Localised weather systems; Cheviot Valleys group birdwatching 11/07/17

by on 13/07/17 10:03, under Cheviot Valleys

Watching the weather forecast on the breakfast news, I was confident that any rain we encountered on our day in the Cheviot Valleys would be quickly passing showers…

As I collected Mike and the other 12 members of his group from Belford there was a steady drizzle, and I was questioning the forecast already 😉 Heading into the hills we were soon watching Pheasant, Red-legged Partridge and a Brown Hare that loped across the road in front of us before heading up a rough track and out of sight.  The air was damp and warm; perfect conditions for midges and the Sand Martins, House Martins and Swallows that were busy hoovering them up.  Lesser Redpoll were trilling overhead, the high-pitched calls of Siskin pierced the damp air and a female Red Grouse was leading her chicks through the heather as we headed along the path to higher ground.  You should be careful what you wish for, and I’d just mentioned that a slightly stiffer breeze would suppress the degree of annoyance that the midges tend to bring, when the breeze did start to pick up a bit.  Eventually the stiff easterly was driving rain into the valley and the forecast was looking like a wild guess at what the weather was actually going to do.  I suggested that we retreat to the lower reaches of the valley and see what the weather was like down there.  It was better, much better in fact and our second walk of the day, following a lunch stop that was accompanied by a very obliging Yellowhammer, brought Common Buzzard, Common Sandpiper, Grey Wagtail, Curlew, a family of Whinchat and, after a lot of effort, the two target species for the afternoon – Dipper and Ring Ouzel – as a young Roe Deer watched us from the other side of the valley.  Just a few miles back along the road on our return journey to Belford the roads were dry, bone dry and it seemed that we’d been enjoying a remarkable bit of micro-climate 🙂

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Bait balls; NEWT’s North Sea Pelagic 07/07/17

by on 10/07/17 16:24, under North Sea

Our second 4hr evening pelagic last week sailed in calmer seas than on Wednesday and we headed north from the Tyne.  Searching for flocks of birds above bait balls of tiny fish we encountered Kittiwake, Guillemot, Razorbill, Fulmar and Gannet, including a flock that were plunge-diving just off Blyth.  ‘Crazy unexpected wildlife’ award for the evening went to a Hummingbird Hawk-moth that joined us off Blyth and eventually went to roost in the speaker of the boat’s tannoy system 🙂  We finished the evening with a spectacular sunset as we passed St Mary’s Island and flocks of Common Scoter heading north.

Our 4hr evening pelagic trips sail from Royal Quays marina and we search for whales, dolphins, porpoises and seabirds while enjoying spectacular views of the beautiful Northumberland coast

Our 4hr evening pelagic trips sail from Royal Quays marina and we search for whales, dolphins, porpoises and seabirds while enjoying spectacular views of the beautiful Northumberland coast

Our 4hr evening pelagic trips sail from Royal Quays marina and we search for whales, dolphins, porpoises and seabirds while enjoying spectacular views of the beautiful Northumberland coast

Our 4hr evening pelagic trips sail from Royal Quays marina and we search for whales, dolphins, porpoises and seabirds while enjoying spectacular views of the beautiful Northumberland coast

Our 4hr evening pelagic trips sail from Royal Quays marina and we search for whales, dolphins, porpoises and seabirds while enjoying spectacular views of the beautiful Northumberland coast

Our 4hr evening sailings are almost all sold out but there are a few places remaining, and we’ve still got availability on our 10hr ‘Northumberland Ultimate Pelagic’ sailings in August and September.  Give us a call on 01670 827465 for more information or to reserve your place

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From the very small to the very large; NEWT’s North Sea Pelagic 05/07/17

by on 10/07/17 15:57, under North Sea

After a couple of weather affected planned sailings we headed out on Wednesday for a 4hr evening pelagic.  There was a long rolling swell as we left the mouth of the Tyne, but that settled as we headed further north and offshore.  As Gannets soared by there were Puffins dotted around and Guillemots with recent fledglings.  Kittiwakes were above bait balls of tiny fish and a Harbour Porpoise was followed soon after by a Minke Whale that was feeding beneath a flock of Gannets before heading across our bow and vanishing into the mysterious deep.  A quiet evening, but two cetaceans in less than ideal viewing conditions wasn’t a bad start 🙂

