About tern :-) Farne Islands Safari 20/06/19

by on 21/06/19 14:09, under Farne Islands

Yesterday was an opportunity to head to ‘the Galapagos of the North‘ and I collected Ruth D from Newbiggin then Ruth S and Margaret from Seahouses before heading a few miles down the coast for a morning walk to the Long Nanny…

With brilliantly coloured Common Blue butterflies, some very worn Painted Ladies and a Cinnabar moth in the middle of the track, the dunes were a stunning carpet of Bloody Cranesbill, studded with Pyramidal and Northern Marsh Orchids. Skylarks and Meadow Pipits were song-flighting and with the breeze carrying sound out to sea, we were almost at the tern colony before we heard them. Little Terns were sitting quietly on the sand and Arctic Terns were feeding chicks just a few metres away from us. As each adult tern arrived with food, every chick it passed over raised a wide-open beak in hope of being fed 😉

After a picnic lunch on the beach (“winning at life” in the words of Ruth S), it was time to head to Seahouses and board Glad Tidings III for the sailing to Inner Farne. I first did that trip with Sarah while were students at Newcastle Uni in the late 90’s, and there’s still the same sense of wonder as you leave the harbour with it’s creches of Eider and head the short distance to the islands…

First there’s an occasional Guillemot or Puffin sitting on the sea or flying past. Within a few minutes there are rafts of auks on the water and the air is filled with lines of Puffin, Razorbill and Guillemot returning from foraging trips, or heading out to sea, as Kittiwakes shriek their name from precipitous cliff ledges, Gannets soar by effortlessly, Grey Seals laze on the rocks and the smell, the indescribable smell of a colony of seabirds that have an almost entirely fish-based diet, hits you for the first time 😉

Once your visual, auditory and olfactory senses have all been given a good hammering it’s time for the final assault. Sandwich and Common Terns are relatively peaceful, Razorbills, Guillemots, Kittiwakes and Shags are apparently indifferent to humans standing just a few feet way from their nest sites, Black-headed Gulls reserve their menace for kletoparasitism of the island’s Puffins who have become rather adept at flying straight into burrow entrances and the Puffins themselves wander across the boardwalk in front of you or poke their heads out of burrows and have a look at you as you walk past.

Arctic Terns though, they’re a different kettle of fish-eating aggression altogether. Occasionally you’ll get a loud chattering warning, some of them will jab at your hands from fence-post perches if you’re getting too close to the edge of the boardwalk or if you have the temerity to lift a camera to take a photograph of them and some will just decide to perch on your head, giving themselves a ‘king of the castle’ view of their nest. Then there are the ones that relentlessly swoop and peck at your head/hat/ears/sunglasses. Wear a hat and keep moving 🙂

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Magic tricks; Druridge Bay mini-Safari 06/06/19

by on 18/06/19 12:38, under Druridge Bay

With a busy week and a bit ahead of me (guiding a 7 night wildlife photography holiday and then recceing landscape photography holiday locations in the Lake District) I headed to Amble to collect Val and Jimmy for a morning around Druridge Bay

The rhythmic chuntering of Reed Warblers and scattergun song of Sedge Warblers filled the warm air as we watched several Avocets sitting on nests. One pair seemed agitated but the others didn’t which is unusual in an Avocet colony, where they’re nearly always up for a fight, and then one of the pair adopted an unusual crouched position…and laid an egg!

Next we stopped to look for our regular Little Owl. It wasn’t where I expected it to be…and then suddenly it was 🙂 Next up was a genuine rarity…although it remained stubbornly asleep while we were watching it – I’ve seen a Baikal Teal in the UK previously but this one is just 15mins from our office and had a small audience already watching it when we arrived. Displaying Lapwings, Canada and Greylag Geese (with goslings) and Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Shoveler and Shelduck were all on the marsh.

