A swift return; Druridge Bay birdwatching mini-safari 23/05/17

by on 25/05/17 11:02, under Druridge Bay

I arrived at Newbiggin to collect Brendan for a mini-Safari around Druridge Bay, in weather that was little short of glorious…

Brendan lives just a few miles from the village where Sarah’s parents still live; an area that’s historically similar to southeast Northumberland – although we’ve got the North Sea, beaches etc. 🙂  Our first stop was a search for waders, and Oystercatcher, Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Lapwing, Redshank, Ringed Plover and Little Ringed Plover were all pottering around on the mud and we concentrated on the differences between the two plovers and the subtle distinctions that allow them to be identified at some distance.  We were discussing the difficulties of identifying birds by their songs and calls, and the loss of high-pitch hearing with age, when one of those high-pitched birds started calling from the trees above us – Goldcrests are great at hiding but they persistently give themselves away by being so vocal.  Avocets, including one bird with a single chick, were lazing in the sunshine and occasionally calling in agitation when anything they didn’t like the look of flew over.  Grey Herons and a Little Egret stalked through the edges of the calm water and Skylarks and Meadow Pipits displayed overhead as a Lapwing returned to her nest right in front of us.  More songs from hidden birds enhanced the discussion about ID by sound; Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler and Common Whitethroat were all delivering their serenades from deep cover.  Gadwall, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Shoveler, Moorhen, Coot and Great Crested Grebe were all on the water as Sand Martin, House Martin and Swallow gathered flying insects, an underwhelming Starling murmuration passed by and 2 Common Swifts flew over – a real sign that the summer’s here…

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Larking about; Druridge Bay bespoke birdwatching 22/05/17

by on 23/05/17 11:23, under Druridge Bay, Northumberland Coast

Yesterday was Pete and Jan’s 10th trip with us, and we were heading for NEWT’s local patch…

Travelling south from Embleton we stopped off to enjoy cliffs covered in Fulmar and Kittiwake before stopping off at Boulmer to search for the Shorelark.  We watched a small flock of these fantastic birds during the winter, but this loner was just stunning.  Overhead  the songs of several Skylark drifted on what was turning into a chilly breeze and four Brown Hares were in a nearby field.  Heading further south, the songs of Sedge Warbler and Whitethroat were accompanied by brief appearances from the songsters, a Roebuck watched us warily before deciding we weren’t a problem and returned to grazing as a Great Spotted Woodpecker demonstrated unexpected behaviour at it started launching short flycatching flights.  A subadult male Marsh Harrier was quartering the crops as a Kestrel hovered nearby and a flycatching Grey Wagtail jumped from rock to rock as we continued on our way.

A cracking male Stonechat progressed from post to post in pursuit of insects, while Grey Heron and Little Egret stalked the shallows, but the afternoon was dominated by waders and wagtails.  Ringed Plover, Ruff, Common Snipe, Dunlin, Wood Sandpiper, Curlew, Redshank, Oystercatcher, Black-tailed Godwit and no less than 12 Avocets represented this diverse group and the Avocets were particularly entertaining as they mobbed Grey Herons and ShelduckYellow Wagtails are stunningly bright birds and 2 or 3 bright yellow males were aggressively chasing a female, who eventually grew tired of the harrassment and flew off high to the west as we ended the day and headed back north.  Driving through an area of dense woodland, a Common Buzzard appeared from the left and flew across the road just a few metres in front of us as we approached Embleton.

Another great day birdwatching, with great company.  See you at the Bird Fair 🙂

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Chorus of the valleys; Bespoke Cheviot Valleys Safari 12/05/17

by on 16/05/17 09:48, under Cheviot Valleys

I collected John and Kate from Church Point at 06:00 and we headed westwards towards the Cheviot massif…

Stepping out of the car in a cold breeze, the density of bird song was like a wall of sound.  Willow Warbler, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Robin, Chaffinch, Chiffchaff and Blackcap were all belting out their best tunes, while Oystercatcher, Greylag Goose and Canada Goose provided an accompaniment that was akin to a 3 year old banging a pan with a spoon.  The complex songs of Sedge Warbler and Skylark added to the aural backdrop and the buzzing trill of Lesser Redpoll overhead added an occasional background note.  Brown Hares were running along tractor tyre tracks through long crops and a young Roe Deer seeemd more puzzled than scared by the car.  Common Pheasant and Red-legged Partridge were a reminder of the main managed purpose of the valleys, while on the higher slopes Red Grouse were chuckling, Curlew were displaying and a Common Snipe was singing from the top of an isolated hawthorn as the valley bottom delivered the riparian triumvirate of Dipper, Common Sandpiper and Grey WagtailHouse Martins were gathering mud to add to their nests, Swallows were hawking insects as the air warmed slightly, Treecreeper and Tree Pipit were both, unsurprisingly, in trees, a Green Woodpecker was yaffling but didn’t show itself and a Cuckoo was singing persistently from a vantage point high in a bare tree.  As far as we could tell, he was singing constantly for at least 3 hours then, as we had lunch, a second Cuckoo flew over the hillside, pursued by a crowd of Meadow Pipits, and the singer flew from his perch to chase the interloper away down the valley.

