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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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A mixed bag of wildlife; Lindisfarne Safari 12/08/2013

by on Aug.21, 2013, under Uncategorized

As I collected Jaap, Nancy, Maartje and Laura for their Lindisfarne Safari it was good to see that we’d made the right decision in postponing from the previous Monday (which would have been an unpleasant day to be out and about on Holy Island).

Lindisfarne is an excellent birdwatching location in the winter months, and can be spectacular during spring and autumn migration, but the summer brings a real variety of things to look at.  As we walked around the island Starlings were swirling, Grey Seals and Eiders were bobbing just beyond the breaking surf and Swallows were feeding hungry nestlings.  There was plenty on the ground too; Cinnabar Moth caterpillars were munching on Ragwort, Viper’s Bugloss was by the side of the paths and Maartje spotted, and identified, a Dark Green Fritillary.  With exposed sandbars at low tide there were lots of Grey Seals just lazing about and the shoreline was bustling with bird activity; Bar-tailed Godwits, Curlews, Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Grey Plover and Turnstone were around the island’s edge and in the gooey mud of the harbour.  Golden Plover were swirling over the island in impressive flocks before settling in the fields, an adult Mediterranean Gull was perched obligingly close as we headed back to the village, and all too soon it was time to leave the island as the rising tide approached the causeway.  Landscape photography stops at Bamburgh and Newton on the way south were followed by distant views of lightning and then an impressively dark sky out over the North Sea.  With so much wildlife in one day it would be hard to choose one highlight…but my own personal favourite was the brightest pink binoculars that I’ve ever seen 🙂

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Wild goose chase and an owl prowl

by on Nov.16, 2009, under Uncategorized

Spray from the overnight rain kicks up as I drive along the dark coast road. It’s early, but I’m on a mission to be at my intended destination before the first rays of daylight illuminate the seaward edge of the dunes. Then, glowing in the beam from the car’s headlights, perched at the top of a bare hawthorn, a Little Owl. After the obligatory head-bobbing inspection of this unexpected annoyance, it flies away across the fields. Unsurprisingly I relocate it just a minute or two later, close by the tree where they bred this year. Leaving it in peace I continue my journey and I’m soon out of the car and walking quietly towards the edge of the pool where the geese roost. I wrote about visiting coastal pools at dusk, in our most recent newsletter, but first thing in the morning can be very good as well. It’s worryingly quiet. The harsh barking of two Short-eared Owls, disturbed by my arrival, cuts through the still air but the expected yapping of Pink-footed Geese is absent. In the half-light I can see the ethereal mist hanging just above the water, and my fears are confirmed…the geese aren’t there. It’s happened in previous winters; a regular roosting site suddenly deserted and the birds dispersed throughout southeast Northumberland, making accurate survey work a near impossibility. As I mull over the potential of other roosting locations I get the feeling that I’m being watched. I am – just a few metres away a Long-eared Owl is perched on a fence post. Man and bird observe each other and then the silent assassin is off, and I get to watch as it hunts along the fence line of a nearby sheep field. A Barn Owl glides past, silent and ghostly and then the Shorties reappear. Silent and still, they don’t perceive me as a threat and they pass close by before perching on adjacent fence posts. As I lean on a wooden gate and take in the the wonder of our countryside at first light I notice two shapes at the far corner of the field. Silhouetted against the steel grey sky, the two Roe Deer watch me for a few seconds and then bound across the field, white rumps flashing like beacons in the gloom.

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A Golden Glow

by on Nov.03, 2009, under Uncategorized

Yesterday was a long birdwatching day on the southeast Northumberland coast. I drove across to Haltwhistle to collect Judith and Doug, and was impressed by the big flocks of Redwing and Fieldfare around their farm. Once on the coast we found a flock of Dark-bellied Brent Geese bathing in a pond newly-created by Sunday’s rain, watched a swarm of Goldfinches and Twite flying around the dunes and then enjoyed groups of Wigeon, Teal and Mallard as they drifted about on the pond. We were just about to move on when I noticed the Cormorants getting agitated and they all quickly departed. “Let’s give this another minute or two” was the right strategy as two otters appeared in the centre of the pool. One eventually swam by just a few metres from where we were sitting, allowing everyone to take in the graceful, sinuous twisting and turning as they hunted for fish.

Next was a journey along a stretch of the River Coquet. More Cormorants were busy decimating the fish population and one suddenly panicked and bolted across the river. There was a swirling pattern on the water, and something beneath the surface was leaving a very noticeable swim-line. Then it surfaced; a Grey Seal, away from it’s usual open water habitat. All the while this was happening we were all entranced by a young Peregrine as it persistently dived towards a bush full of Rooks. Every time it flushed them it separated one off from the flock and chased it, although never making a serious attempt to terminate the chase with a kill. Eventually it departed and the corvids settled into the riverside bushes, free from molestation.

Our final site for the day would, hopefully, produce some interesting birds going to roost. A family party of Whooper Swans flew in and a small group of Pintail were amongst all of the other wildfowl. Starlings arrived in big groups and swirled around overhead. Two Long-eared Owls were a real bonus; sitting on fence posts and staring straight at us with those piercing orange eyes. The grasses and the reeds around the edge of the pond were all lit by a sublime golden pink/orange glow and the moonrise above the dunes was simply stunning as a skein of Pink-footed Geese flew south.

Finally, I returned two very happy clients to Haltwhistle, where the monnlit night was filled with the calls of Redwing – a sound that epitomises the autumn.

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