Tag: Barn Owl

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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Ducks in the dark; Druridge Bay Bespoke 24/10/17

by on Oct.27, 2017, under Druridge Bay

I collected Nicola and Bill from Lesbury and we headed down the coast for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay

We’ve reached that time of the year where wildfowl numbers are starting to really grow, and Greylag, Canada and Pink-footed Geese were all heard and seen.  Whooper Swans remained aloof and apart from Mute Swans and a Long-tailed Duck was proving elusive alongside Pintail, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye, Wigeon, Shoveler, Mallard, Teal and Gadwall.  A wander down on to the beach produced Sanderling, racing against the edge of the incoming tide on clockwork legs, the eerie cries of Curlew haunted marshy fields and Common Redshank were picking and probing in shallow water.  Black-tailed Godwit were wading in deeper water and a Common Snipe was tucked in among clumps of rush as a juvenile Marsh Harrier caused chaos as it drifted over.  Handsome male Stonechats were adorning fence posts and a Spoonbill was rushing through the shallows, sweeping it’s bill from side to side without pause.

With dusk approaching Starlings dropped into a reedbed and their murmuring and chuntering went on until it was almost too dark to see.  A Water Rail was typically unobliging as it flew between reedbeds and we ended the trip with a ghostly pale Barn Owl quartering the reeds in front of us and the harsh calls of Tufted Duck and Mallard alongside the explosive whistling of drake Wigeon in the dark.

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Autumn’s treasures; Otter Safari 10/10/17

by on Oct.11, 2017, under Druridge Bay

Sometimes it can be late in a trip before we find our target species., then there are the times when it’s almost embarrassingly quick and easy…

I collected Phil and Glynis from Amble and we headed down the coast for an afternoon and evening searching for Otters around Druridge Bay.  I’d found an Otter at dusk on Tuesday so I knew where we’d be finishing the tour.  On a hunch I thought that might be a good place to have the first hour of the tour too…and when we arrived there was a lot of panic among the Lapwings and a small group of Black-headed Gulls, with a single Common Gull, were circling above one spot.  I concentrated on the water below the gulls, and there was an Otter!  We watched it for around 40 minutes before it vanished into the reeds leaving us with Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Pintail, Tufted Duck, Gadwall and Shoveler to watch.  Next stop was Druridge Pools for an elusive Barred Warbler.  There was a small crowd there already searching for it and, after an obliging Garden Warbler fooled a few people, it eventually came out into the open as a Redwing, surely one of the most beautiful thrushes we have, was sitting on a bare branch on the other side of a field.  Next up was another scarce migrant, possibly the most delightful little wader to have ever graced the world’s avifauna.  The Red-necked Phalarope was twirling in the shallow water, darting at small insects on the surface as the evocative cries of Curlew drifted across the marsh.  A flock of 14 Whooper Swans passed by, seemingly unhappy with the lead swan’s choice of direction before they eventually settled on heading south where they were spotted by Sarah 🙂  Hedgerows were filled with the calls of Tree Sparrow and Goldcrest, and at least three Chiffchaffs darted in and out of the canopy, leading us a merry dance as we checked to see if there was anything exciting traveling with them, as Grey Heron and Little Egret stalked small fish.

Our picnic stop produced a nice roosting flock of Oystercatcher, Redshank, Curlew and Turnstone accompanied on the edge of the rocks and breaking surf by a Kingfisher 🙂  As dusk descended a Brown Hare crossed the track in front of us, a juvenile Marsh Harrier drifted by, causing Starlings to lift in rippling waves from their reedbed roost, Mute Swans seemed to glow in the dying embers of daylight, a Barn Owl ghosted over the reeds before plunging into rough grass and reappearing a few minutes later and then, when it was just about too dark to see, Lapwings flew from their daytime roost towards feeding areas, wingbeats thrumming in the still air of a chilly autumn evening 🙂

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Darkness descending; Druridge Bay mini-Safari 20/09/17

by on Sep.21, 2017, under Druridge Bay

I collected Ian and Julie from Hauxley and before we’d set off for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay things got off to a great start with Goldcrests and a Yellow-browed Warbler in the car park 🙂

