Wildlife

Quick start; Otter Safari 20/08/19

by on Aug.23, 2019, under Druridge Bay, Otter

I collected Jo from Newbiggin for her 2nd day out with NEWT and we set off for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland searching for Otters

As we set off I decided to change the order that we’d visit our usual sites…and it paid off almost immediately with an Otter cub feeding mid-river as Little Grebes watched it warily as Cormorants dried their wings nearby πŸ™‚ Pochards, Shovelers, Mallards, Teal and Moorhen all got out of the way as a Grey Heron flew in and throughout the trip Sparrowhawks flushed birds that were quietly roosting. After having our picnic stop overlooking the North Sea, with Fulmars gliding along the cliff faces and Gannets offshore we collected Yvonne, Fiona and Liz who were joining us for the second half of the trip.

In the evening sunlight Lapwings, Curlews, Golden Plovers, Redshanks, Dunlins and Turnstones were roosting, Brown Hares were half-heartedly chasing each other in the field margins, a Little Egret flew high away to the north, a Marsh Harrier caused panic as it flew low over the marsh before dropping into the rushes, Water Rails squealed from reedbeds, a dense flock of Swallows and Sand Martins headed to roost as Canada and Greylag Geese departed noisily and, as the light faded to unmanageable, Jupiter and Saturn were both observed through the ‘scope πŸ™‚

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A swell time ;-) NEWT’s North Sea Pelagic 19/07/19

by on Jul.22, 2019, under North Sea, White-beaked Dolphin

Friday’s 4hr evening pelagic headed out of the Tyne piers into a stiff breeze and long rolling swell…

Kittiwakes and Fulmars circled the boat, Gannets soared by, Manx Shearwaters rose out of the troughs and up over wave crests before vanishing back behind the swell, Puffins , Guillemots and Razorbills sat on the water before making a frantic escape and small flocks of Common Scoter passed by.

Heading south a dolphin put in a brief and stealthy appearance so we were soon on our way again…and six White-beaked Dolphins were suddenly bow-riding in the gloom of a cloud laden sunset πŸ™‚

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Under the moonlight; Otter mini-Safari 15/07/19

by on Jul.17, 2019, under Druridge Bay, Otter

Arriving in Newbiggin to collect Dave and Dawn ahead of an evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland exploring NEWT’s favourite Otter sites I smiled when Dave said “We have no idea what the plan is or what’s happening. Our daughter just told us to be here to meet you”…

We started with our usual riparian woodland walk, and Dave spotted a Dipper sitting quietly on a mid-stream rock. It started preening and bathing and then took a few short swims underwater before flying off upstream.

With a gentle breeze cooling the warmth of the Sun, Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers were putting in brief appearances in the reeds, Reed Buntings were singing their simple song, flocks of Starlings flew to roost and a dense flock of Sand Martins alternated between gorging themselves on flies and perching along the face of a reedbed as a Barn Owl quartered the dunes before flying past us carrying prey.

A Spotted Redshank feeding frantically in the shallows joined a mass panic as Curlews, Avocets and Lapwings took to the air before gradually settling back down as Grey Herons and a Little Egret darted at small fish. Scanning around the edge of the water I noticed a swirl lingering close to a reedbed and then all of the waders took flight again. For a few minutes all we could see were the ripples from something disturbing the water in a gap in the reeds…and then the Otter swam into view πŸ™‚ We watched it for around 30 minutes before it vanished into a reedbed as the full Moon rose, flanked by Jupiter and Saturn, and the Barn Owl perched on a pole near the car and almost directly in front of the Moon πŸ™‚

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Dipping, owling and haring; Bespoke Druridge Bay Safari 04/07/19

by on Jul.09, 2019, under Druridge Bay, Otter

Thursday’s bespoke Druridge Bay Safari for Keith and Jean was forecast to be dry…so it was unexpected when the first drops of rain started hitting the car windscreen as we headed south from Outchester…

With fish taking flies from the surface of the River Blyth a Dipper flew past as Song Thrushes, Chaffinches and Chiffchaffs sang from cover and we took shelter from the rain under the trees.

