Tag: Birdwatching Northumberland

A real challenge

by on Jul.02, 2010, under Birdwatching, Natural History, Northumberland

In the 17 years that I’ve lived here, I’ve always believed that Northumberland is one of the finest counties for birdwatching in the whole of the UK.  That belief played a big part in reaching the decision to launch NEWT, and it’s why we’re such an enthusiastic member of the Birdwatching Northumberland Consortium.  We’ll be at the Bird Fair in August (Marquee 1, Stand 53/54) so come along to meet us and find out just how good Northumberland is.

This morning, though, my attention is on mammals.  We don’t do too badly for them either; Badger, Red Fox, Grey Seal, Red Squirrel, Roe Deer, Weasel, Stoat and Brown Hare all feature regularly on our safaris and, on our Northern Experience Pelagics, there’s the possibility of Minke Whale, White-beaked Dolphin, Harbour Porpoise and other cetaceans.  We’ve had some random sightings as well; a Bank Vole that sat munching on a leaf just a few feet away from us and a Mole that walked into a hide we were sitting in were both bizarre (especially the Mole; I hadn’t seen a live one for a long, long time).

With the exciting news earlier this week of the first confirmed evidence in 16 years of Pine Marten in Northumberland, we’ve got a new challenge 🙂  We’ve spent some time in the last couple of years checking likely sites and following up reports that we’ve received.  Some of those have been very tantalising, and the species may be more widespread than people imagine.  Otters and Badgers are fairly difficult, but we’ve developed an excellent track record with those two species.  Pine Marten is going to be an altogether different proposition, but we relish a challenge.

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A Rosy outlook

by on May.24, 2010, under Birdwatching, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

Saturday saw a change in our normal Safari routine, and an early afternoon start.  I collected Gareth and Ruth from the Red Lion at Alnmouth and we drove south.  The hot, sunny weather had brought out hundreds of people to Plessey Woods but we still found a peaceful, undisturbed glade where we could listen to the birds singing and we watched a female Great Spotted Woodpecker; at least we were able to watch her until she realised that we were!  Cresswell Pond produced a real avian soap opera as a Mute Swan defended his pond against two interlopers, racing across the pond like the Spanish Armada.  A Little Gull was as cute and dimunitive as ever, alongside Black-headed, Common and Herring Gulls.  Druridge Pools was hosting some obviously confused geese; amongst the expected flock of Greylags there were single Pink-footed and Barnacle Geese as well.  A late finish concluded with a beautiful, ghostly Barn Owl and at least 3 different species of bat along the River Coquet at dusk.

Sunday was a day for doing whatever we felt like.  With temperatures still soaring, a day inland, doing survey work for the BTO Bird Atlas, was considered then rejected in favour of a visit to the coast.

Sarah had the excellent idea of taking a boat trip around Coquet Island, which I was really enthusiastic about.  When myself and Tom Cadwallender from the Northumberland Coast AONB were designing the backdrop for this year’s Birdwatching Northumberland stand at the Bird Fair we chose eight species that we felt symbolised Northumberland birding; Curlew, Eider, Pale-bellied Brent Goose, Golden Plover, Black Grouse, Roseate Tern, Dipper and Puffin.  A mix of everything that’s good about birdwatching in Northumberland; inland, coastal, summer and winter.  I had images of seven of those species, but the Roseate Tern is the one that I haven’t photographed during the digital age.  Hence, my enthusiasm for a trip around Coquet Island; with 35-40 Rosies already back at their Northumberland colony I was hopeful that photo opportunities would arise.  As we sailed across to the island onboard Shokwave, there was a strengthening NNE breeze and the temperature began to decrease rapidly.  Once Dennis manouvered the boat into the jetty, we could see Roseates sitting on their nest boxes.  They were a bit distant for photography so I waited patiently until I heard the distinctive ‘choo-it’ call and a bird flew by the boat.

Britain's rarest breeding seabird

Grey Seals popped their heads above the water to look at the boat, Puffins whizzed past at breakneck speed and more Roseates were busy displaying around the boxes.

