Tag: Arctic tern
Saturday’s Whale and Dolphin Cruise from Seahouses turned out to be an excellent few hours of birdwatching off the Northumberland coast.
As we left the harbour, the swell of the tide had the boat rocking gently up and down. A mile or so later and we were in what I think of as ‘proper’ pelagic conditions; choppy sea, lots of whitecaps, an eerie wind whistling around the boat…and birds everywhere. The atmosphere when the North Sea is like that is filled with anticipation. A Pomarine Skua, athletic, muscular and menacing harrassed Kittiwakes, our first Great Skua of the trip (the first of several) lumbered by, Arctic Skuas flew along the wave troughs and the fragile, delicate figure of a Long-tailed Skua headed north in the rapidly strengthening wind. Fulmars soared effortlessly by, small groups of Gannets, those masters of efficient flight, featured throughout the trip and Sooty Shearwaters, a real seawatcher’s bird, entertained as they circled the boat. Added to that there were Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills, Manx Shearwaters and Herring, Great Black-backed, Lesser Black-backed and Black-headed Gulls and Arctic, Common, Sandwich and Roseate Terns. With so many whitecaps, and some ‘interesting’ swell, we weren’t fortunate enough find any cetaceans, but one participant summed up offshore wildlife so well “You’re on a boat, it’s an experience, enjoy it, you never know what you’ll see.”
On Saturday morning our destination was Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland and another poor weather forecast ( a bit of a running theme during the holiday…) suggested that we may well get wet. An addition to the mammal list for the trip raced across the road ahead of us; a Stoat – an endearing predator and one of NEWT’s favourite animals.
We arrived in Amble for our sailing around Coquet Island with Dave Gray’s Puffin Cruises; as Dave manoeuvred the excellent Steadfast into the harbour, the rain arrived from the northeast. The sailing around the island produced excellent views of Roseate Terns, as well as Common, Arctic and Sandwich Terns, Gannets, Puffins, Razorbills and Guillemots. As we sailed in a wide arc from the island to begin the journey back to the harbour an Arctic Skua was harassing terns away to the north. Four more Arctic Skuas were followed by a real seawatching prize as a Pomarine Skua lumbered menacingly by before settling on the sea. Our final Arctic Skua flew over the harbour just before we docked and I suggested that the Country Barn Coffee Shop at Widdrington would be the best destination once we were back on dry land.
Refreshed, dried and ready to go we visited the NWT reserve of East Chevington. The tern roost allowed close comparison of Common and Arctic Terns, but the bird described by one participant as ‘bird of the holiday’ was a superb male Marsh Harrier. A juvenile harrier appeared briefly over the reedbed as well, but the male perched for several minutes on a fence post. Just after we reached Druridge Pools, the heavens opened, lightning flashed, thunder rolled and 2 Wood Sandpipers bobbed along the edge of the main pool. A trip to Cresswell, and the most northerly breeding Avocets in England, followed and we all enjoyed views of a very obliging Brown Hare, Little Gulls and both Little and Great Crested Grebes. Another excellent evening meal and entertaining conversation (including David’s comment about Captain Birdseye in a cape..a reference to my appearance during the Coquet Island trip), concluded our final night in Seahouses.
As I put my coffee cup and glass of orange juice on the table at breakfast on Sunday morning I looked out over the harbour and the words “it’s a glorious morning” were quickly followed by “and there’s a Spoonbill!”. Everyone rushed to the window to watch, as Northumberland delivered a fantastic finale to the holiday; poor weather forecasts, some stunning downpours, big seas, beautiful weather, iconic landscapes, excellent birdwatching…all in four days!
Friday morning dawned dry and bright; again not exactly as predicted by the weather forecast! After breakfast we headed south to Newton by the Sea, and the tern colony at the Long Nanny estuary. The walk through the dunes was enlivened by a myriad of Common Blue, Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper and Dark Green Fritillaries as well as 2 strikingly attractive moths; Cinnabar and Narrow-bordered Five Spot Burnet, and Harebell, Pyramidal Orchid and Bloody Cranesbill.
