Southeast Northumberland

Mist, murk, mud and mergansers; Otter Safari 12/04/18

by on Apr.13, 2018, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

I collected Stephen and Soraya from The Swan, then Martyn and Colin, and Jo, from Church Point, ahead of an afternoon around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland searching for Otters

On a stiff easterly breeze with drizzle, mist, murk and heavy rain showers, spirits could have been dampened but having a car filled with cheerful enthusiastic guests with a great interest in conservation was just the right thing to keep everyone going.  Fulmars were arcing along the clifftops and a Kestrel impressed with it’s geostationary approach to hunting, facing directly into the wind and hanging near motionless.  A Little Owl perched on a low horizontal branch, in the lee of the tree trunk where it would have had some respite from the cold, and occasional groups of Starlings rushed by like mini-murmurations taking a quick route to roost.  A male Stonechat perched at the top of a clump of rushes before a sallying flycatching flight and then back into cover.  As the deafening clamour of hundreds of Black-headed Gulls added a surreal touch of discordance to the sight of Great-crested Grebes drifting elegantly across the water, and Goldeneye engaged in some less than enthusiastic display, Curlew, Lapwing, Dunlin, Redshank, Turnstone and 5 pairs of Avocet were all wading in the shallows as a group of Common Snipe, unusually out in the open, were flushed by a Grey Heron stalking along the edge of the reeds.  The menacing dark shapes of Cormorants sank from view as they hunted the myriad small fish that were dimpling the water’s surface and a Great-crested Grebe very obligingly decided to start hunting just a few metes away from us.  We might have expected all of the birds to be keeping their heads down in the wind and rain, but if there’s one species that you can rely on to provide a spectacle, it’s Red-breasted Merganser; shaggy crests waving in the breeze, the males were engaged in their comical ostentatious posturing.  Necks outstretched and dipping with a theatrical bow that looks like they’re trying to upend themselves, they were completely unconcerned by either the weather, or that fact they they’re not anywhere near their breeding grounds yet 🙂

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Snowmelt; Otter Safari 23/01/18

by on Jan.24, 2018, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

Double figure temperatures, blue sky and hardly any hint of a breeze were a revelation as I collected Kellie and Sean from The Swan for a day around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland searching for Otters.

Improved weather and the forecast gales and torrential rain were nowhere to be seen…what could go wrong?  Flight views of a Bittern in beautiful light were a good start, a very obliging Kingfisher perched on reeds in front of us before diving into the water and returning to it’s perch with a small fish and a drake Long-tailed Duck looked resplendent in the sunshine.  Two Water Rails were also rather obliging as they fed in a gap in the reeds, before walking on the still frozen margins of the pool.  Goldeneye, Coot and Little Grebe were all avoiding one edge of the reeds, although Mute Swans were feeding right against the reeds, although the hoped-for Otters didn’t appear…and there was the ominous low hum of a strengthening breeze.

By the time we reached our next site the wind had really picked up, and as I pointed out where any Otters were likely to be Sean spotted them 🙂  An adult female and two cubs feeding in a fast-flowing river that was being bolstered by an impressive volume of water from further inland.  Monday’s rain, and melting snow, were adding to the flow as the Otters hunted.  After ten minutes they headed towards the bank and vanished, before reappearing a bit further away.  They started heading towards us and one of the cubs got out of the water before rejoining it’s mother and sibling…and they came closer still.  Suddenly they were out of the water in front of us, following each other in and out of gaps between the rocks and calling noisily.  It was hard to imagine how this encounter could be any more spectacular…then one cub suddenly appeared from behind a rock and ran straight towards us!  It was probably only 3 metres away when it vanished in the rocks and we could hear it having an altercation with the others.  They headed off before quickly heading back in our direction and by the time they all vanished into a gap in the rocks on the opposite side of the water, carrying a large fish, we’d been watching them for nearly two and a half hours and dusk was starting to exert it’s grip as the Sun sank behind dark clouds away to the southwest.

