After some wild weather the blue skies and fluffy white clouds, as I set off for a day searching for Otters around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland with Jo, Pat, Rachel and Dave, came as a welcome sight…
Now that we’re in the late winter, wildfowl are looking at their finest and are starting to display with an impressive level of determination. Red-breasted Merganser were strutting their stuff in their engagingly comical bowing display, Goldeneye were delivering their similar, though slightly less elaborate dance and Tufted Duck, Mallard, Wigeon, Scaup, Teal and Pochard were all clad in spring finery, but the long-staying Pacific Diver remains alone. A pair of Common Buzzards were soaring against the clouds at a site where I’ve never encountered them breeding previously. Huge clouds of Pink-footed Geese were replaced by an impressive Starling murmuration as dusk approached, and Common Snipe were uncharactersitically obliging as they fed away from cover amongst Redshank, Lapwing, Curlew and Black-tailed Godwit. On a good day for mammal-watching we saw at least 2, possibly 3, maybe even 5, Red Squirrels and 3 Roe Deer.
With light levels dropping rapidly we had brief sightings of 2 Bitterns, as Water Rail squealed from deep in the reeds, and we were on the verge of admitting defeat to the Otters when Rachel said “what’s that in front of us?”. I turned to look, and the first thing I noticed were the Mallards quickening their pace…as they headed away from the Otter that Rachel had spotted on the bank right in front of us 🙂 We watched it for 10mins, until it was too dark to see it as it twisted and turned in the water, before heading back to Newbiggin.
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 🙂
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 🙂
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 🙂
We met up in Newbiggin and set off on our search. Our first site had plenty of birds but no Otters, so we headed on to the site where I thought it would be good to be at dusk. A Kingfisher provided a splash of iridescent brilliance in the fading light of mid-afternoon and a group of Teal, Goldeneye, Mallard and Tufted Duck drifting away from a reedbed caught my attention. Scanning the reed edge with our telescope revealed a dark shape, twisting and turning but mainly hidden from view in the reeds. It soon vanished, but the ducks were still wary, so I continued scanning that area. After 20mins the Otter finally came out into open water and each time it dropped out of sight we tracked it by the current location of agitated wildfowl 🙂 It was clearly making it’s way towards us and, after a few minutes without a sighting, it was suddenly running along the bank right in front of us! It quickly disappeared into another reedbed, triggering the begging calls of it’s cubs, before reappearing in the water with one cub, as two more continued calling, drowning out the calls of Snipe and Water Rail 🙂 As a Starling murmuration began to develop, the calls of Whooper Swan and Pink-footed Goose cut through the gloom as they arrived to roost and eventually it was too dark to see anything out on the water.
A fantastic end to the year, and a welcome break from mince pies 🙂
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.
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 ? 🙂
We always try to provide a weather forecast a day or two before a trip; it helps people to decide what footwear would be appropriate for example. Sunday’s update for everyone booked on yesterday’s Otter Safari was ‘Current weather forecast suggests dry and warm with only a very light NE breeze.’ By yesterday morning that had changed to ‘…likely to be cooler than anticipated, damp/misty and windy…’
I arrived at Church Point to collect Pamela, Conrad and David & Dianne, and we set off for an afternoon and evening searching for Otters around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. A beautiful ghostly pale adult Mediterranean Gull in the car park provided a nice comparison with the Black-headed Gull it was sitting next to and in the heavy mist that was about as far as we could see at the start of the tour. Another Mediterranean Gull, this time a juvenile moulting into 1st-winter plumage provided an even more educational experience. Gulls may not be everyone’s cup of tea but they’re great for learning all of the basics of moult and aging 🙂 Cormorant, Little Grebe, Canada and Greylag Geese, Mute Swan, Gadwall, Mallard, Wigeon, Teal, Tufted Duck, Grey Heron and Lapwing were just about everywhere we went, Ruff demonstrated their obvious sexual dimorphism, Starling murmurations were developing in the misty gloom of mid-afternoon and Little Egrets were delicate, luminous, silently stalking along the water’s edge. A juvenile Marsh Harrier quartered the edges of nearby fields but was subjected to continuous harrassment from corvids and a late brood of quite well-grown Swallows watched us from their nest. As dusk approached we were overlooking a stretch of water that I had high hopes for. Suddenly, hitherto unseen on the water in the dark shadows of bankside vegetation, Teal scattered in an almost perfect circle, including some that flew straight into the tree-lined bank and the impenetrable darkness was bisected by the typical line of bright water of the wake of an Otter 🙂 In the deep gloom of dusk, and the softening blanket of mist, it was proving difficult to pin down, and not everyone managed to, and the sequential flushing of Grey Heron along the bank hinted at it’s progress before it eventually surfaced near a group of Mute Swans, diving in a slightly more obliging location for a minute or so before it disappeared into the darkness.