After the tern colony, with its ~1000 pairs of Arctic Terns and 40 pairs of Little Terns we headed north through Seahouses and towards Holy Island. As we passed Budle Bay, Geoff spotted a Little Egret, still a relatively scarce species up here, and we stopped for a while to search the mudflats. As well as wading birds, we found 3 Goosander. A further stop before Holy Island provided an ideal picnic spot and the theme of passage waders continued with Golden and Grey Plover, Knot, and Curlew. A walk around the iconic location of Holy Island produced Grey Seals, Red-breasted Merganser and breathtaking views from The Heugh. We were scanning the mudflats around the mouth of the South Low when a nearby Oystercatcher began calling in alarm. The cause of that alarm appeared just a few seconds later and we watched the Peregrine Falcon as it raced low across the mud before perching obligingly.
Against the backdrop of another iconic location, Bamburgh Castle, we scanned the Eider flock just offshore. A lone drake Common Scoter was proving difficult to pin down, but the arrival of a flock of 60 scoters allowed everyone to enjoy good views and appreciate the variation in the bill pattern of the drakes. Just before returning to Seahouses, we stopped to scan Monk’s House Pool; a Pintail was picked out by Roy, and 2 Common Sandpipers were walking along the edge of the pond. 8 Golden Plover flew by and a male Stonechat perched close by on a fence post.
An after-dinner excursion produced 2 Brown Hares, a Roe Deer and her fawn in the gloom, and the first rain of the trip…
I met with Geoff and Jenny, Roy and Lorraine & David and Linda on the Wednesday evening in the bar of the Bamburgh Castle Inn and, after introductions and drinks, we went upstairs to the conservatory for dinner. A steady stream of Gannets was heading north and I outlined the plan for the coming days; modified in light of the weather forecast!
An 06:30 start on Thursday morning appealed to three of the group, so we set off to walk around Seahouses Harbour and along to the golf course. Lorraine had dreamt the night before that we found a Bluethroat. Not just any Bluethroat though; a Fork-tailed Bluethroat (something that doesn’t exist…although we spent the rest of the holiday looking for one!). The heavy swell and breaking waves gave the sea an imposing look, and the strong, cold southeasterly wind and dark clouds all around added to the atmosphere. With high tide approaching, wading birds were concentrated onto just a few exposed rocks; among the Oystercatchers, Redshanks and Curlews were a single Ringed Plover and 5 summer-plumaged Knot, their peachy-orange underparts showing why, in some parts of the world, they’re known as Red Knot. A Whimbrel flew by and Linnets, Pied Wagtails, Rock Pipits and a reeling Grasshopper Warbler were all added to the day list and we headed back to the inn, and breakfast. No less than 6 Rock Pipits were outside the window during breakfast and an all too brief Hummingbird Hawkmoth whizzed by.
The main question was whether our all-day birdwatching trip to the Farne Islands with Glad Tidings would go ahead; the weather forecast wasn’t promising, and the sea looked foreboding. I was optimistic though – by our planned departure time the tide would be ebbing and should take off some of the swell. Sure enough, we boarded Glad Tidings III just after 10am and headed towards the islands. Gannets soared majestically above the swell, Puffins raced by on whirring wings and our passage wader list grew with the addition of Grey Plover and Purple Sandpiper. Grey Seals bobbed around, watching as we passed by on our way to Staple Island. Enjoyment of the breeding auks, Shags, Kittwakes and Oystercatchers was enhanced by the wild feeling of the islands, as waves smashed into the cliffs and fountained high above the birds. Transferring to Inner Farne at 1pm, we were the first group onto the island for the day. The Arctic Terns gave us their usual warm welcome and we spent the afternoon enjoying the fascinating bird behaviour that can be witnessed at close range. The group were keen to fix the separation criteria for Common and Arctic Terns firmly in mind, so we spent some time looking carefully at lots of birds and considering individual variation. We spent a lot of time watching Puffins as well; not an identification problem, but endearing and fascinating! With mobs of Black-headed Gulls waiting to rob the adult Puffins as they return with beaks filled with Sand eels, the Puffins have quickly developed strategies to deal with this; circling back out over the sea until the gulls have moved away from your burrow is an obvious one, but the one that is most fascinating involves a Puffin running into another bird’s burrow, waiting until the gulls have moved and then running to another burrow – sometimes visiting as many as 5 or 6 sanctuaries before reaching their own chick. In an increasingly heavy swell, the journey back to the mainland was quite an experience.
