Another raptor day :-) Kielder Safari 05/04/18

by on 06/04/18 12:25, under Hen Harrier, Kielder

When we’ve got a day in and around Kielder and the Scottish Borders ahead of us what I’m hoping for is blue sky, not too much cloud and a nice breeze…exactly what we’d got as I collected Ian and Ian from Newbiggin, Joan and Jerry from Hexham and Duncan and Laura from Bellingham…

As Chaffinches belted out their song from the treetops, Coal Tits sang, a Green Woodpecker yaffled and a small flock of Common Crossbills plundered the cones of a Larch tree nearby a male Goshawk flew along the treeline opposite our watch point.  Common Buzzards began displaying as 2 more Goshawks put in a brief appearance and a Sparrowhawk provided a nice comparison with it’s much larger, and really rather different relative.  A very obliging Goldcrest was just a few metres away from us as Ian spotted an Osprey which spent a couple of minutes hovering over the water before deciding there wasn’t anything worth pursuing.

The afternoon managed to equal, if not surpass, the morning’s raptor watching.  Shaggy Wild Goats grazed close to the road, Skylark and Meadow Pipit flew across the narrow road ahead of us as we crossed the moors, more Common Buzzards, including 8 in the air at the same time along one ridge, Merlins angrily buzzing Common Buzzards and Ravens and then, just about the best raptor-watching experience there is…as Red Grouse cackled from the heather nearby a male Hen Harrier drifted along the skyline before rising and falling on deep deliberate wingbeats.  Then a female rose from the heather and mirrored his skydancing display.  The exuberant glorious synchronised dance of the grey male and ringtail was repeated every few minutes before they both raced angrily across the fell to see off a Common Buzzard that had drifted just too close for their liking, and we headed from the hills down through Kielder and back to civilisation 🙂

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Waders in the wet; Druridge Bay Bespoke Safari 03/04/18

by on 06/04/18 11:51, under Druridge Bay

Tuesday was forecast to be a nice day but when I collected John and Sue from Newbiggin, for a day around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland, I wasn’t entirely convinced…

It didn’t take too long for the rain to arrive, while we were watching a flock of 22 Goldeneye who were presumably wishing they’d chosen somewhere warmer to spend the winter 😉  With water levels high from snowmelt and rain, space around muddy edges was at a premium.  Lapwing, Curlew and Dunlin were all wandering around the interface of mud and water and a flock of 22 Black-tailed Godwits circled repeatedly before finally pitching in to the shallows to feed and bathe.  Fulmars were soaring along the clifftops on a stiff breeze and a Meadow Pipit came in-off and settled in the grass nearby.  An obliging Little Owl stared at us from it’s not so hidden perch in a bare tree and every hedgerow seemed to be alive with Blackbirds and Robins as a real bonus bird popped up in front of us – Black Redstarts are fantastic birds and the flash of red as it dropped from a fence to the ground, and then back again, really stood out against the rest of it’s sooty-grey plumage.  Spring was clearly in the air and we were treated to the remarkable comical displays of drake Goldeneye and Red-breasted Merganser as a Starling murmuration began to develop and the light began to fade.

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Shadow hunter; Otter mini-Safari 27/03/18

by on 28/03/18 11:03, under Druridge Bay, Otter

The rain that started soon after I collected Marilyn, Pam, John and Jen & Anne and Bridget from Church Point had passed over and there was a touch of azure beyond the clouds overhead…

An obliging Little Owl had given us a stare from it’s perch in a bare tree as we head up the Druridge Bay coast in search of OttersTufted Duck, Goldeneye, Cormorant and Little Grebe were diving, Gadwall, Mallard and Teal were dabbling, Coot were doing a bit of both and a pair of Great Crested Grebes had a half-hearted attempt at a courtship dance as Water Rails squealed from deep in the reeds and a Brown Hare loped across a nearby field.

As the sun sank towards the western horizon Jen spotted our quarry.  Twisting, turning and surfacing to crunch whatever it had just caught the Otter headed back to it’s holt after 10 minutes.  Then it was back out, coming closer to us and having a real tussle with a large fish which we occasionally caught sight of as it drifted near the surface under the onslaught from the Otter.  As the wind strengthened and temperature dropped the sinuous shape of the Otter drifted back into the shadows under a waxing gibbous Moon 🙂

The Otter is probably this one that we were watching back in January.

