One plus one makes three; Cheviot Valleys Safari 07/06/18

by on 13/06/18 14:31, under Birdwatching, Cheviot Valleys

Having arranged all of our clients for last Thursday’s Cheviot Valleys safari to meeting at the same location I arrived in Powburn and collected Vicky, Dave and Babs, Diane and Ruth before heading along a grassy verge buzzing with bees and hoverflies and bejewelled with Common Blue Damselflies and Red and Black FroghoppersRuth proved to have the sharpest eyes and found the first of two Adders that she spotted before everyone else (as well as a third that was sadly dead in the middle of the track) as Blackcaps, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs sang from hidden perches in dense foliage.

It wouldn’t be a June Cheviot Valleys trip without the riparian triumvirate of Dipper, Common Sandpiper and Grey Wagtail and all three duly put in an appearance as Swallows gathered insects, House Martins gathered mud for nest-building and the eerie cries of Curlew rolled down the fells.  Red Grouse were chuckling from the heather clad hillsides and one or two were uncharacteristically obliging and out in the open as Wheatears flitted between stones on the ground, the prominent ears of a Brown Hare betrayed it’s location, Whinchat demonstrated just how beautiful they are and Ring Ouzel flew by but didn’t settle where we could see them as Green Tiger Beetles suddenly appeared as they flew and the calls of Cuckoos echoed across the valley.

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Evolving; Druridge Bay Bespoke Birdwatching 05/06/18

by on 06/06/18 10:42, under Druridge Bay

Yesterday was Brian and Carolyn’s 4th day out with NEWT and we were returning to the scene of their 1st – Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland

As we drove down the coast from Seahouses there was an ominous bank of fog just offshore but fortunately that’s where it stayed 🙂  Since that 1st Druridge trip we’ve changed a few things, and we’ve added a new riparian walk that is rich with birdsong.  Woodpigeon, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Chaffinch and Blackbird were all singing around us as clouds of mayflies danced over the water and rough vegetation by the path and Common Blue Damselflies graced us with their presence.  Our picnic stop was accompanied by a Kestrel, riding the updraft from the cliff edge and hanging near motionless in the stiff breeze.  Fulmars were arcing by as lines of Gannets flew north offshore and a Great Skua lumbered menacingly into the breeze.  Shelduck and Mallard had broods of small duckings, Shoveler, Mallard and Gadwall were dabbling as Great Crested Grebe and Tufted Duck were diving and Meadow Pipits song-flighted as Yellow Wagtails proceeded jerkily through the long grass in front of us.  Avocets were sleeping, incubating, feeding and chasing corvids as Dunlin probed in the mud of shallow pools, Ringed Plover were hurrying and scurrying through the grass and Lapwing chicks, fluffy miniature versions of their parents, explored close to the water’s edge as Black-tailed Godwits flew by, revealing their striking black and white upperwings above a wet meadow liberally sprinkled with sentinel-like Grey Herons.

Druridge is our local patch, and somewhere that we visit all year round, but we’re still discovering new locations to add into our trips there so check our website calendar and come along to explore it with us 🙂

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Spotted; Cheviot Valleys Bespoke Photography and Birdwatching 26/05/18

by on 04/06/18 10:18, under Cheviot Valleys

For the second year running we had a day out with David, and John, as part of his prize from the North East Wildlife Photography Awards.  This time we were heading into the centre of Northumberland to explore the Cheviot Valleys

Exploring a roadside verge produced Common Blue and Blue-tailed Damselflies, Red and Black Froghoppers and then an Adder 🙂  Around 2′ in length it suddenly stopped it’s exploration of the undergrowth and began almost imperceptibly coiling itself into a spiral, eventually being no bigger than a clenched fist.  Brown Hares were in a roadside field and Pheasant and Red-legged Partridge trotted along, and across, the road ahead of us.  Dipper and Grey Wagtail were on rocks surrounded by shallow fast flowing water as Red Grouse chuckled from the heather clad slopes of the valley sides, Cuckoos were calling as Redpoll trilled overhead and then a small angry mob of passerines pursued one Cuckoo over the trees above us.  One bird which featured repeatedly was a species that’s undergone a dramatic decline.  In the mid 90’s I had Spotted Flycatchers breeding outside my bathroom window on the outskirts of Newcastle but seeing them now is far easier if you journey well inland.

