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 🙂
Sunday was a second day out for Edward and Isabel, although this time a bespoke trip. I collected them from Greycroft and we headed south. Brambling was the first target on our list for the day and an impressive flock was alongside Nuthatch, Chaffinch, Coal Tit and a male Siskin. Red Squirrel was another target species for the day, and we enjoyed prolonged views of one, as another male Brambling called from a treetop nearby and Goldfinches plundered a feeding station. Long-tailed Tits fed just above our heads and Fulmar found themselves in range of Edward’s camera as we had lunch overlooking the North Sea. Twite, Pied Wagtail and Sanderling on the beach were our first post-lunch stop and then we headed further north to our last site for the day, with a brief glimpse of a Stoat as it ran across the road in front of us.
Dusk often brings the best of the day and, as Whooper Swans swam across the reflection of the setting Sun, a Kingfisher dived from the reeds, a Water Rail flew between reedbeds, Grey Herons squabbled over prime feeding spots and the assembled wildfowl followed the progress of a Red Fox as it trotted along the bank. Once it was too dark to see anything in front of us we headed back to Alnwick.
Another great day out with clients who were really good company. It’s never really any other way 🙂
In glorious sunshine I arrived in Longframlington to collect Lisa and Lucy ahead of a day searching for Otters, Red Squirrels and Kingfishers around Druridge Bay and the Northumberland coast. I was greeted by Ridley, Lisa’s cockerpoo, and it was quickly decided that he would be joining us on the trip 🙂
Our first Otter site had an obvious area of water that the Mallard, Teal, Gadwall, Tufted Duck and Little Grebe were all avoiding, and Greylag Geese left in a bit of a hurry, but no sign of the sinuous predator we were searching for. A change to our usual picnic spot brought a brief glimpse of a female Merlin as she chased Lapwing and Wigeon, and then a Bittern flew between reedbeds. Red Squirrels were next on our planned route for the day and I had 20mins dog-sitting while Lisa and Lucy checked the edge of the trees that I suggested. Sure enough, they returned with photographs of Red Squirrel and we were on our way to the next Otter site 🙂 Through binoculars I could see dark shapes twisting and turning at the water’s surface and, with the additional magnification of our telescope, those shapes resolved into two Otter cubs in a play-fight 🙂 We went along to where they were, but by that time they were out of the water and running around on boulders and through the dense undergrowth before quickly vanishing.
We headed to our final Otter site to finish the day, and the weather was starting to deteriorate. As the breeze whistled in our ears, the temperature dropped so our breath was condensing into lingering clouds, a cold damp mist took hold over the water and Red-breasted Merganser and Goldeneye were displaying, Starling arrived to roost, foregoing the elegant ballet of the murmuration in favour of quickly finding shelter, the eerie cries of Curlew echoed across the pool and Lapwing formed a tight panicked flock as a Sparrowhawk flew low over the reeds, a Bittern flew by in the gloom and Little Grebe scattered as an Otter swam across in front of us, tucked in to the reed edge and sheltered from the breeze 🙂
Whatever the time of year, that final hour or so before it’s too dark to see any wildlife is invariably the best bit of the day…
I collected Gerry and Tracey from The Swan and we headed towards the coast for a day in search of Otters. Goldcrests, Long-tailed Tits and Robins provided noise and movement in the bushes, Teal, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Common Scoter, Wigeon, Gadwall and Little Grebe were dabbling and/or diving, Cormorant, Goosander and Red-breasted Merganser all emanated an air of sleek menace, Grey Heron and Little Egret stalked patiently along the edges of shallow pools where Black-tailed Godwits radiated elegance, Curlew probed for worms in grassy fields, Eider were just beyond the gently rolling surf as low sunlight illuminated the dunes to structures of extraordinary beauty and Carrion Crows harried a Common Buzzard as it flapped lazily over the coastal fields.
