In the bleak midwin…wait a minute :-) Kielder Safari 24/03/19

by on 25/03/19 14:30, under Kielder

Yesterday’s Kielder Safari was filled with returning clients; Stephen on his 3rd trip, Andy and Jill on their 3rd and Gordon and Mandy on their 7th. We’d got one species in particular on the target list for the day…

The forecast was for blustery showers but it started off fairly fine. Once we were out of the car though there was a bitingly cold stiff breeze and low cloud arrived from the north west, interspersed with bright sunshine. Each patch of better weather saw Common Buzzards rise from the trees and Peregrine and Sparrowhawk flew by. Common Crossbills called overhead, a distant Green Woodpecker was yaffling and Chaffinches were singing from exposed perches. Our persistence and resilience paid off and the ‘Phantom of the forest’ put in an appearance. With powerful effortless flight the Goshawk drifted along just above the treetops before rising higher and drifting away to the south and out of sight.

On exposed moorland after lunch, Meadow Pipits were diving for cover, Wild Goats were grazing amongst the heather, Ravens were sitting on the hillside and a Red Grouse called from deep cover.

Our finale was a flock of Goldeneye, with two drakes displaying and trying their hardest to impress the ducks, and then a noisy flock of Goldcrests calling and singing from the trees as we walked back to the car.

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Early spring :-) Otter mini-Safari 23/03/19

by on 25/03/19 14:09, under Druridge Bay

Arriving in Newbiggin to collect Jonathan and Emily & Scot and Sam, there was chilly breeze but a definite feel of changing season in the air…

Cormorants were roosting on fallen trees in the river and with a big tide they soon found their tail feathers and feet getting wet 🙂 Oystercatchers, Redshank, Lapwing and Curlew were all on the muddy edges and Mallard, Gadwall, Shelduck, Little Grebe and Moorhen were in the water. A Little Egret darting in the shallows took off and headed downstream, standing out against the backdrop of dark vegetation on the river bank.

Heading towards dusk a Starling murmuration began developing, Greylag Geese were grazing in a nearby field , Whooper Swans flew north and a Roe Deer spent several minutes hurtling headlong back and forth near the water’s edge.

With daylight fading fast, the loud trumpeting of Whooper Swans arriving to roost drifted across the water and as we headed back to the car Pink-footed Geese, unseen but well heard, joined them.

Clients who understand the environment and have a passion for it always make the time pass far too quickly, and it was dark as we headed back towards the bright lights of Newbiggin.

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Dabbling in duck ID ;-) Druridge Bay Safari 28/02/19

by on 01/03/19 12:58, under Druridge Bay

I collected Toni and Tom from Newbiggin and we headed off to explore NEWT’s local patch, Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland…

Late winter often features wildfowl expressing their affection, and yesterday was no exception. Drake Goldeneye and drake Red-breasted Mergansers were enthusiastically following ducks around and a violent altercation between two Mute Swans eventually ended and the victor returned to their mate and a display of mutual affection. Lots of other birds were just getting on with the important business of feeding; Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Mallard, Pintail, Teal, Wigeon, Shoveler, Shelduck, Greylag Goose, Canada Goose,Whooper Swan and a rarity, Green-winged Teal – which eventually turned side on to us and gave very obliging views of it’s key ID feature. A sudden panic, and birds scattering in every direction, heralded the arrival of a female Sparrowhawk that twisted and turned before grabbing a Redshank and going down behind a clump of rush.

Roe Deer were grazing among the rushes and our attention turned from wildfowl to waders. Dunlin were busying themselves in shallow water, a Ringed Plover put in a brief appearance and Oystercatcher, Curlew, Redshank, Lapwing and Snipe were all feeding or roosting. 5 Avocets were a reminder that winter’s over and spring is nudging it’s way in. Disclaimer – don’t base any decisions on Avocet-based weather predictions 😉

As a misty dusk began to descend we had an entertaining chat with an angler on the banks of the Wansbeck. I didn’t have to translate too much of what he was saying 😉

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Back to sea; NECP Transect Survey 25/02/19

by on 27/02/19 18:46, under Bottlenose Dolphin

As many of our regular readers may already know, I was diagnosed with a rare and progressive illness last year and had surgery at the start of January to alleviate the worst of the symptoms. One of the most frustrating things, as well as having to have a couple of months break from NEWT safaris, has been having to stay onshore and not do any survey work for the North East Cetacean Project. Monday was the first time in months that I’ve felt well enough to consider spending a day at sea so I left the house as a beautiful sunrise was developing and drove to Whitley Bay to collect Andy. We met up with Caroline at Royal Quays and then on to the St Aidan.

