Lindisfarne

Arrivals; Holy Island bespoke birdwatching 20/10/16

by on Oct.21, 2016, under Lindisfarne

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 🙂

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Avoiding the crowds; Lindisfarne mini-Safari 23/08/16

by on Aug.26, 2016, under Holy Island, Lindisfarne, Northumberland Coast

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 🙂

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Mini-beasts in the mist; Lindisfarne Safari 14/06/16

by on Jun.16, 2016, under Lindisfarne

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 🙂

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When the north wind blows; Lindisfarne Safari 02/06/16

by on Jun.07, 2016, under Holy Island, Lindisfarne

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.

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Bird of the Day; Lindisfarne Safari 10/05/16

by on May.13, 2016, under Lindisfarne

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 🙂

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Winter’s Icy Grip; Bespoke Lindisfarne Safari 25/02/2016

by on Mar.02, 2016, under Lindisfarne

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 🙂

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Winter Wonderland 21-24/02/2016

by on Mar.01, 2016, under Druridge Bay, Lindisfarne

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 geesePale-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!

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The hunter, hunted; Lindisfarne Safari 19/02/2016

by on Mar.01, 2016, under Lindisfarne

Our second successive day on and around Lindisfarne was accompanied by an incredibly stiff breeze, which contributed to a fascinating encounter…

I collected Andy, Jill and Catherine from The Swan and we collected Alison en route to the north of the county.  Waiting for the tide to clear from the causeway, we spent the first part of the day on the mainland.  Bar-tailed Godwit, Oystercatcher, Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone, Curlew, Common Redshank and Knot were all close to the edge of the breaking surf as Long-tailed Duck, Common Scoter, Eider, Razorbill and Slavonian Grebe braved the icy bite of the wind out on the exposed sea.  Teal, Wigeon, Pale-bellied Brent Geese and Dark-bellied Brent Geese grazed on the newly-exposed areas of mudflat as the tide fell and a stunningly handsome drake Pintail flew by.  Grey Seals hauled out on exposed sandbars and, over on the island, we watched a Kestrel, holding position in the breeze, as another raptor found itself in a bit of difficulty…

Between the island and the mainland, a Sparrowhawk was beating a desperate path into the wind.  Struggling to make headway, its task was made all the more difficult by the attention of a Herring Gull.  Exposed, and really not in its element, the Sparrowhawk was driven back by the wind as the mob of gulls began growing.  Time and again it flew towards the mainland only to be brought almost to a standstill by the breeze and harassed by the gulls into turning back towards the island.  Eventually it dropped towards the sea before accelerating across the gap, just a few feet above the deadly waves, and was lost from sight as it neared the relative sanctuary of the mainland.  If there’s a rule when watching wildlife it should be ‘expect the unexpected’ 🙂

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Bottling; Bespoke Lindisfarne Safari 18/02/2016

by on Mar.01, 2016, under Lindisfarne

Pat and Jenny’s second day out with NEWT was to a location that really comes into it’s own during the winter…

Bar-tailed Godwit, Purple Sandpiper, Oystercatcher, Grey Plover, Common Redshank and Turnstone were all showing well on the rocks below us and I started scanning just beyond the bay, and there were 7 Bottlenose Dolphins heading south 🙂  One of them was an incredibly distinctive animal that we first encountered in Northumberland last winter and this latest sighting will be added to our database of dolphins re-sighted close to our shores.  Heading across to Holy Island dense flocks of Golden Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit, Dunlin and Knot filled the air and we enjoyed views of both Dark-bellied and Pale-bellied Brent Geese as well as Greylag, Pink-footed and Barnacle GeeseSkylarks put in an appearance too, always a nice bird to see as they’re scarce in Northumberland during the winter, and then potentially the bird of the day remained unidentified as a distant ‘ringtail’ harrier made a brief appearance in the dunes on the north side of the island before disappearing from view.  The one that got away…

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“Just the day I needed”; Lindisfarne birdwatching 03/11/2015

by on Nov.06, 2015, under Lindisfarne

Losing yourself in the landscape and the wildlife that inhabits it is sometimes just what you need…

I collected Sue from her holiday cottage in Swarland and we headed north towards Holy Island.  The weather had been a mixed bag as I drove across; mist, fog, clear blue skies, sunshine, more mist, more fog.  This was Sue’s third day out with NEWT, after a successful Otter Safari nearly a year ago (and an unsuccessful one in July last year).  Yet again the weather played a pivotal role in the day’s proceedings, with visibility down to less than 100m at times.  Holy Island was awash with Blackbirds, Chaffinches, Goldfinches and Wrens – all quite approachable as they fed in the mist – and two Chiffchaffs led us a merry dance before finally settling for a few seconds and letting us identify them..  Our lunch stop brought a very obliging Merlin within reach of our binoculars, and then right in front of our eyes and over our heads chasing a Meadow Pipit, as the disembodied voices of Curlew, Wigeon, Shelduck and Pale-bellied Brent Geese cut through the mist.  A Short-eared Owl ghosted along the dunes and into the mist and, with visibility hampered to such an extent, I’d got a plan for the last few hours of the afternoon…and as seven Little Egrets dashed and darted in the shallows, we watched a young female Otter with two cubs as they fed just a few metres away from us.  I love watching wildlife, whatever the weather, but the best bit of the day for me was when I dropped Sue back at Swarland and she said “that was just the day I needed”.

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