I’m an evening person, but really enjoy early starts for our inland locations 🙂

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May magic; Otter Safari 09/05/17

by on 10/05/17 18:50, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

After a week away from home, leading a wildlife photography holiday for another company, I was looking forward to getting back to all things NEWT and as I collected Mike and Barbara from Low Newton, ahead of an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay searching for Otters, I was thinking that the afternoon sunshine was maybe just a bit too bright and hot but that the evening could be good…

Whitethroats, Sedge Warblers and Blackcaps were all singing, and occasionally affording brief glimpses, and a male Bullfinch was equally stunning in the few seconds that he perched at the top of a small tree.  Little Egrets and Grey Herons were hunting in the shallows, Shelduck, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Shoveler, Teal and Gadwall were all feeding and a Lesser Whitethroat was a nice addition to the trip list.  Lapwing were displaying and Avocets were sitting on nests and occasionally getting up to rearrange their precious contents as the Sun headed westwards.

Then the waders took centre stage; a male Ruff, coming into his breeding finery, Black-tailed Godwits (and single Bar-tailed), noisy Curlew and a Whimbrel flew right overhead uttering it’s distinctive call as Lapwings were tumbling and calling and at least 20 Common Snipe took flight.  Male Stonechat, male Reed Bunting and dapper Tree Sparrows, all excellent attractive birds, still paled when compared to at least 7 Yellow Wagtails, including an exquisitely beautiful Channel Wagtail (perhaps should be known as Chanel Wagtail!), which were in a feeding flock with both Pied and White Wagtails.  A real bonus bird came in the form of a Long-eared Owl, hunting masterfully in and around the bushes it passed by just 20m in front of us at one point! A male Marsh Harrier was another great bird for the trip and he engaged in an overly optimistic attempt to chase and catch a Black-headed Gull in flight 😉

As the Sun dropped lower the light was simply sublime and we settled into position at our final site for the evening.  Canada and Greylag Geese were incubating, a Grey Heron took a Mallard duckling and swallowed it whole right in front of us as the agitated parents called in vain before returning to protect their one remaining offspring.  A small group of Black-headed Gulls caught my attention, circling persistently as Swallows, Sand Martins, House Martins and Swifts swirled around and feasted on the bounteous hatch of flying insects that the warm weather had brought.  There, directly beneath the gulls was an Otter 🙂  We watched it’s progress along the shadowy water near the reeds and a couple of times it got out and bounded along the bankside.  A second Otter was also given away by the bright trail of its wake, as the swifts and hirundines were replaced by the insectivorous night shift of Pipistrelle and Noctule Bats, and by the time we headed back to the car the Moon and Jupiter were both shining brightly in the darkening sky.  Through the ‘scope the quality of seeing was extraordinary; without any atmospheric turbulence Jupiter was a perfect disc, the Galilean moons were pinpoints of light surrounding it and the craters of the Moon were impressive at 60x magnification.

Wonderful wagtails, stunning waders, Otters and astronomy; that’s a lot of quality packed into one afternoon and evening 🙂

Druridge Bay and Otter Safaris are available all year round, so have a look at our calendar for available dates and get in touch to see what we can do for you.  If there isn’t date that’s good for you, still get in touch – we’re always happy to add additional trips to our calendar!

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Breezy Black Grouse; North Pennines Bespoke Birdwatching 25/04/17

by on 26/04/17 17:34, under North Pennines

Tuesday was my third consecutive 03:30 alarm call and, bleary eyed, I cleared the snow off the car ahead of a trip to the North Pennines with one specific aim – to watch Black Grouse lekking…

I collected Sylvia and Stephen from Corbridge and we headed westwards.  The first rays of sunlight illuminated the tops of the hills and the landscape was bathed in a sublime light that made it look like a completely different area to the one I’d visited three times in the previous week.  As we drove along, I could see a cluster of black dots standing out against the pale frosted grass, and there were the Black Grouse 🙂  At least 2o Blackcock and 5 Greyhens were concentrated in the small lekking arena, that will have hosted the gladitorial battles of their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and who knows how many generations of their ancestors.  We watched as they displayed and then rested, vanishing into the vegetation, then fought again.  The scenario was repeated time and again as Sylvia and Stephen came up with a list of intriguing questions about the breeding ecology of these extraordinary birds.  Lapwing, Skylark, Curlew, Redshank, Oystercatcher and Meadow Pipit were all displaying as 2 Skylarks sat obligingly at the roadside, a couple of Woodcock were bobbing along through the long grass, a Brown Hare raced by and a Dipper fought against the breeze, passing over the car as it cut a corner in it’s route along a river.

