Tag: Barn Owl

“Keith Chegwin did what?”; Otter Safari 07/02/17

by on Feb.10, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

Watching wildlife tends to involve also having to spend some time waiting for it to appear, and conversations are occasionally slightly surreal…

I collected Jo and Crawford from Eshott ahead of a day searching for Otters around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  Heavy overnight rain had cleared but the roads were liberally strewn with deep puddles as we headed to the coast.  Crawford has spent a lot of time watching and photographing Otters in Shetland and it was great to compare observations, and discuss photography, as we scanned the water looking for any sign of the elusive predator.  Little Grebe, Goldeneye and Mute Swan all appeared unmolested, then I noticed three Mallard swimming slightly faster than all of the other ducks…and there was an Otter twisting and turning, surfacing to crunch whatever it had just caught before submerging again 🙂  We watched it for a little while but it was moving away from us so we moved along to a section of bank closer to where we’d last seen it.  Better views there, and then another shift of position saw us on the water’s edge, with the Otter performing around 20m in front of Crawford’s camera.  Our encounter lasted nearly an hour, and included several ‘porpoising’ dives with the Otter leaping almost completely clear of the water and diving near vertically.

The cold and damp of the afternoon brought views of a very obliging White-fronted Goose and, approaching dusk, Lapwing and Curlew called as Starlings hurried to roost and a Barn Owl ghosted by.  Wildlife presenters featured in a very entertaining discussion which led on to game shows and the revelation that Keith Chegwin – that’s right the cherub-faced star of Multi-coloured Swap Shop, Cheggers Plays Pop and Saturday Superstore – had once presented a game show naked.  Now two of us thought this unlikely, but a quick search on Google confirmed that Crawford wasn’t imagining it and that Cheggers had indeed hosted a one-off show called Naked Jungle, wearing nothing other than a hat!  Every day’s an education…

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Grand finale; Druridge Bay Bespoke mini-Safari 24/08/16

by on Aug.28, 2016, under Druridge Bay, Northumberland Coast, Southeast Northumberland

Wednesday brought a first for me – arriving at Church Point to collect Lucy, Jon, Hattie and Lily, the car park was completely full!  That’s nice weather for you though…

We started our afternoon around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland with a search for Red Squirrel.  With lots of people around it wasn’t entirely surprising that our quarry eluded us, but Chaffinch, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Goldfinch and Dunnock were all benefiting from the supply of free food as everyone tried to get to grips with the contact calls of Chiffchaff and Willow WarblerDragonflies were hawking around the tree tops and a range of insects finished up in our sample pot before being released back to the plants we’d taken them from.  On to wetter habitats and an attempt to catch a Blue-tailed Damselfly ended comically when it flew from its perch and settled on my finger instead 🙂  Common Snipe, Curlew Sandpiper, Common Redshank, Ruff, Curlew and Lapwing were a nice little haul of waders and a calling Greenshank stayed out of sight as Little Egrets stalked along the water’s edge and Grey Herons tried to remain inconspicuous amongst the clumps of rush.  I was called on to answer some tricky questions during the afternoon – “would a Grey Squirrel attack a person?” was slightly easier to answer than “what sort of cloud is that?” 😉

As often is the case, there was a discussion about best wildlife of the trip.  Common Snipe and Cinnabar Moth caterpillar both got the seal of approval, although the vote did come before we were heading back down the coast and a Barn Owl was quartering the roadside fields.  Death on silent wings, beautifully backlit by the later afternoon sun and the finale to Jon’s 40th birthday wildlife tour 🙂

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Swinging squirrels and beat-boxing bats; coastal mini-Safari 16/08/16

by on Aug.17, 2016, under Druridge Bay

At this time of year, some of our favourite activities are mini-safaris for families with young children.  With reasonable weather mammals, birds, insects. flowers and stargazing can all be wrapped up into an evening around Druridge Bay and the southeast Northumberland coast…

I collected Niall, Emma, Betty and Pearl from Cresswell and we headed off to search for our first target species for the evening.  Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Dunnock and Great Tit were all around the feeding station where I thought we’d find a squirrel, and sure enough, Niall spotted one coming through the trees nearby.  This was a young Red Squirrel though, and it was struggling with the concept a of a feeder with a hinged lid; sitting on the lid and peering wistfully through the transparent front of the feeder didn’t hold it’s attention for long so it set about plundering the bird feeders, stretching across from the tree trunks and swinging from the feeders like an Olympic gymnast.  Then it returned to the squirrel feeder and sat on the platform, lifted the lid and made off with a hazelnut 🙂

Heading up the coast we were treated to the sight of a Barn Owl quartering the dunes on silent wings before hovering and plunging into the grass then rising and flying off carrying a hapless vole in it’s talons.  Little Egrets, Grey Herons and Canada Geese were all studied through the ‘scope and Rabbits made brief appearances throughout the evening.

