I arrived in Berwick to collect Juan and Erika from the railway station for their tour of Lindisfarne and the North Northumberland coast and a first for NEWT – clients from Argentina!
We headed down the coast in some unforecast rain and in the mighty shadow of Bamburgh Castle we watched Purple Sandpiper and Turnstone as they picked their way through the rocks within inches of the frothing surf. Common Eider, Common Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Guillemot and Puffin were all rising and falling in a deep swell and Kittiwakes were passing by as we set the telescope up on the side of the car that was sheltered from the wind and rain. Heading north we came across lots of Shelduck, Wigeon, Teal, Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit and Lapwing, as well as smaller numbers of Shoveler, Goosander and Common Redshank, and a lone Kestrel hanging motionless facing into the wind, then over on to Holy Island where the sky was blue, the clouds were white and fluffy and the wind was still howling…
Grey Seals were hauled out on the mud at low tide and as their mournful calls carried on the breeze across the island Skylarks were singing, tiny black dots against the sky, Meadow Pipits were song-flighting and there were at least 21 Roe Deer feeding in a remarkably dense herd. Red-breasted Merganser were having their crests ruffled by the wind, Pied Wagtails were searching for insects around the car park and panic rippled through the birds out on the mudflats. Grey Herons stalked through marshy edges, the eerie cries of Curlew drifted through the dunes and, as we made our way back across the causeway with the tide rising and the sun setting, Common Eider were displaying, Common Redshank and Pale-bellied Brent Geese were on the edge of the rising water and a Curlew decided to sit on the road right in front of us 🙂
Day 1. 19/02/17. I arrived at the Bamburgh Castle Inn for the start of our Winter Wonderland holiday, then met up with with Christine, John, Linda and Rosie in the bar and outlined the plan for the next two days while we enjoyed a fantastic meal.
Day 2. 20/02/17. Our first full day was targeting Lindisfarne and the North Northumberland coast. Stopping at Budle Bay on our way north we soon found a Spotted Redshank amongst the Common Redshank, Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler, Mallard, Oystercatcher, Shelduck and Curlew as Pink-footed and Greylag Geese and Lapwing swirled distantly against a leaden grey sky on a stiff breeze and Red-breasted Mergansers looked even more comical than usual with their tufts blown to odd angles. A heavy misty drizzle took hold, yet cleared within minutes, leaving a beautiful azure sky draped in fluffy white cloud. A Kestrel perched obligingly as we stopped along a hedgerow that was heaving with Chaffinches. As the receding tide cleared the Holy Island causeway, waders dropped in to feed along the edge of the recently exposed mud. Knot, Dunlin, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Turnstone and Bar-tailed Godwit were all close to the road and easily observable by using the car as a nice, sheltered, warm hide as Pale-bellied Brent Geese flew over us 🙂 Over on the island we found a mixed flock of Dark-bellied Brent Geese, Curlew and Lapwing. As an unseen threat spooked them and they lifted from the field, it was obvious that the number of birds present was far greater than we thought. Grey Seals were hauled out on the now visible sandbars and we headed back across to the mainland. Lunch overlooking the vast expanse of mud produced more geese and ducks, including Pintail, and a distant Little Stint in amongst a flock of Dunlin and Knot. A Merlin had spooked the Chaffinch flock as we headed back south and a quick stop at Bamburgh produced Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone, Ringed Plover and Eider but nothing on the sea in what the wind had whipped up into a frothing mess of whitecaps. The stiffening breeze was making viewing conditions awkward but the final stop of the afternoon brought Song Thrush, Long-tailed Tit, Greenfinch and Goldcrest before we headed back to Seahouses. Dinner was accompanied by a discussion of the plan for Tuesday, and a target list was quickly developed…
Day 3. 21/02/17. Tuesday saw us heading south towards Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. Our first target for the day was a species that’s scarce and often only offers fleeting views…Willow Tit is a regular visitor to the NEWT garden feeding station but I’d got a different site in mind and we enjoyed prolonged views of at least two of these gorgeous little birds, as well as a detailed discussion about how to separate them from Marsh Tit. Reed Bunting, Common Snipe and Common Buzzard joined the day list as an impressive flock of Lapwing and Golden Plover swirled against the sky as we headed off in search of our next target for the day. This one proved fairly straightforward and we had great views of both male and female Brambling. Little Grebe, Goldeneye and Common and Black-headed Gulls accompanied our lunch stop before we had excellent views of some very obliging Common Snipe, Bar-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Ruff, Tree Sparrow and Little Egret. Shorelark was the one target for the day that eluded us, as we had several flight views of a vocal flock of Twite while Ringed Plover were displaying on the beach, Sanderling were scurrying back and forth and a flock of Common Scoter were offshore with Red-throated Divers and Guillemot just beyond the breaking surf. A handsome male Stonechat flushed from bush to bush ahead of us as we walked along the path and the long-staying Pacific Diver eventually gave great views close to a Slavonian Grebe. There was one target species still remaining on the list for the day though, and I was sure that the last hour of daylight would bring that one for us. Scanning the edges of reedbeds through the telescope revealed a dark shape that hadn’t been there a few minutes earlier during my last scan of the reedbed, and that dark shape stretched and began loping along, still partly obscured by the reeds. Within a minute everyone had located the Otter as it moved quickly around the edge of the pool and then it vanished, only to appear in the water a few minutes later 🙂 We watched as it swam towards us before losing it from sight behind the near vegetation. After a few minutes of calm all of the Mute Swans were suddenly staring towards the bank right in front of us, and the Otter passed by just a few metres away 🙂 A great finish to our final full day in the field.
