Tag: Blackbird

London buses; Bespoke Red Squirrel Safari 25/06/19

by on Jun.26, 2019, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

Yesterday was one of those days with a very specific target, this time one of our favourite mammals, and a real Northumberland specialty, Red Squirrel

I collected Lynne and Rob from Lowick and we headed down the Northumberland coast towards Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. I’d got an itinerary in mind, based around good wildlife locations that have squirrel feeders. Plan A was the site where I was sure we’d find squirrels but they weren’t showing so we headed off to Plan B. We’ve been stocking feeders there and Sarah had replenished them all on Monday evening…and every scrap of food had gone by the time we arrived there on Tuesday morning! The extraordinary number of Jays flying around, as Goldcrests sang from dense dark conifer plantations and Bullfinches called from pathside hedgerows, may have been a clue to where all the food had gone and the only squirrel we saw was a Grey Squirrel. Plan C was a site we haven’t visited for a couple of years, and the well-stocked squirrel feeders there were a very positive sign, but Great Tits, Coal Tits, Chaffinches and a Magpie were the only visitors to the feeding station while we were there. Plan D is a site that has produced some memorable squirrel experiences for our clients over the years, but it’s also a site that is periodically overrun by Grey Squirrels and the unstocked squirrel feeders left me less than optimistic, although a small flock of Bullfinches added a touch of colour in the increasing gloom as the first raindrops began to fall.

Finally to Plan E…which was a reprise of Plan A. No sign of any squirrels but it’s always good to catch-up with Anthony – and in the 30s I looked away from the feeders to tell him where we’d been during the day…one popped up on top of a feeder! It’s always a relief to get a target species safely observed then, as Lynne used her ‘phone to photograph the squirrel through the eyepiece of our telescope a second one appeared and they disputed the right to be on the feeder. Then a third Red Squirrel appeared above the feeder as the second one launched a sneaky attack from below and the squirrel occupying the feeder was knocked clean out of the tree. Like London buses, you wait ages and then three come along together 🙂

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Gloom; Druridge Bay mini-Safari 23/06/19

by on Jun.24, 2019, under Druridge Bay

The NEWT team had been out for a walk yesterday afternoon, in bright, hot sunshine but by the time I arrived in Newbiggin to collect Gordon, Judy and Mike, for an evening exploring Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland, it was a few degrees cooler and no longer sunny…

We started with a riverside walk and with Song Thrushes singing from the trees around us, and Great Spotted Woodpeckers posing obligingly for a minute or so as Mallard ducklings skittered across the water, our attention was drawn to a commotion in the trees on the opposite side of the river. Jays, Magpies and Blackbirds were all hopping around the branches and alarm-calling although we couldn’t see the source of their annoyance.

With the gloom getting gloomier we watched Avocets preening and feeding, a Grey Heron stalking patiently in shallow water, Lapwings, Curlews and Black-headed Gulls, with a 1st summer Mediterranean Gull, roosting as Reed and Sedge Warblers flitted in and out of cover, Reed Buntings sang their simple songs from the reed tops and a Barn Owl ghosted along the water’s edge before settling on a fence post.

A Kestrel hanging almost motionless above the cliff top indicated that the direction of the wind that was starting to bring the first drops of rain was north easterly as Mute Swans fed in an impressive group, Great Crested Grebes still managed to radiate elegance in the enveloping gloom of dusk and the staccato laughing cries of Little Grebes echoed across the water as we headed back to the car and down the coast to Newbiggin.

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Calm; Otter Safari 30/04/19

by on May.01, 2019, under Druridge Bay

Arriving in Newbiggin to collect Marilyn, Lesley, Penny, Dave and Trai ahead of an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland the first thing that struck me was just how calm the sea was, and how the mist hanging over it left water and sky linked by an invisible horizon…

We started with a riverside walk, accompanied by the songs of Chaffinch, Blackbird, Blackcap and Chiffchaff as a Grey Wagtail sallied from mid-stream rocks in pursuit of flying insects, a Jay showed briefly as it flew from one tree to the next and a Grey Heron flew adeptly between branches overhanging the water. Along a wider stretch of river, Shelduck, Gadwall and Mallard were up-ending, a Cormorant was perched on a dead tree mid-river and a Whitethroat was song-flighting as the crunchy aggressive warble of a Blackcap came from deep cover.

Our picnic spot overlooking the North Sea brought Fulmars soaring effortlessly along the clifftop, a Tree Sparrow calling as it passed overhead and a Grey Seal just offshore.

Avocets were feeding, sleeping and squabbling as Dunlin probed the mud in the shallows, a Lapwing ran across the mud in short bursts, Black-headed Gulls engaged in some very noisy display and posturing, Carrion Crows pursued a female Marsh Harrier and a Bar-tailed Godwit slept through it all.

With the approach of dusk a female Marsh Harrier was heading to roost as Mallard, Gadwall, Tufted Duck and Teal remained calm and unflustered on the water below, a Canada Goose lifted its head above the vegetation surrounding its nest and the incessant reeling of a Grasshopper Warbler contrasted with the scattergun song of a Sedge Warbler as sunset, and then dusk were just a darker shade of grey than mid-afternoon.