As dusk began fading to darkness, with Shoveler and Teal silhouetted against the final rays of daylight,  Noctule Bats were hunting overhead as the near-full Moon made an excellent subject for study with the ‘scope.  Turning on the bat detector allowed us to listen to them as well as watching their hunting flight.  If you’ve never heard a Noctule then treat yourself by listening to a recording of one.  Betty’s comment really sums them up though “It sound’s like it’s beat-boxing”.  With the dark cloak of night finally starting to take a grip, stars and planets appeared as if a light switch had been flicked on.  Mars, eeriely red low in the west, Vega, one of the three bright stars that make up the Summer Triangle, and then the grand finale, Saturn; appearing elongated through binoculars, and resolving to the giant planet and it’s rings in the telescope view 🙂

If you’re visiting Northumberland with your family give us a call on 01670 827465 to find out what we can do for you 🙂

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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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Over there, no over there, what about over there?; Otter Safari 08/06/16

by on Jun.09, 2016, under Druridge Bay, Farne Islands

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 🙂

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Sounds of Spring; Druridge Bay Bespoke Safari 21/05/16

by on May.24, 2016, under Druridge Bay

Ever improving weather tends to make days out with clients slightly more relaxed than those days where we’re contending with the elements – although I personally prefer the more challenging days 😉

I collected Julie and Mike from The Plough Inn, not much more than a stone’s throw from the sea, and we set out for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  The reedbeds were resonating with the song of Sedge Warbler and Reed Bunting as Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler were singing from the trees that had grown above the height of the hedgerows, Great Crested Grebes crossed the water with elegant grace and Mute Swan, Greylag Goose and Canada Goose kept a watchful eye on their fluffy babies.  A hatch of flying insects had attracted the attention of Swallow, Sand Martin, House Martin and Swift as well as an impressive flock of Black-headed Gulls and at least six 1stSummer Little Gulls.  The eerie cries of Curlew carried on the southerly breeze and Lapwing displayed so close that we could hear their wingbeats as well as the nuances of their remarkable calls.  Just as remarkable, if not more so, was a Common Snipe ‘drumming’ impressively as it flew back and forth right in front of us while we were dazzled by a shockingly bright Yellow Wagtail.

With the sun appearing beneath the dark grey cloud layer as it neared the horizon, the landscape was suddenly bathed in extraordinary light.  Intense greens and yellows contrasted with the subtle hues of areas still in shadow as a Barn Owl ghosted by on silent wings, a Grey Wagtail was flycatching from midstream rocks, a Grey Heron stalked the shallows and Mallard and Goosander swam downstream, carried on the rushing bubbling flow where insects trapped in the surface layer fell prey to hungry fish lunging clear of the water and briefly inhabitating an alien world before splashing back down into the watery darkness.

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Winter Wonderland 21-24/02/2016

by on Mar.01, 2016, under Druridge Bay, Lindisfarne

Our Winter Wonderland holiday started on Sunday evening with Ben and Diane, and David, arriving at the Bamburgh Castle Inn.

Day One 22/02/16.  Our first full day was around Lindisfarne and the North Northumberland coast and everything that makes the area so good in the winter put in an appearance.  Purple Sandpiper, Oystercatcher, Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Common Redshank, Turnstone, Grey Plover, Golden Plover, Dunlin and Knot represented wading birds, Common Scoter, Eider, Red-breasted Merganser, Long-tailed Duck and Slavonian Grebe were just offshore, Grey Seal and at least 16 Roe Deer provided some mammal interest and there were lots and lots of geesePale-bellied Brent, Dark-bellied Brent, Pink-footed, Greylag and Barnacle filled the air, the fields and the mudflats as Skylarks sang and fought, heralding the arrival of spring 🙂

Day Two 23/02/16.  Our second day was spent around NEWT’s local patch, Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  One of our favourite mammals was soon on the trip list as an Otter cub appeared from its hideaway in a pile of boulders and spent a little while feeding close by 🙂  The long-staying Long-billed Dowitcher joined the trip list too, feeding alongside Knot, Common Redshank and Bar-tailed Godwit and unexpected birds included Marsh Tit and Treecreeper.  As the afternoon light faded, we watched a family group of Whooper Swans and a pair of Dippers sat almost motionless on a mid-stream rock as the water rushed around them and a Barn Owl was a welcome addition to the trip list just before an incredibly brief sleety shower reminded us that this is the winter 🙂

24/02/16.  Departure day dawned bright, cold and encased in frost at the end of the holiday.  Just the way the winter should be!

