Tag: Badger

Mid-summer Mammals; Bespoke Coastal Safari 27/06/16

by on Jul.05, 2016, under Druridge Bay

As much as I enjoy searching for mammals during the winter, there’s no denying that the middle of the summer can be a very productive time to concentrate on fur rather than feathers…

I collected Jane and Mike from Seahouses and we headed towards Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland for an afternoon and evening exploring NEWT’s local patch.  Barn Owls are always a welcome sight and this one was no exception as it quartered, hovered and dropped to the ground in pursuit of prey.  A mixed flock of waders included Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, Common Snipe, Lapwing, Ruff and Redshank as a Brown Hare wandered by.  A mammal that is a real Northumberland speciality put in a very welcome appearance.  Descending a tree trunk head first the Red Squirrel was intent on raiding a feeder.  Then it was away back up the tree before demonstrating it’s agility by leaping from tree to tree on thin branches.  A distant Otter was slightly less than obliging as it made it’s way along the edge of a reedbed before vanishing into the gloom.  As dusk approached we were sitting in a narrow, steep-sided valley watching for Badgers.  As pipistrelles flicked across our field of vision, we could hear the cracking branches that betray the presence of a large clumsy animal and there was a brief glimpse of black and white through the trees opposite.  Light levels continued to fall and a Roebuck wandered out into the open.  He paused briefly, looking directly at us, and was then spotted by another roebuck who took exception to his presence and let out a series of blood-curdling yells.  If you were walking through woodland at dusk and didn’t know what the sound was it could be pretty terrifying 🙂

 

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Batty; Cheviot valleys/Druridge Bay Bespoke Tour 08/06/2015

by on Jun.10, 2015, under Cheviot Valleys, Druridge Bay

Looking back through previous blog posts I was reminded that we’ve done a few days combining the best of the hills and the best of the coast, and I headed towards Old Bewick to collect Helen for an afternoon and evening exploring the Cheviot Valleys and Druridge Bay.

As a Common Buzzard soared over the steep valley sides, Curlews launched from the heather, calling in alarm.  Dippers bobbed on mid stream rocks, a Nuthatch with young was busying itself along tree trunks and branches, Whinchats flicked nervously through the bracken, the air was split by the explosive trilling song of Lesser Redpoll and Spotted Flycatchers perched upright on fence posts before sallying forth after flies.

Down on the coast we enjoyed the sight of Avocets mating, two Spoonbills feeding with their heads sweeping from side to side and bills submerged, a female Marsh Harrier causing alarm as it flew over the edge of a pond and Swallows singing and bringing feathers to line their nests.  Dusk brought a remarkable wildlife spectacle, with 30-40 bats hunting in front of us.  The bat detector revealed an astonishing wall of sound as Common Pipistrelle and Noctule swooped, tumbled and hunted insects…right above an Otter that was stalking Tufted Ducks 🙂

The journey back to Old Bewick produced Barn Owl, and a Tawny Owl in the middle of the road sitting on a baby Rabbit!  Then it was time for me to head back towards southeast Northumberland…and Northumberland’s country lanes produced a late night plethora of wildlife; Red Fox, Brown Hare, Roe Deer, Barn Owl, another Tawny Owl sitting on a baby Rabbit, and three Badger cubs trotting alongside the edge of the road 🙂

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Putting the bite on; Bespoke safari 20/06/2014

by on Jun.25, 2014, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

Some wildlife is popular with everyone, some isn’t popular with many people at all, and some, despite the best efforts of Springwatch/Autumnwatch/Winterwatch…

I met up with Niel and Nicky at Church Point, and we set out on an exploration of Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  Despite several incidents involving agitated ducks, indicating that they were worried about something in the reeds, we didn’t manage a sighting of any Otters.  The typical quality birdwatching of the Northumberland coast in late June was still in evidence, with at least 5 Avocets and 11 Little Gulls among the throng.  A tiny Tufted Duck travelled back and forth across the water, in what appeared to be an unsuccessful search for it’s parents then, as the sun dropped towards the horizon, we headed to our regular Badger site.