Once we were out of the Tyne it was obvious that conditions were as good as we’d thought they’d be. Heading north we had four sightings of Harbour Porpoise, although they were all typically shy, and as were about to have lunch a loud shout of “dolphins” from Andy heralded the arrival of 40-50 Bottlenose Dolphins that stayed around the boat for 45mins 🙂

It’s good to be back 😉

Bottlenose Dolphins [Tursiops truncatus] off Dunstanburgh, Northumberland 25/02/19
Bottlenose Dolphins [Tursiops truncatus] off Dunstanburgh, Northumberland 25/02/19
Bottlenose Dolphins [Tursiops truncatus] off Dunstanburgh, Northumberland 25/02/19
Bottlenose Dolphins [Tursiops truncatus] off Dunstanburgh, Northumberland 25/02/19
Bottlenose Dolphins [Tursiops truncatus] off Dunstanburgh, Northumberland 25/02/19
Bottlenose Dolphins [Tursiops truncatus] off Dunstanburgh, Northumberland 25/02/19
Bottlenose Dolphins [Tursiops truncatus] off Dunstanburgh, Northumberland 25/02/19
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Fretting; Otter mini-Safari 24/02/19

by on 27/02/19 18:18, under Druridge Bay

I usually say that the only weather condition that isn’t good for wildlife-watching is really strong wind. There is another one though, but it’s pretty infrequent…

I collected Barry and Bridie from Warkworth under blue sky and beautiful late winter sunshine and we headed towards Druridge Bay for a few hours. I knew what we were heading towards though as I’d driven through fog on the way north. We started with an hour or so of rolling sea fret that brought visibility down to tens of metres, as Cormorants did their very best Otter impersonations and the loud calls of Oystercatchers carried through the mist as they flew overhead. Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Red-breasted Merganser, Shelduck, Whooper Swan, Canada Goose, Greylag Goose and Pink-footed Goose were all feeding, resting or diving, two drake Pintail were stunning in the low-angled sunlight, the squeals of Water Rail emanated from the reeds as the chill of late afternoon began to probe and nip at our exposed faces and the evocative calls of Curlew cut through the hazy mist of dusk.

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Spring has sprung? Otter mini-Safari 23/02/19

by on 24/02/19 11:28, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

After a break from Safaris and blogging, after I was diagnosed with a rare illness last year and had surgery in early January, it was great to be back out in the field with clients yesterday.

I collected Paul and Jennifer, Paul and Kirsty and Alastair and Jess from Newbiggin and we set off for a few hours around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. With temperatures in double figures, Robins, Chaffinches and Dunnocks were singing and a noisy flock of Long-tailed Tits moved through the riverside vegetation. Goldeneye, Gadwall, Mallard, Little Grebe and Cormorant were on the water and a Little Egret was stalking along the edge of a rapidly filling tidal channel. Grey Herons were nest-building and you could be forgiven for forgetting that it’s still winter here…

As daylight faded small flocks of Starling were heading to roost, a Roe Deer was close to the water’s edge and Whooper Swans noisily heralded their arrival. A pair of Canada Geese were looking alert and agitated then Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Goldeneye, Tufted Duck and the geese took off in a panic. From the direction they scattered we could tell where the source of their consternation was…hidden from view by a reedbed in front of us.

As darkness began to exert it’s grip on the eastern sky hundreds of Pink-footed Geese arrived at their nighttime roost, still coming in from all directions when they were only visible as a dark speckling against a leaden grey sky and we headed back to Newbiggin.

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Low light; Bespoke Otter Safari 25/11/18

by on 28/11/18 13:35, under Druridge Bay

I collected Colin and Tricia from Newbiggin ahead of a tour around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland searching for Otters and we were soon at our first site…

Little Grebes, Goldeneye and Cormorants were all fishing in water ruffled by a stiff easterly breeze and a Little Egret was trying to fish but constantly harrassed by a juvenile Mute Swan which wouldn’t let it settle in any one spot.  Long-tailed Tits called incessantly as they made their way through the trees and we headed to our picnic spot…with a short detour to the NEWT office for me to change my boots after the sole of the pair I’d been wearing came loose as I tried to lift my foot from some very sticky mud at the bottom of a puddle!

The afternoon was similar to recent days out; a stiff breeze and big flocks of birds.  Teal, Wigeon, Lapwing, Golden Plover, Greylag, Canada and Pink-footed Geese and Starling all being tossed around on the wind and battling to keep their intended course.  Scaup were alongside Tufted Duck and Dunlin, Curlew and Redshank were roosting together, facing into the breeze and taking shelter in the lee of a reedbed.  With dusk encroaching on the gloomy daylight Roe Deer were running along field margins, small groups of Starlings coalesced into one extended murmuration that quickly went to roost with the ghostly apparition of a Barn Owl drifting across in front of us marking the point where the light faded to impenetrable.

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A hard act to swallow; Otter Safari 20/11/18

by on 21/11/18 12:18, under Druridge Bay

In March last year I was knocked off my bike by a car in Bedlington (which is our local town).  The day after the incident, I posted in our local Facebook group, thanking everyone who helped me.  “I don’t know if they’re in this group but I’d just like to say a huge thank you to the people who looked after me until the paramedics and police arrived after I was knocked off my bike opposite the market place, especially the lady who held my hand and talked to me...Laid in the road, unable to move your head and with one leg twisted painfully, is a scary experience so it’s hard to put into words how much it helped having people who stopped the traffic, held my hand, talked to me and kept me calm.”