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Yes, this really is southeast Northumberland ;-) Otter Safari 18/05/18

by on 19/05/18 17:53, under Druridge Bay, Otter

In warm but breezy weather I collected Baird and Margaret, and then Jacqui, Paul, Chris and Louise ahead of an afternoon and evening around southeast Northumberland and Druridge Bay searching for Otters

Starting with a woodland walk we could hear Blackbird, Blackcap, Robin, Wren, Woodpigeon, Chiffchaff and Chaffinch all singing but the only movement in the rocky streams was gurgling water. Black-headed Gulls were swarming over the wider rivers, mopping up an obviously substantial hatch of flying insects, and Cormorants were doing their best to impersonate Otters.  Our picnic stop overlooking the North Sea brought a fantastic wildlife experience; with everyone else enjoying soup, sandwich and carrot cake I was scanning the sea.  Common Eider, Guillemot and Razorbill were all rafting as Gannets headed north and then I spotted the concentrated activity of a flock of gulls.  Focusing on the sea below them I soon spotted a couple of dorsal fins breaking the surface…and we had nearly an hour with 9 Bottlenose Dolphins porpoising, breaching, feeding and generally being very entertaining right in front of us 🙂  Tufted Duck, Mallard, Shoveler, Gadwall and Great Crested Grebe all looked stunning in low angled sunlight as Lapwings displayed with their bizarre other-worldly calls and, as the Sun sank towards the northwest a Barn Owl flew across the road ahead of us.

Under a beautiful waxing crescent Moon alongside Venus in the west, and Arcturus and Jupiter visible in the twilight to the southeast, with the giant planet stunning through our telescope, the Swallows, Swifts, House Martins and Sand Martins were replaced overhead by Noctule and pipistrelle bats as dozens and dozens of Black-headed Gulls continued feasting on flying insects and a Roe Deer was in the reeds opposite us.  Tufted Ducks, Mallards, Canada Geese and Greylag Geese were looking agitated and one flock of gulls seemed to be whirling in a dense tight circle over a narrow bay in the reeds before gradually drifting along still following the reed edge…and the Otter that was stealthily making it’s way around the pool 🙂  We watched it for a few minutes before it surfaced right in front of an adult Mute Swan and decided it was time to beat a hasty retreat into the reeds.

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Hazy, lazy afternoon; North Pennines Safari 17/05/18

by on 19/05/18 17:14, under North Pennines

I collected James and Emma from Hexham and we headed into the North Pennines for a day searching for the flora and fauna of the hills and moorland…

We were soon watching our first Black Grouse of the day, which remarkably also proved to be our only Black Grouse of the day, as Common Snipe flew by and Lapwing and Curlew displayed over the road ahead of us.  Crossing heather moorland we started to find Red Grouse, then more Red Grouse and more Red Grouse; engaging in territorial disputes with each other, chuckling from the fellsides or just quizzically raising a big red eyebrow in our direction they provide entertainment whenever we come across them.  Brown Hares loped along the road ahead of our car and almost every fence post seemed to be adorned with a Meadow Pipit.  Our post-lunch walk produced the best display of Spring Gentian and Birds-eye Primrose that I’ve seen in ten years of leading tours in the North Pennines and we could hear, but not see, Peregrines as Grey Wagtails were flycatching along shallow streams.  eventually we did see a Peregrine, spotted by James as it soared distantly before drifting right over the car, and the plaintive call of a Golden Plover heralded a flyby from the beautiful black-bellied gold-spangled ‘Pennine Whistler’ before we headed back across the moors to the bustling metropolis of Newcastle 🙂

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Into the arena; North Pennines Safari 03/05/18

by on 07/05/18 10:48, under Uncategorized

After collecting David from Newbiggin we headed across to Hexham and quickly found Becky, for her 2nd day out with NEWT, and then Emma and Rob before heading into the North Pennines, with one particular experience high on everybody’s wish list for the day…

