I arrived in Berwick to collect Juan and Erika from the railway station for their tour of Lindisfarne and the North Northumberland coast and a first for NEWT – clients from Argentina!
We headed down the coast in some unforecast rain and in the mighty shadow of Bamburgh Castle we watched Purple Sandpiper and Turnstone as they picked their way through the rocks within inches of the frothing surf. Common Eider, Common Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Guillemot and Puffin were all rising and falling in a deep swell and Kittiwakes were passing by as we set the telescope up on the side of the car that was sheltered from the wind and rain. Heading north we came across lots of Shelduck, Wigeon, Teal, Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit and Lapwing, as well as smaller numbers of Shoveler, Goosander and Common Redshank, and a lone Kestrel hanging motionless facing into the wind, then over on to Holy Island where the sky was blue, the clouds were white and fluffy and the wind was still howling…
Grey Seals were hauled out on the mud at low tide and as their mournful calls carried on the breeze across the island Skylarks were singing, tiny black dots against the sky, Meadow Pipits were song-flighting and there were at least 21 Roe Deer feeding in a remarkably dense herd. Red-breasted Merganser were having their crests ruffled by the wind, Pied Wagtails were searching for insects around the car park and panic rippled through the birds out on the mudflats. Grey Herons stalked through marshy edges, the eerie cries of Curlew drifted through the dunes and, as we made our way back across the causeway with the tide rising and the sun setting, Common Eider were displaying, Common Redshank and Pale-bellied Brent Geese were on the edge of the rising water and a Curlew decided to sit on the road right in front of us 🙂
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 🙂
Our annual Whale and Dolphin Cruise on Glad Tidings V is one of the highlights of our North Sea Pelagic programme. With over 40 people booked on to this year’s sailing, we were going to need to be organised and efficient getting everyone on to the boat – luckily I’m married to Sarah, so organisation and efficiency just seem to happen to me 🙂
Saturday was also the first day of our Whales, Waders and Wildfowl holiday, so I collected Bill from The Swan and we drove north, pausing in Amble to collect Ruth as we passed through. Warm, sunny, windy and with plenty of whitecaps offshore were conditions that could make finding cetaceans tricky. As we sailed south we came across a raft of Gannets, Sooty and Manx Shearwaters and plenty of Grey Seals ‘bottling’ amongst them. There wasn’t any sort of feeding activity of note though, but eventually we managed brief views of a small group of Harbour Porpoise nearby. Continuing on our way, there was a sighting of Minke Whale from the front of the boat…just as I watched a White-beaked Dolphin breaching away to the east 🙂 Eventually we had seven or eight dolphins around the boat, allowing everyone on board the opportunity to enjoy close views of our favourite cetacean. As we made our way slowly back towards Seahouses, two more Minke Whales appeared and we’d struck gold, silver and bronze in one trip 🙂
LBJ. No, not the 36th President of the United States, but the acronym used by many birdwatchers to describe any relatively small, nondescript brown bird – ‘Little Brown Job’. Over the last few years, a number of our clients have applied that term to two birds that I always think deserve closer attention…
I collected Jo and Kirsty from Alnwick for their second consecutive day out with me and we headed straight up the coast and made our way on to Holy Island. Curlews were passing overhead as we walked around the bits of the island that weren’t full of other people, those two LBJ’s, Skylark and Meadow Pipit, were dodging in and out of long grass in the fields by the path, Kirsty started photographing Swallows and quickly progressed to using flash to freeze the action as they hovered in front of us feeding beakfuls of flies to recently fledged juveniles and Golden Plover and Oystercatcher were probing around rockpools as Grey Seals bobbed about in the gentle surf just offshore. Edges are always a productive area; edges of fields, woodland, moorland and the shoreline – that ever shifting edge of the sea and the land. That latter edge produced some stunning Bar-tailed Godwits, and an impressively large group of very vocal Grey Seals.
As we continued back down the coast the mist thickened and we were eventually in the surreal position of having blazing sunshine on our backs and visibility of less than 100m in front of us. As a loose flock of Eiders drifted close inshore and then back out again, and Swallows and House Martins hawked insects low over the beach, a dark menacing shape drifted out of the mist, passed in front of us, and then drifted back into the impenetrable white mass. Always a bird to grab the attention on a seawatch, the Arctic Skua was only in view for a few seconds as it made it’s way south along the coast, and we headed inland into glorious weather again.