Great morning, with surprises and a rarity 🙂

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Getting ahead of the weather; Cheviot Valleys Bespoke Birdwatching 04/06/19

by on 05/06/19 08:00, under Cheviot Valleys

I collected John from Cramlington, earlier than originally planned because the weather forecast wasn’t looking great and I wanted to stay ahead of what promised to be some heavy rain, ahead of a day in the Cheviot Valleys and we headed north west in bright sunshine…

Roadside verges left unmowed are a haven for invertebrates and Common Blue and Blue-tailed Damselflies were alongside Red and Black Froghoppers and bees busied themselves searching for pollen and nectar as Oystercatchers engaged in noisy aerial chases.

The riparian triumvirate of Dipper, Grey Wagtail and Common Sandpiper all put in an appearance, Willow Warblers, Chaffinches and Song Thrushes were all singing as the buzzing calls of Lesser Redpolls wrapped around the taller conifers, Meadow Pipits song-flighted over open ground, the eerie cries of Curlew rolled down the valley sides and a Peregrine soared in the updraft over a ridge. Green Tiger Beetles were around areas of the path left puddled by recent rainfall, Red-legged Partridges and Pheasants added a touch of the exotic (both very underrated birds…), a lone Brown Hare on one side of the valley contrasted with a field full of Rabbits on the other and a Common Buzzard in heavy moult laboured up the fell side. A pristine Adder slithered away from it’s newly shed skin and as we returned to the car the first few raindrops began to fall 🙂 A trail runner came down off the hillside, having hit ‘the wall’ 32 miles into a 36 mile run and we gave him a lift into Wooler before heading south as the rain intensified.

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A punny evening on the coast; Otter mini-Safari 30/05/19

by on 31/05/19 09:28, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

I collected Lucy, William, David, Bella and Maia from Wallington and we headed eastwards to Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland for an evening searching NEWT’s favourite Otter sites…

A very obliging Dipper was perched on a mid-stream branch at our first stop with the songs of Chiffchaff, Robin, Chaffinch and Song Thrush adding to the aural backdrop. On the coast, Avocets were alarming every time a Carrion Crow or Grey Heron flew by, Lapwing crests were being ruffled in the breeze that eventually brought a heavy rain shower, Shelduck and Mallard parents were tending to their broods of undeniably cute fluffballs and a Barn Owl ghosted along the dunes before obligingly settling on a fence post.

With dusk being marked by the sky getting slightly darker than the overcast glowering gloom of earlier in the evening, Mute Swans were feeding quietly, Canada Geese and Greylag Geese arrived to roost, anything other than quietly, a Great Crested Grebe repeatedly caught and consumed small fish in front of us, a Roe Deer hurtled along the bank and swallows, martins and Swifts were flycatching through a mesmerising whirling flock of Black-headed Gulls as we reached the point of ‘difficult to see anything out there now’.

The evening added to considerably to our 11 year development of Otter-related puns. ‘otterly amazing/terrible/wonderful’ are all tried and tested, but a couple of new ones put in an appearance “What’s an Otters favourite food? Frittotter” and “What’s an Otters favourite opera? La Traviotter” 🙂

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Why did the Roe Deer cross the pool? Otter Safari 28/05/19

by on 29/05/19 13:12, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

Some days are memorable because of the volume of wildlife we encounter, and then there are the days when what the wildlife is doing defies belief…

I collected Sarah, and then Chris and Alex, from Newbiggin and we headed off for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. Our regular riverside walk brought Treecreeper, Blackcap and a female Great Spotted Woodpecker that had found a reliable food source on mid-stream rocks. We couldn’t see what she was collecting but every few minutes she headed off into the trees with a beak full of food before returning to the edge of the water.

Avocets were next up and, as well as a cacophony of alarm calls every time a Carrion Crow flew by, they were taking a dim view of Grey Herons. One Avocet in particular had singled out a heron that it harrassed, flapped it’s wings at and continued pursuing even as the heron walked away not even bothering to give it a moment’s attention. As Brown Hares loped through a rushy marsh a Barn Owl ghosted by just a few metres away from us.