By Monday morning, our car could almost have driven itself to Seahouses I collected John and Anthea from their holiday accommodation at St Cuthbert’s House and we had a tour of the North Northumberland coast before boarding Glad Tidings IV and sailing to Inner Farne. The tern colony was as wonderful as ever. I felt a little bit let down though, as not one of the terns managed to hit my head! Arctic, Common and Sandwich Terns were all studied to fix identification criteria firmly in mind and Puffins were, as always, well appreciated. The hour on the islands passed in no time at all, and soon we were heading back across to Seahouses. The Farne Islands are still one of the most extraordinary places I’ve ever visited, and that I get to visit them with such nice clients is a real joy.
I’ve always known that I tend to be very lucky when out with clients but last week, when we welcomed our first ever clients from Cyprus, that luck took an unexpected form.
I collected Jane, Aristos, Eva and Nassos from Newcastle and we headed coastwards in the blazing sunshine. Our birdwatching along Druridge Bay included what was, for our clients, a very welcome opportunity to get to grips with that difficult species pair of Common and Arctic Tern. Reed, Sedge and Willow Warblers were all singing, Tufted Ducks and Gadwall were displaying and, as the afternoon progressed, it was time to focus on our two main targets for the day; Red Squirrel and Otter.
Now, there are many ways that I’ve found Red Squirrels for our clients in the past…but being hit by flying squirrel poo was an entirely new one Looking from the squishy mass on the back of my hand up into the trees I could see the waving orange tail of our quarry. Eventually it came down the tree, raced up and down a few trunks and leapt from canopy to canopy before launching itself to the ground and out of sight.
When your luck’s in, it’s in…and, as sunset approached and I commented about the state of alert of the ducks and geese, Jane spotted an Otter. For 35 mins everyone sat mesmerised as it twisted and turned in the water, catching fish with almost every dive and munching away at the surface before sliding under the water again and eventually out of sight.
With sightings like these, it’s no surprise that we’re getting booked up rapidly for the next few months. Give us a call on 01670 827465, and join us on a search for Northumberland’s wildlife.
Our two Druridge Bay mini-safaris last Wednesday both featured one of my favourite birds; Black-tailed Godwit. A group of eight flying N at dusk in torrential rain may have included the five that we saw at lunchtime. With plenty of Curlew, Lapwing and Dunlin, as well as a few Ruff and Common Sandpipers there was a ‘busy’ feel to birdwatching the coastal pools. Common Frog and Common Toad were perhaps to be expected in the damp conditions.
Thursday featured more torrential rain, although all of it whilst we were travelling between sites in Druridge Bay. After collecting two clients individually from Alnmouth we headed south. Dave had a day to remember with no less than five ‘lifers’; Little Owl, Dipper, Hobby, Scaup and Arctic Tern. The Hobby was one of those classic moments. I was watching a group of Sand Martins when they all suddenly rose high above the water. As I opened my mouth to suggest that there was a raptor about, Dave said “What’s this?”…and there it was, a first-summer Hobby, heading straight towards us low over the pool. A Whimbrel flew by, giving it’s distinctive call, and the transition from the occasionally difficult birding of mid-summer to the more productive time of mid-July is well underway.
Saturday was spent covering another three tetrads for the Bird Atlas and then on Sunday we had a few hours in our study area, searching for any sign of Hobby or Honey Buzzard. With heavy overcast conditions, occasional light rain, and a cold breeze very few raptors were in evidence; just a Common Kestrel and a Common Buzzard to show for our efforts.
