I collected Luke and Louise from alnwick, then Alison and Neil from Kingston Park and we headed west at the start of a day searching for raptors around Kielder and the Scottish Borders…
We stopped at the southern end of Kielder Water and the ‘chip chip’ calls of Common Crossbill drew our attention to these impressive bulky finches as they passed overhead. With Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Chaffinch and Blackbird singing all around us we were soon watching Common Buzzards in every direction as Raven and Carrion Crow flew by. Then Luke spotted a large raptor circling in front of the trees…and there was a Goshawk 🙂 We watched as it soared higher and higher until it was just a tiny speck, even through binoculars, against the clouds. Kestrel and Sparrowhawk on the drive to and from Kielder added to the raptor total for the day and we crossed the border into Scotland for the afternoon.
Our picnic spot brought more raptors; first more Common Buzzards, then the shrill alarm calls of a Merlin drew our attention to a pair of displaying Peregrines as Ravens flew along the ridges above us, Wild Goats foraged amongst the scattered trees on the valley sides, and even more Buzzards rose on the stiff breeze. Out on the open moorland Luke was quick off the draw again, this time with a stunning male Hen Harrier. As he gave directions to the bird, it was clear that the rest of us were watching a second male harrier as it quartered the skyline. A flash of blue was a male Merlin racing across the fells, a Red Grouse flushed from the roadside puddle where it was having a droink as we passed, and the air seemed to be filled with Emperor Moths 🙂 A low-flying Common Buzzard passed just over the car as we headed back into Northumberland and finished the day with Common Sandpiper and a fly-by Mandarin.
Quantity on a Kielder Safari isn’t the game we play, but the day list is usually dripping with quality 🙂
Yesterday was Pete and Jan’s 9th trip with NEWT and we headed to a location that they haven’t visited with us previously…
Heading north from Embleton we soon encountered the first rain of the day, and by the time we reached the Holy Island causeway the mud and shallow water around the array of Redshank, Greenshank, Curlew, Dunlin and Bar-tailed Godwit was being battered by a fairly torrential shower. As the rain eased, everything scattered as a Peregrine flew over; a muscular menace above mudflats where Grey Seals were hauled out as the tide fell, and a dense flock of Golden Plover settled once the danger had passed. Once the rain eased, we headed across onto the island and began the entertaining game of hide-and-seek that characterises mid-October birdwatching on the coast with birds arriving from the east. Blackcap, Reed Bunting, Robin, Linnet, Stonechat and Meadow Pipit all appeared, vanished and reappeared as the air overhead was filled with calls of Lapwing, Curlew, Grey Plover and Skylark. Three Roe Deer were in a nearby field and a Firecrest put in an unobligingly fleeting appearance in one of many, many bushes that held Goldcrests. We eventually made our way to the north side of the island and joined the twitch of a very obliging Isabelline Wheatear. Every bush seemed to hold Robin and Goldcrest and, along the Straight Lonnen, Redwing, Song Thrush and Blackbird were feeding avidly and a very grey ‘eastern’ Goldcrest stood out from the more typical birds as a Ring Ouzel flew over before diving for cover in a hawthorn bush. After lunch, another bush full of ‘crests produced two Firecrests in view at the same time before we headed back across to the mainland.
Another great day out with Pete and Jan, and the weather forecast looks like it could bring even more arrivals from the east over the next few days 🙂
I collected Phil and Richard and we set out for a day birdwatching around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. The forecast suggested there was the possibility of a rain shower sometime in the early afternoon…
Eider were well-appreciated, as Golden Plover carpeted the mud at low tide, and other ducks are starting to look very smart as they moult into breeding plumage; Teal, Mallard, Gadwall, Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Shoveler and a lone Scaup. Tuesday’s Long-tailed Duck was still present, consorting with male and female Wigeon, although quickly vanished from view. Grey Herons, Little Egrets, Curlew, Redshank, Lapwing, Avocet and Black-tailed Godwit were either in the shallows or on the muddy edge, Cormorants were doing that fantastic Otter impression that they’re so good at and the bushes along the footpaths held Song Thrush, Blackbird, Goldcrest, Chaffinch, Blue Tit, Coal Tit and a vocal Ring Ouzel that expressed it’s annoyance as we walked by. The southward migration of Pink-footed Geese continued, and two each of Brent Goose and Barnacle Goose were less expected. Dunnocks were subjected to greater scrutiny than usual (with the recent arrivals of Siberian Accentors, you just never know…) and Goldcrests were watched at close range as they made their way through willows.