Intriguingly, no Badgers appeared – which is unusual at a site where we have a 95% success rate – but, as at least three Tawny Owls began penetrating the gloom with their eerie calls, the sharp alarms of Blackbird, Robin and Song Thrush heralded the arrival of another mammal that inhabits the darker parts of the day.  Bloodthirsty killer of farmyard chickens, attempted abductor of babes from cribs in the south of England…whichever way you look at it the Red Fox gets a bad press…which sadly glosses over just what wonderful animals they are.  Sleek, beautiful, playful…we watched as three adults trotted across the clearing in front of us.  As Niel photographed one peering from the undergrowth (oh, for a Nikon D4!), I lifted my binoculars and realised that there were three small cubs chasing around too 🙂  Two of the adults, and the three cubs, disappeared along a track up the hill, and then the adults came out into the clearing again, presumably having tucked the kids up safely in bed.  Pipistrelle bats were flitting across our field of view as we conceded that our vision could no longer penetrate the enveloping dark.

Love them or hate them, there’s no denying that foxes have a real magic…a bit like Luis Suarez 🙂

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Zzzzzzzzzz; Badger mini-safari 31/05/2014

by on Jun.02, 2014, under Badger, Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Red Fox

After dropping John, David and Sheila back in Alnwick after their bespoke photography trip to the Farne Islands, I met up with Sarah to have something to eat and then I was on my way to Alnmouth to collect Zoe, Richard, Ella, Luke and Charlie.  This was their second trip with NEWT, following an evening mini-safari in late May last year.

One of the species from last year’s trip put in an impressive appearance again, as we watched a Barn Owl hunting along one edge of a pool, while an Avocet fed at the other side, Reed Buntings seemed to be everywhere we looked and a small group of Little Gulls looked tiny alongside nearby Black-headed Gulls.  Soon, light levels had faded to the point where it was time to head off in search of our main quarry for the evening.  Positioning ourselves in a spot that looks over an area where Badgers are regularly seen, we sat quietly.  Almost immediately myself and Ella noticed something black-and-white moving in the vegetation opposite us.. That turned out to be a false alarm though as it revealed itself to be a Magpie 🙂  Things were quiet, although distantly I could hear the alarm calls of Blackbirds, Robins andWrens.  Then another gentle sound just on the edge of hearing; ZZZZzzzzZZZZzzzzZZZZzzzz.  It was warm and humid so it wouldn’t be a great surprise to encounter lots of insects…although these Z’s were coming from Luke and Charlie!  That’s how relaxing it is to just sit and watch for wildlife…

Out of the corner of my eye I caught some movement away along the track.. Had I imagined it?  Maybe it was a dog walker having an evening stroll?  No more movement…and then a Red Fox trotted across the clearing in front of us.  A second fox followed soon after, and then a Badger, big and ghostly pale, as an attempt was made to wake the boys without making too much noise 🙂  Another fox, this time a cub, sat watching us for a few minutes, and Luke spotted that there was a Badger in the undergrowth just beyond it.  More fox sightings followed, and then a final Badger, as the light reached a point where even the sharpest of eyes would struggle to penetrate the gloom.  The drive back to Alnmouth had one last good mammal for us, as a Brown Hare loped along the road a few metres ahead of the car 🙂

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Damp, dark woodland; Badger safari 17/05/2014

by on May.23, 2014, under Badger, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

During Thursday’s Otter Safari, we were chatting about the different mammals that can be encountered in Northumberland and Albert asked whether we had many Badgers in Northumberland.  I described their distribution, and how we go about finding and watching them, and before the evening was finished we’d arranged a Badger mini-safari for Saturday.

