A raptor day :-) Bespoke Kielder Safari 20/03/18

by on Mar.21, 2018, under Uncategorized

I collected Sue from Old Swarland for her 7th trip with NEWT and we headed west towards Kielder as the clouds started to break and the blue sky, excellent visibility and light breeze suggested it would be a good day for raptors…

A Goosander flew along the course of tiny stream before our first raptor, a male Merlin cloaked in beautiful blue, dashed low over the road ahead of us as we crossed the moors.  Common Buzzards were either perched or soaring almost everywhere we went during the day and a Sparrowhawk flew by, pursued by an angry mob of passerines.  Carrion Crows breaking the skyline provided their usual share of false alarms before a tight group of three crows betrayed the presence of the ‘Phantom of the Forest’.  Menacing, muscular and purposeful, the Goshawk flew just above the tree tops, apparently unfazed by the yelling crows in hot pursuit.  Kestrel made it raptor #5 for the day as Raven, the honorary raptor, tumbled distantly before another male Merlin, this time perched on a rock, held our attention as Wild Goats grazed nearby and then Sue spotted a male Hen Harrier drifting along a heather-clad ridge above us.  The journey home produced raptor #7 as a Peregrine kept pace with us as it flew along a ridge before perching on a dry stone wall.

Definitely a good raptor day 🙂

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Atmospheric; Focus on Northumberland Day 3 19/02/18

by on Feb.21, 2018, under Photography, Uncategorized

Tuesday was the final full day of our Focus on Northumberland holiday and we were heading to the coast for a day of landscape photography…

Blue skies and sunshine can be a bit overrated so the drizzle and fog offered something a bit different.  Daniela had shown me some excellent photographs that she’d taken previously, so I was slightly surprised to learn that her camera was always set to auto.  With a calm sea that only had white along the edge of the breaking surf, and with the impressive edifice of Bamburgh Castle vanishing in heavy mist, Daniela had composed an effective scene looking from the dune tops towards the Farne Islands (also shrouded in mist) so it was time to take the camera off auto and start exploring the exposure trinity of ISO, aperture and shutter speed and the creative possibilities that come once you start to control depth of field.  The drizzle continued as we made our way south along the coast and a very welcome hot chocolate at The Drift Inn came just before we headed west along the line of Hadrian’s Wall and back to The Battlesteads.

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Omens; Focus on Northumberland Day 1 and 2 17-18/02/18

by on Feb.18, 2018, under Uncategorized

Day 1 17/02/18

After collecting John and Dani from Hexham we headed to The Battlesteads; our base for the next three days.  Saturday’s evening session at the observatory featured some clear sky and we managed a quick binocular tour of Orion, Leo, Gemini, Cassiopeia, Auriga and the Plough before the rain eventually drove us back to the warmth of the dry room.

Day 2 18/02/18

Today was our inland wildlife/landscape photography day and we headed south into the North Pennines.  The road sides still had a fair amount of snow and a couple of the minor roads that we would have used to cross some of the higher hills weren’t safely passable but a brief detour soon had us next to flocks of Lapwing, Starling and Common GullRed Grouse were their usual obliging selves, sitting well within camera range and chuckling away at us before delivering an ominous ‘go back, go back, go back’ – perhaps they’d had a look at the road conditions already?  The avian specialty of the hills was there in good numbers too; 51 Black Grouse during the day included a single flock of 40 birds before drizzle and fog closed in around us.  Flocks of Rook and Jackdaw flew in front of us on their way to roost, dark birds against a darkening sky as the weather followed us down from the hills and we headed back to civilisation and The Battlesteads.

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Harrying; Otter mini-Safari 26/10/17

by on Oct.27, 2017, under Uncategorized

I collected Jan and Hannah, and Tony and Mary, from Low Newton and we headed south towards Druridge Bay

In contrast with recent weather we had blue skies, fluffy white clouds and even some sunshine 🙂  A flock of Whooper Swans were heading south offshore and the assemblage of waterfowl included Greylag and Canada Geese, Mute Swan, Pintail, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye, Wigeon, Shoveler, Mallard, Teal, Gadwall, Moorhen, Coot, Little Grebe and two top quality birds; Long-tailed Duck and Slavonian Grebe.  In the beautiful low angled light a juvenile Marsh Harrier looked stunning with a crown of gold. Approaching dusk, with a biting breeze starting to make its presence felt, a Little Egret stood out like a shining beacon on the water’s edge as we started to make our way back to the car and head north.

