Friday was Adrian and Ruth’s 2nd day out with NEWT, after Monday’s Cheviots Valleys/Druridge Bespoke tour, and I arrrived at Church Point to collect them, as well as Sandra and Paco, and Rachel and Andy. A torrential downpour passed mercifully quickly and we were on our way for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland searching for Otters…
The transitional nature of mid-April was really obvious; Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Teal and Wigeon are typical birds of winter on the Northumberland coast, but now they were alongside displaying Great Crested Grebes and Avocets as a White Wagtail pottered along the edge of a shallow pool, Swallows and Sand Martins were hawking newly emerged insects as the songs of Chiffchaff and Sedge Warbler emanated from deep cover in trees and reedbeds and the descending silvery cadence of Willow Warbler trickled on the breeze. A noisy flock of Long-tailed Tits were just above a male Blackcap who chacked angrily as we disturbed whatever it was that he’d been up to before we walked by and the peace and elegance of Little Egrets was shattered as a Great White Egret objected to their proximity to the rushes where it was hiding. Grey Herons stalked the water’s edge as Skylarks ascended heavenwards, Meadow Pipits parachuted back down at the end of brief display flights and Reed Bunting and Stonechat perched at the tops of isolated bushes in the dunes.
With an icy cold breeze rippling the water’s surface and nipping at noses and fingers we finished at sunset with our quarry for the day having eluded us.
We’re often asked what the chances are of seeing an Otter on one of our trips, and it isn’t an easy question to answer. They’re wild animals and they don’t run to a timetable that guarantees we’ll find them. That’s something that makes wildlife watching so great – the unpredictability of it all 🙂 To put some numbers to it though…this was our 12th Otter Safari since the start of November 2016, and only the 2nd of those where we haven’t found at least one Otter!
I collected Adrian and Ruth from Seahouses for the first of their two days out with us this week; a Cheviots-plus Bespoke tour…
We started at Bamburgh, with Oystercatcher, Redshank and Purple Sandpiper along the edge of the breaking surf, Common Eider, Common Scoter, Red-throated Diver and a lone Puffin surfing the waves just beyond and distant Gannets breaking the horizon above a sea that had been whipped into a mass of whitecaps by a stiff northerly breeze.
Heading inland, it was starting to look cloudier and the forecast deterioration in the weather seemed to be on its way. You can’t necessarily trust the forecast though, and the spectacular landscape of the Cheviot valleys was bathed in sunlight. The triumvirate of nervously bobbing riverside dwellers all put in very obliging appearances; Dipper, Grey Wagtail and Common Sandpiper have so much in common, and are always great to watch. Sand Martins and Swallows, always a sign that things are changing, were hawking insects overhead as a Raven flew by, the eerie cries of Curlew revealed their presence as they displayed high over the valley, Red Grouse chuckled from the surrounding heather, Chiffchaffs were singing their relentlessly onomatopaeic song from every clump of trees and Ruth spotted a stunning male Ring Ouzel hopping around on a fellside that was dripping with Mistle Thrushes and Wheatears. Lunch was accompanied by 3 Common Buzzards high overhead, tussling and skydiving as partnerships and territories for the breeding season start to take shape.
Continuing along our planned loop for the day brought us to the coast of Druridge Bay and Avocet, Shorelark, Ringed Plover, Kestrel, Sanderling, a raft of at least 9 Red-throated Divers and then, as we headed back to the car at the end of the day, a Short-eared Owl quartering rough fields with deep slow wingbeats 🙂
I collected Phil and Richard and we set out for a day birdwatching around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. The forecast suggested there was the possibility of a rain shower sometime in the early afternoon…
Eider were well-appreciated, as Golden Plover carpeted the mud at low tide, and other ducks are starting to look very smart as they moult into breeding plumage; Teal, Mallard, Gadwall, Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Shoveler and a lone Scaup. Tuesday’s Long-tailed Duck was still present, consorting with male and female Wigeon, although quickly vanished from view. Grey Herons, Little Egrets, Curlew, Redshank, Lapwing, Avocet and Black-tailed Godwit were either in the shallows or on the muddy edge, Cormorants were doing that fantastic Otter impression that they’re so good at and the bushes along the footpaths held Song Thrush, Blackbird, Goldcrest, Chaffinch, Blue Tit, Coal Tit and a vocal Ring Ouzel that expressed it’s annoyance as we walked by. The southward migration of Pink-footed Geese continued, and two each of Brent Goose and Barnacle Goose were less expected. Dunnocks were subjected to greater scrutiny than usual (with the recent arrivals of Siberian Accentors, you just never know…) and Goldcrests were watched at close range as they made their way through willows.