I collected Stephanie and Gary yesterday, just up the road from the NEWT office and Stephanie said “My friend Leigh was the one who held your hand when you were knocked off your bike.” and told me that Leigh decided to train as a first-aider after helping me 🙂  Bedlington and it’s surrounding villages is a small world…and then we headed to Newbiggin to collect Susanne and Leanne.  As they walked across the car park towards us, Leanne looked familiar – one of my chemistry students from 14 years ago!  Small world indeed!

We headed out to explore Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland in search of Otters and, from the state of the sea crashing against the breakwaters of Newbiggin Bay it looked like the wind would present a challenge for the day.  The rest of the day was a series of squally showers, increasing in intensity as the day progressed.  Noisy flocks of Long-tailed Tits foraged in pathside trees and Cormorant, Little Grebe, Red-breasted Merganser and Goldeneye were diving in search of fish.

A Cormorant managed to generate a false alarm as it wrestled with a large Eel – the bird’s black body and the tail of the fish combining to do a remarkable impression of an Otter fishing with it’s tail up out of the water 🙂  Having managed to swallow the Eel, the Cormorant caught an even larger one a few minutes later and we were able to watch as it tossed the Eel until eventually grabbing it around the head and swallowing it in one go.  That was followed by a couple of minutes of watching the Cormorant’s neck bulging and writhing as it struggled to get the Eel down into it’s stomach.  Incredibly it started fishing again straight away and caught and swallowed a much smaller Eel.

A theme in the last couple of weeks has been Sparrowhawks causing consternation among roosting wader and wildfowl flocks, and yesterday was no exception.  Knot, Dunlin, Redshank, Lapwing, Golden Plover, Curlew, Teal, Mallard, Gadwall and Wigeon all took flight repeatedly before the Sparrowhawk eventually flew past us.  A dense flock of Kittiwakes flew along over huge rolling waves and foaming surf and as Starlings, Lapwings and Golden Plover struggled against the strengthening breeze and geese arrived to roost the next squall took the light levels from challenging to near dark in a matter of minutes and we headed back toward he bright lights of Newbiggin 🙂

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Easterlies; Druridge Bay Safari 19/11/18

by on 20/11/18 09:10, under Druridge Bay

There was a gentle breeze as I collected Nigel, Corina, Victoria and Rob from Longframlington and we headed towards the coast for a day around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland…

Waders and wildfowl were in abundance, as they tend to be in the late autumn.  A huge roosting flock of Golden Plover and Lapwing were restless and vocal and Redshank, Dunlin and a lone Curlew were sleeping until disturbed by a marauding Sparrowhawk.  Drake Shovelers and a lone drake Scaup were still patchy, coming out of eclipse plumage, a flock of Eider flying north over white foaming surf on a strengthening easterly contained a mix of females, young males and a couple of pristine adult males and Mallard, Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Red-breasted Merganser and Teal drakes were all sporting their very best finery.

Our picnic spot was graced by a Kestrel hanging on the stiff breeze so close that we could see how he held his head stationary while making minor movements of wings, body and tail.  An apparent absence of small birds was suddenly broken by a noisy foraging flock of Great, Coal, Blue and Long-tailed Tits.  Hunched against the wind, a Grey Heron looked even more miserable than they usually do and, as Little Egrets shone in the gloom, at least 20 Little Grebes, including a group of 12 together, were along one stretch of river.  With dusk fast approaching a noisy mixed flock of Canada, Greylag and Pink-footed Geese arrived to roost as Starlings passed by in small groups, foregoing the murmuration in favour of a quick dash to the reeds and Whooper Swans trumpeted their own arrival and the light faded to a barely penetrable gloom.

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Mesmerising murmuration; Druridge Bay Bespoke birdwatching 15/11/18

by on 17/11/18 16:33, under Druridge Bay

A lot of our clients muse on the possibility of retiring and moving to Northumberland, and John had done just that and booked a bespoke day out with us to explore some of the lesser-known birdwatching sites around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland

With an almost cloudless blue sky and a chill wind we set out and were soon watching Common Redshanks as they probed the mud along the waterline with Red-breasted Mergansers in the background, a Grey Wagtail flycatching from rocks amidst fast flowing water, and a Sparrowhawk against the azure sky mobbed by a swarm of JackdawsBullfinches and Goldcrests called from hidden positions in hawthorn bushes and a Short-eared Owl quartering rough grassland plunged out of sight after prey repeatedly without ever appearing carrying anything.  The plan for dusk was a visit to (hopefully) a Starling roost.  With Water Rails squealing from reedbeds, and Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Gadwall, Goldeneye, Mute Swan and Whooper Swan on the water around roosting Lapwings, Golden Plovers and Cormorants, Starlings started to arrive.  Cloud after cloud of birds landed in a small section of reeds before leaving again in groups of a few hundred birds every few seconds.  A sudden panic ran through the flock and as they bunched tightly, twisting and turning, a Sparrowhawk came through before settling on the ground before reappearing around the end of the reeds and flying past us carrying a Starling.  With dusk descending to darkness the murmuring rustle of birds in the reedbeds faded to silence as we walked back to the car.

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