Otter

A tiding; Bespoke Otter Safari 27/11/17

by on Nov.28, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Otter, Southeast Northumberland

Yesterday was a rearranged trip from late March; Trevor had booked an bespoke Otter Safari for Linda’s birthday, then two days before the original date I was knocked off my bike by a car and had a heavy fall that saw me unable to work for a week (and is still causing some ongoing niggles).  I suggested then that we reschedule for the back end of the year, so I had my fingers crossed that my suggestion would work out as planned…

There was a slight spanner in the works though, an icy cold westerly ‘breeze’.  At our first site Mallards and Tufted Ducks were showing a lot of wary interest in one area of reeds but whatever had grabbed their attention remained out of site as Water Rails squealed, Teal, Gadwall and Wigeon slept, sheltered from the wind, and Cormorant, Little Grebe, Goldeneye and Red-breasted Merganser plundered the water of small fish.  As I scanned the edge of a reedbed that’s now so familiar I could probably sketch from memory every reed, stone and fallen branch along the water’s edge there was a small dark shape that shouldn’t have been there.  At distance and through binoculars I couldn’t be certain but I was fairly confident…and through the ‘scope there was a Kingfisher 🙂  A very excited Linda had got one of the three species on her bucket list right there in full view of the telescope, and once it had vanished we headed off in search of another one of those three.

Within seconds of scanning the water there was an Otter.  We watched it through the ‘scope for a few minutes and then headed along the bank to get a closer view, and while we were out of sight in the trees it did that typical Otter thing of vanishing completely!  In the icy breeze it had probably eaten it’s fill and headed off to a warm cosy sheltered spot in the trees on the opposite bank.  The second of Linda’s bucket list species was on the list, and I told her my favourite spot for the third (as it’s in the Scottish highlands, so quite a way from NEWT’s patch).

The bright light of early afternoon brought at least 6 Kestrels, hovering into the wind, with one of them being subjected to almost continuous harassment from a Carrion Crow, and three Sparrowhawks, including one that passed within a few metres of us as it battled into the wind and another that was being harassed by a crow.  More squealing Water Rails provided a discordant accompaniment to vocal Whooper Swans as Lapwings were tossed like leaves on the breeze and a dusk roost of Magpies, with at least 42 birds, raised the question of what the collective noun is.  By the power of mobile data and Google we ended up with charm, murder, gulp and – the one we thought most appropriate – a tiding 🙂

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Hide and Seek; Otters and Stargazing mini-Safari 18/11/17

by on Nov.19, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Otter

I arrived at Church Point to collect Sarah and Nessa, Alison and Mike, and Pat ahead of an afternoon searching for Otters around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland with a planned extension to take in the first hour or so of darkness if the sky was clear…

Little Egrets stood out shining white against the darker water, Grey Herons were motionless as they concentrated on the water beneath their feet and the loud flapping of a Cormorant drying it’s wings carried over the water as a busy, noisy, tribe of Long-tailed Tits hurriedly crossed the gap between bushes.  Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Gadwall, Shoveler, Goldeneye, Little Grebe and Slavonian Grebe all seemed calm and relaxed, but one drake Mallard lifted his head and stared intently at a reedbed, scanning side to side along one area of reeds….and out came an Otter with two cubs 🙂  We watched them for a few minutes as they got out of the water, perched on top of rocks and then they vanished for a while before reappearing right next to a Mute Swan that fixed them with the look of contempt that swans are so good at.  Starlings were gathering prior to roost and a Sparrowhawk caused a ripple of panic that tightened the swirling murmuration into a small dark amorphous shape-shifting patch against the dying embers of daylight in the west.  By the time the Otters finally vanished there were already three Barn Owls quartering over the reeds and rough grassland nearby and bright yellowy-white Capella was visible against the darkening twilight sky.  With hardly a cloud in any direction, and with the temperature dropping rapidly we had excellent views of Auriga, Cassiopeia, Cygnus, the Pleiades, an impressive satellite flare and then the Andromeda galaxy through the ‘scope 🙂

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mid-October birding; Otter Safari 19/10/17

by on Oct.21, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Otter, Uncategorized

There isn’t much that’s better than mid-October birdwatching.  The quiet periods of waiting and observing during an Otter Safari can be filled with all sorts of marvels at this time of the year…

I collected John and Stella from home in Cramlington and we headed to the coast.  The first of several flocks of Redwing flew over, and it was really feeling like mid-October 🙂  While sifting through the assembled mass of eclipse-plumaged ducks (Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Scaup, Shoveler, Gadwall, Tufted Duck and Pintail) and admiring a family of Whooper Swans that had dropped in to drink and bathe there was the unmistakable explosive song of a Cetti’s Warbler…and I’d added a bird to my Northumberland county list, something that doesn’t happen too often these days.  Then, suddenly, panic didn’t so much ripple through the wildfowl as explode from one side of the pool to the other as an unseen threat scattered ducks in every direction.  Whatever caused the panic stayed hidden from view behind a reedbed, which would have been sheltering it nicely from the stiff southerly breeze…

Next came, incredibly, a 2nd new bird for NEWT and another county tick for me – in the descending gloom of approaching rain the exotic jewel that is a European Bee-eater flew past just a few metres from us at Druridge Pools 🙂  Then the rain started, earlier and heavier than expected, Little Egrets stood out as glaringly white against the dark backdrop of the bushes they were roosting in, and we spent the last hour or so of the afternoon marvelling at a Starling murmuration that was being stalked and ambushed by a Sparrowhawk as a juvenile Marsh Harrier hovered on heavy wings and terrified the ducks right up to last light.

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Last light; Otter Safari 24/02/17

by on Feb.26, 2017, under Otter, Red Squirrel

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.

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Northumberland in the win(d)ter; Winter Wonderland holiday 19-22/02/17

by on Feb.23, 2017, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Grey Seal, Lindisfarne, Northumberland Coast, Otter, Southeast Northumberland

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 TitReed 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 BramblingLittle 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 EgretShorelark 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 🙂

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Patience; Otter Safari 04/02/17

by on Feb.06, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Otter, Southeast Northumberland

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 🙂

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Planning; Bespoke Otter Safari 03/02/17

by on Feb.04, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Northumberland Coast, Otter, Red Squirrel

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 🙂

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Dusk; Bespoke Otter mini-Safari 27/12/16

by on Jan.04, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Otter

Our final trip of the year was a bespoke Otter mini-Safari around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland for Diane and Yvonne, who had booked following a recommendation from Claire 🙂

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 🙂

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“…and a Common Seal in a dead tree”; Otter Safari 02/12/16

by on Dec.04, 2016, under Druridge Bay, Otter, Southeast Northumberland

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.

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Strategy; Bespoke Otter mini-Safari 13/11/16

by on Nov.15, 2016, under Druridge Bay, Otter, Southeast Northumberland

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 ? 🙂

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