Wildlife

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.  Then Rob spotted an Otter and we watched it for a few minutes as it fed before vanishing out of sight into the reeds 🙂

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 🙂 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 🙂

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

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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 🙂

It’s good to be back 😉

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.  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 🙂  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.  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.  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.  As it played hide-and-seek with us, another one was behind us at the same time 🙂

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 🙂

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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.  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 🙂  In fact there were two, and they caused some consternation among Little Grebes, Tufted Ducks, Mallards and Greylag Geese before vanishing.  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.  Amanda beat me too it though, about ten minutes after we lost sight of the Otters one appeared right in front of us!  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.  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.  We could see heavy rain away to the north, and the first few drops began to disturb the calm water.  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?  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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Quick start :-) NEWT’s North Sea Pelagic 18/07/18

by on Jul.19, 2018, under North Sea, White-beaked Dolphin

There are days when we search for a long time before finding the wildlife that we’re searching for, there are days when despite our best efforts it eludes us, and then there was last night…

Conditions were looking good with cloud cover and gentle swell so exactly what we’d hope for when we’re searching for dolphins.  We’re doing cetacean surveys on all of our pelagic trips this year and Caroline and Genine had only just started recording the environmental conditions, as we settled on to a steady course, when Tim spotted dolphins ahead of the boat 🙂  This first group of 5 White-beaked Dolphins buzzed the boat a couple of times but were clearly on a mission and quickly departed to the south.  We resumed our original course and passed by Kittiwakes, Gannets and Guillemots before eventually turning back south as the Sun sank lower in the sky towards a slight break in the cloud.  The swell was building, and the gloom of dusk was taking hold when our second group of White-beaked Dolphins for the evening appeared, and these ones were in a much more playful mood 🙂

All of our 4hr evening sailings apart from August 8th are full and our 10hr Northumberland Ultimate Pelagic on August 14th has sold out too.  We’ve got a few spaces on our 10hr sailings on August 29th, September 15th and September 22nd so give us a call on 01670 827465 to book your place.  We only have limited availability on our sailings so booking early is always the best option to make sure you get a place!

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Here come the White-beaks :-) NEWT’s North Sea pelagic 11/07/18

by on Jul.13, 2018, under North Sea, White-beaked Dolphin

Wednesday was our 5th evening pelagic this year and after Bottlenose Dolphins putting in a good shift on our 2nd sailing, followed by a coupe of stunning sunsets last week, the question on everyone’s lips was “Will England make it to the World Cup final?”…

A few scattered whitecaps and a bit of swell, combined with a lot of glare, make observing tricky and we scanned every flock of gulls and Gannets as we headed north.  Fulmars and Manx Shearwaters passed by on stiff wings, low over the sea and a flock of Common Scoter went north ahead of us.  As we turned back south, having the sun behind us helped, as did the gradual decrease in the sea state and swell.  Scanning along a tide line towards a distant flock of diving Gannets I almost dropped my binoculars as a White-beaked Dolphin started breaching repeatedly away to the east of us.  As everyone else started looking in the same direction, the dolphin unobligingly failed to breach again…but the distinctive dorsal fins and slow diving behaviour of five White-beaked Dolphins more than made up for that 🙂

We’re steadily filling all of our sailings for this year, but we’ve still got as few spaces on our 4hr evening sailings on July 18th and August 1st/8th as well as our 10hr ‘Northumberland Ultimate Pelagic sailings on September 15th, 19th and 22nd.  Give us a call on 01670 827465 or visit our pelagic page for more information or to book.

White-beaked Dolphins [Lagenorhynchus albirostris] were the highlight of our 4hr North Sea pelagic sailing on 11/07/18

White-beaked Dolphins [Lagenorhynchus albirostris] were the highlight of our 4hr North Sea pelagic sailing on 11/07/18

White-beaked Dolphins [Lagenorhynchus albirostris] were the highlight of our 4hr North Sea pelagic sailing on 11/07/18

White-beaked Dolphins [Lagenorhynchus albirostris] were the highlight of our 4hr North Sea pelagic sailing on 11/07/18

White-beaked Dolphins [Lagenorhynchus albirostris] were the highlight of our 4hr North Sea pelagic sailing on 11/07/18

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The sublimity of evening; Bespoke Otter Safari 05/07/18

by on Jul.06, 2018, under Druridge Bay, Otter

I’ve never been great in hot sunny weather so as I collected Mike and Moira, for an afternoon and evening searching for Otters around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland, I was hoping for an increase in cloud cover…

In the heat of the afternoon, Avocets were harassing Grey Herons and Shelduck ducklings were skittering about on the surface of coastal pools as a Roe Deer ghosted through the reeds at the water’s edge and Lapwings squabbled nearby.  A Little Owl glared down from it’s perch between chimney pots as cloud began to roll in and Canada and Greylag Geese were looking alert but there was no sign of the cause of their concern

