Southeast Northumberland

Owling; Bespoke Otter Safari 14/06/17

by on Jun.19, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

There are days when our quarry evades us, but even then there’s usually something good that comes along anyway…

I collected Marg and Rob from Alnwick and we headed southeast towards Druridge Bay for an afternoon and evening searching our favourite spots for Otters.  A Roebuck and a Roe doe were peering at us from deep grass and Great Crested Grebes were elegantly serene and just quite stunning.  Cormorants were resting or drying off after fishing, wings outstretched like heraldic black dragons.  A mini-murmuration of Starlings was a long way from the huge flocks we’ll be watching by the end of the year, but impressive nonetheless.  As dusk approached we found ourselves watching a hunting Barn Owl as it passed by on silent wings before plunging into the grass in search of a hapless rodent as Cuckoos were pursued by angry Meadow Pipits from bush to bush along the dunes and the light faded, as it always does, to unmanageable…

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Lazy days; Otter Safari 25/05/17

by on May.26, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

I’m meticulous about checking the car before a day out with NEWT’s clients.  Oil, air, water, screen wash, tyre pressures.. All checked and adjusted as necessary, at least one hour before I set off from the office.  I went through that routine yesterday, before heading to Newbiggin to collect Carl and Joanne for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.

All was fine…until I was less than 100m from our drive and the car suffered a puncture 🙁  Luckily the fantastic Stakeford Tyre Services is between our house and Newbiggin and the car was soon sporting a new tyre and we were underway…only to be hit from behind by another car just a couple of minutes after we’d left Newbiggin 🙁  I couldn’t see any damage to the back of our car so we headed on.  Orange-tip and Green-veined White butterflies were busy in the warm sunshine, Mallard and Shelduck were shepherding ducklings, Sand Martin, House Martin, Swallow and Swift were harvesting a dense hatch of flying insects and Sedge Warbler, Blackcap, Reed Warbler and Whitethroat were singing from hidden perches.

Our picnic spot was beside a rock pool, with the warm sunshine, flat calm blue sea and lack of people on the beach giving it almost an ‘island feel’ as a dense flock of Herrring Gull and Gannet wheeled around offshore.  Then all of the birds started circling with intent…and below them were 4 Bottlenose Dolphins 🙂  After the dolphins moved around the headland and out of sight we continued on our way.  It’s May but the evening light is still sublime, and the sunshine picked out Mute Swans and Grey Heron against the subtle hues of everything else around as the peace and quiet was disturbed briefly by an altercation between a Coot and a Moorhen.  Towards dusk a Roe Deer was in a distant field and as we headed back towards Newbiggin a Barn Owl flew across the road ahead of us 🙂

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May magic; Otter Safari 09/05/17

by on May.10, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

After a week away from home, leading a wildlife photography holiday for another company, I was looking forward to getting back to all things NEWT and as I collected Mike and Barbara from Low Newton, ahead of an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay searching for Otters, I was thinking that the afternoon sunshine was maybe just a bit too bright and hot but that the evening could be good…

Whitethroats, Sedge Warblers and Blackcaps were all singing, and occasionally affording brief glimpses, and a male Bullfinch was equally stunning in the few seconds that he perched at the top of a small tree.  Little Egrets and Grey Herons were hunting in the shallows, Shelduck, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Shoveler, Teal and Gadwall were all feeding and a Lesser Whitethroat was a nice addition to the trip list.  Lapwing were displaying and Avocets were sitting on nests and occasionally getting up to rearrange their precious contents as the Sun headed westwards.

