Swirling; Otter mini-Safari 30/12/17

by on 31/12/17 11:16, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

Yesterday’s mini-Safari was rearranged from Friday, when the ice on the roads would have made it a foolhardy exercise to head out.  I collected Jo, Chris, Lauren and Dilly from Church Point and we headed off for a few hours exploring Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland…

At the start of the afternoon there was no breeze, and the water was almost mirror-flat, with the swirls of diving Goldeneye, Little Grebe and Cormorant patterning the surface.  Cormorants that weren’t feeding sat on fallen trees, shoulders hunched and looking thoroughly miserable as a Grey Heron flew from one side of the river to the other and perched briefly before flying away upstream.  As light rain pattered on the calm water a Great Black-backed Gull flew by, always an impressive bird in the right light, and then the clouds parted and blue sky and warm(ish) sunshine marked the start of the sky clearing.  Out on to the coast and a dense flock of Golden Plover were swirling on the rising breeze as Pink-footed Geese rose from a distant field and speckled the sky and a charm of Goldfinches flew over the car before disappearing into rank vegetation next to the road.  Long-tailed Tits were moving between trees and a Sparrowhawk flew so low across the road ahead of us that it only narrowly avoided the car.  Mute Swans, including one scruffy looking youngster, were feeding alongside a group of displaying Red-breasted Mergansers.  At least 10 drakes were vying for the affection of just one female, but she was having none of it and any of the drakes who ventured too close, no matter how impressive his head-bobbing and mohawk-waving, was driven away.  As the Moon rose in the east, providing an impressive sight through the telescope, all of the ducks were getting agitated; Goldeneye, Gadwall, Teal, Wigeon and Mallard all moved purposefully away from one edge of the reeds, then more Mallard appeared from the reeds and flew across the pool and suddenly the distribution of birds on the water, which had been quite even when we first arrived, was very polarised.  Whatever was in the reeds wasn’t revealing itself though, and in a now stiffening cold breeze who could blame it?

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Winter; Otter mini-Safari 28/12/17

by on 31/12/17 10:43, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

I collected Stephen from Church Point and we set out for an afternoon around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland…

One thing that has stood out in the last few weeks is the great number of Goldeneye and Little Grebe that are wintering here, and this trip was no exception.  Cormorants were diving alongside them in pursuit of small fish.  A Barn Owl quartered over reedbeds, harassed by corvids and a Sparrowhawk and Teal, Wigeon, Mallard and Gadwall were all dabbling in shallow water as Starlings arrived to roost.  39 Whooper Swans arriving together were an impressive sight, then they drifted close to a reedbed before beating a hasty retreat…what was lurking in the shadows of the reeds as the strengthening and biting wind drove us back to the car and towards Newbiggin?

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Lurking; Otter Safari 06/12/17

by on 07/12/17 11:38, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

I collected Steph for her 4th day out with NEWT and we headed toward Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland for a day searching for Otters

Great Northern Diver, Long-tailed Duck and squealing Water Rails started the day, as three Mute Swans hissed and grunted while staring into a reedbed, although whatever was provoking their ire remained hidden, and Steph spotted a Bittern labouring into the wind.  Lapwing and Curlew flocks flushed from nearby fields and were struggling in the air with a very stiff westerly breeze tossing them around.  At our next site, Goldeneye and Little Grebes flushed in panic from one edge of the water and then turned to stare at where they’d come from…and again the cause of consternation remained hidden.  Sparrowhawks flew low over the water causing momentary ruffling of feathers and a pair of Stonechat performed well in front of Steph’s camera.  Noisy Long-tailed Tits were battered by the breeze whenever they ventured out from cover, Common Buzzards were sitting on fence posts and then Shoveler, Mallard, Gadwall, Wigeon, Teal, Tufted Duck and Coot made a hurried getaway from one reedbed…and the cause of their concern remained hidden yet again.

