Tag: Barn Owl

Between a rock and a hard place; Druridge Bay Safari 25/08/18

by on Aug.28, 2018, under Uncategorized

I collected Barbara and Jeff from Newbiggin and we set off for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland in conditions that felt slightly cooler than of late…

A walk along the Wansbeck brought 2 Green Sandpipers, 2 Greenshank, Mute Swans, Canada Geese, Mallard, Lapwing, Curlew, 2 Little Egrets and some delicious blackberries and sea buckthorn 🙂  Grey Herons were tussling over favoured feeding spots and our picnic stop overlooking the North Sea produced lines of Gannets heading north, distant Manx and Sooty Shearwaters, a raft of Eider in the gentle rolling swell just offshore and a feeding frenzy around the edge of the rising tide were startled by a skua; Turnstone, Ringed Plover, Common Redshank, Dunlin and a noisy swirling flock of Black-headed Gulls were accompanied by at least 8 Mediterranean Gulls as Fulmars soared by on stiff wings.

More waders and more herons followed, and then Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe and Tufted Duck, in sublime low angled sunlight, and a variety of bumblebees and hoverflies becoming slower as the temperature started to really drop.  A Barn Owl quartered the dunes before settling first on the ground, then a telegraph pole then a fence post, offering great views in flight and then through the telescope when it was perched.  A Sparrowhawk hedge-hopped just ahead of us and 2 Little Owls had made their way out on to the edge of a roof and a stone wall as dusk approached and our final stop saw us watching a dense roosting flock of geese and some very vocal Black-tailed Godwits as hundreds of Greylag Geese suddenly appeared out of the gloom and settled in for the night and the bright triumvirate of Jupiter, Saturn and Mars were spread across the southern sky.

Probably the best moment of the day was when a Brown Hare leveret loped along the track ahead of us before darting up a narrow tree-lined footpath, only to come back out and sit just a few feet from the car!  What could be scarier than a car bearing down on you?  The answer, in this case, was a Woodpigeon that was blocking the hare’s escape route 🙂

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Feels like autumn ;-) Druridge Bay Safari 19/08/18

by on Jul.21, 2018, under Druridge Bay

Collecting Rosie and Ben for an afternoon and evening around NEWT’s local patch, Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland, the weather looked ever so slightly murky…

Ben was armed with his D500 and 200-500mm lens (I’ve seen several copies of that lens in action now but still not pulled the trigger on purchasing one myself yet…) and we started with a search for a bird he was very keen to see on this trip north.  Patience and persistence paid off, as they so often do, and a juvenile Dipper was quite approachable as it paddled tentatively in very shallow water without taking the plunge into full ‘Dipper mode’.  An impressive flock of Dunlin, resplendent with black bellies, was a very obvious sign that migration is well underway and Curlew, Lapwing, Black-tailed Godwit, Ringed Plover, Redshank and Knot were also in a couple of impressive flocks of waders before we came across a well grown juvenile Great Crested Grebe that was calling incessantly to its parent and only pausing briefly when the adult submerged in search of food.  Grey Herons stalked through the shallows as Sand Martins, House Martins, Swifts and Swallows were joined in their aerial pursuit of insects by a Little Gull and two Barn Owls quartered the reedbeds and rank vegetation.  Another target species for the afternoon put in a cameo appearance as I noticed the tell-tale ‘ring of bright water’ in the shadow of a distant reedbed and we watched an Otter through the ‘scope 🙂

There was an ‘oddest moment of the trip’ award for a 2 year old female Grey Seal who hauled herself out of the sea and started following people up the beach towards the dunes!  A quick exchange of messages with British Divers Marine Life Rescue and we were able to reassure people who were gathering on the beach that the seal was fine and just needed a bit of space to rest before continuing her journey north.  Everyone backed off and watched her from a sensible distance and she rolled over and stretched out in the evening sunshine 🙂

With the sky clearing, and dusk approaching a Little Owl flew from a roadside telegraph pole and our 3rd Barn Owl was over a field below the Moon, Jupiter and Venus, with the two planets both looking impressive through the ‘scope as we headed back towards Newbiggin.