As for that rain shower…an almost apocalyptic 5 minutes that just happened to coincide with us walking back to the car from the Oddie Hide at Druridge Pools. Driven by a NNE wind though, I wasn’t too distressed by it 🙂
Five Little Egret together between Amble and Warkworth was a good start to the day, while 15 juvenile Goosander formed a sleek and menacing flotilla along the river as mum watched sleepily from the river bank nearby. Curlew and Lapwing flew overhead and we continued down the coast where more Little Egret awaited. This was a really rare bird in Northumberland, not too long ago, so encountering them just about everywhere you look is quite odd. Waders were next on the list and an impressive selection at Cresswell included a stunning summer-plumaged Knot, 1 Ruff, 2 Common Sandpiper, 2 Little Stint, 5 Avocet, 14 Golden Plover, 24 Black-tailed Godwit and lots of Dunlin, Curlew, Lapwing and Oystercatcher. Alongside them were another 10 Little Egret! Len and (another) Gill were in the hide and Gill asked “Can you remember when…” 🙂
The end of the afternoon brought another wader for the list (Common Snipe), Yellow Wagtails and a Pied Wagtail dicing with death around the hooves of cattle and a close encounter with an adult and chick Great Crested Grebe. The chick’s incessant begging, even when it was apparently asleep with it’s head tucked under it’s wing, had the adult hunting constantly and effectively. Time and again it surfaced with a small fish which it shook and battered on the water’s surface before offering to the chick, which went quiet for just a few seconds before resuming it’s demand for food.
One of the things I love about leading tours for NEWT is that almost all of our clients enjoy watching all wildlife. No matter what the particular target species is during a tour, there’s always plenty to hold the attention while we search for that target.
I collected Jo from Church Point for what turned out to be a one-to-one birdwatching and otter safari afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland (our other participants had cancelled on Tuesday…). As is often the case wildlife watching was steady during the afternoon, with an interesting ID comparison between Black-headed Gull and Bonaparte’s Gull, but the evening, and falling light levels, brought the best of the day. A lone Avocet was voicing it’s displeasure at something – it isn’t always certain what, Avocets are just generally noisy and feisty – a distant whirring resolved into the drumming of a Common Snipe almost directly overhead, Curlew were calling over the marshes as a Brown Hare loped by and an obliging Barn Owl quartered grassland in front of us, periodically dropping into the vegetation but reappearing without prey until it was finally driven away by the attention of couple of Carrion Crows. Small flocks of, mainly juvenile, Starling began gathering until there were several thousand whirling around us, their wing beats like the arrival of a storm. My attention was on a group of Tufted Ducks though – alert, looking nervous and constantly lifting their heads to look around the water. I pointed them out to Jo and said I was confident that they’d seen an Otter close by. 20 minutes later and there it was 🙂 We watched it for an hour before it slipped from view. Then it reappeared and I gave directions “over to the right, next to that Mute Swan“…just as Jo spotted one away to our left, and a third one in front of us! Three Otters in an atmospheric cloud-heavy dusk and a second Barn Owl carrying prey low over the ground made for an exciting end to the day 🙂
The influence of the weather on our wildlife can never be underestimated. Strong cold winds are often a signal for everything to go into hiding, seeking warmth and shelter in reedbeds, bushes, behind rocks…pretty much anywhere where they’ll be tricky to see. Last Saturday was in that cold and windy category so I was pleased that Wednesday’s Druridge Bay trip looked as though it would be blessed with warm sunshine 🙂
I collected Karen and Richard from Newbiggin by the Sea and we set out for a day birdwatching around NEWT’s local patch. With a slight change in the weather, the wildlife responded obligingly; the onomatopoeia of Chiffchaffs was near constant throughout the day, as was the rough throaty warble of Whitethroat. A remarkably obliging Sedge Warbler sat in the reed tops in front of us, occasionally sallying forth in song-flight before returning to his stage, close to a male Reed Bunting who was singing his somewhat simpler song. Avocets were an elegant study in black and white, Dunlin and Ruff are both attractive birds in breeding plumage, Little Gulls are incredibly tiny when seen alongside other birds, Skylarks were dust-bathing, Tree Sparrows were hopping around on the footpath just a few feet away from us and goslings were grazing close to the water’s edge.