Eurasian River Otter, Lutra lutra, Northumberland, Northern Experience Wildlife Tours, Otter Safari, Otter spotting, Otter Safari Northumberland, Otter Safari England, Otter Safari UK, Otter spotting Northumberland, Otter spotting UK, Otter spotting England, Nikon D500, Sigma 300mm f2.8, wildlife photography, wildlife photography workshops, wildlife photography tuition

We’ve got Otter Safaris up to the end of May and again from early September, but we can organise them to order from June-August, so get in touch to book your tour with us 🙂

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Breezy with a chance of Otters :-) Otter Safari 21/03/18

by on 22/03/18 09:31, under Druridge Bay, Otter

Yesterday morning was glorious; blue sky, fluffy white clouds, not much a of a breeze.  By the time I collected Jon and Lesley from Church Point ahead of an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay searching for Otters it was cloudy, cold, breezy and the first few drops of rain had patterned the car windscreen…

The wintry weather that brought travel chaos to much of Britain in February and the first half of March meant that it had been a month since our previous Otter Safari but I was confident that I could find an Otter and prove to Lesley that not having seen one in several attempts wasn’t due to her being a jynx.  As the breeze strengthened we arrived at our first site for the afternoon and a few seconds later we were watching an Otter 🙂  We had nearly an hour of it feeding before it surfaced with a fish that was too big too handle in the water and headed back to the holt to enjoy it’s catch.  By now the rain was coming down heavily and we had lunch in the car, watching a raft of Common Eider out on the calm sea, before exploring more coastal pools.  Wigeon, Teal, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Gadwall, Goldeneye, Shelduck, Greylag Goose, Canada Goose, Pink-footed Goose, Mute Swan and Whooper Swan was a nice contingent of wildfowl as a Grey Heron sat hunched, looking miserable in the cold and wet and a Common Buzzard perched obligingly at the end of a row of trees.  Cormorants were fishing and doing their very best Otter impersonations as we scanned through a wader roost.  Knot, Dunlin, Curlew, Redshank, Lapwing, Black-tailed Godwit and a single Avocet were all studied through the ‘scope before we headed to our final site for the afternoon, passing Kestrels hovering by the roadside on what was now a very stiff, icy cold, breeze.

For over an hour until it was too dark to see clearly we were entertained by a Starling murmuration.  Flock after flock joined the twisting, swirling amorphous mass that repeatedly came so close that we could hear their wingbeats.  A female Sparrowhawk passed through the murmuration a couple of times, causing it to bunch so tightly that it cast a dense shadow on the water below them as Whooper Swans arrived to roost and the light of day faded to the near darkness of dusk.

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A raptor day :-) Bespoke Kielder Safari 20/03/18

by on 21/03/18 10:12, under Uncategorized

I collected Sue from Old Swarland for her 7th trip with NEWT and we headed west towards Kielder as the clouds started to break and the blue sky, excellent visibility and light breeze suggested it would be a good day for raptors…

A Goosander flew along the course of tiny stream before our first raptor, a male Merlin cloaked in beautiful blue, dashed low over the road ahead of us as we crossed the moors.  Common Buzzards were either perched or soaring almost everywhere we went during the day and a Sparrowhawk flew by, pursued by an angry mob of passerines.  Carrion Crows breaking the skyline provided their usual share of false alarms before a tight group of three crows betrayed the presence of the ‘Phantom of the Forest’.  Menacing, muscular and purposeful, the Goshawk flew just above the tree tops, apparently unfazed by the yelling crows in hot pursuit.  Kestrel made it raptor #5 for the day as Raven, the honorary raptor, tumbled distantly before another male Merlin, this time perched on a rock, held our attention as Wild Goats grazed nearby and then Sue spotted a male Hen Harrier drifting along a heather-clad ridge above us.  The journey home produced raptor #7 as a Peregrine kept pace with us as it flew along a ridge before perching on a dry stone wall.