On my way to collect Albert and Elisabeth I was listening to commentary on the FA Cup final and suffered the heartbreak of Aaron Ramsey’s extra time winner for Arsenal (there’s a big cat, not found in Northumberland, that’s very close to my heart!).  We made our way to our regular Badger site, and settled into position.  Song Thrushes, Blackbirds, Robins andWrens were all calling as daylight faded, and then the Tawny Owls started hooting and ‘ke-wick’ ing.  At one point there were at least three owls calling, including one close to our spot, and one perched tantalisingly hidden in the canopy high overhead.  As on so many of our Badger trips, the first mammals to appear were Red Foxes – with an adult and two cubs running about on the hillside opposite us, occasionally pausing to stare across the valley with gloom-piercing eyes.  One Badger appeared as well; probably the largest that I’ve ever seen, running along the same track that the foxes had been on, before making it’s way along a trail through the vegetation and into the gloom.

Sitting with clients who have a real appreciation of mammals, on a damp woodland floor, as daylight fades and the world becomes one of owls, foxes, badgers and inexplicable noises, is one of my favourite things…and for a few hours it even took my mind off ‘that’ goal 🙂

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Fantastic Mr Fox; Moorland and Coast 07/03/2014

by on Mar.14, 2014, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Harwood, Northumberland

One of the best bits of being outside and searching for wildlife is the how everything around you ties together to create an experience; the landscape, the wildlife and the weather all come together to produce whatever they may…

I collected Paul and Jeanette from their holiday accommodation in Warkworth and we started out down the coast towards Druridge Bay.  Originally the plan had been Harwood and then the coast, but weather conditions suggested it would be better to reverse that.  Then there was a sudden change from the poor conditions and it was looking like a glorious morning after all so we reverted to Plan A.  The Northumbrian weather responded by throwing everything it could at us; sunshine, azure blue skies, fluffy white clouds, torrential rain and brutal biting winds all came, went and came again 🙂 There was no sign of any Goshawk activity in the good spells but you could hardly blame them 🙂  Eventually we retreated back down to the coastal plain…and had the same sequence of changeable weather all over again!  Feeding stations were a hive of bird activity, with Chaffinches, Long-tailed Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit and a very bright male Siskin all entertaining us, but Red Squirrels weren’t to be seen.  Some of our coastal ponds have been producing regular Otter sightings over the last few months…but the most notable thing was that the howling gale was generating waves that you could have surfed on!  Tree Sparrows and Goldfinches were clinging on to branches as the wind buffeted them and, as Curlew, Lapwing and a nice mini-murmuration of Starlings were tossed about on the breeze, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye; Mallard, Wigeon, Teal, Shelduck and Slavonian, Red-necked, Great Crested and Little Grebe struggled in the waves.

Our final destination for the day was one of our favourite Badger setts.  There was rustling in the scrub on the valley sides, but no stripy black-and-white head appeared, at least not before it was too dark to see.  What did come along though was a Red Fox.  Unusually obliging, this one trotted along just above the sett before stopping and fixing us with a stare.  It didn’t bolt, as foxes so often do, but watched us, and some passing dog walkers, before continuing with its exploration of the hillside.  Often underrated, undervalued, frequently despised…but a thoroughly engaging animal if you take time to watch the almost feline grace of this wild canine.

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Call of the wild; Druridge Bay 17/09/2013

by on Sep.18, 2013, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast, Southeast Northumberland

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been asked to describe my favourite wildlife experience…and how many times I’ve said that I don’t think it’s possible to narrow it down to just one choice.  There are a few though, that would make a great ‘top five’ (or ‘top ten”)…

I collected David and Sue from their holiday accommodation and we headed north along the Northumberland coast.  The plan for the afternoon was to search some of our regular Otter sites, and have a good look at the other wildlife that was around.  There’s really only one weather condition that I’m not keen on for wildlife-watching, and unfortunately we got it yesterday afternoon.  A stiff wind is not ideal for finding wildlife; insects are likely to stay deep in vegetation and mammals and birds are more likely to find somewhere sheltered and have a nap than subject themselves to the ravages of the wind.  One bird that seemed to be everywhere we went was Kestrel; we must have seen seven or eight of these small falcons hovering in the breeze during the afternoon.