One of those days, but a great day birding with Steph that was rounded off incredibly as we headed back towards the A1 when a Goshawk flew across the road and headed to a nearby plantation!

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A tiding; Bespoke Otter Safari 27/11/17

by on 28/11/17 12:19, 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 19/11/17 19:22, 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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Now you see it, now you don’t ;-) Otter Safari 09/11/17

by on 09/11/17 19:53, under Druridge Bay

I collected Pauline and Paul from Newbiggin and we set out for a morning and afternoon searching Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland for one of NEWT’s favourite mammals

Little Grebe, Goldeneye and Mallard were all looking just too relaxed and we walked further on as a noisy tribe of Long-tailed Tits moved through the trees, the high-pitched calls of Goldcrest revealed tiny shapes flitting around in the canopy and four Mute Swans flew by with their wings making an impressive noise.  Little Egrets looked exotically out of place as they flapped by and then Pauline said “There’s one”…and right in front of us was an Otter 🙂  We watched it as it fed and porpoised for 50 minutes, including an attempt at catching a Cormorant,  then it was lost from sight and we couldn’t refind it.

The rest of the afternoon was dominated by ducks; Mallard, Gadwall, Shoveler, Wigeon, Teal, Goldeneye and Tufted Duck all featured, alongside a supporting cast of Little Grebe, Slavonian Grebe, Cormorant, Coot, Moorhen, Mute Swan and some very vocal Whooper Swans.  One of the Mute Swans was shadowed very closely by two Wigeon who were feasting on anything that had been disturbed by the swan’s progress but surfaced behind it 🙂   22 Common Snipe were flushed by a Sparrowhawk and a pair of Stonechat entertained us as they were flycatching above a reedbed before the final hour of the afternoon produced no less than six Kestrels.

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Wintering; Lindisfarne Safari 08/11/17

by on 09/11/17 19:25, under Holy Island, Lindisfarne

I collected Nick and Mel from Seahouses for their 2nd consecutive day out with NEWT and we headed north towards Holy Island under blue skies…

Along the causeway Little Egrets, Redshank and Curlew were patrolling the interface between falling tide and freshly exposed mud.  Flocks of Golden Plover and Bar-tailed Godwit patterned the sky in twinkling clouds as Red-breasted Mergansers pursued fish incessantly just offshore and a fantastic Merlin was perched in roadside bushes along the Snook.  Blackbirds seemed to be in every bush we passed and a flock of Redwing were obligingly close as they feed in a grassy field.  Robins were ‘ticking’ in deep cover and Grey Seals were hauled out enjoying the sunshine while the chacking calls of Fieldfare betrayed their presence overhead.  Standing at the top of the Heugh a Woodcock flew by before vanishing over the cliff edge and an elegant Black-tailed Godwit provided a contrast to the short-legged Bar-tailed GodwitsRoe Deer were just visible in long grass and a walk along Greenshiel produced a couple of heart-stopping moments as first a Woodcock and then a male Pheasant exploded from cover as we passed by.  As the tide rose and we headed back to mainland Pale-bellied Brent Geese were chased along by the incoming water.  Shelduck and Wigeon were present as far as the eye could see and we finished the afternoon with a magnificent Peregrine perched on a rock before it headed off and sent ripples of panic through all of the assembled waders, wildfowl and gulls.

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A stream of Starlings; Otter Safari 07/11/17

by on 07/11/17 20:13, under Druridge Bay

I collected Karen and Angie, and Nick and Mel, from Newbiggin and we headed off in search of Otters around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.