With a stunning sunset developing and bathing everything in beautiful low-angled light I spotted an Otter briefly in almost the same spot where I’d first spotted one on Sunday evening. Mute Swan threat posture and agitated Canada Geese gave us a good idea of where it was, but frustratingly it remained hidden from sight. Something did come out of the reeds though – a Roe Deer that waded through shallow water onto an island, followed by a second deer. After a couple of lengths of the island they continued into the water before returning to the island for a few minutes and then out into the water again, this time with the water getting deeper until just their heads were visible as they swam across the pool with a flock of Black-headed Gulls directly above them. As they reached the shallows they were suddenly running at breakneck speed out of the water, up the bank, through a hedge and out of sight.

I’ll leave the final word to Chris, with his punchline to our discussion about what the benefit was to the deer of crossing water rather than just walking around the edge of the pool, which would have been quicker. “To get the the Otter side” 😉

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Circuit; Druridge Bay Safari 26/05/19

by on 29/05/19 12:35, under Druridge Bay

After collecting Jane and Graham from Newbiggin, ahead of an afternoon and evening exploring Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland, we set off on what has become a regular route around our favourite sites…

A Grey Wagtail flew over and perched high in a riverside tree as Swifts, swallows and martins gorged themselves on flying insects overhead.

Summertime safaris often feature a few mammals and Brown Hares were laying down in the long grass. Avocets, Dunlin and Lapwings were joined by a Common Sandpiper and a Little Ringed Plover around the boundary of mud and water. A Little Owl was sitting framed by a window as we headed towards our final site for the day…

Frantic feathered flocks feasting on flies included Swift, House Martin, Sand Martin, Swallow and Black-headed Gull and, distantly, there was an Otter 🙂 Watching the gulls and the agitation spreading through swans, geese and ducks allowed us to track the Otter‘s progress and it was eventually much more obliging as it went into shallow water. It vanished into the reeds again before reappearing and quickly crossing the pool, occasionally pausing to raise it’s head in annoyance at the flock of gulls following it as a Roe Deer waded out into belly-deep water before turning back and heading to shore as the encroaching dusk made observation more and more of a challenge.

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Group birdwatching; Druridge Bay and Lindisfarne 21-22/05/19

by on 29/05/19 11:14, under Druridge Bay, Lindisfarne, Southeast Northumberland

We usually limit our tours to a maximum of 6 participants, and our increasingly popular bespoke tours to 2 participants, but over the last 11 years we’ve done a few tours for larger groups. 34 members of an RSPB group was on a different level though…

With Sarah and Tom assisting we separated the group into 3 each day. Sarah took a group who preferred very short walks and a very relaxed approach to their birdwatching. Myself and Tom separated the remainder into two equally sized groups and covered a bit more ground each day.

Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland produced a day that included Little Gull, Willow Tit, a very obliging baby Rabbit, and a Heron wrestling with, and finally subduing and eating a huge Eel, nicely bookended by a couple of local specialties with Red Squirrel at the start of the day (just as we got off the coach at our first stop!) and two incredibly obliging Dippers on the River Blyth at the end of the afternoon.

Lindisfarne was bathed in the complex song of Skylarks and the parachuting songflight of Meadow Pipits. Grey Seals meandered through the surf as Curlews and a lone Whimbrel flew along the shoreline and Roe Deer were quietly grazing close to the dunes. A flock of waders roosting on a distant shingley sandbar could just be identified as Grey Plovers with bright sunlight silhouetting them and the scattered reflections off the water challenging observation. Then a cloud passed in front of the Sun and there were close to 100 breeding-plumaged Grey Plovers! Just one is a spectacular sight in itself but this was a jaw-dropping flock 🙂 Breeding-plumaged Ringed Plovers, Dunlin, Turnstone and Sanderling were feeding along a pebbly shoreline where Little Terns were roosting and the north side of the island was a stunning carpet of orchids.