Roseate Tern

After a pleasant Sunday morning cruise it was time to return home. En route, we stopped off to check a Little Owl nest site and one of the adult birds sat staring at us from the roof of a derelict building.  Finalising the paperwork for a forthcoming project was followed by a wonderful evening sitting on our patio, drinking wine and working on part of our bonsai collection as Blackbirds were singing from our trees and Coal Tits collected food to take to the noisy, and hungry, nestlings that we could hear.  Now, that’s my idea of heaven 🙂

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A day in the Bay, Birdwatching Northumberland (part 2)

by on May.22, 2010, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland

Our second day out with the winners of last year’s Birdwatching Northumberland  competition, was a day in Druridge Bay.  It provided a real contrast with our earlier trip to the Harthope Valley.

After collecting Jean and Andy from the Bamburgh Castle Inn we headed down to Embleton to collect Helen, our third client on this trip, pausing for a few minutes to watch a very obliging Brown Hare in a field near Chatton.  As we toured our usual sites the weather was more like the caribbean than Northumberland 🙂  Tufted Ducks, Shovelers, Herons, Mute Swans, Lapwings and Coots were around the coastal pools, Sedge, Reed and Willow Warblers, Whitethroats and Reed Buntings were singing from hedgerows, sedges, reeds and willows and Fulmars were arcing gracefully along the cliffs at Cresswell.  On a woodland walk along the River Blyth we heard more than we saw (as you would expect in mid-May) with Nuthatch, Chiffchaff and Great Spotted Woodpecker all being particularly vocal.  Eventually the two days of the Birdwatching Northumberland prize were over and I returned all of our clients to their respective holiday accommodation.

The day wasn’t finished for NEWT though; as dusk approached we were out on the coast, at separate locations, checking for Otters.  I did have one brief sighting, and on the journey home we began the process of redeveloping our Otter Safaris to make them an even better experience than they already are.

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Slow, slow

by on May.20, 2010, under Birdwatching, Cheviot Valleys, Northumberland

Yesterday was the first of two days out with the winners of last year’s Birdwatching Northumberland prize draw.  After collecting Andy and Jean from the Bamburgh Castle Inn our destination was the Harthope Valley in the Cheviots.  It’s one of our favourite locations; stunning landscape, interesting geology and, of course, excellent wildlife.  As we reached the start of the valley we stopped to check on a Dipper nest, and there was one of the adults sitting on a rock in the river, so close that we didn’t need binoculars.  Further upstream we watched a pair of Grey Wagtails, eventually locating their nest in the tangled exposed roots of a riverside tree, before setting off in search of Ring Ouzels.  It wasn’t too long before we heard a singing male, but he remained stubbornly out of sight.  As we climbed higher up the valley the song seemed to be coming from somewhere else and careful scanning of the area revealed our quarry, perched on the remnants of a dry stone wall.  A pair of Red Grouse, with at least 7 chicks, were very obliging and a pair of Whinchat were flitting around in the heather.  After lunch we were treated to more Grey Wagtails, including a bird singing and displaying high overhead, and these were a real highlight of the day, a singing Dipper, Tree PipitRedstartCuckoo, a plethora of Willow Warblers and the shivering trill of a Wood Warbler.  Andy was keen to take a photograph of a Green Tiger Beetle and, eventually, one sat still for long enough to allow him to get close to it.

Green Tiger Beetle

The non-bird highlight of the day though came as we walked back to the Land Rover; a pair of Slow Worms locked in a mating embrace.  A remarkable end to an excellent day captured on camera by Andy, who kindly sent me the images to add to our blog.

This embrace can last for up to 10 hours!

That doesn't look comfortable

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What does my office look like?

by on May.08, 2010, under Birdwatching, Lindisfarne, Northumberland

Occasionally I find myself pondering that question.  On Wednesday I left home early to drive to Seahouses and collect Carolyn and Brian, two clients who we first met last year.  As we headed up the coast through Bamburgh and towards the Lindisfarne NNR for a day of birdwatching, we stopped at each promising area.  Before we reached Holy Island itself we’d already had excellent views of 4 Harbour Porpoises, good views of three Whimbrel (alongside a Curlew for comparison) and a Brown Hare as well as the growing numbers of House Martins and Swifts.  A Sedge Warbler perched helpfully on top of a stunted Hawthorn as he belted out his song, a Whitethroat was elusive before eventually showing off the bright white throat feathers that give it it’s name and a Wheatear hopped along a drystone wall.  On the island we watched a Heron as it preened whilst hidden in a reed bed, listened to another Sedge Warbler and tried to locate a calling Water Rail.  Skylarks and pipits were unobtrusive in a sheep field that also contained at least 6 Wheatears and, once we’d left the island we watched over 1000 Grey Seals as they relaxed in the bright sunshine.