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mid-October birding; Otter Safari 19/10/17

by on Oct.21, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Otter, Uncategorized

There isn’t much that’s better than mid-October birdwatching.  The quiet periods of waiting and observing during an Otter Safari can be filled with all sorts of marvels at this time of the year…

I collected John and Stella from home in Cramlington and we headed to the coast.  The first of several flocks of Redwing flew over, and it was really feeling like mid-October 🙂  While sifting through the assembled mass of eclipse-plumaged ducks (Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Scaup, Shoveler, Gadwall, Tufted Duck and Pintail) and admiring a family of Whooper Swans that had dropped in to drink and bathe there was the unmistakable explosive song of a Cetti’s Warbler…and I’d added a bird to my Northumberland county list, something that doesn’t happen too often these days.  Then, suddenly, panic didn’t so much ripple through the wildfowl as explode from one side of the pool to the other as an unseen threat scattered ducks in every direction.  Whatever caused the panic stayed hidden from view behind a reedbed, which would have been sheltering it nicely from the stiff southerly breeze…

Next came, incredibly, a 2nd new bird for NEWT and another county tick for me – in the descending gloom of approaching rain the exotic jewel that is a European Bee-eater flew past just a few metres from us at Druridge Pools 🙂  Then the rain started, earlier and heavier than expected, Little Egrets stood out as glaringly white against the dark backdrop of the bushes they were roosting in, and we spent the last hour or so of the afternoon marvelling at a Starling murmuration that was being stalked and ambushed by a Sparrowhawk as a juvenile Marsh Harrier hovered on heavy wings and terrified the ducks right up to last light.

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A Little Spoonful; Otter Safari/mini-Safari 01/08/17

by on Aug.02, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Uncategorized

When the Otters fail to perform during an Otter Safari, there’s always something else to take centre stage…

I collected Eileen from Warkworth and the first half of the afternoon was spent intently studying the behaviour of birds along a river, looking for any indication that they were concerned about something. The cries of Oystercatcher and Curlew drifted on the breeze as Little Egrets stalked through the shallows or roosted in trees overlooking the water.  A stop off at Cresswell produced lots of Lapwing, Oystercatcher and Curlew, a dozen or so Dunlin and a summer-plumaged Knot.  We’d managed to just miss a Spoonbill though, although back to that later…

After a picnic overlooking Druridge Bay we collected Tony and Norma, and Alicia and Emmie for the second half of the trip.  More Curlew, Lapwing and Dunlin followed, with some Black-tailed Godwit still sporting their breeding plumage, an elegant Wood Sandpiper patrolling the muddy edges, Tufted Ducks with ducklings, a female Marsh Harrier and a dense cloud of Sand Martins.  Then Little Owls; one, then two, then three, then two, then three, then one as they shuffled position along a fence and a stone wall.  One of the owls even found itself sitting on the apex of a roof alongside a Magpie, before deciding the black and white corvid needed seeing off.  Norma had spotted a white bird tucked away in the rushes and it took off, flying directly towards us…and there was the Spoonbill 🙂

As dusk approached Great Crested Grebes offered small fish to their well-grown chick as Grey Herons squabbled over prime feeding spots, Common Terns took a bath, Starling flocks swirled by and Emmie spotted her first Roe Deer – first a doe and then a buck sporting a fine pair of antlers as the light faded to the point where everything was shadow.

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Making the most of the weather; Bespoke Cheviots Safari 08/06/17

by on Jun.09, 2017, under Uncategorized

I have a bit of an obsession with the weather.  It can have a real influence on the outcome of our trips and we always try to be as flexible as we possibly can.  If the forecast is really poor we always offer clients the option of rescheduling; either for a different time on the same day, a different day close to the planned date (if they’re visiting the area) and a rescheduled date suitable for them if they’re local.  I’d been watching the forecast for Thursday all week, and it had finally changed to be reasonable until mid-morning, so with an early start planned I set off to collect Malcolm, Judy and Andrew from Longframlington for a morning exploring the Cheviot Valleys

