Tag: Birdwatching

Shining in the gloom

by on Mar.17, 2012, under Birdwatching, Kielder, Northumberland

The most memorable wildlife on a tour with clients can come in many forms; it may be the common, the uncommon, the localised, or just the way that it fits in its habitat, and the landscape and weather blend it in to the experience.

I arrived at Hexham railway station to find Steve and Jill already there, and a few minutes later Catherine arrived on the train from Windermere (via a few changes!).  We headed northwest along the North Tyne valley for a day birdwatching around Kielder and the borders and, just before Bellingham we left the road and headed along the forest tracks.  A fine drizzle was falling as we found our first Crossbills of the day.  By the time we returned to the C200 (and civilisation!) 2 hours later, we’d had lots of sightings of small groups and family parties.  Perching on the tops of small spruce trees, flying over and giving that distinctive ‘chip, chip’ call, Crossbills are always a delight to watch.  The stunning luminosity of the males carmine red rump is incredibly striking, particularly in the gloom and drizzle of the border forests when everything else seems to be monochrome.  Kestrels and Common Buzzards were soaring around, Curlews and Lapwings were sitting in fields between the sheep, Skylarks and Meadow Pipits flushed from the track sides and Siskins almost rivalled the Crossbills with some stunning adult males demonstrating how a quite common bird can still take your breath away when you look closely at it.

By early afternoon the cloud level had dropped to somewhere below the altitude we were at and, as we crossed a remote moorland road with the icy cold wind whistling  eerily around us, driving waves of rain horizontally across the fells, Steve spotted a grouse at the roadside.  From our position I couldn’t see the bird, but Catherine, sitting in the back of the car, was able to photograph what I assumed would be a Red Grouse.  Then it flew…revealing the white wing-bars of an adult Blackcock!  That’s a species we’ve watched and photographed with clients in the North Pennines, but not one that we’ve ever recorded on a Kielder Safari.  Important lesson, that one; expect the unexpected 🙂

One of our commonest species provided one of the highlights of the day;  hundreds of male Chaffinches were swarming around feeding stations and, at one point, we had 3 sitting on the roof of the car, 2 on the wing mirrors and 2 in the boot!  With Blue, Great and Coal Tits, Greenfinches, more Siskins, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Nuthatches the feeders were a blur of activity.

As we headed back down the valley at the end of the day, a flock of Redwings and Fieldfares flew from a nearby field and filled the air above us, a pair of Mandarins flew upriver, calling, and we left Kielder behind to return to the bustling metropolis of Hexham 🙂

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Heading north…

by on Mar.15, 2012, under Birdwatching, Holy Island, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

Living in southeast Northumberland, we’re spoiled by having easy access to some outstanding birdwatching areas.  Holy Island, which we still think is at its best during the winter, is just an hour north up the A1…

I collected Keith and Mary on Saturday morning and we crossed the causeway onto the island for a day of birdwatching around the Northumberland Coast AONB.  Although we encountered wintering Pale-bellied Brent Geese, Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits and other waders and wildfowl, there was a definite spring feel to the day.  The weather was glorious (although a little breezy), and Skylarks could be heard high overhead.  Curlews were in full voice, Grey Herons were stalking through poolside vegetation, Grey Seals were hauled out at low tide and a steady stream of Gannets passed by offshore.  Early afternoon we headed back to the mainland and more waders and wildfowl, as well as a mixed flock of Yellowhammers, Reed Buntings, Linnets and Tree Sparrows (with the male Yellowhammers looking particularly stunning) before finishing in the shadow of Bamburgh Castle with roosting Oystercatchers, Redshanks and Purple Sandpipers, Eiders bobbing about in the surf and a mixed raft of Common Scoters and Slavonian Grebes diving repeatedly in the swell and really testing powers of concentration.

