After dropping John, David and Sheila back in Alnwick after their bespoke photography trip to the Farne Islands, I met up with Sarah to have something to eat and then I was on my way to Alnmouth to collect Zoe, Richard, Ella, Luke and Charlie. This was their second trip with NEWT, following an evening mini-safari in late May last year.
One of the species from last year’s trip put in an impressive appearance again, as we watched a Barn Owl hunting along one edge of a pool, while an Avocet fed at the other side, Reed Buntings seemed to be everywhere we looked and a small group of Little Gulls looked tiny alongside nearby Black-headed Gulls. Soon, light levels had faded to the point where it was time to head off in search of our main quarry for the evening. Positioning ourselves in a spot that looks over an area where Badgers are regularly seen, we sat quietly. Almost immediately myself and Ella noticed something black-and-white moving in the vegetation opposite us.. That turned out to be a false alarm though as it revealed itself to be a Magpie 🙂 Things were quiet, although distantly I could hear the alarm calls of Blackbirds, Robins andWrens. Then another gentle sound just on the edge of hearing; ZZZZzzzzZZZZzzzzZZZZzzzz. It was warm and humid so it wouldn’t be a great surprise to encounter lots of insects…although these Z’s were coming from Luke and Charlie! That’s how relaxing it is to just sit and watch for wildlife…
Out of the corner of my eye I caught some movement away along the track.. Had I imagined it? Maybe it was a dog walker having an evening stroll? No more movement…and then a Red Fox trotted across the clearing in front of us. A second fox followed soon after, and then a Badger, big and ghostly pale, as an attempt was made to wake the boys without making too much noise 🙂 Another fox, this time a cub, sat watching us for a few minutes, and Luke spotted that there was a Badger in the undergrowth just beyond it. More fox sightings followed, and then a final Badger, as the light reached a point where even the sharpest of eyes would struggle to penetrate the gloom. The drive back to Alnmouth had one last good mammal for us, as a Brown Hare loped along the road a few metres ahead of the car 🙂
During Thursday’s Otter Safari, we were chatting about the different mammals that can be encountered in Northumberland and Albert asked whether we had many Badgers in Northumberland. I described their distribution, and how we go about finding and watching them, and before the evening was finished we’d arranged a Badger mini-safari for Saturday.
On my way to collect Albert and Elisabeth I was listening to commentary on the FA Cup final and suffered the heartbreak of Aaron Ramsey’s extra time winner for Arsenal (there’s a big cat, not found in Northumberland, that’s very close to my heart!). We made our way to our regular Badger site, and settled into position. Song Thrushes, Blackbirds, Robins andWrens were all calling as daylight faded, and then the Tawny Owls started hooting and ‘ke-wick’ ing. At one point there were at least three owls calling, including one close to our spot, and one perched tantalisingly hidden in the canopy high overhead. As on so many of our Badger trips, the first mammals to appear were Red Foxes – with an adult and two cubs running about on the hillside opposite us, occasionally pausing to stare across the valley with gloom-piercing eyes. One Badger appeared as well; probably the largest that I’ve ever seen, running along the same track that the foxes had been on, before making it’s way along a trail through the vegetation and into the gloom.
Sitting with clients who have a real appreciation of mammals, on a damp woodland floor, as daylight fades and the world becomes one of owls, foxes, badgers and inexplicable noises, is one of my favourite things…and for a few hours it even took my mind off ‘that’ goal 🙂
Yesterday was the second of four Druridge Bay/Southeast Northumberland afternoon and evening trips this week, and I collected Natalie and Clive from Newton on the Moor just after lunch before heading south.
Starting with a short woodland walk, we enjoyed close views of those arboreal specialists Treecreeper, Nuthatch and Great Spotted Woodpecker, but this time Red Squirrel eluded us.
At East Chevington, we were watching a roosting flock of Lapwing, Ruff and Curlew, and checking through the mass of assembled ducks, when a distant call caught my attention. It was a minute or two before the birds appeared high in the sky to the north, but there they were; 29 Pink-footed Geese, the arrival that for me always heralds the end of the summer.