As we watched Wigeon, Teal, Mallard and Mute Swan a rarely seen denizen of our reedbeds put in a brief appearance.  In just a few seconds the Water Rail ran out of one reedbed, quickly crossed a patch of open mud and vanished into the depths of another reedbed.  Wader passage was still evident, with Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwit, Ruff, Lapwing, Curlew and Dunlin.  One bizarrely comical moment was caused by a Starling flying into the middle of the wader flock to bathe.  We can only guess at what the roosting waders thought it was, but it caused a ripple of alarm that could be traced through the flock as it flew in.

Then, drifting on the breeze, a high-pitched yapping marked the beginning of one of my favourite wildlife experiences.  First a flock of Pink-footed Geese came in low and splashed down on the water.  Soon after a flock of Greylag Geese arrived, then more Pink-feet, a large flock of Canada Geese and four very endearing, but obviously escaped, Bar-headed Geese.  More geese followed, and then a flock of Pink-feet, heralded by those yapping calls, could be seen as tiny specks high against the clouds overhead.  These birds were surely just arriving from far-flung parts, to join the wintering goose flocks around Druridge Bay.  Suddenly birds took to the air; Dunlin first, then Lapwing, followed by ducks and then geese.  Too much panic, surely, for an Otter?  What the birds had seen, and we eventually spotted as it drifted high against the clouds above us, was a Marsh Harrier.  Making it’s way steadily north west, it eventually drifted out of sight and the birds settled back down.

As dusk approached , the breeze finally relented and, with the backdrop of a stunning sunset, both Noctule and pipistrelle bats flew by.  The cause of a sudden panic amongst the assembled ducks was caused remained unseen, and as the light faded to the point where it was time to head back, we could still hear the geese – over a mile away from where we were.  The dark of the night brought one last wildlife experience though, as a Badger trotted along the road just in front of the car.

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Stoatally different to yesterday…

by on Sep.03, 2013, under Birdwatching, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

By extraordinary coincidence, one of our least observed mammals put in an appearance for the second consecutive day…

I collected David, Jackie and Alexander from Bamburgh and we headed south to start their Prestige Tour of the Northumberland Coast.  As Swallows and House Martins flitted about low over the water in front of us, a Stoat proved elusive as it darted in and out of the vegetation close to the water’s edge, momentarily startling the dozing ducks before vanishing back into the edge of a reedbed.  As ever something wholly unexpected appeared, on this occasion a Peregrine over Cresswell village.  A Roe Deer walking through an arable field appeared like a disembodied head – only popping up, like a Jack-in-the-box, every few metres as it made it’s way across the field.

Another elusive mustelid put in a brief appearance too, as a Badger trotted along between reedbeds, but unfortunately hidden from view by the vegetation on our side of the pool.  As dusk approached, pipistrelle bats were flitting back and forth, tiny Common Froglets hopped across the path in front of us and the drive back to Bamburgh produced another impressive mammal, as a Brown Hare loped along the verge as we passed.

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Black Grouse Bonanza Day 2; Cross-border birding

by on Apr.23, 2013, under Birdwatching, Kielder, Northumberland

Saturday saw a much more relaxed start, at a much more civilised hour, for the second day of our Black Grouse Bonanza guided holiday.  After another filling breakfast at Peth Head we set out for a day around Kielder and the Borders.  With beautiful blue sky, fluffy white clouds and a nice breeze, it looked very much like a ‘Raptor Day’.

After a drive up the North Tyne valley, the first thing that struck us when we arrived at the dam end of Kielder Water was the number of Willow Warblers that were singing.  Swallows were zipping back and forth and there was a real springtime feel in the air.  As always, flocks of Chaffinches seemed to be everywhere, and we made our way to NEWT’s favourite raptor watchpoint.  In our quite exposed position we were at the mercy of what turned out to be a bitingly cold westerly wind so hats, gloves, fleece jackets and windproof layers were required.  There was an extraordinary difference between being in the sunshine and being under the layers of cloud that were scudding across from the west, and that had an effect on the birds too.  After a couple of hours of occasional sightings of Common Buzzard, and one Goshawk that shadowed a buzzard over a distant plantation, midday was approaching when it all kicked off; first one pair of Common Buzzards appeared opposite our watchpoint, then a second pair appeared alongside them, and a third pair over an adjacent plantation were probably responding to the flurry of activity.  Six buzzards in the air at the same time was only a start though, as the harsh croaking of a pair of Ravens drew our attention and these big, impressive ‘honorary raptors’ materialised from the background of the trees below our eyeline, breaking the skyline and soaring across the valley and disappearing over the trees to the northwest as another four Ravens rose into view away to the east.  The buzzard activity drew the attention of a male Goshawk, who circled with one bird before gliding away over a distant plantation.