Lapwings, Dunlin, Redshanks and Curlews were roosting, heads into the wind, as Avocets fed busily and Grey Herons and Little Egrets stalked along the reedbed edges, a Barn Owl ghosted over the fields and an Otter swam across the pool wrestling with a large Eel πŸ™‚ Our regular Little Owl was sitting in it’s usual spot, sheltered from the wind and rain and, as the gloom of dusk gave way to a stunning pink sunset over Little Grebes, Great Crested Grebes, Coots, Moorhens and Greylag and Canada Geese, a male Marsh Harrier was quartering the reeds and Brown Hares raced ahead of us on roads and footpaths.

The journey back north brought another Barn Owl hunting along the roadside verge as the sunset faded to near darkness.

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Dolphins and a stunning sunset :-) NEWT’s North Sea Pelagic 03/07/19

by on Jul.04, 2019, under Bottlenose Dolphin, North Sea

We set out from Royal Quays in better conditions than on Friday and Laura quickly found the Bottlenose Dolphins just around the corner in King Edward’s Bay again πŸ™‚

With Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills, Gannets, Kittiwakes, Fulmars and Common Scoters all seen as we headed north towards Newbiggin, Laura spotted more dolphins and they came to bow-ride the JFK Two as the dipping Sun bathed them in beautiful light as Jupiter rose through the Belt of Venus and a stunning sunset provided a backdrop to St Mary’s Island as we headed back to the river πŸ™‚

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Warm spring evenings :-) Otter mini-Safari 20/04/19

by on Apr.22, 2019, under Druridge Bay, Otter

As much as I love the winter, there’s something special about warm spring and summer evenings with Otter Safaris and Druridge Bay Safaris finishing at dusk…

I collected Andy and Helen from Bedlington for their second trip with NEWT, following a cold wet Lindisfarne Safari in 2012, and Kate and Rob and Keely and John from Newbiggin and we headed out for a few hours searching Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland for Otters

16 Avocets, with some displaying and mating, was an impressive total as Oystercatchers, Common Redshanks and a Little Ringed Plover patrolled the mud in search of food. At least 4, and possibly as many as 6, Little Egrets were stalking in and out of channels between the reeds and a Barn Owl hunted over rough grassland before perching obligingly on a fence post in beautiful evening light. Β Then Rob spotted an Otter and we watched it for a few minutes as it fed before vanishing out of sight into the reeds πŸ™‚

With dusk approaching we headed to the site that I was confident would produce an Otter sighting in twilight. A Roe Deer was standing on the far side of the water before racing off up the bank and heading into cover as Little and Great Crested Grebes dived in search of fish. Tufted Ducks were suddenly looking alert and small groups started flying off. Kate thought she’d seen something close to the Tufties but it had gone out of sight behind the reeds. With daylight giving way to dusk and Arcturus and Capella both shining through the twilight sky I was scanning a patch of flat calm water and realised that there was a fine trail of bubbles and a pattern of swirls…then an Otter popped up πŸ™‚ It quickly moved away towards the dark shadows of a reedbed and a small group of Mute Swans, with it’s presence eventually only betrayed by the ring of bright water each time it surfaced.

6 clients, 4 hours, 2 sites, 2 Otters, 1 great evening of wildlife watching on the Northumberland coast πŸ™‚

Here’s an image of an Otter family in January 2018 from one of our regular sites πŸ™‚

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Back to sea; NECP Transect Survey 25/02/19

by on Feb.27, 2019, under Bottlenose Dolphin

As many of our regular readers may already know, I was diagnosed with a rare and progressive illness last year and had surgery at the start of January to alleviate the worst of the symptoms. One of the most frustrating things, as well as having to have a couple of months break from NEWT safaris, has been having to stay onshore and not do any survey work for the North East Cetacean Project. Monday was the first time in months that I’ve felt well enough to consider spending a day at sea so I left the house as a beautiful sunrise was developing and drove to Whitley Bay to collect Andy. We met up with Caroline at Royal Quays and then on to the St Aidan.