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Stranded

by on Oct.13, 2011, under Bamburgh Castle, Birdwatching, Holy Island, Northumberland

I love Holy Island, but it can be a bit crowded sometimes…

I collected Mike and Maggie from St Cuthbert’s House on Tuesday morning and we began birdwatching our way north.  In the shadow of Bamburgh Castle we watched Bar-tailed Godwits, Knot, Turnstones, Purple Sandpipers, Eider and Gannets in a bitingly cold northwesterly wind.  We crossed onto Holy Island just before the rising tide covered the causeway…and found that the car park was empty!  For the next 5 hours we practically had the island to ourselves, and enjoyed swirling flocks of Knot and Bar-tailed Godwit, Oystercatchers, Shags, Gannets plunge-diving, Red-breasted Mergansers,  Grey Seals, Fieldfares, Redwings, Curlew, Teal, Black-tailed Godwits, Grey Plover, Kestrels, Peregrine and then, as the tide began to recede, flocks of Pink-footed Geese and Pale-bellied Brent Geese took to the air, heading for the newly exposed mud and the feast it brings.

Deliberately stranding yourself on Holy Island always carries risks as a birdwatcher; what if something really good turns up on the mainland? As an experience with clients though, particularly when one of them is a very keen wildlife and landscape photographer, it really is something special.

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Feeding time

by on Feb.10, 2011, under Birdwatching, Choppington Woods, Northumberland, Photography

I’ve never been good at sitting in the office and concentrating on one task for any length of time.  Having an office window that looks out over the 76ha of mixed woodland of Choppington Woods LNR is a real blessing, allowing me to mix work and birdwatching.  When I need to stretch my legs, a quick trip downstairs lets me open the patio door and turns the kitchen into a very comfortable and convenient bird photography hide.

Our garden is currently hosting at least 8 Bramblings, along with Greenfinches, Goldfinches, Chaffinches, Bullfinches, Blue, Great, Coal and Long-tailed Tits, occasional visits from Siskin, Redpoll and Treecreeper and regular fly-throughs by our local Sparrowhawks.

It’s a wonder I ever get any work done 🙂

European Goldfinch, bird photography, wildlife photography

Goldfinch

Chaffinch, bird photography, wildlife photography

Chaffinch

Bullfinch, bird photography, wildlife photography

Bullfinch

Brambling, bird photography, wildlife photography

Brambling

Brambling, bird photography, wildlife photography

Brambling

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Talking birdwatching

by on Dec.09, 2010, under Birdwatching, Family and friends, North Pennines

Woodcock are continuing to feature in our birdwatching at the moment.  Martin saw two more yesterday; one flying ahead of the car as he drove through Ashington and another one flying over our house, as Lee from G&S Organics was delivering our weekly groceries.

Yesterday evening we were out and about again.  This time it wasn’t a nocturnal birdwatching trip but a much more sociable occasion, meeting up with a friend for a meal and a few drinks.

Nick was already in the pub, with a pint of Guinness in hand, when we arrived.  The conversation through the evening focused primarily on raptors; a real obsession for all three of us.  He didn’t make it to this year’s North of England Raptor Conference so we filled him in on the highlights.  As our discussions covered population ecology, persecution, identification and migration patterns, the time raced by and soon we were driving back through the snowy wastes of Northumberland.  Unsurprisingly, most of our discussion had focussed on the Hen Harrier; probably the most persecuted raptor in Britain.  Our study area covers twelve 10km squares in southwest Northumberland, notable for having no breeding Hen Harriers, although a vast amount of suitable habitat.  There’s a lack of Peregrines as well, although at one site they can often be seen displaying in the early spring…

On our North Pennines tours, the lack of raptors is often commented on by our clients.  When we explain the reasons, and back this up with our own observations and experiences from the harrier nest we monitored in North Tynedale, we’re generally met with looks of incredulity, horror or dismay.  Who knows, maybe 2011 will be the year when the Hen Harrier starts to make a comeback on the moors of Northern England?  Don’t hold your breath though…

Now, after a morning which Martin spent being interviewed for the BBC Politics Show (which will be shown at 12:00 on Sunday 11th December), it’s time to process another batch of Gift Voucher orders and finalise details for this Saturday’s boat trip around the Farne Islands and Holy Island.  Gift Vouchers are an ideal present, and our final boat trip of the year looks like being a really good one, so give us a call on 01670 827465 to book.