Day 4. 22/02/17. Departure day dawned dry, bright and with an icily cold breeze as we gathered for breakfast before all heading off our separate ways.
We’ll be adding 2017 and 2018 dates to our holiday page shortly but please do get in touch if you’ve got any questions about what we offer. Our short break holidays have a maximum of 6 participants, and a relaxed pace, and we’re always happy to create something bespoke too 🙂
Thursday was a trip I’d been looking forward to for several months…Sue’s 5th trip with NEWT was a day searching for and identifying wading birds. Some, like the Curlew with it’s eerie cry and long downcurved beak are straightforward, but others can be a bit trickier…
A field full of Oystercatcher and Lapwing close to the coast started the trip, and 30+ Whooper Swan in the same fields were a nice find. Down on to the Aln Estuary anad more Oystercatcher and Lapwing, along with Redshank, Curlew and a lone Woodcock which dived into cover after a presumably challenging journey across the North Sea. Vast flocks of Woodpigeon, Jackdaw, Rook and Pink-footed Goose darkened the sky close to the horizon and we headed up the coast. Smaller waders were soon in our sights, with Dunlin alongside Sanderling and Ringed Plover while Turnstone were busy turning stones, kelp and anything else that they thought might conceal something to eat and the plaintive calls of Grey Plover carried across the beach on the strengthening breeze. Along the shoreline Redshank were probing the mud alongside Bar-tailed Godwit and a lone Pink-footed Goose flew northwards, calling constantly. A stream of Blackbirds heading westwards marked an obvious arrival of migrants and a second Woodcock flew ‘in-off’ as we had lunch. Knot alongside Dunlin allowed a nice comparison of two species that can be tricky at a distance and vast flocks of Golden Plover and Bar-tailed Godwit resembled Starling murmurations as they wheeled and turned distantly between Holy Island and the mainland. Just offshore from the mud where the waders were feasting Common Eider and Red-throated Diver were riding the swell, a Great Northern Diver flew north, flotillas of Shag were diving, flocks of Wigeon, Teal and Pale-bellied Brent Goose were disturbed by the rising tide and, as light levels began dropping, Sue spotted two Little Egrets as they left the mud and headed towards a nighttime roost.
Before the end of the day, Sue had already booked her next trip with us – Kielder next March. There’ll be fewer waders, and less mud 🙂
Yesterday was Pete and Jan’s 9th trip with NEWT and we headed to a location that they haven’t visited with us previously…
Heading north from Embleton we soon encountered the first rain of the day, and by the time we reached the Holy Island causeway the mud and shallow water around the array of Redshank, Greenshank, Curlew, Dunlin and Bar-tailed Godwit was being battered by a fairly torrential shower. As the rain eased, everything scattered as a Peregrine flew over; a muscular menace above mudflats where Grey Seals were hauled out as the tide fell, and a dense flock of Golden Plover settled once the danger had passed. Once the rain eased, we headed across onto the island and began the entertaining game of hide-and-seek that characterises mid-October birdwatching on the coast with birds arriving from the east. Blackcap, Reed Bunting, Robin, Linnet, Stonechat and Meadow Pipit all appeared, vanished and reappeared as the air overhead was filled with calls of Lapwing, Curlew, Grey Plover and Skylark. Three Roe Deer were in a nearby field and a Firecrest put in an unobligingly fleeting appearance in one of many, many bushes that held Goldcrests. We eventually made our way to the north side of the island and joined the twitch of a very obliging Isabelline Wheatear. Every bush seemed to hold Robin and Goldcrest and, along the Straight Lonnen, Redwing, Song Thrush and Blackbird were feeding avidly and a very grey ‘eastern’ Goldcrest stood out from the more typical birds as a Ring Ouzel flew over before diving for cover in a hawthorn bush. After lunch, another bush full of ‘crests produced two Firecrests in view at the same time before we headed back across to the mainland.