Once we were out of the Tyne it was obvious that conditions were as good as we’d thought they’d be. Heading north we had four sightings of Harbour Porpoise, although they were all typically shy, and as were about to have lunch a loud shout of “dolphins” from Andy heralded the arrival of 40-50 Bottlenose Dolphins that stayed around the boat for 45mins πŸ™‚

It’s good to be back πŸ˜‰

Bottlenose Dolphins [Tursiops truncatus] off Dunstanburgh, Northumberland 25/02/19
Bottlenose Dolphins [Tursiops truncatus] off Dunstanburgh, Northumberland 25/02/19
Bottlenose Dolphins [Tursiops truncatus] off Dunstanburgh, Northumberland 25/02/19
Bottlenose Dolphins [Tursiops truncatus] off Dunstanburgh, Northumberland 25/02/19
Bottlenose Dolphins [Tursiops truncatus] off Dunstanburgh, Northumberland 25/02/19
Bottlenose Dolphins [Tursiops truncatus] off Dunstanburgh, Northumberland 25/02/19
Bottlenose Dolphins [Tursiops truncatus] off Dunstanburgh, Northumberland 25/02/19
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Falling; Bespoke Otter Safari 11/10/18

by on Oct.12, 2018, under Druridge Bay, Otter

As I left the house to head north to Embleton to collect John and Margaret for an afternoon and evening searching for Otters around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland a flock of 43 Redwings passed overhead, heading southwest on the stiff breeze and drizzle…

Rather than lunch overlooking the North Sea I thought that one of our regular Otter sites would be a better early afternoon option.Β  With an impressive range of wildfowl, Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Red-breasted Merganser and Mute Swan, an impressive raft of Coots, Moorhens picking around the base of the reedbeds, Grey Herons standing motionless and with Golden Plover and Lapwing facing into the breeze the water was gently rippling as three Otter cubs appeared in the distance πŸ™‚Β  They swam out of sight then reappeared, alarming Mallards as they came out of the water and onto a muddy bank before taking a few minutes to make their way along the edge of a reedbed and out of sight.Β  When they put in another appearance they were led by mum before they all slipped out of sight again.

An impressive wader roost included Ruff, Dunlin, Common Redshank, Knot, Lapwing, Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, Black-tailed Godwit and Common Snipe.Β  The high-pitched ‘seep’ calls of Redwings passing overhead were the aural backdrop to an encounter with that gorgeous gem of autumn birding on the east coast, a Yellow-browed Warbler.Β  As it played hide-and-seek with us, another one was behind us at the same time πŸ™‚

We finished the day as we so often do at this time of the year; a distant Otter feeding intensely as skeins of Pink-footed and Greylag Geese dropped out of the sky in front of us and Starlings murmurated against a darkening sky πŸ™‚

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Deluge; Otter Safari 06/09/18

by on Sep.07, 2018, under Druridge Bay, Otter

Our second Otter Safari in 2 days looked as thought it was unlikely to be blessed with the same good weather as Wednesday…