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Owling

by on Dec.08, 2010, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Family and friends, Northumberland

When Sarah arrived home from work at 19:30 yesterday, I suggested a spot of nocturnal motorised birdwatching.

We headed north past Ellington and up to Widdrington before turning towards the coast and down through Druridge.  With the thermometer hitting -7C, the ungritted roads were a bit of a challenge.  Following some recent big counts of Woodcock it was no great surprise that they flushed regularly from the roadside as we passed.  Our main target for the drive was Barn Owl, and we eventually found one perched on a post beside the Spine Road near Blyth.  Bird of the evening though was a stunning Long-eared Owl, on a fence post by the edge of the road.  As we passed slowly, on the skating rink of a road surface, it turned it’s head imperiously, following us with those piercing orange eyes.  Over the last 3 years we’ve shared views of all of Northumberland’s regularly occurring owls with our clients, but for sheer ‘other-worldliness’ you really can’t beat Long-eared Owl.

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Another big freeze

by on Nov.29, 2010, under Birdwatching, Choppington Woods, Family and friends, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

Here we go again...

It’s hard to believe that we posted on the blog back in January about the big freeze last winter and here we are again in a similar position already before the end of November (although at least at the moment it isn’t so prolonged).

I went in to Newcastle last Wednesday for a seminar about the IMCORE project, and there was a bit of light snowfall.  When I came out of the Ridley Building an hour later the world was white, and it’s just gone on from that point.  After Sarah got home from work on Thursday evening the next time we used either of the cars was when we dug her car out of the snow this morning so she could go to work.  We’ve made the most of the last few days though; walking the 2 miles there (and 2 miles back) each day to visit a friend who’s now in a residential care home, doing most of the admin in 3 days that we would usually do through the winter (including adding all of our 2011 trips to the website) and finalising a couple of projects that we’ve been working on.

Birdwatching in our little part of southeast Northumberland has been interesting for the last few days.  We’ve got an ever-expanding flock of Coal, Great and Blue Tits, Dunnocks and Wrens are now ever present around the feeding station and a very optimistic pair of Collared Doves were mating at the top of the Apple tree earlier this morning.  Two pairs of Bullfinches are regular visitors but other finches are in short supply; there’s just a single pair of Chaffinches, we’ve only had one visit from Goldfinches in the last few days and, particularly worrying, we haven’t seen any Greenfinches around the feeders at all.  A Sparrowhawk is still regularly patrolling over Choppington Woods and a flock of 50-60 Redwings flies out from the woods each morning.

Now, after a morning of blue skies, it’s just started snowing again.

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Stormy weather

by on Nov.12, 2010, under Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

November is generally a quiet month for NEWT; the half-term rush in late October has come and gone, thoughts are turning to Christmas…and the weather can be a bit suspect.  We had a Safari Day around Druridge Bay and Southeast Northumberland at the end of last week that could have succumbed to the elements but, as it turned out, a combination of excellent birdwatching sites that could be watched from the Land Rover, clients with a real interest in natural history (and expertise in wildlife sound recording)and a badger-watching spot where the trees sheltered us from the rain, made it an enjoyable afternoon.  The flock of Waxwings in Ashington delighted yet again.  Who could fail to be impressed by them? After a spell of birdwatching that was then characterised by ‘lovely weather for ducks’ (Teal, Wigeon, Mallard, Gadwall, Goosander, Goldeneye and Pochard were all seen), and some good flocks of Lapwing, Golden Plover, Redshank and Pink-footed Goose, we headed inland to the steep, wooded hillside that has produced some excellent views of Badgers on our Safaris in recent months.  Only one Badger came wandering along – perhaps the others that we’ve watched so often this year were indulging in that particularly human pastime of curling up somewhere nice and warm out of the wind and the rain.

Since then it’s been a busy week, mainly with planning and preparation for 2011 but also giving 2 presentations about the Northeast Cetacean Project.  The first was to a group of postgrad students and lecturers at Newcastle University and then last night, to the Northumberland & Tyneside Bird Club.  Both presentations produced some interesting questions, and some potentially excellent volunteers to assist with our ongoing survey work.