Before crossing the border into Scotland we sat by a small stream and watched two Dippers as they bobbed up and down on mid-stream rocks and dived into the crystal clear, and presumably icy cold, water.  During our lunch break a Common Buzzard soared along a ridge just above our position, and as we crossed the moors a Raven was flying over a nest site, a Kestrel was hanging in the wind, Wild Goats were grazing contentedly, and a single Red Grouse raised its head above the shelter of the heather and into the breeze as we passed.

A stop at the Bakethin reserve on the way back down the North Tyne brought excellent views of an Osprey as it circled over the water, Common Sandpipers were displaying noisily, Oystercatchers had a noisy exchange during changeover at a nest, Teal were displaying, Goldeneye and Cormorant were diving, Chiffchaffs seemed to be in every tree and a Green Woodpecker was persistently yaffling.  Each time it called we all scanned the ground in the direction the calls were coming from, more in hope than expectation.  Eventually Derek managed to locate the  bird…perched at the top of a tree, yaffling away like a Blackbird would sing from an exposed perch!  The sky beyond the woodpecker held our 5th raptor for the day, a soaring Sparrowhawk, and we headed back to Peth Head.

The holiday was to produce a final bit of magic, as a night-time drive along a narrow country lane produced excellent views of two young Badgers, running across just a few metres ahead of us, a third Badger along the roadside and a Roe Deer running along the verge towards us before springing over a wall and away across the fields.

With such lovely clients, an excellent accommodation base and a whole series of stunning wildlife experiences during the holiday, I’m excited about next year’s Black Grouse Bonanza already 🙂  We’ll be announcing 2014 holiday dates shortly, but please get in touch if you would like to be kept informed of the details of what we have on offer next year.

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Sentinel

by on Oct.10, 2012, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

It’s a rare day when a trip features a limited number of birds and other wildlife, but even the days with lots to see often have a few things that really stand out; sometimes by being scarce, sometimes it’s an intriguing behaviour, and sometimes it can be something that’s quite common but rarely seen.  An outstanding day would produce all of those…

I collected Helen and Chris from Church Point for an afternoon of birdwatching and other wildlife around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland in near-perfect weather.  Before we headed up the coast though, we spent some time studying the Mediterranean Gulls on the beach and in the car park.  Cormorants were feeding just offshore and a very long-billed Dunlin was pottering about on the sand.  Working our way along the reserves that line Druridge Bay, one of NEWT’s favourite winter visitors provided some entertainment; a small herd of Whooper Swans had chosen a pool as a stop-off point – provoking a furious reaction from the resident pair of Mute Swans. Teal, Goldeneye, Wigeon, Shoveler, Mallard and Gadwall drakes were all looking good, following their exit from eclipse plumage, Long-tailed Tits flew past, one by one, a Goldcrest was flicking around in a bush nearby, a chirping Tree Sparrow allowed us to approach incredibly close and a Guillemot was hanging around at the base of the weir on the River Coquet.  Flocks of Curlew, Golden Plover and Lapwing filled the air, and a Jack Snipe provided lots of entertainment as it bobbed up and down on the edge of a reedbed, as nearby Common Snipe seemed more interested in disputing possession of feeding areas than actually feeding.

As the end of the trip approached, much too soon with such good company, we were in a small wooded valley, searching for Badgers.  We could hear the sound of them blundering through the undergrowth, but a barking dog nearby seemed to spook them and all went quiet.  For most of the time that we were there we were under the baleful glare of a feathered sentinel, as a Tawny Owl stared at us from the fork between a branch and tree trunk.  Wildlife, watching the wildlife-watchers 🙂

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