As daylight turned to dusk there was little sign of the Sun and that improved visibility substantially 🙂  Swallows, Swifts, House Martins and Sand Martins were plundering the rich feast of flying insects and a spectacular dense flock of 39 Black-tailed Godwits twisted and turned in the air in front of us as the distinctive call of Whimbrel failed to betray their location.  Water Rails were running nervously in and out of the reeds as another Roe Deer appeared, trotting through the shallow edge of the pool, and Tufted Ducks gathered their ducklings into tight groups as Cormorants took off, Mute Swans began staring at the reeds and a Little Grebe suddenly froze in position.  Then an Otter appeared just in front of us 🙂  We watched it for 45 minutes, including a remarkable tableau of hunting Otter beneath murmuration of Starlings with a Barn Owl quartering the reeds just a few metres away from us, before it vanished into the gloom of dusk and a distant reedbed.

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Yes, this really is southeast Northumberland ;-) Otter Safari 18/05/18

by on May.19, 2018, under Druridge Bay, Otter

In warm but breezy weather I collected Baird and Margaret, and then Jacqui, Paul, Chris and Louise ahead of an afternoon and evening around southeast Northumberland and Druridge Bay searching for Otters

Starting with a woodland walk we could hear Blackbird, Blackcap, Robin, Wren, Woodpigeon, Chiffchaff and Chaffinch all singing but the only movement in the rocky streams was gurgling water. Black-headed Gulls were swarming over the wider rivers, mopping up an obviously substantial hatch of flying insects, and Cormorants were doing their best to impersonate Otters.  Our picnic stop overlooking the North Sea brought a fantastic wildlife experience; with everyone else enjoying soup, sandwich and carrot cake I was scanning the sea.  Common Eider, Guillemot and Razorbill were all rafting as Gannets headed north and then I spotted the concentrated activity of a flock of gulls.  Focusing on the sea below them I soon spotted a couple of dorsal fins breaking the surface…and we had nearly an hour with 9 Bottlenose Dolphins porpoising, breaching, feeding and generally being very entertaining right in front of us 🙂  Tufted Duck, Mallard, Shoveler, Gadwall and Great Crested Grebe all looked stunning in low angled sunlight as Lapwings displayed with their bizarre other-worldly calls and, as the Sun sank towards the northwest a Barn Owl flew across the road ahead of us.

Under a beautiful waxing crescent Moon alongside Venus in the west, and Arcturus and Jupiter visible in the twilight to the southeast, with the giant planet stunning through our telescope, the Swallows, Swifts, House Martins and Sand Martins were replaced overhead by Noctule and pipistrelle bats as dozens and dozens of Black-headed Gulls continued feasting on flying insects and a Roe Deer was in the reeds opposite us.  Tufted Ducks, Mallards, Canada Geese and Greylag Geese were looking agitated and one flock of gulls seemed to be whirling in a dense tight circle over a narrow bay in the reeds before gradually drifting along still following the reed edge…and the Otter that was stealthily making it’s way around the pool 🙂  We watched it for a few minutes before it surfaced right in front of an adult Mute Swan and decided it was time to beat a hasty retreat into the reeds.

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Persistence :-) Otter Safari 27/04/18

by on May.01, 2018, under Druridge Bay, Otter

I collected Paul and Jenny from The Swan and we set off for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland, searching for Otters

So far, 2018 has been another one of those years where we should be adding our regular Little Owls to the payroll, and the tiny predator scowling at us from a bare tree was like a toddler trying to look fierce while not really being very tall and scary at all 🙂  Fulmars soared over the North Sea, which was looking remarkably calm, as Eiders rafted just offshore and Grey Seals dived languidly before resurfacing a short distance away.  While Teal, Mallard, Gadwall, Goldeneye and Tufted Duck all looked pristine in their breeding finery, two other ducks really stole the the mid-afternoon show; Garganey and Pintail are both incredibly attractive, and both unusual enough in Northumberland in late April to be elevated above other wildfowl 😉  A Little Egret flew by and a Spoonbill was, very typically, asleep in the rushes as a White Wagtail stood out as pale and strikingly marked compared to Pied Wagtail.  As the Sun sank towards the horizon in the north west a Barn Owl flew by, radiantly golden in the sunlight, and Starlings began to gather in small numbers compared to their winter murmurations.

A lone Whooper Swan was with Mute Swans as Roe Deer grazed close to the edge of a pool and dusk descended.  Cormorant, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye and Great Crested Grebe all left ripples as they dived, but their were ripples from one edge of a reedbed with no obvious cause.  Then there were 2 Otters 🙂  We lost sight of one of them quickly, but the other could be seen, keeping low in the water and trying to sneak up on Mute Swans which were having none of it.  As the light faded to a point where we couldn’t seen clearly anymore, the Otter was still swimming back and forth in it’s incessant search for food.

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