Flurries of snow passed by horizontally on the stiff breeze and Red Grouse were dotted along the moors as we came across a group of at least 6 Wheatears.  A walk to look for Spring Gentians was successful although the walk back to the car into a headwind was challenging, before we headed back towards Corbridge and the lush green landscape of the valley bottoms, a world away from the stunning bleak beauty of the hills.

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Springtime in the hills :-) North Pennines Bespoke Birdwatching 24/04/17

by on 24/04/17 19:05, under North Pennines

This morning was another early start, and I crawled out of bed at 03:30 as the alarm disrupted my sleep…

I collected Daniel and Nigel from Ponteland and we headed towards the North PenninesCurlew and Lapwing were displaying over the fells, but in the icy cold stiff breeze, Red Grouse and Black Grouse were more of a challenge to find than they were yesterday.  Golden Plover, Oystercatcher, Common Snipe and Common Redshank were quickly found and we came across some much more obliging Red Grouse, and two Fieldfare, before heading even further to the southwest.  Nigel had just spotted a probable Common Redstart, in a plantation dripping with Mistle Thrushes, when the light drizzle, that had accompanied us for most of the trip, turned to sleet and then proper snow with large flakes speckling the windscreen of the car 🙂  We sat it out, and once the poor weather had cleared the hills produced the sort of birding that is jaw-dropping.  First a Short-eared Owl, quartering the fells with stiff, slow, wingbeats before dropping onto a vole in the grass and then obligingly taking it onto an open area where we could watch it through the telescope.  Soon after that we came across 14 Blackcock, who abandoned foraging, flew to a lek right in front of us and then all kicked off as a Woodcock shuffled through the grass, accompanied by an aural backdrop of calling Snipe.  In the bone-chilling cold, yesterday’s Spring Gentians were no longer displaying their finery and Black-headed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls were struggling against the breeze as Skylarks soared overhead and a Kestrel matched the success of the Shortie before we finished with lunch and a Dipper 🙂

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Serenade; North Pennines Bespoke Photography 23/04/17

by on 24/04/17 18:42, under North Pennines

Yesterday was an early start for David, who was the runner up in the junior category of last year’s North East Wildlife Photography competition, and his parents Helen and John.  We’ve sponsored the junior category since the inception of the competition and, for some reason, the winners of the prize that we offer usually choose to have their Bespoke photography trip in the North Pennines

With beautiful light soon after sunrise, Brown Hare, Lapwing, Meadow Pipit, Red Grouse and Black Grouse were soon subject to the scrutiny of David and his camera.  The Hares, in particular, looked stunning with natural rim-lighting.  After a few Red Grouse remained stubbornly tucked down in the vegetation we came across the star of the day.  This Red Grouse wasn’t hiding his light under a bushel, in fact he appeared to be auditioning for Britain’s (Moorland’s) Got Talent.  First he was on a fence post, pushing his breast out and watching us intently.  Then he dropped to the ground and had a couple minutes feeding before hopping back to the fence post.  Back to the ground for another feed and then he decided it was time to advertise his territory.  Stretching his neck and head high above the grass he started calling.  As well as the typical grouse call, he was making lots of churring, clucking sounds that we probably wouldn’t have heard if we were any further away from him.  What was really impressive though, was how his whole body quivered with each prolonged call.  I’ve never watched a grouse at such close range before so it was remarkable to see the physical effort that goes into his territorial song.

Fieldfare were hopping amongst clumps of rush, no doubt feeding up ready for their migration, and in bright sunshine we found, largely thanks to Helen’s sharp eyesight, dozens of Spring Gentian in flower 🙂  Over the moors, Curlew and Skylark were displaying, Common Snipe and Common Redshank were perched on fence posts and a Ring Ouzel flew by before 3 Dippers chased each other back and forth along a small stream while we were having our lunch.

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Slimming; Otter Safari 21/04/17

by on 22/04/17 17:49, under Druridge Bay

The first drops of rain speckled the windscreen of the car as I arrived at Church Point to collect Luke and Louise for their third day out with NEWT this week – an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland searching for Otters

With the lovely weather of recent days replaced by an icy cold breeze and drizzle, it was looking like it would be a long, hard afternoon.  Common Redshank, Curlew and Oystercatcher were probing tidal mudflats and noisily displaying when they took a break from feeding.  A herd of Mute Swans included two birds that were engaged in a courtship display; like a serene slow-motion version of the Great Crested Grebe display they were mirroring each other’s head and body movements.  As we watched territorial disputes between pairs of Great Crested Grebes the rain intensified and the birds, alongside Tufted Ducks and Goldeneye, were sitting on water that looked to be boiling with the impact of raindrops.  Shoveler, Pochard, Teal, Wigeon, Lapwing, Green Sandpiper, Grey Heron and Little Egret were added to the day list and the rain started to ease…