Definitely a good raptor day 🙂

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Atmospheric; Focus on Northumberland Day 3 19/02/18

by on 21/02/18 18:12, under Photography, Uncategorized

Tuesday was the final full day of our Focus on Northumberland holiday and we were heading to the coast for a day of landscape photography…

Blue skies and sunshine can be a bit overrated so the drizzle and fog offered something a bit different.  Daniela had shown me some excellent photographs that she’d taken previously, so I was slightly surprised to learn that her camera was always set to auto.  With a calm sea that only had white along the edge of the breaking surf, and with the impressive edifice of Bamburgh Castle vanishing in heavy mist, Daniela had composed an effective scene looking from the dune tops towards the Farne Islands (also shrouded in mist) so it was time to take the camera off auto and start exploring the exposure trinity of ISO, aperture and shutter speed and the creative possibilities that come once you start to control depth of field.  The drizzle continued as we made our way south along the coast and a very welcome hot chocolate at The Drift Inn came just before we headed west along the line of Hadrian’s Wall and back to The Battlesteads.

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Omens; Focus on Northumberland Day 1 and 2 17-18/02/18

by on 18/02/18 21:21, under Uncategorized

Day 1 17/02/18

After collecting John and Dani from Hexham we headed to The Battlesteads; our base for the next three days.  Saturday’s evening session at the observatory featured some clear sky and we managed a quick binocular tour of Orion, Leo, Gemini, Cassiopeia, Auriga and the Plough before the rain eventually drove us back to the warmth of the dry room.

Day 2 18/02/18

Today was our inland wildlife/landscape photography day and we headed south into the North Pennines.  The road sides still had a fair amount of snow and a couple of the minor roads that we would have used to cross some of the higher hills weren’t safely passable but a brief detour soon had us next to flocks of Lapwing, Starling and Common GullRed Grouse were their usual obliging selves, sitting well within camera range and chuckling away at us before delivering an ominous ‘go back, go back, go back’ – perhaps they’d had a look at the road conditions already?  The avian specialty of the hills was there in good numbers too; 51 Black Grouse during the day included a single flock of 40 birds before drizzle and fog closed in around us.  Flocks of Rook and Jackdaw flew in front of us on their way to roost, dark birds against a darkening sky as the weather followed us down from the hills and we headed back to civilisation and The Battlesteads.

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Ravenous; Otter mini-Safari 13/02/18

by on 14/02/18 11:23, under Druridge Bay

As I collected Simon, Judith, Susanna and Phoebe from Newbiggin ahead of an afternoon searching for Otters around Druridge Bay the sky darkened and rain turned to sleet turned to snow…

Under an overcast sky with barely a hint of a breeze, the uniform colour of the water made it easy to spot any movement.  Goldeneye and Little Grebe were diving and I was watching regular ripples emanating from a small bay in the reeds, just below two Roe Deer, as a Water Rail poked around another bay.  Whatever was causing the ripples remained hidden though, and after admiring a handsome drake Long-tailed Duck our attention was drawn to Goldeneye displaying.  Head thrown back, bill pointing skywards and then neck outstretched and dipped dramatically, one drake Goldeneye caught the eye of a duck and they swam along, closely paired.  Just beyond them a Coot wing appeared on the surface of the water.  Was it fighting with another Coot?  It vanished below the water’s surface before reappearing and heading rapidly across the pool like the sail of a yacht.  A closer look revealed that it was on it’s back, feet in the air and moving quickly.  It sank again and then when it surfaced we could see the head of the Otter that was carrying it!  As the Otter neared the reeds her two cubs came out to greet her and they all disappeared into the reeds with the Coot.  After a little while, and as Canada Geese, Greylag Geese and Whooper Swans arrived noisily, the cubs were visible as they chased around in the reeds.  Then all three Otters swam across the pool, with the cubs pausing to engage in a play fight before vanishing into the reeds again as the low angled sunlight cast a golden glow over the landscape.