After dropping Carolyn and Brian back in Seahouses, I headed home, packed my bag and drove down the A1, out of Northumberland, to my sister’s house.  04:30 Thursday morning and I was on the road again, this time travelling to King’s Lynn.  Two days of being a student were relaxing and enjoyable, studying the acoustic signals used by cetaceans being my own personal highlight, before the north beckoned.  Finally, just before 10pm yesterday, I arrived back at home, headed to the ‘beer fridge’, sat down to a delicious Chinese meal with Sarah and then collapsed into bed.  With tomorrows “Beginners Birdwatching; Songs and Calls” being close to home we don’t have a really early start so this afternoon is a chance (something that’s going to happen less and less over the next few months) to catch up with e-mails, ‘phone calls and product planning/development.  It’s the great paradox of running your own business; many people choose that option in order to have more free time…but if your business is successful there’s a period, certainly during rapid growth/expansion, when 9 to 5 doesn’t look so bad after all.  Would I go back to that? What do you think? 😉

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The dawning of the “season”

by on May.05, 2010, under Birdwatching, Farne Islands, Lee Moor Farm, Lindisfarne, Northumberland

After a cold, wet day surveying one of our inland tetrads for the Bird Atlas, we had a very early start on Sunday for our Dawn Chorus walk at Lee Moor Farm.  Ian was, as always, an entertaining host for the event and we walked around the farm, enjoying the songs of Willow Warbler, Song Thrush and Sedge Warbler, excellent views of Brown Hare and Roe Deer and then a delicious breakfast.  Our next event at Lee Moor is a bat walk, moth trapping demonstration and BBQ on Saturday May 15th.

Monday saw us out on Atlas work again, this time much closer to home as we are covering the tetrads that are immediately north and south of our house.  The highlight was a reeling Grasshopper Warbler, and the closest Tree Sparrows to home that we’ve found so far.

Yesterday was our first Farne Islands Safari of the year.  With excellent views of Sandwich, Common and Arctic terns, Eiders, Guillemots, Razorbills, Puffins, Shags, Gannets, a very obliging Wheatear and Grey Seals it was everything we would expect the Farnes to be.  There’s a good reason that the islands will be the venue for days out with 3 of our photography clients over the next few weeks.

Now, it’s Wednesday morning and I’m just packing the Landy ready for a migrant hunt on Lindisfarne with 2 of our returning clients.  Wish us luck 🙂

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A forest foray

by on Apr.09, 2010, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Kielder

After a Druridge mini-safari on Tuesday, which included a visit to the Common Crane near Eshott, yesterday was something completely different with a Kielder Safari.

After collecting Ruth and Diana from Stannington we took the scenic route up through Knowesgate to Bellingham, in the wilds of west Northumberland.  That’s the point where we deviate from the public roads and follow a track that’s off-limits to the public.  Along the way we saw a few Buzzards, but a superb male Goshawk, and an incredibly skittish Red Fox, were the highlights of the drive through the forest.  Around the reservoir there were Crossbills and Siskins everywhere.  Lunch just over the border in Scotland was followed by more birdwatching and the spectacle of a Common Buzzard catching, dismembering and consuming a vole.  With lots of other buzzards up in the air whenever the sun came out, there was plenty to see.  A stunning drake Mandarin brought a splash of garish colour to the afternoon and a long-distance ‘scope view of last year’s Osprey nest revealed a small white blob – probably the head of one of the pair that have returned to the site.  As we headed back towards civilisation a large flock of Fieldfares and Redwings near Bellingham was a reminder that the winter is only just behind us.

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All change

by on Mar.02, 2010, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland

Over the last few days there has been a distinct change; now, when I open our patio door, I can hear Song Thrush, Greenfinch, Chaffinch and Robin all singing.  Last Saturday, even in the bitter cold and howling gale that was battering the Northumberland coast, our Druridge Bay Safari was enriched with birdsong.