I collected Susan and Mike from Seaton Burn and then Frank, Gabrielle, Boudewijn and Odette from The Swan before heading to the coast. Boudewijn’s sharp eyes picked out tiny insects as we made our way along footpaths with dense vegetation alongside as Swallows and House Martins swooped low over the fields, picking off flying insects that had strayed just a bit too far from safety. Adult Swallows were feeding young in a nest just a few feet away from us and, out on the water, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Gadwall, Wigeon and Pochard were all decked out in the shabby chic of late summer and a Grey Heron caused alarm as it flew in, scattering Lapwings and Black-headed Gulls from the edge of the pool. Cormorants dived, doing their best Otter impressions, Common Sandpipers bobbed nervously on the riverbank, a well-grown brood of Goosander were remarkably well camouflaged amongst piles of rocks and Little Egrets were stalking tiny fish in the shallows. As the wind started to pick up and the first few drops of rain began to fall, Swifts scythed their way through clouds of insects overhead. Whimbrel was a nice addition to the wader list for the day along with Curlew and Redshank which are much more expected. Common and Sandwich Terns called as they flew by and Eider were rafting on a flat sea as we had our picnic. Our final site for the day was where I was confident we’d find an Otter. Starlings were murmurating, Reed Buntings and Meadow Pipits flicked through the vegetation just ahead of us, a roe Deer emerged from behind a reedbed to take a drink at the water’s edge…and then the sky turned dark rather quickly and the rain started hammering down 🙁 That did produce one entertaining moment though, as a rather large Great Crested Grebe chick took shelter on its parent’s back just before we admitted defeat to the weather.
“…when I actually see one”. A remarkable number of NEWT’s clients seem to have had holidays on Mull/Shetland/Orkney/Skye searching for Otters (often on guided tours) without seeing one, and that revelation at the start of a tour always ramps the pressure up a bit…
I arrived at Church Point in heavy mist and drizzle, and quickly met up with Sarah and Charlotte, Keith and Maggie, and Stephanie, and we set off for an afternoon and evening searching for Otters around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. I juggled the sites we were visiting, to take account of the weather, but I knew where I thought we should be towards dusk. In the misty, drizzly gloom a Little Egret looked luminous. With warm, humid conditions the air was alive with the sussurating buzz of recently emerged insects. Black-headed and Little Gulls, and swarms of Swifts, were rampaging through the dense clouds of flies as a Pheasant sat motionless in the grass on the water’s edge. Gadwall, Goosander, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Canada Goose and Greylag Goose were all lazing on the water and Common Terns harried a Moorhen that had ventured just that little bit too close to their nest. Grey Herons flew around calling and a dispute over a prime feeding spot broke out between two of these huge birds.
We arrived at what I’d planned as our final location for the evening and I suggested that one particular part of the pool would be worth keeping a close eye on. Was that a dark shape beneath the gulls? I lifted my binoculars and scanned, then decided my eyes must have been playing tricks on me. As I set the ‘scope up, there was an “erm…” from Charlotte, who was looking at the same spot…and there was an Otter 🙂 We watched it for over an hour as it made it’s way around the pool, feeding almost constantly and creating an interesting wildfowl exclusion zone! Here’s an Otter from last year, showing it’s fearsome dentition 🙂
Eventually it vanished into the impenetrable depths of a reedbed and we headed back towards Newbiggin, encountering a Little Owl perched on a telegraph pole at the roadside 🙂