Wednesday was our second consecutive Farne Islands trip. I collected Steve and Sarah from Belford and after we’d visited a couple of NEWT’s favourite coastal locations it was time to catch the Glad Tidings across to Inner Farne to enjoy some of the best birdwatching Northumberland has to offer. The sense of anticipation, heightened once the first Puffins, Guillemots and Razorbills begin to fly by, beaks filled with fish, blends with the clean sea breeze and all of the passengers on board start to get excited. After the cruise around the islands we landed on Inner Farne and the Arctic Terns went on the offensive. This year I bought a new hat, after taking a bit of a beating in 2009 Even though the island is quite small the hour that we spent on there seemed to fly past. Probably the highlight of the islands this time was just how close some of the Puffins came to where we were standing. Back on the mainland we walked through the dunes near Low Newton, where there were lots of Small Heath butterflies, more Arctic Terns and plenty of Meadow Pipits. With the glorious summer weather, it was a really relaxing day. What would Thursday bring?
This has been one of our busiest weeks since we started NEWT, and I’ve only just got around to finding the time to sit in our office and blog about the last few days.
Tuesday saw Mike, one of our returning clients, coming for his second day out with NEWT, including some photography tuition in the Northumberland Coast AONB and a birdwatching trip across to the Farne Islands.
After a session on exposure theory, covering topics such as exposure values, ND filters and average metering (the bane of photographers everywhere) and a bit of practice with slow shutter speeds to creatively blur the rising tide it was time to head across to Inner Farne.
No matter how many times I visit the Farne Islands, I’m always awestruck by just how good the experience is; Grey Seals, Common, Sandwich and Arctic Terns, Eiders, Kittiwakes, Fulmars, Guillemots, Puffins and Razorbills all offer excellent photo opportunities so plenty of memory cards are a must.
There are times in the winter when I’m mainly office-based and what I really look forward to, during what often seem like interminably long days, is the arrival of the Spring and increasing numbers of ‘client days’.
On Tuesday morning I headed to Newbiggin to collect John and Christine, clients from last year’s Beginners Birdwatching ‘Seabirds and Waders’, who were back in Northumberland for a birdwatching morning in Druridge Bay. The weather was erratic to say the least, with bright warm sunshine, a bitterly cold northeasterly wind, sleet and even snow it was a morning to be wrapped up warm. The birding was as excellent as we would expect in mid-May; the morning’s highlights included a male Ruff in full breeding plumage, eight elegant beautiful Black-tailed Godwits, a pair of Garganey and some incredibly close views of Whitethroats as they warbled their scratchy song from hedgerows, trees and telegraph poles.
This morning brought something completely different; a Lindisfarne Safari with our first Spanish clients. Alfredo and Nieves had managed to get across from Ibiza, despite the disruption caused by the Icelandic volcano, and were looking forward to a day birdwatching on Holy Island and the north Northumberland coast. The weather was changeable again but, as yesterday, we stayed dry. A flock of 80 Ringed Plover on Holy Island were very vocal as they repeatedly flew overhead, 2 Little Egrets in Budle Bay flew by calling and a Little Gull and a White Wagtail at Monk’s House Pool were both nice surprise finds. Eventually we found ourselves bathed in warm sunshine as pairs of Arctic Terns displayed high overhead against the azure sky and, looking inland, we could still see a lingering snowfield on the Cheviot. Alfredo and Nieves both have a broad, and quite detailed knowledge of natural history, and Alfredo is a keen, and skilful, photographer. I only have a very limited grasp of Spanish but through a combination of Spanish, English, Latin and a shared love of natural history and photography, any language barriers were easily transcended.
We’ve got Northumberland birdwatching tours for the rest of the week and then on Saturday it’ll be time to chill out with a glass of wine, a BBQ and our National Moth Night event at Lee Moor Farm, near Alnwick. All are welcome, so give us a call on 01670 827465 if you would like to come along for an evening of wildlife watching fun, suitable for young or old, beginner or expert.