledge of natural history, and Alfredo is a keen, and skilful, photographer. I only have a very limited grasp of Spanish but through a combination of Spanish, English, Latin and a shared love of natural history and photography, any language barriers were easily transcended.
We’ve got Northumberland birdwatching tours for the rest of the week and then on Saturday it’ll be time to chill out with a glass of wine, a BBQ and our National Moth Night event at Lee Moor Farm, near Alnwick. All are welcome, so give us a call on 01670 827465 if you would like to come along for an evening of wildlife watching fun, suitable for young or old, beginner or expert.