After some wild weather the blue skies and fluffy white clouds, as I set off for a day searching for Otters around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland with Jo, Pat, Rachel and Dave, came as a welcome sight…
Now that we’re in the late winter, wildfowl are looking at their finest and are starting to display with an impressive level of determination. Red-breasted Merganser were strutting their stuff in their engagingly comical bowing display, Goldeneye were delivering their similar, though slightly less elaborate dance and Tufted Duck, Mallard, Wigeon, Scaup, Teal and Pochard were all clad in spring finery, but the long-staying Pacific Diver remains alone. A pair of Common Buzzards were soaring against the clouds at a site where I’ve never encountered them breeding previously. Huge clouds of Pink-footed Geese were replaced by an impressive Starling murmuration as dusk approached, and Common Snipe were uncharactersitically obliging as they fed away from cover amongst Redshank, Lapwing, Curlew and Black-tailed Godwit. On a good day for mammal-watching we saw at least 2, possibly 3, maybe even 5, Red Squirrels and 3 Roe Deer.
With light levels dropping rapidly we had brief sightings of 2 Bitterns, as Water Rail squealed from deep in the reeds, and we were on the verge of admitting defeat to the Otters when Rachel said “what’s that in front of us?”. I turned to look, and the first thing I noticed were the Mallards quickening their pace…as they headed away from the Otter that Rachel had spotted on the bank right in front of us 🙂 We watched it for 10mins, until it was too dark to see it as it twisted and turned in the water, before heading back to Newbiggin.
In glorious sunshine I arrived in Longframlington to collect Lisa and Lucy ahead of a day searching for Otters, Red Squirrels and Kingfishers around Druridge Bay and the Northumberland coast. I was greeted by Ridley, Lisa’s cockerpoo, and it was quickly decided that he would be joining us on the trip 🙂
Our first Otter site had an obvious area of water that the Mallard, Teal, Gadwall, Tufted Duck and Little Grebe were all avoiding, and Greylag Geese left in a bit of a hurry, but no sign of the sinuous predator we were searching for. A change to our usual picnic spot brought a brief glimpse of a female Merlin as she chased Lapwing and Wigeon, and then a Bittern flew between reedbeds. Red Squirrels were next on our planned route for the day and I had 20mins dog-sitting while Lisa and Lucy checked the edge of the trees that I suggested. Sure enough, they returned with photographs of Red Squirrel and we were on our way to the next Otter site 🙂 Through binoculars I could see dark shapes twisting and turning at the water’s surface and, with the additional magnification of our telescope, those shapes resolved into two Otter cubs in a play-fight 🙂 We went along to where they were, but by that time they were out of the water and running around on boulders and through the dense undergrowth before quickly vanishing.
We headed to our final Otter site to finish the day, and the weather was starting to deteriorate. As the breeze whistled in our ears, the temperature dropped so our breath was condensing into lingering clouds, a cold damp mist took hold over the water and Red-breasted Merganser and Goldeneye were displaying, Starling arrived to roost, foregoing the elegant ballet of the murmuration in favour of quickly finding shelter, the eerie cries of Curlew echoed across the pool and Lapwing formed a tight panicked flock as a Sparrowhawk flew low over the reeds, a Bittern flew by in the gloom and Little Grebe scattered as an Otter swam across in front of us, tucked in to the reed edge and sheltered from the breeze 🙂
Yesterday afternoon brought quite different conditions to Tuesday evening; still cold and windy, but the clear skies had been replaced by gloomy cloud as I collected Charlotte, Ali, Ben and Thomas from Newbiggin for their second NEWT trip in two days.
In difficult light, and occasional rain, we didn’t manage to find an Otter, but there was a wealth of birdlife to enjoy; a Cormorant was drying it’s wings as Little Grebe, Shoveler, Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Moorhen and Mute Swan fed nearby, flushed briefly by a Sparrowhawk that landed on a small rock in the water before heading off to menace something else. As dusk approached, although it was hard to discern any difference from mid-afternoon, Starlings began a murmuration, Greylag and Pink-footed Geese arrived noisily to roost, Whooper Swans were whooping loudly and there was the ‘is it a heron, is it an owl?’ moment as a Bittern flew lazily from the reeds, passing by us on it’s way to another reedbed 🙂
The cold wind that had developed during Monday was still whipping across the Northumberland coast as I collected Sara from Church Point for an afternoon birdwatching around Druridge Bay. Newbiggin Bay was an impressive mass of rolling swell and white water as we headed along the coast.