As for that rain shower…an almost apocalyptic 5 minutes that just happened to coincide with us walking back to the car from the Oddie Hide at Druridge Pools. Driven by a NNE wind though, I wasn’t too distressed by it 🙂
The best thing about wildife, and at the same time occasionally the most frustrating thing, is that you can’t ever predict exactly what it’s going to do…
I collected Jeff and Helen, and Kevin, from Church Point and we set off for an afternoon around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. The afternoon had an almost constant aural backdrop of Chiffchaff song, and Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Robin, Blackbird and Goldcrest all added to the springlike feel of the afternoon. Curlew, Redshank and Oystercatcher were all probing in gooey mud but with no sign of agitation to suggest that there was an Otter around. A family of Whooper Swans were a reminder that winter is only just behind us, while Swallows and Sand Martins heralded the move towards the summer. Skylark and Meadow Pipit both demonstrated that they’re more than brown and uninteresting, Marsh Harriers and Common Buzzards are likely to remain a feature of our Druridge Bay trips for a few months, a handsome Roebuck ran across the fields and vanished behind a hedge and the assembled wildfowl had got their eye on something in the reeds…Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Canada Goose and Greylag Goose were all fixated on one small area of a reedbed. Alert, nervous and barely breaking their gaze they’d obviously spotted something. What though? Whatever it was remained hidden from our sight, although it held the attention of the birds for a long time. The reedbed was probably a much better option than braving the keen northerly breeze!
Losing yourself in the landscape and the wildlife that inhabits it is sometimes just what you need…
I collected Sue from her holiday cottage in Swarland and we headed north towards Holy Island. The weather had been a mixed bag as I drove across; mist, fog, clear blue skies, sunshine, more mist, more fog. This was Sue’s third day out with NEWT, after a successful Otter Safari nearly a year ago (and an unsuccessful one in July last year). Yet again the weather played a pivotal role in the day’s proceedings, with visibility down to less than 100m at times. Holy Island was awash with Blackbirds, Chaffinches, Goldfinches and Wrens – all quite approachable as they fed in the mist – and two Chiffchaffs led us a merry dance before finally settling for a few seconds and letting us identify them.. Our lunch stop brought a very obliging Merlin within reach of our binoculars, and then right in front of our eyes and over our heads chasing a Meadow Pipit, as the disembodied voices of Curlew, Wigeon, Shelduck and Pale-bellied Brent Geese cut through the mist. A Short-eared Owl ghosted along the dunes and into the mist and, with visibility hampered to such an extent, I’d got a plan for the last few hours of the afternoon…and as seven Little Egrets dashed and darted in the shallows, we watched a young female Otter with two cubs as they fed just a few metres away from us. I love watching wildlife, whatever the weather, but the best bit of the day for me was when I dropped Sue back at Swarland and she said “that was just the day I needed”.
Thursday was Tony’s second bespoke birdwatching day with NEWT, and we were heading to Holy Island. The weather was an extraordinary contrast to the mist, murk and torrential rain of Wednesday; clear blue skies and bright warm sunshine accompanied us on the drive north…
Our first port of call on the island was the Vicar’s Garden, and we were greeted by the nasal rasping call of a Brambling. Chiffchaffs were flitting restlessly in the trees, a flycatcher settled for just a few seconds, Redwings were hopping around with Song Thrush and Blackbird on the lawn as Grey Seals moaned from the sandbars of Fenham Flats, Pale-bellied Brent Geese and Dark-bellied Brent Geese flew north, as the rising tide disturbed them, and a flock of Bar-tailed Godwit put on a synchronised flying display that would rival any Starling murmuration. A Yellow-browed Warbler eventually revealed itself, one of three we came across during the morning, and after a walk around the lepidoptera-laden lonnens (Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell, Speckled Wood, Peacock, Silver Y), including watching at least 15 Roe Deer, and a Merlin harrassing a Short-eared Owl, we returned to the car to have lunch. A quick check of my mobile revealed a message about a Radde’s Warbler at Chare Ends. Now that’s easy twitching of a rarity…just a five minute walk from where we were sitting 🙂 The warbler proved elusive though, and it took a little while to show itself and all of the features that make it identifiable. Flocks of Goldfinch and Linnet were in the stubble nearby, a Peregrine flew overhead, scattering waders and wildfowl from the mudflats, a Merlin perched obligingly on top of a Hawthorn bush in the dunes and we headed back south after 7 hours on the island.
Crisp clear winter nights for stargazing, calm conditions for our North Sea Pelagic trips and warm summer nights for Otter Safaris are all fantastic, but what really gets my heart racing is mist, drizzle and winds from the east in October…
I collected Tony from his b&b in Newbiggin for the first of three days of bespoke birdwatching, and we started just down the road at Church Point. Walking north along the clifftop we were soon watching Rock Pipits, Wheatears, Dunlin, Purple Sandpiper, Curlew, Ringed Plover, Redshank, Sanderling, Gannet, Eider and a remarkably confiding Golden Plover. I’d just suggested that we’d find a Snow Bunting ‘in the next 50 metres’ when one shuffled out from the sparse ground cover just in front of us 🙂 Staring at bushes and trees produced Blackcap, Robin, Dunnock, lots of Reed Bunting, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Ring Ouzel, three Yellow-browed Warblers, a Kestrel that was causing regular alarm, flocks of Golden Plover high overhead and an enjoyable chat with Alan.