I quickly changed our plan due to high levels of disturbance at our first site, and as soon we were at our alternative start point there was an Otter 🙂  We watched it for over an hour, with a noisy flock of Long-tailed Tits in the trees nearby, before it did that typical Otter thing of slipping beneath the surface and vanishing.  As we sat having lunch on the clifftop just south of Cresswell village a Fieldfare came low in-off after what must have been an arduous sea crossing against a WNW wind.  Flocks of Redwing and Fieldfare speckled the sky and, as Oystercatcher, Redshank, Curlew, Dunlin and Lapwing came to roost, and Pink-footed Geese dropped into a nearby field, yapping noisily as they descended, a Lesser Black-backed Gull was struggling with a large, dead flatfish.  The struggle ended abruptly as a Grey Heron chased the gull away and tried to swallow the fish itself before leaving it to a Great Black-backed GullLittle Egrets shone brightly white in the gloom of the late afternoon, before a break in the cloud away on the western horizon delivered a sublime sunset that bathed Mallard, Gadwall, Wigeon, Teal, Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Slavonian Grebe and Whooper Swan in jaw-dropping orange light.

As flock after flock after flock of Starlings streamed into a reedbed roost, still arriving when it was almost too dark for us to see, and two Roe Deer bounded along through deep vegetation, the day had one last surprise in store as a Long-eared Owl perched on a fence post in the dunes before attracting the attention of the local Carrion Crows 🙂

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Other-worldly; Lindisfarne Safari 02/11/17

by on 05/11/17 16:32, under Holy Island, Lindisfarne

Thursday’s Lindisfarne Safari was a stranding trip, with our plan to cross onto the island just before the tide cut it off and then stay there until the causeway cleared again.  I collected Sue, for her 6th trip with NEWT, from Old Swarland and then we headed to Alnwick to collect Paul, Edith, Jan and Astrid from Greycroft, where it was lovely to see Audrey who was giving them the eminently sensible advice of dressing with plenty of layers…

It had been a lovely morning, with blue skies and fluffy white clouds, as I left home, but the further north we got, the murkier the weather looked.  As we reached the causeway, with Curlew, Common Redshank, Little Egret and Bar-tailed Godwit all foraging along the edge of the rising tide, there was a steady drenching drizzle and waterproofs were needed once we were over on the island.  Blackbirds and Robins seemed to be everywhere we looked, Goldcrests were flitting restlessly in the pursuit of insects and with St Cuthbert’s Island cut off by the rising water Bar-tailed Godwits and Oystercatchers had arrived to roost en masse.  House Sparrows are one of the most noticeable features of a day on Holy Island and there they were; in every bush and on every rooftop they paid little attention to us as we walked by.  Spiky-haired Red-breasted Mergansers were splashing in the shallower water as Grey Seals swam in deeper channels and a Kestrel was toughing it out in the stiff breeze and drizzle.  Common Snipe were busying themselves among the reed edges and a Woodcock, heavy-bodied and long-billed, flew by.  A flock of Fieldfare and Redwing looked to be newly arrived and we made a short migration ourselves – to the cafe!  Golden Plover flocks decorated the sky and, as we explored the remains of the early medieval farmstead at Green Shiel, and Pale-bellied Brent Geese speckled the gradually exposed mud, a sunset of burnt orange illuminated the western horizon as the dark tendrils of dusk curled around the island.

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Harrying; Otter mini-Safari 26/10/17

by on 27/10/17 12:23, under Uncategorized

I collected Jan and Hannah, and Tony and Mary, from Low Newton and we headed south towards Druridge Bay

In contrast with recent weather we had blue skies, fluffy white clouds and even some sunshine 🙂  A flock of Whooper Swans were heading south offshore and the assemblage of waterfowl included Greylag and Canada Geese, Mute Swan, Pintail, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye, Wigeon, Shoveler, Mallard, Teal, Gadwall, Moorhen, Coot, Little Grebe and two top quality birds; Long-tailed Duck and Slavonian Grebe.  In the beautiful low angled light a juvenile Marsh Harrier looked stunning with a crown of gold. Approaching dusk, with a biting breeze starting to make its presence felt, a Little Egret stood out like a shining beacon on the water’s edge as we started to make our way back to the car and head north.

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