A flock of Dunlin, Redshank and Curlew at Cresswell contained a Little Stint, and a brief seawatch produced a small flock of Knot heading north.
A patient wait as the orange glow of the sunset illuminated the surface of a pond brought rewards as our attention was drawn to a scattering flock of Coot. Just a few metres from the ripples left by the rapidly departing birds, the menacing shape of an Otter was twisting, turning and diving. As it vanished in to the dark shadows of a reedbed, the final indication of it’s presence were the bright trails left by Mallards and Little Grebes as they made a frantic effort to be anywhere other than where the Otter was. Even more exciting for me, was the completely unexpected appearance of a mammal that I haven’t seen since childhood, as the twilight was punctuated by a loud ‘plop’ and a Water Vole swam cross in front of us 🙂 Tawny Owls were calling and Common Pipistrelles flitted back and forth as the full moon, and cold wind, made the evening feel really autumnal.
I dropped Natalie and Clive back at Newton on the Moor, and decided to avoid the roadworks on the A1 on the route home and instead took the minor road from Shilbottle to Warkworth. I was still delayed though, but by a young Badger that trotted along the middle of the road ahead of me for a quarter of a mile before wandering into the verge and watching as I passed by. Expect the unexpected…
Thursday was my 3rd consecutive late finish.
Before setting off for a ‘Red Squirrel and Badger Safari’ I had a few admin things to get done including some more planning for the Birdwatching Northumberland stand at this year’s British Bird Fair (I’ve got 2 lecture slots at the Bird Fair this year!).
After collecting our picnic from The Swan, I headed to Church Point to collect Vince and Karin for their second safari day this week. Some unexpected birdwatching highlights included a Little Tern and a Cuckoo. A group of Tufted Ducks staring at a reedbed, and a clearly annoyed Mute Swan staring at the same reedbed and hissing, suggested that we were close to an Otter but in the blazing sunshine it stayed in the shade of the reeds and out of sight.
The first of the day’s targets was achieved with possibly the reddest Red Squirrel I’ve ever seen, simply stunning as it ran along the sun-dappled canopy, and then it was time to position ourselves close to our favourite Badger sett. Would the badgers come close? would they only appear when it was too dark to really appreciate what magnificent animals they are? all worries were eased when, in broad daylight, our first Badger of the evening came trotting along only 5m away, apparently oblivious to our presence. Another 3 Badgers followed, as well as 3 Red Foxes, and Tawny Owls were calling from the trees around us.
Of all of our tours, our evening mammal trips perhaps have the greatest unpredictability and the most remarkable ‘atmosphere’ of them all. It’s still my favourite time of the day 🙂
Yesterday we had an afternoon/evening safari around southeast Northumberland and Druridge Bay, an exciting prospect as these are producing some of our most memorable sightings.
Around lunchtime I started to receive calls about Bottlenose Dolphins, 5 past Newbiggin and 20-40 E of St Mary’s. When I arrived at Church Point at 14:40, the dolphins had departed but a Harbour Porpoise was close inshore. Once our clients had arrived we set off up the coast. First stop produced a juvenile Little Owl, lazing in the afternoon sunshine. A seawatching session revealed plenty of Gannets and Sandwich Terns, and Katie quickly spotted more Harbour Porpoises. The rest of the afternoon’s birdwatching produced excellent views of Lapwing, Common Sandpiper, Dunlin, Greenshank, Common Tern and some very entertaining Grey Herons. Non-birdy interest included Small Copper and Dark Green Fritillary butterflies, Blue-tailed Damselfly and a Common Frog. I chose a picnic spot giving us a wide view over the increasingly calm sea, producing further sightings of Harbour Porpoise, a distant group of Bottlenose Dolphins and a Peregrine.