In late July there are a few species that we’d be amazed to not find on a North Sea pelagic trip; Guillemot, Razorbill, Puffin, Kittiwake, Fulmar and Gannet are all great birds to see, and are all part of the experience that is the North Sea in mid-summer. There are other species that can overshadow the regular cast list though; Sooty Shearwater is a real ‘birders bird’, close views of any of the skuas grab the attention and, with seabirds covering such vast distances, there’s always the possibility of something completely unexpected. But, for crowd-pleasing spectacular there’s little that can compete with our marine mammals. Grey Seals often pop their heads up as we pass, but the real awe-inspiring species are whales and dolphins. Our previous pelagic had been illuminated by Minke Whales but on this trip we were confident of finding a different species. Ten years of finding, studying, and mapping the distribution of, White-beaked Dolphins gives us a narrow target area to search in the third week in July…
As we headed north, a shout from Jimmy alerted everyone to the presence of a small pod of dolphins ahead of us. Sure enough, the White-beaked Dolphins came across to investigate our boat and we soon had 12 of them around us 🙂 Once I was sure that everyone had seen them – which didn’t take too long! – I waited for them to surface alongside us so that I could take photographs of their dorsal fins. Through a combination of NEWT pelagic trips and survey work for the North East Cetacean Project, we’ve built up a catalogue of individual White-beaked Dolphins off the Northumberland coast. Having been the first pelagic tour operator to regularly find White-beaked Dolphins off the Northumberland coast, and the only one to have contributed to the Marine Conservation Zones project, we’re proud to have been involved in leading the way in groundbreaking research to map the distribution and abundance of White-beaked Dolphins. We’d like to thank all of our clients who’ve contributed, and continue to contribute, to the catalogue too 🙂
Of course, dolphin dorsal fin images aren’t the most exciting shots you can get, and the glassy calm water produced lots of other interesting possibilities…
In any list of ‘Northumberland’s Big 5’ there will always be disagreements about the species that should be included. One species that really epitomises the wildlife of North Northumberland is the ‘hook-nosed sea pig’…or Grey Seal to give it a less offensive handle than the translation of it’s Latin name 😉
I collected John and Jennifer from Church Point and we drove northwards along the Northumberland coast. Arriving in Seahouses, ready for our Seal Cruise on Glad Tidings V, conditions were near perfect; beautiful blue sky, calm sea and just the slight breeze that always seems to be present on the coast, even on calm days. As the distance between ourselves and the mainland increased, streams of Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Puffins, Guillemots and Razorbills were heading to and from the islands, Gannets were passing by in impressive groups, Cormorants and Shags were sitting like sentinels at the gates of some mystical wildlife world and then we came across the seals. Bathing in the sunshine, and only occasionally lifting their heads to avoid unexpected sprays of breaking surf, they allowed a close approach that had an entire boat full of camera-wielding visitors clicking away like a knitting circle.
Back on dry land we sat and had lunch, just along the coast from the impressive bulk of Bamburgh Castle, and then continued north to look for more seals. As high tide approached they could be seen ‘bottling’ close to Holy Island, and we made our way back down the coast.
There’s always something special about days out with clients who have a connection with the north east; often we’ll visit locations that they haven’t seen for a long time, and they’ll share their memories of the place. One thing that’s constant though, is that they always have a passion for Northumberland, no matter how long they’ve been away, or where they live now.
I collected Dickie and Caroline from Church Point and we set off on the drive north along the Northumberland coast, heading towards Seahouses. The main part of the trip was a Seal Cruise on Glad Tidings 5, although in the ‘stiff’ breeze I wasn’t certain that we’d be sailing. We arrived in Seahouses to be greeted by the good news that we would be sailing, and the ‘interesting’ news that a party of 30 schoolchildren was booked on the same sailing. As we headed across to the islands, with John expertly guiding the boat to avoid everyone getting wet (as far as possible!) the school party were having a whale of a time. Then when the first Grey Seals began to bob their heads up out of the water and stare at the boat they got really excited 🙂 Gannets were soaring overhead, Turnstones and Purple Sandpipers were fluttering around the base of the rocks, staying just above the breaking surf, and Shags and Eiders were bobbing around in the increasing swell. After an exciting journey back to the mainland, we had our picnic stop in the shadow of Bamburgh Castle, and only a few hundred yards from where Dickie and Caroline used to live. A big bull Grey Seal made his way north just beyond the surf, and Caroline went for a paddle in the icy-cold sea 🙂 As we made our way back down the coast (after a Caroline-requested stop at Swallow Fish in Seahouses), the weather was an extraordinary mixture of blue sky, sunshine and that breeze…
When I was on the coast just south of Cresswell on Friday evening, I didn’t hold out much hope for Saturday’s pelagic going ahead; a menacing sea, with waves forming towering peaks, didn’t look likely to abate.
However, the sea is often fickle and Saturday saw nothing more than a long, lazy swell as we set sail into the North Sea for a day of offshore birdwatching along the coastlines of Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. Conditions changed throughout the day with, at times, the sea as calm as a millpond. 3 ‘Blue’ Fulmars, 5 Great Skuas, a probable Pomarine Skua, 3 Arctic Skuas, 5 Sooty Shearwaters, 4 Red-throated Divers, 2 Manx Shearwaters, Teal, Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills, Kittiwakes, Gannets, Mediterranean Gulls and Swallows! were all appreciated and a Grey Seal and 2 Harbour Porpoises added some mammalian interest.