Lunchtime brought the rain that had been forecast and the afternoon in Druridge Bay produced Little Egret, Grey Heron, Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Ring Ouzel, Redwing, flocks of Goldfinch and Linnet, a juvenile Marsh Harrier and an Otter that Tony spotted as it made it’s way along the edge of a reedbed. And the rain continued…just what I was hoping for ahead of day two for Tony; a trip to Holy Island 🙂
When we’re heading to the coast, and a generally easterly wind is accompanied by mist and drizzle, my pulse starts racing…
I collected Clare and Peter from The Swan and we headed north to collect Phil and Susan from the Lindisfarne Hotel. Holy Island can be a migrant hotspot, and the number of Song Thrushes suggested that there had been a recent arrival. Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Garden Warbler, Goldcrest, Goldfinch, Robin, Dunnock, Linnet and Blackbird were all in the Vicar’s Garden, along with Pied and Spotted Flycatchers that were so busy being intolerant of each other that they weren’t doing too much flycatching. Walking along the lonnens produced Reed Bunting, Dunnock, Meadow Pipit, Chaffinch and more Robins then we settled into position to scan the mudflats. Curlew, Redshank, Greenshank, Ruff, Dunlin, Little Egret, Oystercatcher, Grey Plover and Bar-tailed Godwit scoured the oozing mud and silvery creeks as the mournful wailing of Grey Seal carried on the breeze and Brent Geese, Wigeon and Teal shifted position as the rising tide disturbed them from the water’s edge.
In the shadow of Bamburgh Castle, as the weather deteriorated, Knot, Turnstone and Purple Sandpiper were picking their way through piles of seaweed as Eider rode effortlessly over the waves just beyond them and the heavy drizzle brought an end to our day.
Starting at Newbiggin we set out south down the coast and soon found ourselves standing on a track with nine Blackbirds ahead of us, along with Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Goldfinches, Linnets and House Sparrows. Little Grebes slept and dived as young Grey Herons stalked along the water’s edge and demonstrated just how inelegant they are in flight – and especially in landing 🙂 A lunchtime stop overlooking the North Sea produced rafts of Eider, Fulmars arcing effortlessly over the waves and a Harbour Porpoise feeding just offshore as Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Turnstone explored the shoreline. The afternoon was dominated by waders; Black-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Lapwing, Ruff, Curlew, Common Sandpiper, Dunlin. Greenshank, Oystercatchers arriving for their high-tide roost stunning in beautiful light against a dark brooding sky and Common Snipe demonstrating their exceptional camouflage in amongst clumps of rush. Stonechats flicked their tails nervously from precarious perches on barbed wire and Goldfinches, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs swarmed in rank vegetation and nearby trees.
See you at the Bird Fair next year 🙂
April is when we start to spend more time visiting our inland areas, but the coast can still deliver real quality, and quantity, at this time of the year too.
I collected Sue and Colin from Beadnell and we headed north to Holy Island. Crossing the causeway we paused to watch Eider and Red-breasted Merganser in the channel under the road. The mudflats produced Redshank, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Grey Plover and Bar-tailed Godwit, as well as a lot, and it really was a lot, of Grey Seals. Close to 2000 were hauled out and soon began their eerie moaning. Black-tailed Godwit and Teal were sleeping by the edge of the Rocket Pool, a lone Brent Goose was kept company by a herd of sheep, Meadow Pipits, Goldfinches and Skylarks were hurrying back and forth, a Redwing was foraging on the ground close to the field edge, a Sedge Warbler was singing it’s repetitive song from the reeds by the Lough as a Common Snipe put in a typically brief appearance and 12 Roe Deer were grazing near the Straight Lonnen. Then we struck gold…walking slowly along the Hawthorns, a bird flushed from beside us. The views were only brief but the white breast band, and silvery wing flashes, identified the bird as a male Ring Ouzel. We continued walking slowly along the lonnen, and the bird kept a few metres ahead of us. Then we lost track of it but stopped to watch two Blackbirds grubbing about in the undergrowth…and the ouzel called from a tree we’d already passed. We turned as it flew out of hiding…followed by another, then another, and another and finally, a fifth male Ring Ouzel 🙂
Over on the mainland we had our picnic lunch as the eerie calls of Curlew floated through the heat haze across the mudflats and Sue spotted a Weasel. It was running in and out of the vegetation so I started pishing…and it popped up and began running in our direction, sitting up on its hindlegs and staring straight at us 🙂 Eventually it got back on with whatever it was doing, and it put in repeat appearances for a few minutes. A Brown Hare gave tantalising close views before vanishing into the crops and we finished in the shadow of Bamburgh Castle with Sand Martins hawking insects over the beach, Eiders bobbing in the gentle swell, a pair of Common Scoter slightly further from the shore, more Grey Seals, plunge-diving Sandwich Terns and lines of Gannets heading, mainly, north. Not a bad range of wildlife for seven hours in mid-April 🙂