Then the waders took centre stage; a male Ruff, coming into his breeding finery, Black-tailed Godwits (and single Bar-tailed), noisy Curlew and a Whimbrel flew right overhead uttering it’s distinctive call as Lapwings were tumbling and calling and at least 20 Common Snipe took flight.  Male Stonechat, male Reed Bunting and dapper Tree Sparrows, all excellent attractive birds, still paled when compared to at least 7 Yellow Wagtails, including an exquisitely beautiful Channel Wagtail (perhaps should be known as Chanel Wagtail!), which were in a feeding flock with both Pied and White Wagtails.  A real bonus bird came in the form of a Long-eared Owl, hunting masterfully in and around the bushes it passed by just 20m in front of us at one point! A male Marsh Harrier was another great bird for the trip and he engaged in an overly optimistic attempt to chase and catch a Black-headed Gull in flight 😉

As the Sun dropped lower the light was simply sublime and we settled into position at our final site for the evening.  Canada and Greylag Geese were incubating, a Grey Heron took a Mallard duckling and swallowed it whole right in front of us as the agitated parents called in vain before returning to protect their one remaining offspring.  A small group of Black-headed Gulls caught my attention, circling persistently as Swallows, Sand Martins, House Martins and Swifts swirled around and feasted on the bounteous hatch of flying insects that the warm weather had brought.  There, directly beneath the gulls was an Otter 🙂  We watched it’s progress along the shadowy water near the reeds and a couple of times it got out and bounded along the bankside.  A second Otter was also given away by the bright trail of its wake, as the swifts and hirundines were replaced by the insectivorous night shift of Pipistrelle and Noctule Bats, and by the time we headed back to the car the Moon and Jupiter were both shining brightly in the darkening sky.  Through the ‘scope the quality of seeing was extraordinary; without any atmospheric turbulence Jupiter was a perfect disc, the Galilean moons were pinpoints of light surrounding it and the craters of the Moon were impressive at 60x magnification.

Wonderful wagtails, stunning waders, Otters and astronomy; that’s a lot of quality packed into one afternoon and evening 🙂

Druridge Bay and Otter Safaris are available all year round, so have a look at our calendar for available dates and get in touch to see what we can do for you.  If there isn’t date that’s good for you, still get in touch – we’re always happy to add additional trips to our calendar!

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Racing the weather; Bespoke Otter Safari 27/02/17

by on Feb.28, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

I arrived at Church Point, to collect Clive, Val, Nicola and Mark ahead of a day searching for Otters around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland, knowing that if the weather forecast was accurate our usual dusk sightings of these elusive predators would be in jeopardy…

I’d planned the day so that we’d be at exposed locations in the nicer weather of the morning and early afternoon and then with plenty of options to shelter from the forecast rain, wind and falling temperatures later in the day.  Our first site for the day wasn’t looking promising – lots of disturbance tends to not make for good otter spotting.  Little Grebe, Cormorant, Curlew, Mallard, Tufted Duck and Goldeneye were all apparently unmenaced by any rampaging mustelids so I started a systematic search of the most likely spots…and there was an Otter cub, out of the water and munching happily on a fish 🙂  We watched it as it returned to hunting and then it vanished, only to reappear a few minutes later alongside a second Otter 🙂  With two photographers amongst the group the next 2 hours passed in a whirr of clicking shutters as the Otters dived, surfaced, fed, clambered around on boulders and eventually vanished from sight.

After lunch, we had close views of the long-staying Shorelarks, feeding with a flock of Ringed Plover, and a more distant view of the Pacific Diver, more Goldeneye, Mallard and Tufted Duck as well as Great Crested Grebe, Little Egret, Scaup, Lapwing, Grey Heron, Gadwall, Red-breasted Merganser and an impressive flock of Pink-footed Geese, with at least 12 White-fronted Geese scattered amongst them.  By the time the heavy rain arrived, driven by a cold westerly wind, we were back in the car and returning to Newbiggin.  Timing is everything 😉

If you’d like to join us in a search for Otters, please do get in touch.  Here’s a cub from 2 years ago 🙂

Eurasian Otter,Lutra lutra,Northumberland,otter watching,otter safari,otter photography workshops

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Northumberland in the win(d)ter; Winter Wonderland holiday 19-22/02/17

by on Feb.23, 2017, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Grey Seal, Lindisfarne, Northumberland Coast, Otter, Southeast Northumberland