I’m not often lost for words…

Here are the three Otters when I was photographing them last week 🙂

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Ice, ice baby; Otter mini-Safari 20/01/18

by on Jan.24, 2018, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

I collected Judy and Gary, Jess and Jarrod, and Ben from Whitley Bay, ahead of a few hours around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland for possibly the first time that a NEWT mini-Safari has been a birthday present for a 6-year old.  No ordinary 6-year old though…a 6-year old who wants to be a marine biologist and watches Blue Planet when he should be doing his homework 😉

It was cold, with most footpaths and tracks still covered in either snow or ice, but that did allow us to study some Rabbit tracks and think about how they’re formed.  A thin layer of ice on the river had left Goldeneye, Cormorant and Little Grebe close to the margins or picking their way through the maze of small gaps of clear water and a rabbit was on the bank near the water’s edge.

As dusk took hold the Tufted Ducks and Coots were forming an increasingly dense flock…as the water around them froze, leaving an ever-decreasing circle at it’s centre.  Skeins of Pink-footed  Greylag and Canada Geese were all heard before they were seen, as the calls of Mallard, Wigeon and Teal resonated through the cold air and a Grey Heron stalked through the icy shallows.  Time to head back to the warmth of the car, and the bright lights of Whitley Bay 🙂

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Chilly; Otter mini-Safari 09/01/17

by on Jan.10, 2018, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

Cold and breezy has been a recurring theme over the last couple of months, and when I arrived at Church Point to collect Andrea and Ian ahead of a few hours around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland searching for Otters a stiff breeze had whipped the sea into a frothy white mass and was biting at all of the layers I’d donned…

I’d got two sites in mind for the afternoon and the first one had a very obvious sign of the presence of Otters; Goldeneye, Mallard, Coot and Little Grebe were everywhere – except in the lee of the reedbed that would have sheltered them from the wind.  Mute Swans were staring at the reeds, but whatever was in there remained hidden as the wind whistled around the reeds and us.  Lapwings had flushed and were being tossed on the breeze like leaves as we headed to our second site.  Coot, Canada Goose, Mallard, Wigeon, Teal, Goldeneye and Gadwall were all feeding or roosting as the biting wind dictated that most wildlife just kept their heads down.  It won’t be too long until the spring.

Our clients have a wide range of wildlife (and other) interests, but yesterday was the first time that we’ve ever had anyone on one of our trips who has an obsession with sloths.  So today I’m watching ‘Meet the Sloths’ on YouTube 🙂

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Swirling; Otter mini-Safari 30/12/17

by on Dec.31, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

Yesterday’s mini-Safari was rearranged from Friday, when the ice on the roads would have made it a foolhardy exercise to head out.  I collected Jo, Chris, Lauren and Dilly from Church Point and we headed off for a few hours exploring Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland…

At the start of the afternoon there was no breeze, and the water was almost mirror-flat, with the swirls of diving Goldeneye, Little Grebe and Cormorant patterning the surface.  Cormorants that weren’t feeding sat on fallen trees, shoulders hunched and looking thoroughly miserable as a Grey Heron flew from one side of the river to the other and perched briefly before flying away upstream.  As light rain pattered on the calm water a Great Black-backed Gull flew by, always an impressive bird in the right light, and then the clouds parted and blue sky and warm(ish) sunshine marked the start of the sky clearing.  Out on to the coast and a dense flock of Golden Plover were swirling on the rising breeze as Pink-footed Geese rose from a distant field and speckled the sky and a charm of Goldfinches flew over the car before disappearing into rank vegetation next to the road.  Long-tailed Tits were moving between trees and a Sparrowhawk flew so low across the road ahead of us that it only narrowly avoided the car.  Mute Swans, including one scruffy looking youngster, were feeding alongside a group of displaying Red-breasted Mergansers.  At least 10 drakes were vying for the affection of just one female, but she was having none of it and any of the drakes who ventured too close, no matter how impressive his head-bobbing and mohawk-waving, was driven away.  As the Moon rose in the east, providing an impressive sight through the telescope, all of the ducks were getting agitated; Goldeneye, Gadwall, Teal, Wigeon and Mallard all moved purposefully away from one edge of the reeds, then more Mallard appeared from the reeds and flew across the pool and suddenly the distribution of birds on the water, which had been quite even when we first arrived, was very polarised.  Whatever was in the reeds wasn’t revealing itself though, and in a now stiffening cold breeze who could blame it?