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Targets; Prestige Otter safari 26/11/2015

by on Nov.27, 2015, under Druridge Bay, Otter

Thursday was a trip I’d been looking forward to for a long time; Stephen and Helen had been out with us on a Kielder safari back in 2009, and our targets for the latest trip were Kingfisher and Otter.  A slight change of plan saw Stephen taking the trip with Ruth, rather than with her daughter, and we headed coastwards from Shilbottle.  With two very active Otter sites just a day earlier, I decided that we’d switch Wednesday afternoon’s site to the morning, as that would leave us with a very reliable back-up site if needed…

Goosander and Red-breasted Merganser were feeding incessantly, and a Cormorant was drying it’s wings in that fantastic heraldic pose.  I continued scanning and when Stephen said “Martin, on that triangular rock over there, there’s something Otter shaped…” I turned around to see that the Cormorant had gone…and had been replaced by three Otters 🙂  These were the two cubs from Wednesday afternoon again, and their mum!  As Little Egrets disputed prime feeding spots, Curlew and Redshank kept a wary eye on the Otters but continued probing the gooey mud just a few metres away from them.  You almost couldn’t make it up, but our other target for the day turned up and perched on a stick just in front of us while we were watching the Otters!  With a flash of electric blue the Kingfisher was soon on it’s way again, as a Sparrowhawk cruised along the tree tops nearby.

The afternoon brought thousands of yapping Pink-footed Geese, as flocks of Starling and Lapwing took to the air, then as dusk approached, a Dipper raced along a river below our feet and a Barn Owl ghosted by; a quality end to a quality day 🙂

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Every cloud…; Otter Safari 30/09/2015

by on Oct.01, 2015, under Druridge Bay, Otter

The unpredictability of wildlife is part of the attraction.  You never know what you’ll see, whether the species you’re searching for will put in an appearance or something completely unexpected will show up.  I’d collected Judith and Robin from their holiday cottage in Embleton and we were in and around Druridge Bay for the afternoon.  It started well with a spectacular splash of colour as Judith spotted a Kingfisher while Common Redshank, Spotted Redshank and Curlew probed the gooey estuarine mud.  Gadwall, Mallard, Little Grebe, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Snipe, Dunlin and Greenshank all looked stunning in quite beautiful light and we settled into position overlooking one of our regular Otter spots, unaware of just how extraordinary the evening was going to be…

Mirror-calm water, roosting Lapwing and Teal, an ever growing murmuration of Starlings and noisy Greylag Geese arriving to roost would be the ideal backdrop for an Otter.  Suddenly, unexpectedly, the murmuration plunged towards the reeds and birds funneled out of the swirling twisting mass down into the safety of the roost.  Starlings continued to arrive; ones, twos and groups of up to 50 had missed the display so just headed straight into the reeds.  Then the sussurating buzz stilled, and the birds left the reedbed en masse, joined in the air by Lapwings, as a Sparrowhawk flew low over their heads.  As they dropped back to the reeds, the far corner of the pool was shrouded in mist and the chilly tendrils of a sea fret were creeping over the dunes.  Soon the mist had enveloped everything around us, although it was barely reaching above head height.  The pinks and yellows of a 360 degree sunset added another touch of extraordinary to proceedings as the gloom was split by a noise not dissimilar to a car engine starting.  That was the Starlings again, leaving the reeds and suddenly bursting up out of the mist in front of us, a twisting writhing mass of birds trying to escape yet another fly-through by a Sparrowhawk.  Again they returned to the reeds, as a Barn Owl flew by above the mist, silhouetted against the sunset, and skein after skein of yapping Pink-footed Geese arrived for the night, dropping from the deep blue sky into the mist above the water.  After two unwelcome visits from the Sparrowhawk, the Starlings moved under cover of the mist into the reeds right in front of us,  For nearly five minutes, birds were streaming into their new roost site, as the whistles of Wigeon pierced the gloom and Teal and Lapwing departed for the night.

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Eight year itch; Otter Safari 18/07/2015

by on Jul.20, 2015, under Druridge Bay, Otter

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.

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