Our 4hr evening sailings are almost all sold out but there are a few places remaining, and we’ve still got availability on our 10hr ‘Northumberland Ultimate Pelagic’ sailings in August and September.  Give us a call on 01670 827465 for more information or to reserve your place 🙂

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Contrast and compare; Bespoke Photography holiday 02-05/07/17

by on 06/07/17 12:56, under Druridge Bay, Farne Islands, Northumberland Coast

I collected Joy from Morpeth railway station ahead of two days enjoying the best photographic opportunities that the Northumberland coast has to offer in early July, and I outlined the plan for the next two days as we drove to The Swan.  Like last week’s Birdwatching magazine reader holiday, the forecast suggested that Monday would be ok…

Monday 03/07/17

An early start saw us boarding the St Cuthbert III and heading towards the Farne Islands.  Landing on Staple Island was an interesting experience, as the swell was washing against the landing platform, and once on the island Joy demonstrated an excellent eye for spotting a photographic opportunity.  Puffin, Shag, Guillemot, Razorbill, Kittiwake and Fulmar all posed in front of the lens and I took a few shots with my dSLR as Joy has been thinking about upgrading from her bridge camera to something a bit heavier 🙂  Crossing to Inner Farne early afternoon brought the birds that aren’t present on Staple; Common, Sandwich and Arctic Terns.  Lots more photographs and by late afternoon we were on our way back to Seahouses and then south along the coast.

Tuesday 04/07/17

The forecast had suggested rain from late morning onwards, so waking up at 06:00 and hearing it hammering down on our roof came as an unpleasant surprise.  A tour of the best birdwatching spots on the Northumberland coast, from Bamburgh to Cresswell, brought Great Crested Grebe, Cormorant, Tufted Duck, Shoveler, Mallard, Teal, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Sandwich, Arctic and Common Terns, Sedge Warbler, Rock Pipit, Lapwing, Curlew, Sand Martin, Swallow and Swift and, surprisingly for the middle of the day in July, Otters at two separate sites 🙂

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Seabird Spectacular; Birdwatching magazine Reader Holiday 25-28/06/17

by on 29/06/17 12:17, under Coquet Island, Druridge Bay, Farne Islands

Day 1 25/06/17

After collecting Malcolm, and then John, from Alnmouth railway station we headed to Seahouses and the Bamburgh Castle Inn for the start of a short break concentrating on the seabirds of the Northumberland coast.  Nigel, Janice and Cliff and Lesley had already arrived and at dinner we discussed the plan for the next two days.  I’d brought our Farne Islands day forward from Tuesday to Monday, and moved Coquet Island and Druridge Bay to Tuesday, and had my fingers crossed that it was the right decision…

Day 2 26/06/17

We boarded Glad Tidings IV after breakfast and headed across to Staple Island at the start of an all-day trip to the Farne Islands.  Staple doesn’t have any breeding terns, and has fewer visitors than Inner Farne, so is altogether a much more relaxed experience 🙂  Puffins, Fulmars, Guillemots, Razorbills, Rock Pipits and Lesser Black-backed Gulls were all coming and going as, just north of the island, Gannets were plunging into the sea.  Transferring across to Inner Farne for the afternoon, we made our way past Arctic, Common and Sandwich Terns and up to Lighthouse Point  where, alongside Razorbills, Guillemots, Shags and Kittiwakes, Rock Pipits were carrying food into nests tucked away out of sight in narrow crevices in the cliff face.  At the base of the cliffs the water was so clear that we could watch Guillemot, including a parent joined by a jumpling as we watched, and Razorbill as they swam with slow-motion effort under the water.  Back on the mainland we walked along the edge of the rising tide and watched Little Terns, Dunlin and Ringed Plover as Meadow Pipits song-flighted from the dunes and a maelstrom of Arctic Terns responded to marauding Lesser Black-backed, Great Black-backed and Herring Gulls and a real bonus bird came in the form of a 2cy Glaucous Gull.