A food pass between male and female Marsh Harriers happened in front of us, Great Crested Grebes were engaged in their elaborate courtship dance and two male Lapwings left a cloud of feathers as they came to blows over what was presumably a prime patch of mud and rushes. With the warmth of the sunshine and an obvious hatch of insects, the air overhead was filled with Swifts and it finally felt like the summer was here as they started screaming 🙂
As I arrived at Church Point to collect Tom and Sue, the weather was slightly breezy but dry. The forecast suggested that it might be showery later during the afternoon and promised a bit of a contrast with Tom and Sue’s home country of Australia. Tom’s a Northumbrian so I was really looking forward to showing him parts of the coast that he wasn’t familiar with, hopefully with the weather showcasing Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland at its best…
Cormorants air-dried their wings in the stiffening breeze and a Coot took umbrage at a Moorhen that was doing nothing more sinister than just wandering along the water’s edge, Woodpigeons, Jackdaws, Greylag Geese and Canada Geese speckled the dark grey sky. A typically nervous Great Spotted Woodpecker watched us warily from behind a tree trunk, Tree Sparrows were chipping in the hedgerows, a Magpie was going back and forth presumably from it’s nest, Robins flicked across paths just ahead of us, Curlew, Redshank and Oystercatcher probed in the mud in conditions that were starting to resemble the winter and a Little Egret was a shockingly bright bundle of white feathers in an ever darkening vista of Northumberland’s coastal wildlife as Avocets, delicate visions in black and white, swept their heads from side to side through shallow water in seach of food.
Great Crested Grebes comported themselves with their usual elegance as more Cormorants stood hunched in the wind and then, as Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler must have been wondering if they were in the right place at the right time of year, the heavens unleashed hail, sleet and snow from an apocalyptic sky and a Water Rail scurried mouse-like between reedbeds as two Otter cubs appeared just beyond the grebes 🙂 Their first appearance was fleeting, just a few seconds before they vanished from sight behind a reedbed. Then they were back, and porpoising side by side, back and forth, before once again heading into the shelter of the reeds.