Opportunities to get out and really take it all in have been limited.  I spent two full days last week getting my Outdoor First Aid certification.  While I was still teaching I had some First Aid training, but that was a picnic compared to an intensive two days where the trainers spend most of their time during casualty scenarios doing everything they can to get inside your head and see how you perform with your stress levels heading heavenwards.  It was curiously enjoyable though, and of course my wish is that I don’t need to put any of it into practice before I’m due to renew my certification in three years time.

Another project which has kept me in the house has been choosing and processing the images that will grace the Birdwatching Northumberland stand at the British Bird Fair.  Finally we selected seven images of species that typify Northumberland birdwatching; inland, coastal and covering different times of the year.  And the species we chose?  Well, you’ll just have to come along and see us at Rutland Water between 20th and 22nd August.

Now it’s another stunning Northumberland morning; clear blue skies, a gentle breeze, cold enough to freeze the wotsits off a brass monkey…and I’m heading out for a day of birdwatching with clients.

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A swell weekend for a survey or two…or three

by on Feb.22, 2010, under Birdwatching, Harwood, Photography, Surveys

Saturday was planned as the next survey day for NEWT/Marinelife…and then in the early hours of Saturday morning the sea began to turn ‘a bit lumpy’ (c)Allan Skinner.  With over 3m of swell smashing it’s way through the harbour mouth at Amble there was no chance of getting the boat out.

With all three NEWT guides having the day together we headed inland to finish our BTO Winter Atlas timed tetrad visits in Harwood.  Ironically, given the wintry weather on the coast, there was less snow than on our last visit.  Birds were few and far between and, after what turned out to be a strenuous 4 miles over rough ground, as we headed back towards home the late afternoon light looked just about perfect for a visit to Nursery Park to photograph the Waxwings.  The light was as good as we could have wished for and the 20 or so birds that were still present were much more obliging than they had been in previous days.

Waxwings stacked on top of each other

Waxwings stacked on top of each other

Do you think I can swallow this in one?

Do you think I can swallow this in one?

Bohemian Waxwing, Ashington, Northumberland 20/02/2010

Bohemian Waxwing, Ashington, Northumberland 20/02/2010

Bohemian Waxwing, Ashington, Northumberland 20/02/2010

Bohemian Waxwing, Ashington, Northumberland 20/02/2010

On Sunday we separated out to do different surveys; Sarah covered the WeBS count stretch from Cresswell-East Chevington and back (taking her total distance walked over the weekend to nearly 12 miles) and Martin and Andy set out from Amble along with Tim Sexton, on calmer seas, to start surveying the Farne Deeps.  Remarkably, all three surveyors on this trip used to live within 100m of each other in the late 90’s, on Percy Park in Tynemouth.  Tim was on the famous Wilson’s Petrel pelagic back in 2002, and Andy only missed that one as he was delayed while heading back from Mull.  The journey out to the deeps was unremarkable, other than for the number of Gannets that we found, and a lone Common Seal was an interesting find.  Fulmar and Guillemot were also seen throughout most of the survey, and a small number of Puffins were around as well.  As we headed east on the first transect we could see some very dark clouds massing to the south.  By the time we’d completed the 13 mile run and turned to follow the next transect west the clouds had caught up with us.  Sea state 5 in a near white-out was one hell of an experience, but we continued to keep our attention on the sea, still surveying in the hope that the weather would soon pass by.  It did, and we completed that transect before heading north and then east along the next survey line.  Ten miles along the transect we were hit by another winter storm, this time coming from the east.  With the turning tide making our skipper’s task increasingly difficult, we made a note of the position we’d reached and headed back to the warmth and comfort of the shore.  Two days, three NEWT guides, four surveyors.

Now I’ve got a couple of days of office stuff to catch up on; press trip proposals to write, images to process for articles I’ve written and we’re already well into planning for the Birdwatching Northumberland stand at the British Bird Fair.  I reckon I’ll be able to fit in some time for photography though 🙂

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Since I last blogged…

by on Aug.26, 2008, under Birdwatching

We’ve spent three tiring but very enjoyable days working on the Birdwatching Northumberland stand at the British Birdwatching Fair (highlights were a talk by Jari Peltomaki about owls in Finland, and ‘An Audience with Simon King’ was very entertaining as well) where we spoke to an awful lot of people who are interested in birdwatching tours and wildlife watching holidays in Northumberland.

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