Now it’s Friday morning, the howling westerly winds are bringing waves of rain and then sunshine, there’s an intense rainbow visible from our office window and a flock of Redwings are being blown about like autumn leaves.  No matter what the weather throws at us, Northumberland is still a superb county for wildlife and birdwatching; you just need to know how to enjoy it 🙂

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Kielder; birdwatching on the edge of Northumberland

by on Oct.16, 2010, under Birdwatching, Kielder, Northumberland

Thursday evening was the AGM of the Northumberland & Tyneside Bird Club, and the speaker following the AGM proceedings was our good friend Martin Davison.  Ornithologist is an often overused (and misused) word, but Martin is a real ornithologist, gathering data through hours and hours in the field and involved in several research projects.  His talk was entertaining, informative and covered much of the work he has been involved in for 30 years in Kielder and the Border Forests.  There were some stunning images in his presentation, and the sort of facts and observations that can only be determined by carrying out a prodigious amount of fieldwork.

Kielder itself is an unusual, even other-worldly, place; mile after mile of rolling hills, steep crags and boggy pools, and lots, and lots, of trees.  Our Kielder Safaris have produced some memorable moments; a pair of Mandarins mating, a Common Buzzard catching and devouring a vole, Roe Deer wandering across the remote forest tracks just ahead of our Land Rover and the ‘phantoms of the forest’, Northern Goshawk, beating their way along the edge of spruce plantations.  We’ll be back in Kielder from April, and our dates for 2011 will be on our calendar in the next couple of weeks, so give us a call on 01670 827465 to join one of our trips to this little visited area of Northumberland.

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A flying birdwatching trip to Holland

by on Oct.02, 2010, under Birdwatching, North Sea, Northumberland

On Wednesday afternoon we set off from Royal Quays, out into the North Sea, onboard the MV King of Scandinavia as guests of DFDS.  The weather forecast was for it to be wet, although we did manage a couple of hours birdwatching from the observation lounge before the driving rain obliterated the view.  Gannets were diving into the increasingly heavy swell, a stunning  Pomarine Skua arced across the bow of the ship and a single Puffin was tagging along with six Little Auks.

Arriving in IJmuiden the next morning, it was still raining 🙁  We were collected from the ferry terminal by Lin, a local guide who we had been introduced to by the ORCA wildlife officers from the ferry.  As we headed north Egyptian Geese were around the grass verges near the port, Cormorants  were perched atop most of the lampposts, Common Buzzards were on roadside fences and we saw one lingering Spoonbill.  Our destination was the reserve of Zwanenwater, where Lin is a volunteer.  As we walked through the reserve the high pitched ‘seep’ of Redwings was a constant backdrop, Song Thrushes were flushing from every patch of cover, every bush seemed to hold several Robins and a Common Redstart flicked up from the path in front of us.  We were then taken on a tour of the off-limits areas of the reserve by Fred, another of the volunteers.

Stonechats were seen along the track and there was an impressive spread of Grass of Parnassus.

Stonechat, Birdwatching

Stonechat, Zwanenwater, Noord-Holland 30/09/2010

Grass of Parnassus

Grass of Parnassus, Zwanenwater, Noord-Holland 30/09/2010

Despite the rain we managed an impressive haul of raptors; Common Buzzard, Marsh Harrier, Hen Harrier, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and Osprey were all seen well but, most impressive of all, the real highlight for both of us was the views we had of Northern Goshawk.  The birds quartering the dunes in search of rabbits and small birds came as a bit of a surprise, but not as much as the two birds that were perched on dead trees overhanging the lake.  Fred explained that they sit there and watch the ducks, before swooping down and taking them off the water.  We didn’t see that, but we did manage some distant images of one of the birds.

Northern Goshawk, birdwatching

Northern Goshawk, Zwanenwater, Noord-Holland 30/09/2010

All too soon we were on the ferry again and heading back to Northumberland, making plans to return to Holland in the spring.

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