Damp, cold and misty were the conditions for the afternoon, but there were plenty of birds to hold our attention. with Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Dunlin, Lapwing, Curlew Sandpiper and Golden Plover still around from the day before it was good to find another wader species; a small flock of Dunlin flying by caught my eye, not so much because they were Dunlin, but because there were two smaller birds flying with them. Small enough to only be stints of some description, they resolved through the telescope into Little Stints and, as Sara watched them through the ‘scope, I sent a text to Ipin, so that he could get them on his patch list for the year…and he repaid me by describing me as Scotland Gate’s second best wildlife tour leader 🙂
In the increasing murk we headed to East Chevington and had two Bramblings flying overhead and calling. A reported Corncrake didn’t show itself, but there was an odd call, that I’ve never heard before, coming from a patch of rank grass just a few metres away from us…
Probably the bird of the afternoon was an unexpected surprise; as Sara watched the assembled waders through the ‘scope, and skeins of Pink-footed Geese lifted from nearby fields with calls rising to a crescendo as they approached the pool, I was scanning around the water’s edge…and a Bittern walked out of the reeds and into full view 🙂 For a few minutes we were treated to excellent views of this strange skulking heron. It seemed to be confused as to where it was in relation to the reeds as it suddenly stood upright and stretched it’s head and neck skyward in the classic ‘bitterning’ pose. When it finally took flight, it was mobbed by a flock of Lapwings before dropping out of sight into a reedbed…where it was soon joined by the members of a Starling murmuration 🙂
Whenever we have a trip with clients who have been given gift vouchers, I always wonder what they expect. Some will have chosen gift vouchers when asked what they would like, some will have been given them by our existing clients, and for some it must be a complete mystery tour. When we get an enquiry we always try to determine exactly what our clients want, but at the start of a trip I’ll always enquire “is there anything you’re particularly keen to see while you’re in Northumberland?” Then, the pressure is on to try and deliver that experience…
I collected Patrick and Bronwyn from Amble yesterday morning for a day of birdwatching around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. As we set off it was a beautiful morning; sunny, calm and dry and I soon determined that one bird they would love to see was Bittern – they’ve visited sites where Bitterns breed and Bitterns overwinter but not, so far, anywhere where the aforementioned birds were obliging enough to come into view for them. An hour into the trip and it was already windy, bitterly cold and spotting with rain but the birding was good. 2 Bewick’s Swans in a roadside field were very obliging, nibbling on the vegetation as we studied them, 12 Goosanders sailed majestically across a lake, Patrick’s sharp eyes picked out an immaculate male Sparrowhawk on a fence post and the air was filled with skeins of geese (Canada, Greylag, Pink-footed, White-fronted and Bean), a Skylark battled into the wind and Wigeon, Teal, Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Pochard, Mallard and Great-crested Grebe were picked out from the flock on the water.
A brief visit to Newbiggin to track down a Mediterranean Gull (or four) was followed by lunch overlooking the North Sea. Heading up through the bay, Red-breasted Mergansers were displaying and a Short-eared Owl (the first of three for the afternoon) perched on a roadside fence-post. Reedbeds were illuminated by that beautiful winter afternoon light (I wax lyrical about it frequently, but it really is a breathtaking backdrop to the wildlife and part of the experience). As the afternoon light began to fade, Venus appeared overhead, a herd of Whooper Swans trumpeted their arrival for the evening roost and a Grey Heron shot out of one reedbed, flew across in front of us, landed just out of sight and flushed a Bittern that flew almost the reverse of the route taken by the heron, along the near edge of the pool directly in front of us and dropped into a reedbed and out of sight! Wildlife may be unpredictable, but those days when it seems to perform to order leave me, and our clients, with a big grin 🙂 After that what more was there to do than spend the evening relaxing back at home with a glass of good red wine. Cheers 🙂
Last week was our Winter Wonderland birdwatching holiday, although as I arrived at Saughy Rigg I wondered if Windy Wonderland would be a better name for it 😉
The original itinerary involved the Solway coast on Tuesday and the North Pennines on Wednesday, but a quick discussion with our guests on arrival meant that our coastal day was switched to Northumberland to avoid the poor weather in the west.