Next up were two young Roe Deer, trotting along the edge of a field before stopping to watch us, and a Little Owl sitting on the end of the gutter of a cottage.  Waders occupied our attentions for the next hour and a large roosting flock of very vocal Lapwings were accompanied by plenty of Dunlin, a couple of Common Redshank and single Ruff, Curlew and Greenshank, as well as an elusive Common Snipe camouflaged in among reed stubble as Little Egrets squabbled over a prime feeding spot while practically glowing in late afternoon sunlight.  A Barn Owl flew by, carrying a Short-tailed Vole, before vanishing into a barn then reappearing only to be pestered by Jackdaws, Rooks and Carrion Crows.  With light levels falling, Starlings passed by in impressive flocks, but they’d decided to forego a prolonged murmurating display in favour of heading straight to roost in the reedbeds  out of the cold and wind.  With ducks in eclipse plumage it isn’t the best time of year to enjoy watching them but we could still identify Shoveler, Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Gadwall and Pintail in the fading light as Little and Great Crested Grebes alternated between sleeping and diving and Cormorants sat motionless as a Grey Heron flew over with heavy wingbeats.  As the light faded to the point where it was a struggle to see, the squealing of a Water Rail was followed soon after by a brief view of this strange little denizen of the reedbeds as it half-ran, half-flew across a gap in the reeds.

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Stalking; Otter Safari 29/08/17

by on Aug.30, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

I collected Julie, Thomas, Steven and Mandy ahead of an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland searching for our favourite predator

At this time of the year it’s fair to say that ducks aren’t really at their best and Mallard, Teal, Gadwall, Tufted Duck and Shoveler were all easier to separate based on size and shape than one plumage detail.  Little Grebe numbers seem to be higher and higher each time we’re out and about and the only thing separating Great Crested Grebe chicks from their parents now is the stripy face 🙂  Lapwings flushed in panic but the cause of their consternation remained unseen, as it so often does with Lapwings which seem to be really jittery all the time, and Starlings swirled on the breeze as Sand Martins, House Martins, Swallows and three Swifts were hoovering up flying insects ahead of the long journey south.  A Kestrel hovered over the dunes before dropping to the ground then quickly ascending again, empty-taloned. Regularly spaced along each water’s edge, Grey Herons were standing motionless as Little Egrets darted busily back and forth before heading to roost in riverside trees.  As dusk approached, Mute Swans drifted away from the water’s edge and that’s always a trigger to look at where they’re moving away from, but we couldn’t see anything along the bank in the rapidly deepening gloom as Canada Geese called noisily as they flew in to roost and a Long-eared Owl ghosted along the scrub just in front of us and the journey back saw a Barn Owl fly across the road in front of the car.

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Owling; Otter Safari 17/07/17

by on Jul.19, 2017, under Druridge Bay

I collected Una and then Verna from Church Point and we set off for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and South East Northumberland searching our favourite Otter spots

The heat of the afternoon was tempered by a gentle breeze as we came across 8 Little Egrets and a Kingfisher put in a brief but brilliant appearance with flash of dazzling azure as it landed on a rock in front of us before flying across the river and reappearing a few minutes later.  More azure blue flashed towards the extremity of Blue-tailed Damselflies and a Red Admiral took a real liking to Verna, flying around for a few seconds before settling on her arm 🙂  As the evening progressed the light suddenly switched from dazzling and contrasty to sublimely beautiful.  A small Starling murmuration hinted at the spectacle we’ll be enjoying by the winter, 2 Roe Deer were in deep vegetation, a Kestrel was flitting from tree to tree along the roadside ahead of the car and a Barn Owl flew over the reeds carrying a Short-tailed Field Vole as Common Swift, Barn Swallow, House Martin and Sand Martin plundered the dense clouds of insects rising above the ethereal mist drifting over the water.

As the light faded and we headed back a Brown Hare loped along the road ahead of us, pausing on the track into a field and I suggested that owls should be on the target list for the next 10-15 minutes of the drive.  Two separate telegraph poles were adorned with Little Owls, with the tiny predators giving us their very best withering stare, before a third Little Owl flew alongside the car briefly and a Barn Owl drifted across the road ahead of us 🙂

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