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Crashing waves; Druridge Bay Safari 01/02/18

by on 02/02/18 12:23, under Druridge Bay

Arriving at Church Point to collect Jenny and Peter, and Lynne, it was looking like we’d have a dry, but cold and windy day around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland…

With a stiff breeze, every bit of water we looked at, whether river, pool, pond or roadside flash flood was being whipped up into a series of white-capped peaks.  Bullfinches and Robins were very obliging as we walked through woodland, although Goldcrest remained heard but not seen, and on the nearby river Little Grebe, Cormorant and Goldeneye were all diving in search of food.  Red-breasted Merganser had their spiky crests ruffled comically by the wind and a drake Long-tailed Duck was looking superb – as were all of the Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye, Gadwall and a drake Goosander.  A herd of Whooper Swan were grazing in a coastal field and noisy flocks of Canada and Greylag Geese flew by in skeins scattered on the breeze.  Six Grey Herons had discovered a nice sheltered spot to sit and a Little Egret stalked delicately along the water’s edge.

Our exposed clifftop lunch spot was like a wind tunnel with waves cashing below a flock of Great Black-backed, Black-headed, Common and Herring Gulls hanging in the breeze, accompanied by a beautiful ghostly pale adult Mediterranean Gull which settled on the narrow strip of exposed sand that remained and found itself surrounded by scurrying Sanderling.

The rapidly rising tide of the early afternoon was pushing waders up off the beach and rocks with Curlew, Oystercatcher, Redshank and Dunlin all arriving to roost.  Lapwing were tossed on the breeze and, along with dense twinkling flocks of Golden Plover rising from a nearby field with geese and Starlings, peppered the sky.  The reflections of grey clouds darkened the water as low-angled sunlight illuminated the reeds and the contrast between dark grey and glowing gold was just sublime and as we headed back down the coast towards Newbiggin we paused to admire a flock of noisy yapping Pink-footed Geese.

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Mum to the rescue; an Otter encounter 24/01/18

by on 25/01/18 10:38, under Otter

After Tuesday’s Otter Safari, and spectacularly close view of three Otters, I headed back out yesterday with my camera.  The wind direction had changed, and not for the better, and the breeze had strengthened to bone-chilling…

In the fast flowing water one of the Otter cubs was struggling and became separated from it’s mother and sibling.  It made its way to the closest point of land, calling constantly, before getting out of the water, still calling, and waiting for mum to come and help, which she did, and before heading back to the holt together they stopped and had a good stare in my direction 🙂

Eurasian River Otter, Lutra lutra, Northumberland, Northern Experience Wildlife Tours, Otter Safari, Otter spotting, Otter Safari Northumberland, Otter Safari England, Otter Safari UK, Otter spotting Northumberland, Otter spotting UK, Otter spotting England, Nikon D500, Sigma 300mm f2.8, wildlife photography, wildlife photography workshops, wildlife photography tuition

Eurasian River Otter, Lutra lutra, Northumberland, Northern Experience Wildlife Tours, Otter Safari, Otter spotting, Otter Safari Northumberland, Otter Safari England, Otter Safari UK, Otter spotting Northumberland, Otter spotting UK, Otter spotting England, Nikon D500, Sigma 300mm f2.8, wildlife photography, wildlife photography workshops, wildlife photography tuition

Eurasian River Otter, Lutra lutra, Northumberland, Northern Experience Wildlife Tours, Otter Safari, Otter spotting, Otter Safari Northumberland, Otter Safari England, Otter Safari UK, Otter spotting Northumberland, Otter spotting UK, Otter spotting England, Nikon D500, Sigma 300mm f2.8, wildlife photography, wildlife photography workshops, wildlife photography tuition

Eurasian River Otter, Lutra lutra, Northumberland, Northern Experience Wildlife Tours, Otter Safari, Otter spotting, Otter Safari Northumberland, Otter Safari England, Otter Safari UK, Otter spotting Northumberland, Otter spotting UK, Otter spotting England, Nikon D500, Sigma 300mm f2.8, wildlife photography, wildlife photography workshops, wildlife photography tuition

Eurasian River Otter, Lutra lutra, Northumberland, Northern Experience Wildlife Tours, Otter Safari, Otter spotting, Otter Safari Northumberland, Otter Safari England, Otter Safari UK, Otter spotting Northumberland, Otter spotting UK, Otter spotting England, Nikon D500, Sigma 300mm f2.8, wildlife photography, wildlife photography workshops, wildlife photography tuition

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