Day 3 27/06/17

I woke up to the sound of a stiff breeze and rain, and breathed a sigh of relief that we’d moved our Farne Islands day to Monday.  We headed south along the coast towards Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland and our first stop was to look for 3 Spoonbills which had been reported.  Just before we reached them, Nigel spotted a Cuckoo perched on a tree protector and we quickly found the Spoonbills.  Next stop was for a bird that’s straightforward to find in Northumberland during the winter, but a rare thing indeed in breeding plumage in late June.  The Slavonian Grebe was asleep, tucked up against the wind and rain but soon roused itself from slumber and started feeding.  Sedge and Reed Warblers were playing hide-and-seek with us in reedbeds, Tree Sparrows were feeding on the paths ahead of us and we spent some time watching an entertaining dispute between a Little Gull and a 1st summer Arctic Tern.  The tern seemed to have a case of angry little man syndrome and, as well as persistently harassing the gull, it took umbrage at the presence of Avocet, Moorhen, Oystercatcher, Carrion Crow and ShelduckBlack-tailed Godwits were probing in the shallows, Curlew were in newly-mown fields and the air was filled with Swallows, Sand Martins, House Martins and Swifts.  Soon after lunch the weather deteriorated and as we could hear the sea crashing against the shore is was obvious that our planned sailing around Coquet Island wouldn’t be happening.  There’s always the telescope though, and although distant, we could identify Roseate Terns as Bar-tailed Godwits pottered along the shoreline below us.  As Great Crested Grebes somehow managed to look elegant even in the stiffening breeze and increasingly heavy rain we headed back to Seahouses.

Day 4 28/06/17

After breakfast together, everyone headed their separate ways.  I dropped Malcolm and John back at Alnmouth, and then I was on my way to a physio appointment – really not as much fun as watching Northumberland’s stunning wildlife 🙂

We’ll be adding more holiday dates to our online calendar in the next week, so make sure you book your place early before they’re all gone!

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Bombardment; Bespoke Farne Islands Safari 22/06/17

by on 29/06/17 11:20, under Farne Islands

Here at NEWT we love all of the trips that we run; whether we’re searching for Black Grouse and Ring Ouzels in the hills of the North Pennines and the Cheviot Valleys, Otters in the rivers and pools of southeast Northumberland, scarce migrants on Holy Island, Goshawk and Red Squirrel in Kielder or whales, dolphins and seabirds on a pelagic trip out onto the North Sea – the thrill of the chase and the pleasure of spending that time with our clients, who are always really lovely people, makes every day different and a joy.  The trip I haven’t mentioned yet is the one that really should be one everybody’s bucket list…

I collected Malcolm and Carole from Seahouses and we headed south along the coast to visit the Arctic and Little Tern colony.  The weather was a bit drizzly, but Skylark and Meadow Pipit were song-flighting above dense areas of Bloody Cranesbill and by lunchtime we were on the dunes overlooking the Farne Islands, the sea looked calm and the weather was improving 🙂  The journey across to the islands on St Cuthbert II was soon accompanied by Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills, Fulmars, Kittiwakes and Gannets then we were soon across at the inner group and Grey Seals lazing on the rocks and watching our boat.  This far into the breeding season the seabird colony is well-ripened, and a really assault on your sense of smell as the loud cries of Kittiwake and the persistent low grumbling of Guillemots start to overwhelm your hearing as Cormorants watch sentinel-like from nearby islets.  Landing on Inner Farne brought excellent close views of nesting Puffin, Guillemot, Razorbill, Shag and Kittiwake, once we’d made it through the barrage of attacks by Arctic Terns as we made our way towards Lighthouse Point.  Common and Sandwich Terns nest a little bit further from the boardwalk than the feisty Arctics and don’t pester visitors, which is a real bonus in the case of Sandwich Tern given the size of their beaks 😉

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Summer days; Cheviot Valleys Bespoke birdwatching 18/06/17

by on 20/06/17 16:06, under Cheviot Valleys

An early start on Sunday saw me collecting Jill and Steve for their 4th day out with NEWT (and Steve’s 5th trip with us as he was on this memorable pelagic!)…

Our destination was the Cheviot valleys, but we headed to Bothal first to search for the Ruddy Duck that had been there the day before.  There was no sign of it, but consolation came in the form of a stunning summer-plumaged Slavonian Grebe before we continued on our way north west.  Red-legged Partridge and Pheasant were wandering along the roads and sitting on the tops of walls and we were soon searching for Ring Ouzel and Whinchat – the two target species for the morning.  Curlew called from the moors high above, Meadow Pipits were song-flighting and Pied Wagtails were picking insects from the grass as Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler were singing, Mistle Thrushes flew back and forth and Oystercatchers were probing the soil under short vegetation.  Persistence is often the key and I finally spotted a Whinchat perched on a small bush, and then 2 Ring Ouzels foraging on a small rocky outcrop.