Another great day out with Pete and Jan, and the weather forecast looks like it could bring even more arrivals from the east over the next few days 🙂
Northumberland is a sparsely populated county where it’s relatively easy to get away from it all and enjoy watching wildlife without the hustle and bustle of large numbers of other people…
I met up with Lynsey, Francis, Gregory and Thea in the main car park on Holy Island ahead of an afternoon mini-Safari around the island. The car park was busy, really busy, and there were lots of people walking to and from the village and the castle. There’s so much more to Holy Island than that though, and we set off along the Straight Lonnen and away from the crowds 🙂 Gannets were passing by offshore, Oystercatchers were roosting just above the tide line and Grey Herons were stalking through rockpools as Goosander swam rapidly past them with their heads submerged in a search for fish. Little Grebe, Moorhen, Coot, Mute Swan and Mallard were on The Lough and Curlew flew overhead. Viper’s Bugloss and Grass of Parnassus were still in flower as the sharp eyesight of Thea and Gregory brought hoverflies, bees, moths and Meadow Brown, Painted Lady and Small Tortoiseshell flicked back and forth across the path in front of us. Meadow Pipits appeared out of the grass and vanished almost as quickly and a Pheasant broke into a trot ahead of us. As the rising tide began to flood over Fenham Flats, the eerie moans of Grey Seals carried on the breeze and a dense swirling cloud of distant waders soon resolved into the familiar shape, and sound, of Golden Plover. As we returned to the car park, there were only half a dozen cars still there and the island was incredibly quiet as the rising tide had brought the usual mass departure 🙂
I met up with Malcolm and Jill and we headed across the causeway onto Holy Island, in conditions that looked slightly misty…
The simple song of a Reed Bunting echoed in the mist as the curious hypnotic ‘sharming’ of a Water Rail came from deep in the reeds. As the mist thickened, visibility dropped and we walked around the north of the island, where swathes of orchids added a splash of colour to the grey of the morning. Garden Tiger caterpillars trundled across the paths in front of us and tiny hoverflies settled on flower petals. The mist cleared, warm sunshine broke through the thin veil…and then it got even mistier 🙂 Roe Deer watched us from long vegetation before bounding away across the fields as we continued our exploration of the ground around our feet. Reed Buntings, Linnets, and Stonechats were perched atop hawthorn bushes as Skylarks sang from high overhead and Meadow Pipits parachuted back to ground in their display flight. With the tide falling and uncovering the road back to the mainland, and leaving Grey Seals hauled out on sandbars, we headed back towards the car through as Sandwich Terns suddenly appeared from the mist taking a shortcut over the island and back out to sea.
So much to see, whatever the weather 🙂
Thursday was a Lindisfarne Safari where we had the option of either staying on the island over the high tide period, or concentrating on the mainland sites in the Lindisfarne NNR…
I collected Stephen and Kate from The Swan, and we headed up the A1 to collect Gordon and Mandy for their 4th day out with NEWT. With a stiff chilly northerly breeze we decided that the mainland would be the better option, but we started on the Holy Island causeway. Knot were hunched against the wind on the mud as the rising tide approached, flocks of Dunlin flew just inches above the road and we had the opportunity to compare the size difference between Sandwich Tern and Little Tern as both species hovered obligingly close to each other over the South Low, diving into the water in pursuit of small fish. Curlew probed the mud on the periphery of the encroaching tide and Grey Seal were ‘bottling’ as they were lifted them from their low-tide haul outs by the water. The simple song of Reed Bunting carried on the breeze from their exposed perches on hawthorns and fence posts as ‘parachuting’ Meadow Pipits displayed nearby. Golden Plover were stunning in breeding plumage, and flocks of Ringed Plover were accompanied by Dunlin sporting the jet black bellies of the breeding season. Offshore, Eider were riding the impressive swell as Gannet and Fulmar soared on the wind, Common, Arctic and Sandwich Terns were plunging into the water, Shag and Cormorant flew by and lines of Puffin, Guillemot and Razorbill flew to and from the Farne Islands.