As Fulmars soared along the clifftops and Gannets rode the uplift just above the waves offshore, we ended the day with the clouds overhead breaking to reveal blue sky and sunshine in a remarkable area of glorious weather that was surrounded in every direction by leaden grey clouds and storms. Atmospheric wildlife watching…
It’s always a pleasure when clients who haven’t met before get on so well with each other. Of course they always have a shared interest in wildlife, and other shared interests feature regularly (camping, walking and cycling in particular), and long quests in search of an elusive species soon become a talking point…
I arrived at Church Point for an afternoon/evening search for Otters, and quickly met up with John, then Lucy, Matt and Graham and finally Kate. Conversation quickly turned to Otters, and the pressure was ramped up when Kate revealed that her attempts to see an Otter had stretched over several holidays…and eight years 🙂 Conditions weren’t promising – a howling wind that was tossing Starlings and Lapwings around and a male Marsh Harrier was battling into the breeze, almost at a standstill. Whitecaps on a pond is never a situation that fills me with joy on an Otter safari, and we continued checking all of the likely locations. Mediterranean Gull, Avocet, Knot, Black-tailed Godwit, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Common Sandpiper, Dunlin, Little Grebe and Yellow Wagtail were all added to the bird list for the day, Kate spotted a Red Fox creeping into the reeds, but there was still no sign of the sinuous predator. Early evening, the conditions changed 🙂 The wind died off and the sea was suddenly very calm, so much so that we were able to enjoy watching Harbour Porpoises from our picnic spot. Things were looking up…
We settled into position at the site where I’d planned to spend the last couple of hours of daylight, enjoying a chat with Cain, then the day suddenly got really interesting. First a Barn Owl, white death on silent wings, ghosted by just a few metres away from us. I concentrated on an area of water with very few birds on it – often a good indication that there’s something the birds are unhappy about. Scan left to right – two Little Grebes sleeping, scan right to left – two Little Grebes sleeping, scan left to right – three Little Grebes sleeping? The third Little Grebe didn’t look quite right…which wasn’t a surprise as it was an Otter with just it’s nose sticking up through the blanket of weed on the water’s surface 🙂 A quick text to Cain and he joined us again, and the Otter entertained us for an hour. Emotional at seeing her first Otter, Kate still grabbed her camera, pointed it down the eyepiece of our ‘scope and started filming it 🙂 The magic continued, as a Long-eared Owl flew around the edge of the bushes in front of us before perching on a fence post, baleful orange eyes staring at us. Then a second Otter swam across in front of us, while the first one was still hunting in the darkening gloom and the eeirie cries of Curlew coming to roost cut through the chill evening air.
I arrived at Church Point to collect Ray and Joan & Ian and Kate, and we headed up the coast for an evening around Druridge Bay. Mediterranean Gulls, Little Gulls, Avocets, Black-tailed Godwits and a huge flock of Lapwing flushed as a young male Marsh Harrier flew through, Goldfinch, Linnet and Tree Sparrow were busying themselves in the hedgerows and a male Ruff was tucked in amongst a flock of Redshank as a Little Egret stalked elegantly along the water’s edge. As the evening headed towards dusk there was a noticeable increase in the strength of the breeze, carrying the noisy rustle of a Starling murmuration through the air from the reedbeds that were in near darkness, and an equally noticeable drop in temperature, as we headed back to the car and our drive back was slowed briefly as a Brown Hare loped along the road ahead of us.
mid-Summer can be a quiet time for birdwatching, but there are some days where everything just falls into place…
I arrived in Seahouses to collect Nigel and Barbara for a day birdwatching further south on the Northumberland coast, and we headed towards Druridge Bay in beautiful hot summer weather. With a flat calm sea we started with a little while seawatching. Gannet, Sandwich Tern, Eider and Fulmar were all flying by, but our attention was gripped by at least 6 Harbour Porpoise, including a mother with a very small calf 🙂 Moving on we watched the elegant trio of Little Egret, Avocet and Black-tailed Godwit. There were at least 22 of the latter, in a mixed roosting flock with Lapwing, Wigeon, Curlew and 9 Mediterranean Gulls of varying age. More gull interest came in the form of 8 Little Gulls, also with a range of ages. A Sedge Warbler clambered to the top of the reeds briefly before dropping out of sight and breaking into song, a male Linnet looked garishly pink, male Stonechat and male Reed Bunting vied for the award of ‘most attractive’ and we steadily made our way north. Male and female Marsh Harriers impressed, as they always do, Great Crested Grebe sailed serenely by and our wader count for the day rose, with Common Sandpiper, Oystercatcher and Redshank. A quick ID masterclass was helped by Herring, Lesser Black-backed and Great Black-backed Gulls all sitting in a line, surrounded on both sides by Cormorants.
Nigel had mentioned a species that they hadn’t managed to see previously, and as the cold wind cut through the overcast conditions – did I forget to mention the weather had changed 😉 – we went in search of it. “Curlew…curlew…curlew…stripy mean-looking face with shorter bill”, and there was another ‘lifer’ for Nigel and Barbara – a Whimbrel, and a great way to end the day 🙂