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Owling; Druridge Bay Safari 10/07/18

by on Jul.13, 2018, under Druridge Bay

Tuesday was Roger’s 3rd day out with NEWT and this time Mandy was joining him for an afternoon and evening exploring NEWT’s local patch – Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland

After a run of very hot days the weather had relented, although only slightly, and we started the trip with a woodland walk beside the river Blyth.  Family parties of Nuthatch and Treecreeper were chattering away among themselves as they explored tree trunks, branches and the sun-dappled canopy and our target bird for the walk appeared, as a juvenile Dipper tentatively poked it’s face in the river while keeping it’s feet on drier ground.  Fulmars were arcing along the clifftop at our picnic spot overlooking the North Sea and a small flock of Common Scoter passed by.  Avocet, Dunlin, Lapwing, Curlew, Common Snipe and a Whimbrel were all on mud freshly exposed by the heat of the Sun and Starlings were starting to murmurate.  As we moved through the evening, the beautiful low angled sunlight was simply sublime, and illuminated Brown Hares, juvenile Water Rails and three stunning Black-tailed Godwits.  A Little Owl perched on a stone wall by the roadside gave us the withering ‘angry little man’ glare that they’re so good at and three separate Barn Owls graced us with their presence; one carrying a mouse back to the nest, one quartering a long hedgerow, and the final one, as we drove back towards Warkworth, nearly hit the car before taking evasive action and flying up over the roof 🙂

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The sublimity of evening; Bespoke Otter Safari 05/07/18

by on Jul.06, 2018, under Druridge Bay, Otter

I’ve never been great in hot sunny weather so as I collected Mike and Moira, for an afternoon and evening searching for Otters around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland, I was hoping for an increase in cloud cover…

In the heat of the afternoon, Avocets were harassing Grey Herons and Shelduck ducklings were skittering about on the surface of coastal pools as a Roe Deer ghosted through the reeds at the water’s edge and Lapwings squabbled nearby.  A Little Owl glared down from it’s perch between chimney pots as cloud began to roll in and Canada and Greylag Geese were looking alert but there was no sign of the cause of their concern

As daylight turned to dusk there was little sign of the Sun and that improved visibility substantially 🙂  Swallows, Swifts, House Martins and Sand Martins were plundering the rich feast of flying insects and a spectacular dense flock of 39 Black-tailed Godwits twisted and turned in the air in front of us as the distinctive call of Whimbrel failed to betray their location.  Water Rails were running nervously in and out of the reeds as another Roe Deer appeared, trotting through the shallow edge of the pool, and Tufted Ducks gathered their ducklings into tight groups as Cormorants took off, Mute Swans began staring at the reeds and a Little Grebe suddenly froze in position.  Then an Otter appeared just in front of us 🙂  We watched it for 45 minutes, including a remarkable tableau of hunting Otter beneath murmuration of Starlings with a Barn Owl quartering the reeds just a few metres away from us, before it vanished into the gloom of dusk and a distant reedbed.

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Hustle and bustle; Bespoke Druridge Bay mini-Safari 03/07/18

by on Jul.04, 2018, under Druridge Bay

Sometimes you just know it’s going to be a good trip, and as I collected Anne and Ron from Whitley Bay for an evening around Druridge Bay the blue sky, sunshine and gentle breeze had me thinking this was going to be a great time to be out in the field…

A Barn Owl quartering along the roadside and then hovering over the dunes, stunning in the golden light, was a fantastic start to the trip as Avocets flew by before settling back down.  A brood of 5 fairly large Water Rails was an unexpected sight as they came out into the open, close to a Tufted Duck with a large brood of tiny ducklings,  before dashing nervously back in to the cover of the reeds.  Mallard, Gadwall and Mute Swan were all dabbling for food beneath dense clouds of flying insects and then our attention was grabbed by a tight circling flock of Black-headed Gulls, Common Terns and Arctic Terns…directly above an Otter 🙂  Each time the Otter surfaced the birds repositioned themselves directly above it and we tracked it’s progress between Mute Swans and Cormorants.  Then the birds found another target and began pestering Grey Herons.  Each time a gull or tern dived at the heron it flattened it’s back, opened it’s beak wide and let out a raucous cry.  Every so often the attack would cease, before starting up again with renewed vigour and new recruits.

Our journey back down the coast brought another new species for the evening as a Brown Hare dashed out of the verge along the road and then back into the deep grass.

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

by on May.19, 2018, 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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Persistence :-) Otter Safari 27/04/18

by on May.01, 2018, 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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Snowmelt; Otter Safari 23/01/18

by on Jan.24, 2018, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

Double figure temperatures, blue sky and hardly any hint of a breeze were a revelation as I collected Kellie and Sean from The Swan for a day around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland searching for Otters.