The plan worked well, at least until mid-afternoon when the weather caught up with us and we had a couple of hours of dodging the showers. The waders and wildfowl that winter here featured throughout the day and Greylag, Pink-footed, Pale-bellied Brent, Barnacle and Eurasian White-fronted Geese were all enjoying the mild weather on the Northumberland coast. 3 splendid drake Goosanders were blown across Druridge Pools before battling their way back against the wind, and a Roe Deer was grazing in the gap between 2 reed beds. As so often seems to happen, some of the best wildlife of the day saved its appearance until the light began to fade. First a Short-eared Owl, with a strikingly white face, quartering backwards and forwards along the margins of a field, then 2 Water Rails, those small, secretive denizens of the reeds, stepped gingerly into view; prodding and poking and squealing like piglets as they vanished back into the gloom. Then, as flocks of geese descended to roost, a Bittern flew from the reeds and headed south.
Wednesday brought another breezy morning, and we headed into the hills. Remarkable numbers of Red Grouse chuckled at us as we watched from the comfort of the car, and 7 Black Grouse were the first of no less than 75 that we found during the day. The weather closed in all around us and, after a quick check of a lough wher Teal, Wigeon and Lapwing were roosting and Goldeneye were feeding, we finished the day at one of our favourite evening venues. An unidentified raptor flew low across the heather moorland and out of sight over a ridge, Red Grouse burst from cover before settling again a short distance away and a lone Short-eared Owl battled into a brutal headwind as the evening faded to darkness.
Winter Wonderland is one (in fact, two) of the holidays on our itinerary for 2012, so give us a call on 01670 827465 for more details or to book your place.
Clients often comment that what really appeals to them about birdwatching is that every day is different and there’s always something new to learn. I couldn’t agree more; I have lots of days out with clients, and a lot of time in the field on ‘non-client’ days, and still feel enthusiastic every morning when I wake up, knowing that I don’t know what the day will bring.
Thursday was Peter and Alison’s second day out with us, and this time we were birdwatching around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.
The weather forecast had shown the edge of the rain staying south of Newcastle all day, so that should have been alright…
As it turned out, we had rain for a good chunk of the day, but the birdwatching was still excellent. From Black-headed Gulls, and a lesson on moult and ageing, Mediterranean Gulls scavenging in the Church Point car park, 4 Short-eared Owls and a Hen Harrier quartering the ash lagoon bank, a Sparrowhawk hunting as a group of Starlings came swirling in to roost, a tiny Goldcrest flitting about in a windswept Willow, a skittish Water Rail apparently struggling to summon the courage to run across the gap between reedbeds, a thousand Pink-footed Geese flying in at dusk, 300 Barnacle Geese taking to the air together, all the way to the finale of the trip as a Bittern flew between the north and south pools at East Chevington as dark descended, it was another day of outstanding experiences.
And tomorrow…is another day 🙂
Friday was our fourth Druridge Bay/southeast Northumberland safari of the week, and it was a real pleasure to meet up with Lawrie and Linda, 2 of our returning clients from last year.
We started with a specific request; Brown Hare. In the strong wind, persistent drizzle and biting cold they were keeping their heads down…all except for one which raised it’s ears, and then it’s head, above the stubble before demonstrating a remarkable vanishing act.
In Newbiggin Bay, with a big menacing sea breaking in the background, a flock of Pale-bellied Brent Geese flew north as we watched the Turnstones, Ringed Plover, Redshanks and Sanderling on the edge of the surf.
Fields of Curlew, and fighting cock Pheasants, provided additional entertainment as we drove down the coast. I’d decided on East Chevington as our final destination of the trip and, as we arrived and began walking down to the North Pool, it looked as though the weather might get the better of us. The wind was strengthening and the first few drops of rain began to fall as a juvenile Merlin raced across the fenceline in front of us looking, in the fading light, like an oversized hirundine. The evening roost on the pool was building and hundreds of Great Black-backed, Lesser Black-backed, Herring, Black-headed and Common Gulls were sitting in the shallow water with Sandwich Terns, Lapwings, Knot, Teal, Mallard, Wigeon, Shoveler, Coot, Moorhen and Canada and Greylag Geese. Then Pink-footed Geese and more Greylag Geese began arriving, and the 4 Snow Geese that we saw last Sunday flew in to join the throng. A wave of panic spread through the roost, and many of the birds lifted into the air as a Bittern flew from one reedbed to another. Eventually, even the silhouettes began to merge into the darkness and the birds began to settle as we left the hide and braved the driving rain. With the footpaths and roads now covered in puddles the walk to the car, and the drive back to Alnwick, featured lots of Common Frogs and Common Toads, as well as a Tawny Owl that was perched on a fence post next to a line of trees.
It was a great experience to enjoy some pretty awful weather, and some superb wildlife, with Lawrie and Linda. I’ll never get fed up with what we do, and the weather is all a par tof the tapestry of that.