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 TitReed 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 BramblingLittle 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 EgretShorelark 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 🙂

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“Keith Chegwin did what?”; Otter Safari 07/02/17

by on Feb.10, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

Watching wildlife tends to involve also having to spend some time waiting for it to appear, and conversations are occasionally slightly surreal…

I collected Jo and Crawford from Eshott ahead of a day searching for Otters around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  Heavy overnight rain had cleared but the roads were liberally strewn with deep puddles as we headed to the coast.  Crawford has spent a lot of time watching and photographing Otters in Shetland and it was great to compare observations, and discuss photography, as we scanned the water looking for any sign of the elusive predator.  Little Grebe, Goldeneye and Mute Swan all appeared unmolested, then I noticed three Mallard swimming slightly faster than all of the other ducks…and there was an Otter twisting and turning, surfacing to crunch whatever it had just caught before submerging again 🙂  We watched it for a little while but it was moving away from us so we moved along to a section of bank closer to where we’d last seen it.  Better views there, and then another shift of position saw us on the water’s edge, with the Otter performing around 20m in front of Crawford’s camera.  Our encounter lasted nearly an hour, and included several ‘porpoising’ dives with the Otter leaping almost completely clear of the water and diving near vertically.

The cold and damp of the afternoon brought views of a very obliging White-fronted Goose and, approaching dusk, Lapwing and Curlew called as Starlings hurried to roost and a Barn Owl ghosted by.  Wildlife presenters featured in a very entertaining discussion which led on to game shows and the revelation that Keith Chegwin – that’s right the cherub-faced star of Multi-coloured Swap Shop, Cheggers Plays Pop and Saturday Superstore – had once presented a game show naked.  Now two of us thought this unlikely, but a quick search on Google confirmed that Crawford wasn’t imagining it and that Cheggers had indeed hosted a one-off show called Naked Jungle, wearing nothing other than a hat!  Every day’s an education…

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Patience; Otter Safari 04/02/17

by on Feb.06, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Otter, Southeast Northumberland

I collected Roger and Jackie from The Swan and then Edward and Isabel from Church Point and we headed off in search of Otters around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  After watching Little Grebe, Cormorant and Goldeneye all fishing unmolested by sinuous predators we moved on to our second site for the day and the sky was filled with Pink-footed and Greylag Geese and a vocal White-fronted Goose flew by.  Fulmars soared along the clifftops as we had our lunch and Pacific Diver added a touch of rare to the day’s proceedings.  By mid-afternoon we were at the site where I suspected we needed to be at dusk…

In the cold wind Starlings were going straight to roost without putting on a murmurating display and, as light faded and the reflection of the setting sun cast a beautiful glow on the water, Edward spotted an adult Otter 🙂  We watched it fishing as it gradually made it’s way towards a flock of Mallard, Tufted Duck, Coot, Wigeon and Teal and then it was lost from sight…before a flock of Lapwings taking panicked flight right in front of us betrayed the presence of an Otter out of the water!  After a few minutes of unsuccessful chasing it went into the water and started feeding.  This was a second Otter though, this time a cub that we lost sight of in the deepening gloom of dusk.  With a fairly cloudless sky Venus, Mars, the Moon and Orion were all looking mightily impressive as we made our way back to the car after another successful Otter search 🙂

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“…and a Common Seal in a dead tree”; Otter Safari 02/12/16

by on Dec.04, 2016, under Druridge Bay, Otter, Southeast Northumberland

From the Fascinating ‘Life on Earth’ back in the 1970’s, through to the jaw-dropping ‘Planet Earth II‘ that’s currently showing on the BBC (2 episodes to go, ‘Grasslands’ this evening and ‘Cities’ next Sunday!), I’ve always enjoyed David Attenborough’s programmes.  Recent series have included a section at the end of each programme, detailing the planning and effort that went into capturing a particular sequence.  Those sections are really important, as they make it clear just how wildlife doesn’t work to a script…