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Winter; Otter mini-Safari 28/12/17

by on Dec.31, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

I collected Stephen from Church Point and we set out for an afternoon around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland…

One thing that has stood out in the last few weeks is the great number of Goldeneye and Little Grebe that are wintering here, and this trip was no exception.  Cormorants were diving alongside them in pursuit of small fish.  A Barn Owl quartered over reedbeds, harassed by corvids and a Sparrowhawk and Teal, Wigeon, Mallard and Gadwall were all dabbling in shallow water as Starlings arrived to roost.  39 Whooper Swans arriving together were an impressive sight, then they drifted close to a reedbed before beating a hasty retreat…what was lurking in the shadows of the reeds as the strengthening and biting wind drove us back to the car and towards Newbiggin?

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Lurking; Otter Safari 06/12/17

by on Dec.07, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

I collected Steph for her 4th day out with NEWT and we headed toward Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland for a day searching for Otters

Great Northern Diver, Long-tailed Duck and squealing Water Rails started the day, as three Mute Swans hissed and grunted while staring into a reedbed, although whatever was provoking their ire remained hidden, and Steph spotted a Bittern labouring into the wind.  Lapwing and Curlew flocks flushed from nearby fields and were struggling in the air with a very stiff westerly breeze tossing them around.  At our next site, Goldeneye and Little Grebes flushed in panic from one edge of the water and then turned to stare at where they’d come from…and again the cause of consternation remained hidden.  Sparrowhawks flew low over the water causing momentary ruffling of feathers and a pair of Stonechat performed well in front of Steph’s camera.  Noisy Long-tailed Tits were battered by the breeze whenever they ventured out from cover, Common Buzzards were sitting on fence posts and then Shoveler, Mallard, Gadwall, Wigeon, Teal, Tufted Duck and Coot made a hurried getaway from one reedbed…and the cause of their concern remained hidden yet again.

One of those days, but a great day birding with Steph that was rounded off incredibly as we headed back towards the A1 when a Goshawk flew across the road and headed to a nearby plantation!

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A tiding; Bespoke Otter Safari 27/11/17

by on Nov.28, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Otter, Southeast Northumberland

Yesterday was a rearranged trip from late March; Trevor had booked an bespoke Otter Safari for Linda’s birthday, then two days before the original date I was knocked off my bike by a car and had a heavy fall that saw me unable to work for a week (and is still causing some ongoing niggles).  I suggested then that we reschedule for the back end of the year, so I had my fingers crossed that my suggestion would work out as planned…

There was a slight spanner in the works though, an icy cold westerly ‘breeze’.  At our first site Mallards and Tufted Ducks were showing a lot of wary interest in one area of reeds but whatever had grabbed their attention remained out of site as Water Rails squealed, Teal, Gadwall and Wigeon slept, sheltered from the wind, and Cormorant, Little Grebe, Goldeneye and Red-breasted Merganser plundered the water of small fish.  As I scanned the edge of a reedbed that’s now so familiar I could probably sketch from memory every reed, stone and fallen branch along the water’s edge there was a small dark shape that shouldn’t have been there.  At distance and through binoculars I couldn’t be certain but I was fairly confident…and through the ‘scope there was a Kingfisher 🙂  A very excited Linda had got one of the three species on her bucket list right there in full view of the telescope, and once it had vanished we headed off in search of another one of those three.