As we were having our picnic on the clifftop overlooking Druridge Bay, accompanied by a raggedy male Stonechat, the weather took a change for the better.  Broken cloud produced a dramatic sky, and it was looking good for a decent sunset.  A tip-off from one of our local wildlife photographers pointed us in the direction of a pair of Little Owls, who very obligingly posed for Luke’s camera 🙂  One of the owls had gone off, presumably in search of food, and the other one was still sitting there when a dog walker with a Staffie came along.  We were wondering how long the owl would wait before flying off…but it sat tight, and instead of fleeing it just stretched itself to as tall and thin as it could before slumping back to it’s usual shape once the dog and walker had passed by!  In ever-improving light we watched a Black Tern at East Chevington as it fed amongst Common Terns, Sand Martins and Swallows.  A thick bank of cloud to the west obscured the sunset but as a Brown Hare loped across a field, a Common Buzzard was perched in a small tree in a hedgerow, and mist started rising from the water the light was sublime.  Scanning slowly along the water’s edge, there was the sign I was looking for; only a slight disturbance, but I hadn’t seen any ducks in that direction.  The the Otter surfaced briefly before diving again 🙂  In flat calm conditions we could see the trail of bubbles as it travelled under the water, and then it vanished into the mist.  What we could still see though were Mute Swans, Canada Geese and Mallards and they were all watching the Otter.  The mist cleared and it reappeared, running along the bank before returning to the water for a few metres and then getting out again.  Eventually it vanished into the gloom of the reed edges, only to reappear a few minutes later right in front of us as Grasshopper Warblers reeled and Noctule Bats hawked insects overhead.

Fade to black…

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A raptor day :-) Kielder Safari 20/04/17

by on 21/04/17 13:28, under Kielder

I collected Luke and Louise from alnwick, then Alison and Neil from Kingston Park and we headed west at the start of a day searching for raptors around Kielder and the Scottish Borders…

We stopped at the southern end of Kielder Water and the ‘chip chip’ calls of Common Crossbill drew our attention to these impressive bulky finches as they passed overhead.  With Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Chaffinch and Blackbird singing all around us we were soon watching Common Buzzards in every direction as Raven and Carrion Crow flew by.  Then Luke spotted a large raptor circling in front of the trees…and there was a Goshawk 🙂  We watched as it soared higher and higher until it was just a tiny speck, even through binoculars, against the clouds. Kestrel and Sparrowhawk on the drive to and from Kielder added to the raptor total for the day and we crossed the border into Scotland for the afternoon.

Our picnic spot brought more raptors; first more Common Buzzards, then the shrill alarm calls of a Merlin drew our attention to a pair of displaying Peregrines as Ravens flew along the ridges above us, Wild Goats foraged amongst the scattered trees on the valley sides, and even more Buzzards rose on the stiff breeze.  Out on the open moorland Luke was quick off the draw again, this time with a stunning male Hen Harrier.  As he gave directions to the bird, it was clear that the rest of us were watching a second male harrier as it quartered the skyline. A flash of blue was a male Merlin racing across the fells, a Red Grouse flushed from the roadside puddle where it was having a droink as we passed,  and the air seemed to be filled with Emperor Moths 🙂  A low-flying Common Buzzard passed just over the car as we headed back into Northumberland and finished the day with Common Sandpiper and a fly-by Mandarin.

Quantity on a Kielder Safari isn’t the game we play, but the day list is usually dripping with quality 🙂

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Game on; North Pennines Safari 19/04/17

by on 19/04/17 18:25, under North Pennines

I collected Steph from her home in Gateshead, for the first of four North Pennines trips I’m guiding over the next week, and we headed westwards…

A Greyhen, hunkered down against the wind and rain in roadside vegetation, was fairly obliging as Snipe, Curlew and Lapwing displayed overhead and a Blackcock sat motionless in a nearby field.  Red Grouse, after Red Grouse, after Red Grouse, followed and offered great photo opportunities for Steph, although the Brown Hares we came across weren’t hanging around to have their picture taken!  Then it was the turn of Black Grouse, with a handsome Blackcock on the moor close to the car, soon followed by two more feeding out in the open.  Drumming Snipe and displaying Curlew took cover as the rain intensified, but each break in the weather was filled with birds; Black Grouse, Red Grouse, Common Snipe, Curlew, Common Redshank, Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Golden Plover, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Meadow Pipit, Skylark, Goosander and towards the end of the trip, a male Ring Ouzel perched on a fence post, a Grey Partridge on a dry stone wall next to the road and a pair of Peregrine engaged in a display flight 🙂

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