I can’t think of a species of bird that I don’t enjoy watching. Every last one of them has something special, but some just have more than others…
I collected Steve and Carrie from the Bamburgh Castle Inn and we headed north towards Lindisfarne. Starting with a walk along the Crooked Lonnen we’d soon found Spotted Flycatcher, Fieldfare and a stunning male Whinchat. Surely the rest of the island would be dripping with passage migrants? As it turned out that was pretty much it for migrants, but the rest of the day produced a wealth of great birds. The male Whinchat was a clear leader in my own personal bird of the day competition, but a plethora of Meadow Pipits and Skylarks were pretty impressive. Male Reed Buntings are always strikingly contrasty birds and Turnstone, Purple Sandpiper, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Red-breasted Merganser, Eider and Common Scoter are in really excellent condition at the moment. Lines of Gannets flying south were impressive and Sandwich Terns were plunge-diving right in front of us.
Then, as we were about to leave the island (after all, it wouldn’t do to get stranded by the incoming tide…) Carrie spotted a Short-eared Owl. I soon found a second one, as they hunted through the dunes, and the Whinchat had been unceremoniously kicked off the top step of the podium. I find it hard to think of any time that an owl wouldn’t be my bird of the day…and then we came across a couple of breeding-plumaged Grey Plovers 🙂
There’s a special quality to the winter; stark, icy landscapes filled with vast flocks of wintering birds grip the attention and leave you marvelling at the inhospitable conditions our winter wildlife contends with. We can wear a range of incredibly technical clothing, and head back to the car, or even indoors, if conditions deteriorate but wildlife just has to get on with surviving…
I arrived at Middleton to collect Lesley and Andrew, who were enjoying a week in Northumberland that included their wedding, for their second trip with NEWT (following a successful Otter Safari in May last year) and we headed towards Holy Island. As we walked out to The Lough, flocks of Pale-bellied and Dark-bellied Brent Geese flew in off the mudflats heading towards the flooded fields where we’ve seen them roosting and bathing over the last couple of weeks. The flooded fields were frozen fields though, and the geese circled over them before heading back out onto the mud. Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Gadwall, Goldeneye and Shoveler were all very skittish and we could even track the progress of whatever was disturbing them by their movements, although whatever it was remained unseen by us. Vast flocks of Golden Plover filled the air and Skylark song carried on the icy breeze. Back on the mainland the rising tide brought Curlew, Knot, Dunlin, Turnstone, Bar-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover and Common Redshank closer and closer to us. Then, as the encroaching tide lapped at their toes in the grass at the edge of the mudflats, 12 Skylark suddenly rose in front of us as a flock of Lesser Redpoll sat in bushes behind our viewing point.
Eider, Long-tailed Duck, Common Scoter, Red-breasted Merganser, Slavonian Grebe and Red-throated Diver were on the sea just beyond the rocks where Purple Sandpipers were engaging in their daily dance with the breaking surf and it was time to head back after an enjoyable day with clients who have a great love for Northumberland, and an extraordinary knowledge of great places to eat – we’ll be trying out their recommendations over the next month or so 🙂
Our Winter Wonderland holiday started on Sunday evening with Ben and Diane, and David, arriving at the Bamburgh Castle Inn.
Day One 22/02/16. Our first full day was around Lindisfarne and the North Northumberland coast and everything that makes the area so good in the winter put in an appearance. Purple Sandpiper, Oystercatcher, Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Common Redshank, Turnstone, Grey Plover, Golden Plover, Dunlin and Knot represented wading birds, Common Scoter, Eider, Red-breasted Merganser, Long-tailed Duck and Slavonian Grebe were just offshore, Grey Seal and at least 16 Roe Deer provided some mammal interest and there were lots and lots of geese. Pale-bellied Brent, Dark-bellied Brent, Pink-footed, Greylag and Barnacle filled the air, the fields and the mudflats as Skylarks sang and fought, heralding the arrival of spring 🙂
Day Two 23/02/16. Our second day was spent around NEWT’s local patch, Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. One of our favourite mammals was soon on the trip list as an Otter cub appeared from its hideaway in a pile of boulders and spent a little while feeding close by 🙂 The long-staying Long-billed Dowitcher joined the trip list too, feeding alongside Knot, Common Redshank and Bar-tailed Godwit and unexpected birds included Marsh Tit and Treecreeper. As the afternoon light faded, we watched a family group of Whooper Swans and a pair of Dippers sat almost motionless on a mid-stream rock as the water rushed around them and a Barn Owl was a welcome addition to the trip list just before an incredibly brief sleety shower reminded us that this is the winter 🙂
24/02/16. Departure day dawned bright, cold and encased in frost at the end of the holiday. Just the way the winter should be!