As soon as I was on my way the weather deviated from forecast and the heavy drizzle was still present when I reached Longframlington.  Then a break in the clouds and we had warm sunshine and blue skies before the rain started again as Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges scuttled across the road in front of the car and a Brown Hare sat motionless in the middle of a field.  Reed Bunting, Greylag Goose and Canada Goose, the latter two with goslings in tow were unperturbed by the increasingly heavy rain as were the clouds of flying insects we were walking through.  The cries of Curlew and Oystercatcher echoed around the valleys and rabbits sat still before eventually deciding they didn’t want to be observed and raced off.  The riparian triumvirate of Grey Wagtail, Common Sandpiper and Dipper were all on mid-stream rocks as the buzzing trill of Lesser Redpoll was heard overhead, Tree Pipits called in display flight, a Whinchat perched on a fingerpost before flying to perch in the bracken, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush and Blackbird were all by the roadside, a Spotted Flycatcher was sallying forth in increasingly heavy rain, the descending silvery cadence of a Willow Warbler  drifted from the branches of a nearby birch, a Treecreeper put in a brief appearance as it scaled a vertiginous trunk with ease and Cuckoo and Chiffchaff were calling with persistent rhythmical eponymous onomatopeia.

As the rain intensified we watched a Grey Heron as it stood motionless at the water’s edge and three well-grown juvenile Goosanders swam by it before taking flight and disappearing upstream and we finshed the morning with our picnic by the riverside.  The rain doesn’t deter wildlife watchers 🙂

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The Tall Ships are coming!

by on Aug.16, 2016, under Uncategorized

If you’d like something different, and outstanding photographic opportunities during the Parade of Sail during the Tall Ships regatta on August 29th, we’ve got a boat reserved (sailing from Amble at 10:30 and returning there once the Parade of Sail has finished which will probably be mid-afternoon) that will sit offshore from Blyth as the Tall Ships head out on the next leg of their journey. Numbers are limited and at £50/person offers exceptional value. Click on August 29th on our website calendar http://www.northernexperiencewildlifetours.co.uk/calendar and follow the buy now link to reserve your place

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Batty; Otter mini-Safari 28/07/16

by on Aug.02, 2016, under Uncategorized

We’ve always said that NEWT has something for everyone, and occasionally we have very young participants…

I met up with Kay, Spencer and Kai, and shortly after Matthew, Harriet and Florence (15 months old!) arrived and we set off along the coast for a few hours searching for Otters around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  Herds of Mute Swan, Great Crested Grebes swimming serenely with their stripy-faced chicks, Grey Herons engaging in disputes over the best fishing spots and clouds of Sand Martins and Swallows feasting on the bounteous harvest of flying insects in the warm, muggy evening air made the time seem to fly by and we found ourselves at dusk watching a stretch of river.  Mallards flushed from the area of the riverbank where we’ve been seeing Otters, although the cause of the panic didn’t reveal itself, as Daubenton’s Bats flitted low over the water below and we listened to their echolocation on our bat detector.

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Mini-beasting; Bespoke Otter Safari 02/09/2014

by on Sep.10, 2014, under Uncategorized

It’s remarkable how often a theme seems to develop during a trip; flocks, migration, raptors, birds with similar names – all have happened over the last few years.

I drove up to the Breamish Valley to collect Donna and Andy and we headed towards the coast and Druridge Bay with the plan of spending the afternoon and evening birdwatching, finishing at what has been our most reliable Otter site this year (although a run of five successful trips eneded with our last two Druridge Bay safaris not producing any sightings of this enigmatic predator).  Starting in the hills on a nice afternoon, I thought it would be good to search for Adders, and Andy’s sharp eyes produced the goods, with the smallest Adder that I’ve ever seen 🙂

The afternoon continued with the waders we would expect – Ruff, Curlew, Lapwing, Redshank, Oystercatcher, Dunlin, Common Snipe – and one much more scarce, in the shape of two Little Stints.  We had a rear-end view of a Spoonbill heading north and a Little Egret was stalking along the shallows.  It may be a predominantly white bird, but it’s stunning in good light.  Adult and juvenile Mediterranean Gulls were picked out from the roosting Black-headed Gulls and, as dusk approached, we settled into position to watch for Otters.  A juvenile Marsh Harrier was quartering the reedbeds, Starlings were arriving to roost, with some murmuration, a Spoonbill flew in, magnificent in the sunset, then, in the fading rays of daylight, there was an Otter 🙂  Clearly a theme was developing, as this was a very small Otter cub.  Eventually light levels reached the point where we decided to call it a day and head back northwest.  The day’s theme continued, with a tiny Rabbit along the roadside, and then the final wildlife experience, on a day with wildlife and clients that reminded me so often why I love my job; a Barn Owl crossing the road ahead of us before perching in the beam of our headlights 🙂

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