I collected Emma and Kevin from Newbiggin and we set off for a day in search of Otters around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  My interest was piqued fairly quickly, as Emma removed her camera from it’s bag with a Nikon 200-500mm lens attached – the same lens that I’m currently thinking about buying 🙂  It was a great opportunity to see the lens in action, and to see some of Emma’s stunning images from their safari in Tanzania, but would Northumberland’s wildlife perform for the camera?  As Emma said “You can’t just rock up and expect wildlife to be there in front of you”…

Arriving at our first site I caught a brief glimpse of something dark rolling at the surface and vanishing into the flat calm water.  Otter? or Cormorant?  A loud squawk from a Black-headed Gull caught my attention, and we turned to see two gulls circling over one patch of water.  Look under them, look under them…and there’s an Otter 🙂  Twisting, turning and diving, the adult Otter caught a fish and headed towards a fallen tree…and a small cub swam out to greet it!  Kevin quickly spotted a second cub, and once the adult was out of the water, it was obvious that she’d got three cubs.  The cubs were staying close to the bank as mum headed out into deeper water to catch fish and, each time she swam away from them they’d start calling to her.  Swimming in the shallows, clambering over boulders and fallen trees, scattering terrified Goldeneye, Goosander, Little Grebe and Cormorant as a Kingfisher flashed by, and eventually disappearing, presumably for a nap after a busy couple of hours, this was a strong contender for ‘best Otter sighting for NEWT’ 🙂  Another sighting late afternoon, at a different site (where we know there’s a female with three cubs), provided an interesting observation of Otter behaviour.  This time the female was catching food and taking it out of sight, presumably to her cubs.  While she was still hunting in front of us I noticed Goldeneye and Teal scattering from another part of the pool…and there was an Otter cub.  Eventually the female stopped feeding and headed towards the cub before escorting it back to where we suspected it’s siblings were hiding. passing right in front of us on the way 🙂

A mind-blowing Starling murmuration and Roe Deer drinking at the water’s edge at dusk finished off a day of highlights so, with a certain amount of artistic licence, and to be sung to the tune of the ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’…

20,000 Starling swirling, 9 Sanderling scurrying, 8 Pink-footed Geese yapping, 7 Shorelark shuffling, 6 Otters swimming, 5 Eiiiiddderr Ducks, 4 Cormorants fishing, 3 Sparrowhawk hunting, 2 Lions dozing, and a Common Seal in a dead tree.

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Strategy; Bespoke Otter mini-Safari 13/11/16

by on Nov.15, 2016, under Druridge Bay, Otter, Southeast Northumberland

Sunday was Claire and Sophie’s 2nd trip with NEWT, following a wildlife safari on the coast in 2014.  As we left Newbiggin the first scattered drops of rain hit the windscreen…

Arriving at our first location, Claire asked if she’d remembered correctly how to search for Otters, and started scanning an area of water that was noticeably devoid of ducks…then almost immediately answered her own question with another one “what’s this in front of me?  It’s an Otter” 🙂  We watched the cub as it fed on small fish and then it caught a much larger one which it took into the reeds.  Through the telescope we could see the dark shape of the Otter wriggling among the reeds, as a second cub came into view and started feeding.  Scattering Goldeneye, Mallard, Long-tailed Duck, Tufted Duck, Teal, Wigeon and Little Grebe as it continued in it’s relentless search for food we lost sight of it for a little while before it reappeared and made it’s way towards us before finally vanishing behind the reeds.  By now the rain was hammering down and we headed to our second site for the afternoon.  Under a leaden grey sky, with a chill wind and persistent rain we watched until it was too dark too see.  Grey Heron and Cormorant had been and gone and a Kingfisher dived repeatedly into the water from the bankside, silhouetted against the last meagre scraps of daylight.

Grim weather, great wildife and great clients.  What more could you want ? 🙂

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The enchantment of dusk; Bespoke Otter Safari 26/10/16

by on Oct.27, 2016, under Druridge Bay, Northumberland Coast, Southeast Northumberland

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 OttersGoldcrests, 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 🙂

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