Then we were on our way to the evening’s final destination. As we walked, quietly, through a heavily shaded steep wooded valley, I began to question myself; could we really be succesful with a group of 6 clients, when we were searching for an animal that is so easily disturbed? A Red Fox crossed the path ahead of us, although everyone other than Alice was looking the other way. I allowed everyone to settle into position on one side of the valley and we waited. In what seemed like no time at all, a stripy black-and-white head appeared from the undergrowth on the opposite side of the stream and our first Badger of the evening came trotting along. It paused briefly and then crossed the stream before vanishing up the hill behind us. After 30 mins, and another 6 Badgers!, we headed back to the Landy. With the bat detector switched on, we listened to, and had close views of, Common Pipistrelle and Daubenton’s Bat. Family bookings are always interesting, but the enthusiasm and cheerfulness of Emma, Katie and Alice made it such an enjoyable day (not forgetting the three older members of the group of course).
We’ll be running afternoon/evening safaris throughout the year, so give us a call on 01670 827465 to arrange your own Northern Experience 🙂
After collecting Gill and Richard from Bamburgh, mid-afternoon Thursday, we had another southeast Northumberland safari. This one was scheduled to finish at dusk, “a 50-year quest to see a live Badger”. No pressure there then 🙂 As so often, with late finishes, the final hour was simply magical. We’d made our way to the hillside opposite a Badger sett that we’ve been watching for a few weeks. Within a minute of settling into our watching position the tables were turned and we found ourselves under the baleful glare of a Tawny Owl. Still in good daylight, our first Badger of the evening walked across the hillside opposite. Over the next 40 mins we had 7 sightings of at least 5 Badgers. Pipistrelles flicked back and forward across our field of view, Blackbirds, Robins, Wrens and Mistle Thrushes were all alarming from the trees around our watchpoint and we enjoyed all of this with the Badgers carrying on with their dusk perambulations around the woods, safe and undisturbed by anything we were doing.
After returning Gill and Richard to Bamburgh, through what seemed to be a blizzard of moths, it was time to head home. 3 Barn Owls between Bamburgh and Seahouses were an excellent start to the journey and, near Rennington, I had to stop and wait as a Red Fox cub walked across the road in front of the Land Rover. Back home it was time to sleep, ahead of Friday’s Otter Safari.
Yesterday was the first of several forthcoming days where we’re running multiple trips on the same day, and with 6 clients during the day, and 2 of them joining us for an evening safari as well, it was a day that could go really well, or not…
The primary target species for everyone was our old favourite, Otters. We started with a spot of birdwatching, and excellent views of the Little Owl that we should probably be adding to the NEWT payroll 😉 Our first Otter site didn’t produce the goods, although 2 Brown Hares chasing each other around a nearby field provided good entertainment. Once we’d been there as long as I’d decided in advance of the trip, I had a hunch that another site, that has disappointed for several months now, might just produce the goods. As we arrived I pointed out the location of a holt and suggested that the area around that was a good place to check. Within a minute, Anthea had found 2 Otters, and we watched them for 75 mins as they fed, played, paddled along the surface, dodged in and out of the reeds and eventually vanished, probably to have an afternoon nap after their marathon feeding session. A bit more birdwatching further up the coast produced excellent views of Common and Sandwich Terns and then it was time to return Liz & James and Kate & Take (pronounced Tarka – the most appropriate name for any participant in a NEWT trip so far) to their respective holiday locations and start the second trip of the day with Andy and Anthea.
Anthea is an Australian with a fascination for British wildlife and the day out was part of a target list that she has for a 3 month trip around Britain and Europe. Red Squirrel was next on the list and patience and persistence paid off as we settled ourselves close to a feeding area and eventually had excellent views of at least 3 squirrels, and some very close Jays, Great Spotted Woodpeckers and a Nuthatch.