Improved weather and the forecast gales and torrential rain were nowhere to be seen…what could go wrong?  Flight views of a Bittern in beautiful light were a good start, a very obliging Kingfisher perched on reeds in front of us before diving into the water and returning to it’s perch with a small fish and a drake Long-tailed Duck looked resplendent in the sunshine.  Two Water Rails were also rather obliging as they fed in a gap in the reeds, before walking on the still frozen margins of the pool.  Goldeneye, Coot and Little Grebe were all avoiding one edge of the reeds, although Mute Swans were feeding right against the reeds, although the hoped-for Otters didn’t appear…and there was the ominous low hum of a strengthening breeze.

By the time we reached our next site the wind had really picked up, and as I pointed out where any Otters were likely to be Sean spotted them 🙂  An adult female and two cubs feeding in a fast-flowing river that was being bolstered by an impressive volume of water from further inland.  Monday’s rain, and melting snow, were adding to the flow as the Otters hunted.  After ten minutes they headed towards the bank and vanished, before reappearing a bit further away.  They started heading towards us and one of the cubs got out of the water before rejoining it’s mother and sibling…and they came closer still.  Suddenly they were out of the water in front of us, following each other in and out of gaps between the rocks and calling noisily.  It was hard to imagine how this encounter could be any more spectacular…then one cub suddenly appeared from behind a rock and ran straight towards us!  It was probably only 3 metres away when it vanished in the rocks and we could hear it having an altercation with the others.  They headed off before quickly heading back in our direction and by the time they all vanished into a gap in the rocks on the opposite side of the water, carrying a large fish, we’d been watching them for nearly two and a half hours and dusk was starting to exert it’s grip as the Sun sank behind dark clouds away to the southwest.

I’m not often lost for words…

Here are the three Otters when I was photographing them last week 🙂

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Winter; Otter mini-Safari 28/12/17

by on Dec.31, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

I collected Stephen from Church Point and we set out for an afternoon around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland…

One thing that has stood out in the last few weeks is the great number of Goldeneye and Little Grebe that are wintering here, and this trip was no exception.  Cormorants were diving alongside them in pursuit of small fish.  A Barn Owl quartered over reedbeds, harassed by corvids and a Sparrowhawk and Teal, Wigeon, Mallard and Gadwall were all dabbling in shallow water as Starlings arrived to roost.  39 Whooper Swans arriving together were an impressive sight, then they drifted close to a reedbed before beating a hasty retreat…what was lurking in the shadows of the reeds as the strengthening and biting wind drove us back to the car and towards Newbiggin?

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Hide and Seek; Otters and Stargazing mini-Safari 18/11/17

by on Nov.19, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Otter

I arrived at Church Point to collect Sarah and Nessa, Alison and Mike, and Pat ahead of an afternoon searching for Otters around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland with a planned extension to take in the first hour or so of darkness if the sky was clear…

Little Egrets stood out shining white against the darker water, Grey Herons were motionless as they concentrated on the water beneath their feet and the loud flapping of a Cormorant drying it’s wings carried over the water as a busy, noisy, tribe of Long-tailed Tits hurriedly crossed the gap between bushes.  Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Gadwall, Shoveler, Goldeneye, Little Grebe and Slavonian Grebe all seemed calm and relaxed, but one drake Mallard lifted his head and stared intently at a reedbed, scanning side to side along one area of reeds….and out came an Otter with two cubs 🙂  We watched them for a few minutes as they got out of the water, perched on top of rocks and then they vanished for a while before reappearing right next to a Mute Swan that fixed them with the look of contempt that swans are so good at.  Starlings were gathering prior to roost and a Sparrowhawk caused a ripple of panic that tightened the swirling murmuration into a small dark amorphous shape-shifting patch against the dying embers of daylight in the west.  By the time the Otters finally vanished there were already three Barn Owls quartering over the reeds and rough grassland nearby and bright yellowy-white Capella was visible against the darkening twilight sky.  With hardly a cloud in any direction, and with the temperature dropping rapidly we had excellent views of Auriga, Cassiopeia, Cygnus, the Pleiades, an impressive satellite flare and then the Andromeda galaxy through the ‘scope 🙂

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