Thanks for the chocolates 🙂
Today dawned bright and clear; very cold but just the sort of day to spend birdwatching in southeast Northumberland. After a breakfast of porridge I was warmed through and ready for the day ahead. I collected Keith and Chris from Morpeth and took them on what appeared to be a magical mystery tour as we searched for Little Owls and Waxwings before reaching the coast at Newbiggin. 20 minutes later we were on our way towards Druridge Bay, with two clients who now had the knowledge of how to identify Mediterranean Gulls, and had put this into practice on at least two birds.
Wildfowl are still the major attraction in the bay, and the bright sunlight really showed Teal, Wigeon, Goldeneye, Shelduck, Gadwall, Red-breasted Merganser and even the humble Mallard in their best light. Big flocks of Pink-footed and Greylag Geese featured throughout the day and binocular-filling views of Skylarks and Twite went down very well. A Little Owl watched us intently from high in a tree and a Common Buzzard was soaring over East Chevington. Eventually we located a big flock of Pink-footed Geese on the ground and we searched through them for Bean Geese. No luck, but just as we turned our attention to a flock of Greylags, Keith spotted a white blur and we watched the tail of a Stoat vanishing into some long grass. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, so I started squeaking and kept going for a couple of minutes until the ermine predator came to see what was in distress. It showed incredibly well, first poking its nose through the grass before reappearing behind a fence and fixing us with a Little Owl-esque stare. As it slipped out of sight again I looked up…and there was a Bittern overhead. Another stunning end to another stunning day 🙂
Yesterday I led our first Safari Day of this week, to Lindisfarne and the North Northumberland coast. Although I really enjoy trips where the main quarry is Red Squirrel/Badger/Otter/Fox/Roe Deer my lifelong love affair has been with birdwatching. Northumberland is a top-quality destination for a winter birdwatching trip; just ask any of the writers/photographers who we’ve taken to the wilds of our home county during the cold(er) bits of the year.
Yesterday was one of those days where you couldn’t wish for better conditions; clear blue sky, warm sunshine (although with sub-zero air temperatures for much of the day), no rain and only a very gentle breeze. I collected Phil and Barbara from their holiday cottage near Guyzance and we followed the coast all the way to Lindisfarne. Small groups of Pale-bellied Brent Geese beside the causeway were a novelty for birdwatchers from the southeast, who are used to seeing Dark-bellied Brents during the winter, and they commented immediately about just how black-and-white the Svalbard birds look. Scanning the fields on the island we located a flock of ~800 Pale-bellied Brents, with a few Dark-bellied mixed in, allowing a direct comparison of the two. The field was also shared by 200+ Curlew and smaller numbers of Redshank, Lapwing and Golden Plover. Panic among a group of Starlings was traced to a 1st-Winter Merlin that helpfully perched on a post at the back of the Rocket Field. It’s amazing how quickly time passes and after 2 hours we headed back towards the mainland among the general exodus that occurs as the end of safe-crossing approaches. Another Merlin beside the causeway allowed even closer views so we stopped for a few more minutes of appreciation of this small predator.
Our picnic spot, overlooking the mudflats between Holy Island and the mainland, provided excellent views of flocks of Lapwing and Golden Plover in the air as well as lots of Shelduck, Eider, Pintail and more PB Brents. We enjoyed all of these in the company of Tom Cadwallender, Natural and Cultural Heritage Officer for the Northumberland Coast AONB, who was supposed to be meeting a camera crew from Inside Out. When we left Tom, they were already 20mins late…
Continuing down the coast, a very obliging Common Buzzard pranced around a field, presumably looking for worms. The Skate Road held well over 1000 Common Scoter, 90+ Purple Sandpipers were huddled on the rocks as the incoming tide washed against their feet and a careful scan produced a few pairs of Long-tailed Ducks (Barbara’s 2nd lifer in a matter of minutes). Red-throated and Great Northern Divers were, well diving mainly, and Slavonian Grebes were bobbing about just beyond the surf.
Our final destination for the day was Newton, and the decision to detour from the coast route down the dead-end road to Low Newton proved to be an inspired one. As dusk approached the assembled ducks on the pool (Teal, Goldeneye, Mallard, Gadwall) all provided entertainment as they called to each other. Then, just a few feet in front of us, a Long-eared Owl silently hunting. We all held our breath as it approached and then it veered away as silently as it had arrived. The walk back to the Landy was to provide probably the best bird of the day, and one of those Northumberland birdwatching moments that was quite simply sublime; against an increasingly starry sky and crescent moon, with an impressive amount of Earthshine, a Bittern flew low over our heads and out over the bay.