I collected Alison and then Amanda and David from Newbiggin and we set off for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland searching for Otters.Β  When the Otters eluded us on Wednesday I’d seen enough at each site we checked to be confident that we’d find Otters this time, and thought that changing the order we visited each site would do the trick…and within a minute of arriving at our first site I’d picked a likely spot for an Otter – and there was one πŸ™‚Β  In fact there were two, and they caused some consternation among Little Grebes, Tufted Ducks, Mallards and Greylag Geese before vanishing.Β  Alison hadn’t managed to spot either of them through the ‘scope so I pointed it in the direction of a Water Rail and let everyone marvel at the odd-looking denizen of the reedbed while I scoured the entire pool trying to relocate the Otters.Β  Amanda beat me too it though, about ten minutes after we lost sight of the Otters one appeared right in front of us!Β  It slowly made it’s way across the pool, scattering Mute Swans, Little Grebes, Cormorants, Gadwall, Wigeon, Teal, Mallard and Canada Geese before finally vanishing into the dark depths of a distant reedbed.Β  All of this was going on with a noisy backdrop of Lapwings, Common Redshank and geese as Starlings swirled overhead and 3 Spotted Redshank, dashingly elegant, raced through the shallows.Β  We could see heavy rain away to the north, and the first few drops began to disturb the calm water.Β  Up to that point there hadn’t even been a hint of a breeze but that changed and suddenly the wind was very noticeable, as was the arrival of the heavy rain; torrential rain that flooded the roads along the coast and made observing anything quite difficult although three Spotted Redshank, looking remarkably like the same three from earlier in the afternoon dropped in – were they making their way south down the Northumberland coast the same way we were?Β  A remarkable 123 Mediterranean Gulls settled on the water as the rain intensified, and as we continued down the coast there were more in fields and along the shoreline.

Dusk began to creep up sooner than expected under a leaden grey sky with a remarkable fiery orange sunset on the western horizon as a Grey Heron caught an impressive fish in shallow water, a Kingfisher flew by, Little Egrets stood out in the deepening gloom and it was time to head back to Newbiggin.

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NEWT’s Guide to Bottlenose Dolphins in Northumberland

by on Aug.06, 2018, under Bottlenose Dolphin, North Sea

A lot of our clients are very familiar with Northumberland’s marine wildlife so the question “Where have these Bottlenose Dolphins come from? I can’t remember them being here until the last few years.” is a regular one…

Until 2012 Bottlenose Dolphin was a rare animal in Northumberland waters and when I was researching/writing the cetacean species accounts for ‘Mammals, Amphibians and Reptiles of the North East’ there had only been 11 sightings of 10 or more animals since the first Northumberland record in 1966.

21st October 2012 was the day that everything began to change, with a loose group of ~150 dolphins moving down the coast from Berwick to Newbiggin before vanishing. Small groups broke away and took a liking to Holy Island and Bamburgh, with the group off Bamburgh hanging around through the winter and riding the waves alongside human surfers!

With small groups becoming regular from 2013 we were involved in trying to identify individual animals from photographs by comparing them to the excellent photo-identification catalogue developed by Aberdeen University. That’s when we noticed an interesting pattern – the animals we were seeing were mainly females that were already adults when they were photographed in the Moray Firth in the late 1980’s and had gradually departed the Moray Firth for a life further down the east coast of Scotland around the Firth and the Tay. In the case of the most distinctive dolphin we’ve seen, #116 ‘Runny Paint’ – the dolphin with the extraordinary white stripe along the base of her dorsal fin on the right hand side and four dashes on the left hand side – she’d left Moray in 2001. The ‘proto-colonisation’ of Northumberland seems to have been led by some elderly ladies

Over the last few years there have been increasing sightings of the dolphins, which now seem to have an extended home range, primarily from the Tay to the Wear but extending as far as Moray and the Yorkshire coast, and it seems likely that there are now calves that have been born in English waters. We don’t know how many dolphins are involved in total, with observer estimates often varying wildly even for a single group, but somewhere between 50-150 is probably in the right ballpark

We’ve seen them on land-based trips, boat trips to the Farne Islands and, of course, on our regular pelagic trips off the Northumberland coast and there’s no doubt that they’re a spectacular addition to Northumberland’s marine fauna but that might not be good news for some of our other cetaceans…

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Bottlenose Dolphins spent over an hour playing around the boat on our 4hr evening pelagic off Whitley Bay and St Mary's Island on 29/06/18

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