As the sun dipped towards the horizon, ducks and geese were silhouetted against a stunning orange reflection and an all-out assault on the senses began to build. First Starlings, just a few hundred intially, building to a murmuration of several thousand as wave after wave of birds arrived – some to join the swirling amorphous dark cloud overhead, others heading straight in to the reeds as they’d arrived too late to join the party. Water Rails screeched, squealed and chattered from the reeds nearby and Pink-footed Geese began arriving as Roe Deer grazed in the open as the cover of falling light levels provided them with a cloak of safety. A few dozen geese, noisily yapping as they adjusted their approach to be into the headwind ready for landing, became a few hundred, then a thousand or so, and eventually around 5000 with skeins arriving from south and north east. In front of us, the combination of sunset and dark cloud had left one sublime strip of orange light when Gerry said “what’s that just there?”. Sleek, sinuous and menacing, the Otter swam across the strip of light and out of sight from us, although the geese and ducks spent a good 5 minutes staring in the direction it had departed 🙂
As the clouds overhead cleared the darkening sky revealed some of it’s gems; first Arcturus, then the Summer Triangle (Deneb, Vega and Altair) and Mars before the familiar asterism of The Plough and, appropriately as it was accompanied by the remarkable calls of Whooper Swans, Cygnus. A great end to a fantastic day, searching for wildlife and discussing otters, squirrels, Pine Martens, rewilding and post-industrial landscapes with lovely clients 🙂
Wednesday brought a first for me – arriving at Church Point to collect Lucy, Jon, Hattie and Lily, the car park was completely full! That’s nice weather for you though…
We started our afternoon around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland with a search for Red Squirrel. With lots of people around it wasn’t entirely surprising that our quarry eluded us, but Chaffinch, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Goldfinch and Dunnock were all benefiting from the supply of free food as everyone tried to get to grips with the contact calls of Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler. Dragonflies were hawking around the tree tops and a range of insects finished up in our sample pot before being released back to the plants we’d taken them from. On to wetter habitats and an attempt to catch a Blue-tailed Damselfly ended comically when it flew from its perch and settled on my finger instead 🙂 Common Snipe, Curlew Sandpiper, Common Redshank, Ruff, Curlew and Lapwing were a nice little haul of waders and a calling Greenshank stayed out of sight as Little Egrets stalked along the water’s edge and Grey Herons tried to remain inconspicuous amongst the clumps of rush. I was called on to answer some tricky questions during the afternoon – “would a Grey Squirrel attack a person?” was slightly easier to answer than “what sort of cloud is that?” 😉
As often is the case, there was a discussion about best wildlife of the trip. Common Snipe and Cinnabar Moth caterpillar both got the seal of approval, although the vote did come before we were heading back down the coast and a Barn Owl was quartering the roadside fields. Death on silent wings, beautifully backlit by the later afternoon sun and the finale to Jon’s 40th birthday wildlife tour 🙂
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 🙂
We’ve always said that the best thing for spotting wildife is other wildlife, although the sharp eyes of younger humans could probably give them a run for their money…
I collected Gill from Alnwick, for her third trip with NEWT, and we headed to Bamburgh to collect Debbie, Roger, Joe and Ben. Our plan for the afternoon and evening was to search Druridge Bay and the Northumberland coast for Otters and other wildlife. Oystercatcher, Lapwing and Curlew quickly became the target for some digiscoping by Joe as five Little Egrets sat on the riverbank opposite and a brood of Goosander formed a menacing fleet crossing the river. Digibinning (yes, that is a real thing!) was then employed to capture images of a Great Crested Grebe and well-grown chick while the light was still reasonable, and we headed to our favourite dusk site. A Grey Heron stalked the shallows, catching lots of small fish and other unidentified prey, becoming another digibinning target, Mute Swans stalked serenely across the water, a Sedge Warbler flitted around in the reeds just in front of us and then Little Grebe, Mallard, Teal, Gadwall and Tufted Duck all fanned out from one reedbed giving the distinct impression that they’d rather be somewhere other than close to those reeds. Starlings flushed from their nighttime roost as a Grey Heron flew over and, as dusk began to take on a dark grey cloak, two young Tawny Owls flew out from a bush nearby, a Hedgehog trotted along in front of us and Noctule and pipistrelle bats could be seen and, with the aid of our bat detector, heard. The walk back to the car brought lots of wildlife and the benefit of Joe and Ben’s keen eyesight allowed us to avoid treading on slugs, snails, spiders and an incredible number of toadlets and froglets 🙂
As I collected Len and Jean from Middleton Hall, the bright warm sunshine suggested that summer had genuinely arrived 🙂
Heading down to the coast we explored a section of river that has produced regular Otter sightings. Hoverflies and bumblebees were exploring riverside flowers, a Scorpion Fly became the focus of Len’s lens and, as Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Chaffinch sang from nearby bushes, Mallards paddled along the river with their ducklings. A high-pitched mewing preceded the appearance of a Common Buzzard over a nearby hillside, twisting, turning and soaring in the rising heat as Black-headed Gulls drifted in and out of view dipping towards the river before climbing again.