Within seconds of scanning the water there was an Otter.  We watched it through the ‘scope for a few minutes and then headed along the bank to get a closer view, and while we were out of sight in the trees it did that typical Otter thing of vanishing completely!  In the icy breeze it had probably eaten it’s fill and headed off to a warm cosy sheltered spot in the trees on the opposite bank.  The second of Linda’s bucket list species was on the list, and I told her my favourite spot for the third (as it’s in the Scottish highlands, so quite a way from NEWT’s patch).

The bright light of early afternoon brought at least 6 Kestrels, hovering into the wind, with one of them being subjected to almost continuous harassment from a Carrion Crow, and three Sparrowhawks, including one that passed within a few metres of us as it battled into the wind and another that was being harassed by a crow.  More squealing Water Rails provided a discordant accompaniment to vocal Whooper Swans as Lapwings were tossed like leaves on the breeze and a dusk roost of Magpies, with at least 42 birds, raised the question of what the collective noun is.  By the power of mobile data and Google we ended up with charm, murder, gulp and – the one we thought most appropriate – a tiding 🙂

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Stalking; Otter Safari 29/08/17

by on Aug.30, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

I collected Julie, Thomas, Steven and Mandy ahead of an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland searching for our favourite predator

At this time of the year it’s fair to say that ducks aren’t really at their best and Mallard, Teal, Gadwall, Tufted Duck and Shoveler were all easier to separate based on size and shape than one plumage detail.  Little Grebe numbers seem to be higher and higher each time we’re out and about and the only thing separating Great Crested Grebe chicks from their parents now is the stripy face 🙂  Lapwings flushed in panic but the cause of their consternation remained unseen, as it so often does with Lapwings which seem to be really jittery all the time, and Starlings swirled on the breeze as Sand Martins, House Martins, Swallows and three Swifts were hoovering up flying insects ahead of the long journey south.  A Kestrel hovered over the dunes before dropping to the ground then quickly ascending again, empty-taloned. Regularly spaced along each water’s edge, Grey Herons were standing motionless as Little Egrets darted busily back and forth before heading to roost in riverside trees.  As dusk approached, Mute Swans drifted away from the water’s edge and that’s always a trigger to look at where they’re moving away from, but we couldn’t see anything along the bank in the rapidly deepening gloom as Canada Geese called noisily as they flew in to roost and a Long-eared Owl ghosted along the scrub just in front of us and the journey back saw a Barn Owl fly across the road in front of the car.

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Halcyon days; Druridge Bay mini-Safari 25/08/17

by on Aug.25, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

This morning saw me working at the opposite end of the day to usual, and I arrived to collect James, Wendy, Megan and Saffy (an adorable Whippet) from Church Point at 09:00, ahead of a morning around Druridge Bay and Southeast Northumberland

Sand Martins and Swallows were feeding low over the water, a Grey Heron stood motionless as 7 Little Egrets engaged in the favourite heron pastime of wasting energy chasing each other from feeding spots, Mute Swans fed serenely and Little Grebes were diving constantly in search of small fish before being disturbed by one of the egrets.  Flocks of Tufted Duck, Mallard and Teal are building and the one remaining Great Crested Grebe chick that we see regularly is now almost the same size as it’s parents.  Canada and Greylag Geese are in noisy flocks that will be bolstered when more Greylags, and Pink-footed Geese arrive for the winter and a small Starling murmuration swirled in front of us before executing a rapid descent.  Black-tailed Godwits, Ringed Plover, Redshank and Common Snipe represented the waders but a real highlight of the morning was two species that I don’t think I’ve ever seen in one ‘scope view.  Cormorants were feeding, often just dipping their heads under the water and catching what looked like snails, and as I scanned the area where the water had just swirled, just to be sure it was a Cormorant, I spotted a Kingfisher.  I set the ‘scope up so that everyone could have a closer view of the ‘halcyon bird’, and Wendy looked through the ‘scope and described another bird that was in the reeds just behind the Kingfisher…and there was a Water Rail 🙂  That odd-looking secretive denizen of the reeds stayed in view just long enough for everyone to see before it vanished back into the impenetrable density of the reedbed.

I could get used to earlier starts for our Druridge Bay trips 🙂

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