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 🙂
On days when one species doesn’t appear, the supporting cast can often be equally stunning.
An icy breeze was whistling around the car as I collected Matt and Kate for a day searching for Otters and other wildlife around southeast Northumberland. We started with a riverside walk and were soon enjoying excellent views of a Kingfisher, stunning orange and electric blue, as it perched, hovered, dived and whizzed backwards and forwards along the river. A Grey Wagtail bobbed around, oblivious to our presence, and a Little Grebe dived in the gravelly shallows.
Our next port of call produced a mixture of pleasure and sadness; while we were watching three Red Squirrels a Grey Squirrel appeared 🙁 Northumberland is probably the best place to see Red Squirrel in England, and the southeast of the county still has a few sites where excellent views can be obtained, but the arrival of Greys is often followed by the rapid spread of parapox through the local Red population.
A stop at East Chevington produced lots of Tufted Ducks and Goldeneye, more Little Grebes and a Grey Heron…and a strengthening breeze and increasing cloud cover. If there was an Otter about, it was doing the sensible thing and keeping itself hidden away out of the wind. Whooper Swans were sitting in a flooded field, with Mute Swans nearby for ease of comparison, and everything we encountered was facing into the wind to minimise heat loss.
Our final site for the day was another stretch of river; one that we walk regularly ourselves, and where we’d had up-to-date info about Otter activity. A stunning Red Fox watched us inquisitively from the opposite side of the river, Moorhens swam back and forth with that curious jerky motion that they have and, as daylight gave way to darkness and a Tawny Owl called nearby, a succession of dog walkers commented “you should have been here yesterday…”.
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 🙂
Despised by many, loved by many, a source of great controversy, a tame garden visitor for some and a wild, wary, predator of the countryside for others. The Red Fox is all of these, and much more. One of my projects for this year is to photograph our local foxes, but recently an unexpected opportunity came along.
I was walking along the edge of some heather moorland when I heard the barking of a fox from a conifer plantation a few hundred metres away. Although the light was poor, and fading fast as dusk approached, I set my camera on it’s tripod and started squeaking. Being a predator can’t be an easy life, so it’s no surprise that the possibility of an easy meal (a prey species that’s clearly already distressed) is an attractive one. Within a few seconds, a head popped up at the top edge of the moor.My main concern now was whether the fox would quickly identify the source of the noise. Foxes are always exciting to see on our evening wildlife watching tours, but they can be a bit of a nuisance as they have very sharp eyesight and often raise the alarm, even if you’re as well hidden as you can be and you avoid making any sudden movements.
On this occasion though, the lure of a ‘distressed rodent’ was so great that the fox made it’s way down the hillside, crossing the moor from side to side as it tried to home in on the sound.Finally the fox found the source of the squeaking, and gave me a good hard stare for 30 seconds before trotting back up the hill and chasing another fox in and out of the plantation.