The buzz of insects on a warm summer morning, is there anything that epitomises June any more than that 🙂
Friday was Tony’s third, and final, day of bespoke birdwatching with NEWT and we headed north in similar weather to Thursday…
Travelling north, Roe Deer seemed unsure which way to run across the road so dodged back and forth in front of us. On the rising tide, Little Egrets, Bar-tailed Godwits, Curlew, Dunlin, Redshank and Oystercatcher were hunting along the water’s edge, Pale-bellied Brent Geese were leapfrogging north, Pink-footed Geese flew south high overhead as the ‘choo-it’ calls of a Spotted Redshank and eerie moaning of Grey Seals cut through the tranquil air. A Common Buzzard was perched on a telegraph pole and the rising tide brought more birds towards us, Herring, Common, Black-headed, Great Black-backed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Ruff, Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover, Wigeon, Goosander, Mallard and Teal were more obliging than distant swirling flocks of Lapwing and Barnacle Goose and a noisy tribe of Long-tailed Tits moved through the trees behind us. Lunch at Stag Rocks produced Common Eider, Guillemot, Gannet, Red-throated Diver, Turnstone, Purple Sandpiper and Shag, then Greenshank and Shoveler were soon added to the day list as we continued south down the coast. Panic amongst Herring Gulls and Cormorants revealed a Grey Seal swimming along the River Coquet and Great Crested Grebe and Goldeneye were the final new birds for Tony’s holiday as a juvenile Marsh Harrier flew by and Greylag and Pink-footed Geese began arriving at their overnight roost.
October is a fantastic month to be out birdwatching on the Northumberland coast. If we haven’t had the mist, drizzle and easterly winds to shower us with migrants, there’s always a wealth of wintering and passage waders and wildfowl to enjoy…
I collected Alison, Jon, Sally and Andrew from Tughall and we set out for a day on the coast. Alison and Jon had been out with us two years ago, on a day that featured a stuffed badger in the back of a police car! Heading north towards Lindisfarne we soon came across Greenshank, Redshank, Ruff, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit and Little Egret by the roadside. Then it was the turn of wildfowl to take centre stage; Teal, Wigeon, Shelduck and Greylag, Pink-footed, Barnacle and Pale-bellied Brent Geese. Bar-tailed Godwit and Curlew were probing the mud along the shore line as a Red-throated Diver sat serenely just offshore and the moaning wails of Grey Seals drifted across the low-tide mud. Back to Tughall for lunch and then we were away again, this time heading south towards Druridge Bay. In sublime light, but with an ever strengthening breeze, a Little Egret seemed to glow as it’s breast feathers were fanned out into an impressive ruff by the wind. Little Grebes just got on with being as cute as ever, Grey Herons stalked along the water’s edge, occasionally breaking off to dispute feeding locations and Gadwall, Mallard, Teal, Wigeon and Tufted Duck were all resplendent in the sunshine. A great day out, and no dead wildlife was stroked, fondled or petted 🙂