With such a long day, sustenance came in the form of a meal at The Swan before we were on our way again. Myriads of Rabbits were along the roads and we made our way along the heavily wooded valley of a small stream and got into position opposite a Badger sett. A Red Fox walked along the hillside before vanishing into the undergrowth and causing consternation in all of the birds that were settling to roost. It re-appeared just up the track from where were sitting and ran up the hill behind us, then a 2nd Fox crossed the hillside. Soon we were treated to the sight of not one, not two, but three Badgers crossing a clearing. As the light levels in the wood dropped to unmanageable we relocated to a feeding area that’s popular with Badgers and Foxes where we watched another Fox as it stalked along an edge, apparently invisible to the Rabbits that were sitting on the grass. As we walked back to the Land Rover we added mammals #7 and #8 to the day list; Common Pipistrelle and Daubenton’s Bat. A long day, but a really, really excellent one 🙂
Yesterday’s Druridge Bay/Southeast Northumberland trip was focussed on coastal birdwatching and, particularly, mammals. We’re moving more and more towards early starts and/or late finishes on our Safaris; some of our clients like the 9-5 sort of day out which slots easily into their daily routine whereas others are more adventurous and a mid-afternoon start means that we’re still out at what is, in my opinion, the best time of the day…
It’s near to dusk and we’re sitting on a hillside in a shaded wood. Opposite us is an area of open ground that will, I hope, provide a longed-for lifer for my clients. Pipistrelles are racing backwards and forwards around our heads and everyone is following their pre-trip instructions to the letter; no movement, no sound, make sure there’s something behind you to break up your silhouette.
We’ve already had an excellent afternoon in the stunning weather; a Little Owl sat and watched us without any concern – perhaps it recognises our Land Rover after a few visits, and realises that we aren’t a threat? A Barn Owl flew close by, taking prey back to the nest and a Reed Bunting sang from a reedbed just a few meters away, it’s simple song drowned out by the extraordinary performance of a Sedge Warbler. Now though, we’re approaching the culmination of the trip and there’s a strong sense of anticipation. A movement on the hillside opposite, and there’s our first Badger of the evening 🙂 Trotting along a track near the top of the hill, we get just a few seconds as it’s clearly on a mission. Everyone sits still and silent; discipline indeed after the appearance of the day’s main target. A Red Fox came down off the hillside then walked past us and up the bank we were sitting against, as unconcerned as the Little Owl by our presence. Patience pays off a few minutes later when two young Badgers appear low down on the hillside. After a few minutes of playing around behind a tree trunk, and only being visible briefly, one of them comes out into the open; snuffling and foraging it’s way across the clearing, these are the views of wildlife that make what we do so much fun. A brief pause, and it turned to face us, lifting it’s head high. Have we been spotted? A lot of succesful wildlife encounters depend on not being seen, or at least not appearing to be a threat. As it returns to happily foraging on the hillside I breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that we’d got it right, and once it had vanished into the undergrowth we retreat silently from our watchpoint, treading carefully; after all, we’ve managed to watch these iconic animals without disturbing them, it would be a real shame to cause them distress as we leave.
As the damp, dreary weather of yesterday was giving way to brighter conditions I found myself heading up the coast to collect clients from Craster. Our targets for the evening were Red Squirrel, Otter and Badger; in that order of priority, so an evening safari in Southeast Northumberland had been planned to try and encompass all three species. A walk along the River Blyth produced what could well be a ‘must see’ for natural history enthusiasts over the coming years. Scampering along branches and leaping through the canopy, our first target entertained as it made it’s way through the trees – causing agitation in two Great Spotted Woodpeckers which had been feeding quietly before the squirrel’s appearance. A Jay allowed us an unusually close approach before it vanished into the trees and Dippers were zipping back and forth along the river as we returned to the Land Rover, and we set out to search for Otters. It wasn’t to be, although some compensation came in the shape of a Barn Owl, drifting along the dunes and then catching a vole before revealing the location of it’s nest by taking the food back to the waiting mouths. That’s the great thing about running birdwatching and wildlife tours; it may be unpredictable, but there’s always something to enjoy and appreciate.
With heavy drizzle hampering visibility, we made our way to a site where Badgers would hopefully be out and about. Sure enough, James spotted one as soon as we arrived, and a second movement on the hillside was probably another one, although it slipped out of sight in the undergrowth soon after being spotted.
Finding 2 out of 3 elusive mammals that we were looking for was a good success rate and, with some new sites for Otters that we’ve been monitoring, our bespoke ‘multi-mammal’ trips are sure to prove popular this summer.