In a bitterly cold westerly wind, birds were mainly keeping their heads down.  Red Grouse popped up on the heather, Wheatears and Meadow Pipits hopped along drystone walls, Snipe, Curlew and Lapwing were displaying and Buzzard and Kestrel occasionally braved the breeze.  A Red Squirrel ran across the road and vanished into a tree, a Stoat ran up a wall and Roe Deer were grazing in the relative shelter of the valley bottoms.  A quick check of our favourite Black Grouse spot just before lunch produced no birds, and just a lone Blackcock feeding in a nearby field.  A post-lunch walk didn’t last as long as planned, with fairly ferocious wind-chill making it seem more mid-Winter than early May so we headed back to look for grouse

Where there were no grouse a couple of hours earlier, now there were 17 Blackcock, some feeding in long grass and some sleeping in the open.  Then, an unseen trigger launched the lek.  White tail feathers could be seen with the naked eye from our vantage point and the birds were struggling for dominance of the gladiatorial arena.  Some were half-heated about it and quickly stopped displaying and just watched the remaining birds.  Some were aggressively charging at each other and, eventually, just two birds were still displaying.  One seemed to be the alpha male of the lek, perched on a tussock in the centre of the lek he was holding the prime spot.  Undaunted, his one remaining challenger continued displaying and, as far as we could tell, the challenger had more stamina than the ‘king of the castle’ who lowered his tail feathers, dropped his wings, hopped down from the tussock and made a slow dignified exit from the arena into the surrounding long grass before flying away and leaving the one last displaying Blackcock strutting his stuff 🙂

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Mediterranean; Druridge Bay Bespoke Birdwatching 30/04/18

by on 02/05/18 14:47, under Druridge Bay

I collected Pete and Jan from Embleton for their 11th day out with NEWT, and our intended destination was the Cheviot Valleys.  That isn’t where we headed though as the howling northerly wind would have made several hours on exposed moorland quite unpleasant so, after a quick chat, we decided to head down the coast to Druridge Bay

Our first stop produced probably the bird of the day as a Dipper sat obligingly on a small rock.  Occasionally stretching it’s wings it did little more than turn around, and burst explosively into song when any other Dippers flew along, before eventually flying up into a nest hole.  The scratchy warble of Blackcaps came from deep cover, a Great Spotted Woodpecker drummed briefly, Chiffchaffs were singing their eponymous song, Nuthatches were delivering their entire repertoire of calls and a Treecreeper – incredibly the first I’ve seen this year – shuffled furtively up an ivy-clad trunk.

Lunch overlooking the North Sea produced Fulmars soaring effortlessly on stiff wings and lines of Gannets heading north into the wind.  The next couple of hours could have been set somewhere much further south, and warmer, with only the wind-chill reminding us that we were in Northumberland.  Glossy Ibis, Spoonbill and Little Egret were alongside Garganey and a Channel Wagtail feeding on a marshy field as Sand Martins and Swallows gathered insects overhead and, after we’d left the ibis behind we saw it again as it flew north past us.  Brief songbursts from Sedge and Willow Warblers were mixed in with another scratchy warble as Common Whitethroats advertised their presence, another first of the year for myself and NEWT, and the insect-plundering hordes over the coastal pools included a couple of Common Swifts – as sure a sign as any that the summer is here 😉

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…and more persistence :-) Bespoke Cheviot Valleys birdwatching 29/04/18

by on 01/05/18 17:14, under Cheviot Valleys, Uncategorized

Driving towards Bywell to collect Peter and Pat for a day in the Cheviot Valleys I was considering the weather forecast that had suggested it would be dry, bright and breezy.  I was mainly considering it because it was raining…

Dippers were carrying food to their nests, and carrying faecal sacs away to throw in the river.  A Common Sandpiper went swee-wee-wee-wee-wee along the shallow bubbling stream and Grey Wagtails were proving elusive.  Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Chaffinch and Blackbird were singing and a yaffling Green Woodpecker eventually flew by and perched where we could see it for a minute or so.  Red Grouse were chuckling on the heather-clad slopes above us and a male Merlin dashed by and over a ridge.  With hail showers, and snow on much higher ground, Meadow Pipits were coming down by the dozen, off the moor to the valley bottom as Curlews were song-flighting .  After lunch we headed up a narrow steep valley in search of Ring Ouzel.  For around 30mins we could hear one singing, but we couldn’t see him.  A Cuckoo called from the opposite side of the valley and then flew by before perching on a dry stone wall, and the ouzel continued to sing from a hidden perch.  Then, in a moment that couldn’t have been scripted better the Sun broke through the cloud and illuminated a small crag on the skyline – just as a male Ring Ouzel settled on it after chasing another ouzel across the heather 🙂