Two great days out with a lovely group and excellently assisted by Sarah and Tom 🙂

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Heron aid :-) Otter Safari 14/05/19

by on 15/05/19 13:03, under Druridge Bay

Under warm sunshine I arrived in Newbiggin to collect Sue and Caroline, Ellen and Tom and Mark and Kay ahead of an afternoon and evening exploring NEWT’s favourite Otter locations around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland…

Walking through sun-dappled woodland with Robins, Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Chaffinches singing, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Nuthatch calling and Wrens furtively flitting through waterside vegetation we could hear the harsh cawing of two Carrion Crows from a bare treetop, and a few feet below them was the cause of their ire; a Grey Heron just minding its own business…although to be fair to the crows, a Grey Heron just standing still is probably up to something 😉

A Buzzard was soaring above the treetops, two more herons were playing cat-and-mouse with us along the river and then Mute Swans, Canada Geese, Greylag Geese, Shelduck, Mallard and Gadwall were all sedate in the afternoon sunshine and Common Sandpipers were sitting on a mid-river log as the short scratchy warble of a Whitethroat came from a bramble patch.

After our picnic spot overlooking the North Sea produced Sand Martins, Swallows, a Gannet heading south offshore and a Grey Seal bobbing around in the surf, the beautiful evening light was bathing Avocets, including several mating pairs, Lapwings, Curlew, Dunlin and a Grey Heron that found itself on the receiving end of an agitated Avocet…once the Avocet had given up on fighting with a Curlew 🙂

With dusk approaching and the waxing gibbous Moon illuminating the landscape Great Crested Grebes were nest-building, Black-headed Gulls were flycatching over the trees and the water and Canada Geese, Greylag Geese, Mallards and Tufted Ducks were all suddenly alert. With dusk taking hold and Vega, Arcturus and Capella all shining through the gloom the tufties took flight after all staring at the same spot, just out of sight behind a reedbed from our position…

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Exultation :-) Bespoke Lindisfarne mini-Safari 05/05/19

by on 08/05/19 14:27, under Lindisfarne

On Sunday I collected Nick, Mel, John and Heather for another day out with NEWT – this time heading to Lindisfarne

Blackbirds and Robins flitted out of the hedgerows as we walked along the Straight Lonnen, Swallows swooped overhead, Meadow Pipits were song-flighting and ten Roe Deer were quietly grazing and resting in one field while another four were away to the east of us. Grey Herons flew by, no doubt looking for a suitable spot to stand motionless in, Mallards and Shelducks flew past, a Curlew was wandering along the edge of the mud with lots of Grey Seals out on the mudflats at low water and a Brown Hare loped across the road in front of us.

One bird was very conspicuously advertising it’s presence though. Around the island the complex song of Skylarks was almost ever-present. It’s a species that’s undergone a dramatic population decline (75% between 1972 and 1996, with the decline continuing since then) so it’s always a joy to hear them and then watch as they perform a vanishing trick as they land.

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Warbling :-) Kielder Bespoke Birdwatching 03/05/19

by on 04/05/19 15:26, under Kielder

I collected Nick and Mel (for their 3rd day out with NEWT) and John and Heather from Bellingham and we took a short drive up the North Tyne valley for a day out around Kielder and the Scottish Borders…

Birdwatching in a dense forest in early May is a challenge and a small flock of Chaffinches feeding on the track ahead of us were particularly obliging. Robins, Blackbirds and Chiffchaffs were singing from the trees around us, flight calls betrayed Siskins and Crossbills as they passed overhead and a Willow Warbler sat out on a dead tree and was visibly shaking with the exertion of delivering that silvery descending scale. Five Roe Deer stared at us over an open grassy bank before nonchalantly trotting off towards the cover of a small copse.

Birds on the reservoir tend to be concentrated in favoured areas and Cormorant, Canada Goose, Mallard, Teal, Tufted Duck, Mandarin and Little Grebe were all on the water as an Oystercatcher waded in the shallows.

On the other side of the border Ravens and a Common Buzzard accompanied our picnic stop, Wild Goats were grazing close to the road and a Sparrowhawk flew low over the valley bottom before heading through the trees and out of sight. Red Grouse were chuckling in the heather and two of them were sitting very still and offering very accommodating views. A pair of displaying Hen Harriers quickly moved over the moor and away out of sight before a lone male quartered the valley bottom, occasionally dropping and apparently tussling with prey.

With the first few spots of rain speckling the windscreen we headed back towards Bellingham and civilisation 🙂

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