I’m resolute in my belief that the winter is an excellent time to visit Northumberland. It’s relaxing and quiet (not that it’s ever really anything else), there’s a lot of wildlife (ditto) and we often get stunning weather that showcases our remarkable landscape at it’s best.
Today was a day when everything came together just the way you hope. As I drove up the A1 Kestrels, Common Buzzards and Roe Deer were all in roadside fields and Redwings and Fieldfares were hedge-hopping from one side of the road to the other.
I collected Tracey, Guy and Connor (and Ghillie – their collie dog) just after lunch, from their holiday cottage near Belford, and we headed to Holy Island. The sea by the ends of the causeway was frozen and a sprinkling of snow covered the dunes. As we crossed towards the island a Merlin flushed from a roadside post and we stopped to admire the beautiful diffused light that illuminated the mudflats. Our walk on the island was on ground frozen solid, and covered with ice and snow. The wind was bitingly cold but Grey Seals, Meadow Pipits, Shags, Curlews, Eiders, Red-breasted Mergansers, Pale-Bellied Brent Geese and flocks of Teal heading towards the mainland all diverted the attention. As we headed back to the mainland a handsome male Stonechat played hide-and-seek with us along the edge of the causeway, but persistence paid off and Tracey and Guy managed some good shots. I love having keen photographers on our safaris – especially ones who really appreciate the quality of light that we enjoy up here – so we made several stops as the changing light produced a series of photo opportunities. I can only hope that we get similar conditions for our first Beginners Photography workshop in January. The rising tide and fluffy pink clouds of the late afternoon combined with Bamburgh Castle in the snow to offer more memorable images, while we were watching Oystercatchers, Turnstones, Redshanks and a Ringed Plover on the frozen beach. The route back was made easier by being in a Landrover, and the steady journey allowed us to pick out Brown Hares in the snow-covered fields – seven in total, standing sentinel-like as we approached. Once I was back on the ice-free A1 and travelling south it was like a different world to the one I’d been in for the last few hours. Environmental escapism at it’s best.
Saturday was scheduled for our “Seal And Seaduck Special” (sounds like a really bad curry concocted by the Farnes wardens to see them through the ‘hard times’, is in fact a 4 hour NEWT cruise around the Farne Islands and Holy Island).
The weather forecast hadn’t been particularly promising (that’s not entirely true – it had been promising…heavy rain and howling southeasterlies) but a ‘phone call to William on Friday raised the possibility that we would be able to run the trip. As we arrived at Seahouses Harbour we could see Glad Tidings VI approaching with the wardens safely on board and their zodiac towed behind. We had time to welcome David Steel back onto the mainland and then we all boarded and set out into a noticeable swell.
The trip had a really good social event feel to it (as all of our pelagic trips tend to do); all three NEWT guides were on board, one of our clients was on her 5th trip with us (this time bringing two of her friends, for a trip they’ll probably never forget – for all the right reasons) and our friends Tim and Vera from Cottingburn House in Morpeth were among the other passengers. Once we were across at the islands there were a lot of seals, and many of them were ‘singing’ their mournful song; surely the source of many legends of sea-monsters and mermaids. 1347 pups have been born on the islands this year and most of them have departed or moulted out of their cute baby fur already. A Peregrine Falcon entertained everyone on board as it perched on the Pele Tower on Inner Farne before being pursued towards the Wideopens by a Herring Gull. The next leg of our journey took us up to Holy Island and several Red-throated Divers flew by and a Great Northern Diver was on the water near Guile Point. The weather changed at this point and sunlight illuminated Lindisfarne Castle. We then began a slow run down the coast in search of seaduck. Flocks of Common Scoter scattered well ahead of our arrival but Sarah managed to get some good images, showing the typical appearance of a flock of flying scoters;
We also encountered one of the most beautiful birds that winters off Northumberland – Long-tailed Duck. Camera shy? These birds made the scoters look like they were hogging the limelight;
The increasingly choppy seas were making photography frustrating but Sarah stuck gamely to it. As she was using my camera, and a lens that she wasn’t familiar with, it was even more challenging than pelagic photography usually is. As we passed by Bamburgh Castle (as impressive from the sea, if not more so, than it is from land) and then Monk’s House the tide turned the last 10 minutes of the cruise into a real experience. That’s always the point when somebody on board reveals that they usually feel seasick on the boating lake in their local park…
Nobody was adversely affected by the swell, everyone saw plenty of seals, and the flocks of seaduck flying around us added up to a real winter pelagic treat. We couldn’t have asked for more from our final journey into the North Sea for 2009.