Another great day out with clients who are serious birdwatchers 🙂

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Persistence :-) Otter Safari 27/04/18

by on 01/05/18 12:53, under Druridge Bay, Otter

I collected Paul and Jenny from The Swan and we set off for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland, searching for Otters

So far, 2018 has been another one of those years where we should be adding our regular Little Owls to the payroll, and the tiny predator scowling at us from a bare tree was like a toddler trying to look fierce while not really being very tall and scary at all 🙂  Fulmars soared over the North Sea, which was looking remarkably calm, as Eiders rafted just offshore and Grey Seals dived languidly before resurfacing a short distance away.  While Teal, Mallard, Gadwall, Goldeneye and Tufted Duck all looked pristine in their breeding finery, two other ducks really stole the the mid-afternoon show; Garganey and Pintail are both incredibly attractive, and both unusual enough in Northumberland in late April to be elevated above other wildfowl 😉  A Little Egret flew by and a Spoonbill was, very typically, asleep in the rushes as a White Wagtail stood out as pale and strikingly marked compared to Pied Wagtail.  As the Sun sank towards the horizon in the north west a Barn Owl flew by, radiantly golden in the sunlight, and Starlings began to gather in small numbers compared to their winter murmurations.

A lone Whooper Swan was with Mute Swans as Roe Deer grazed close to the edge of a pool and dusk descended.  Cormorant, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye and Great Crested Grebe all left ripples as they dived, but their were ripples from one edge of a reedbed with no obvious cause.  Then there were 2 Otters 🙂  We lost sight of one of them quickly, but the other could be seen, keeping low in the water and trying to sneak up on Mute Swans which were having none of it.  As the light faded to a point where we couldn’t seen clearly anymore, the Otter was still swimming back and forth in it’s incessant search for food.

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Save the best ’til last; Druridge Bay Safari 20/04/18

by on 26/04/18 17:18, under Druridge Bay

All of our Safari Days have developed over the last ten years, and even on our familiar, regular Druridge Bay Safaris there’s always the possibility of changing the route slightly and visiting sites that we visit ourselves regularly but haven’t taken clients to yet…

That’s how I found myself with Ian and Elaine & Becky and Helen along a stretch of river that was a new one for a NEWT safari.  We were having an afternoon and evening searching for our favourite sinuous predator around the NEWT local patch and in the warm afternoon sunshine Great Spotted Woodpeckers were drumming and Chiffchaff, Robin, Blackbird, Nuthatch, Blackcap, Chaffinch and Coal Tit were all singing.  On a shallow coastal pool there were no fewer than 19 Avocets (genuinely rare up here when we moved to the north east 25 years ago…) and, while Sand Martins and Swallows fed on the rich hatch of flying insects, Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Teal, Gadwall, Great Crested Grebe and Shelduck dabbled and dived as a pair of Garganey remained unobtrusive until the drake started singing his raspy song.

Our picnic spot, overlooking the North Sea produced a high-tide roost of Redshank, Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Dunlin and Purple Sandpiper as Fulmars soared by and Sandwich Terns were plunge-diving just offshore.  The descending silvery cadence of Willow Warblers came from hawthorns alongside footpaths and the afternoon was feeling more Spring than Winter (at last!).

A Little Owl glared balefully from a roadside tree, but remained obligingly perched in full view and we headed to our final location for dusk.  A Short-eared Owl drifted across one reedbed as a female Marsh Harrier quartered another one and Water Rails squealed from a third as the Mute Swans and Greylag Geese seemed to be the only birds in a fairly large area of water…

The Short-eared Owl emerged from the dunes and settled on a distant fence post and I set the ‘scope up so that everyone could have a look at it.  I was scanning the foreground and I thought I saw a dark shape just a few feet behind a Greylag.  I mentioned it but it seemed unlikely that it was an Otter, unless the goose hadn’t seen it and it hadn’t seen the goose…which is what seems to have happened as an adult Otter appeared a few metres further along the reed edge  🙂  After a few minutes with no further sightings a Grey Heron and a Marsh Harrier both flushed from a reedbed further round the pool – and there was an Otter cub too 🙂  We watched as it made it’s way along the edge and then out across the open water with dusk approaching.

 

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