Our picnic spot beside a fast flowing stream produced an obliging Common Sandpiper and more Whinchats as the buzzing trill of Lesser Redpolls drew our attention to small dark specks travelling between plantations and the scratchy song of Common Whitethroat grumbled from nearby bracken.  A Great Spotted Woodpecker sitting in the road was an unexpected encounter before we finished the day with an hour of woodland birding.  In the hot afternoon sunshine the birds seemed to be keeping their heads down, other than a very obliging Spotted Flycatcher as Speckled Wood butterflies rested in the sun-dappled edges of the wood and a Giant Pied Hoverfly Volucella pellucens made a couple of flyby inspections as we walked back to the car.

Another really enjoyable day out with Jill and Steve, in very summery weather!

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Stoatally amazing ;-) Druridge Bay Safari 16/06/17

by on 19/06/17 18:13, under Druridge Bay

I collected Eileen, Malcolm and Ben from Newbiggin and we headed up the coast for a day around Druridge Bay

We started a bit further north, with Fulmars and Kittiwakes battling the breeze as Common Whitethroats sang from deep cover and Shelduck sat on the sea far below our clifftop position.  Common Swifts were heading southeast in numbers and we went the same way ourselves.  A flycatching Grey Wagtail was jumping up from mid-stream rocks as Chiffchaffs darted around the trees and a stiff breeze was developing.  Down into Druridge bay and Avocets, Little Egrets and Great Crested Grebes provided a touch of elegance alongside dainty Little GullsBlue-tailed Damselflies were remarkably obliging, tolerating Eileen and Malcolm’s cameras and not worrying about the close approach of smartphones either, but the real star of the afternoon was one of my favourite land mammals.  Bounding along a fence line before disappearing to the grass, the Stoat was soon back out and running towards us, mobbed by Lapwings as it carried a Short-tailed Field Vole.  A few minutes later and it was back out again, vanishing into a reedbed as the Lapwings continued to fret and panic. Nature, red in tooth and claw and just really impressive 🙂

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Wet and windy; Farne Islands Safari 15/06/17

by on 19/06/17 17:53, under Farne Islands

I collected Richard and Chris, Anne and Howard and Paul and Julie from Seahouses and we headed a little way down the coast to visit the Arctic and Little Tern colony before heading back to Seahouses for a trip across to Inner Farne

The dunes were a hive of activity in the warm sunshine; Common Blue butterflies, Yellow Shell, Cinnabar and burnet moths and an impressive display of our county flower, Bloody Cranesbill, before we reached the terns.  After lunch it was time to board Glad Tidings and head towards the ‘Galapagos of the North’.  Eiders were escorting their chicks around the harbour and the first Puffins and Guillemots were sitting on the sea just out of the pier ends.  As we approached the islands, in a strengthening breeze, the number of birds increased dramatically  with lines of Guillemot and Puffin, and the odd Razorbill, streaming back to their nests and hungry chicks.  Gannets soared by and the sound, and smell, of a cliff full of Kittiwakes was an all-out assault on the senses.  Grey Seals were lazing on the rocks and we landed on Inner Farne with it’s remarkably obliging Shags, Guillemots, Puffins and Sandwich, Arctic and Common Terns.

What can we say about the Farne Islands?  If you haven’t already visited them, start making your plans 🙂

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Owling; Bespoke Otter Safari 14/06/17

by on 19/06/17 17:14, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

There are days when our quarry evades us, but even then there’s usually something good that comes along anyway…

I collected Marg and Rob from Alnwick and we headed southeast towards Druridge Bay for an afternoon and evening searching our favourite spots for Otters.  A Roebuck and a Roe doe were peering at us from deep grass and Great Crested Grebes were elegantly serene and just quite stunning.  Cormorants were resting or drying off after fishing, wings outstretched like heraldic black dragons.  A mini-murmuration of Starlings was a long way from the huge flocks we’ll be watching by the end of the year, but impressive nonetheless.  As dusk approached we found ourselves watching a hunting Barn Owl as it passed by on silent wings before plunging into the grass in search of a hapless rodent as Cuckoos were pursued by angry Meadow Pipits from bush to bush along the dunes and the light faded, as it always does, to unmanageable…

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