As much as watching wildlife I really enjoy spending time with our clients, and with a range of topics discussed that included Natural England’s general licence controversy, open-casting, wind farms and the good, bad and ugly of wildlife photography the afternoon passed just too quickly 🙂

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Waiting on the weather ;-) Druridge Bay Safari 26/04/19

by on Apr.27, 2019, under Druridge Bay

As I arrived in Newbiggin to collect Sue, Nick, Mandy and Ian for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland the sea was looking much calmer than it had done on Wednesday, but the sky was ominous and the forecast more so…

We started with a couple of riverside walks through woodland dripping with bird song. As Blackbirds and a Mistle Thrush fed in open grassland and Chiffchaff, Song Thrush, Chaffinch, Goldcrest and Robin sang from exposed, and not-so-exposed, perches, Grey Wagtails were flycatching from rocks in the fast flowing water and a pair of Dippers were taking food to their nest. Cormorants were perched on dead trees mid-river, Canada Geese were fighting and calling, Gadwall were dabbling serenely and a Grey Heron stalked patiently along the water’s edge in the shadow of the trees as the forecast weather seemed to have arrived, with cold rain driven on a southerly breeze making viewing a challenge.

The rain soon eased though and on the coast Mandy spotted a Barn Owl perched on a fence post, sheltered from the wind. It left it’s perch and was soon offering very obliging views as it quartered and hovered over rough grassland as a Meadow Pipit perched on a wall nearby and a handsome male Wheatear hopped along the track ahead of us. Avocets, Lapwings, Oystercatchers, Redshanks and a lone Curlew were standing in the shallows as Bar-tailed Godwits probed incessantly in the mud while wading belly deep in the wind-ruffled water and three Grey Herons did that very heron thing of flying around after each other rather than just accepting that there’s plenty of space for everyone to hunt in.

After an afternoon of what seemed like permanent dusk, light levels did start to dip towards darkness as a female Marsh Harrier quartered a roadside field, a Sparrowhawk hedge-hopped over the road in front of us, Pheasants and a Red-legged Partridge took their chances crossing the road, a Brown Hare loped away along tractor tracks through deep cover, a Roe Deer raced backwards and forwards through long grass and Coot, Moorhen, Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Teal, Mallard, Pochard, Great Crested and Little Grebe and Mute Swan were all on the water as the squealing of a Water Rail cut through the gloom before we headed back towards civilisation 🙂

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Misty, murky :-) Druridge Bay Safari 24/04/19

by on Apr.25, 2019, under Druridge Bay

As I collected Patrick and Susan from Newbiggin for an afternoon and evening exploring NEWT’s local patch, Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland, there were some impressive waves breaking in the bay…

A flock of Black-headed Gulls were pestering a Grey Heron that flew off, voicing its disapproval, and then they turned their attentions to a female Red-breasted Merganser who had to surface and dive in quick succession to avoid their attentions as a Curlew probed the mud along the water’s edge, Cormorants sat sentinel-like on dead trees mid-river and a handsome Grey Wagtail had taken an unusual perch on a folding chair 😉 Robin, Chaffinch, Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Blackbird were all singing and a song-flighting Whitethroat settled in a spot where we could see him through the branches as a charm of Goldfinches landed in a small tree nearby.

For the last year we’ve had a really nice Dipper nest site that can be watched without disturbance and a Dipper with a beakful of food soon appeared and flew up to the nest. It returned to a mid-stream rock and spent a little while preening before sticking it’s head into the water and looking around for food. A second bird brought food to the nest and then the first bird was remarkably obliging and fed underwater almost directly below us so we could see it as it darted around and probed in the river bed as Great Spotted Woodpeckers and Long-tailed Tits called nearby and the trilling of a Nuthatch cut through the trees around some open grass where two Song Thrushes were gathering food.

Our picnic spot overlooking the huge crashing waves of the North Sea produced lines of Gannets offshore, Eider riding the swell just beyond the breaking surf and a Kestrel hovering on the wind nearby and demonstrating it’s scanning technique very obligingly.

Dusk came sooner than expected in increasingly heavy mist and as a flock of Oystercatchers, Lapwing, Redshank, Avocet and Curlew repeatedly flushed, Grey Herons disputed feeding spots and Water Rails squealed from the reeds the hectic warbling of Sedge Warblers and the reeling of Grasshopper Warblers cut through the gloom as we headed back to the car.

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A walk in the woods 01/11/18

by on Nov.02, 2018, under Choppington Woods

It’s been a difficult couple of weeks in the NEWT household.  We’d had a week away in and around Glencoe checking locations for a landscape photography holiday I’m leading over Christmas, then a couple of days after we got back home I wasn’t feeling well.  Sarah took me to see our GP and they sent me straight to the excellent Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital in Cramlington.  Four days later I was discharged, limited to a liquid-only diet and with surgery scheduled for early January.  Luckily I’m well enough to work, as we’ve got a very busy November ahead of us.  This week has been mainly recuperation at home, but I need to keep my mind and body active and daily walks in the woods behind our house are the best medicine…

With the light of day fading to dusk, the harsh ‘chek’ calls of Jackdaws and deep ‘rawk’ of Rooks gathering together to roost were layered with the staccato ratting of Magpies.  The woods are familiar and comforting, and a place to clear my mind.  We’ve walked them countless times over the last 18 years and the benches, interpretation boards, boardwalk/dipping platform and well-surfaced paths were the result of a successful funding bid that I presented back in 2009.  We know which intersections of the footpaths and tracks will produce the pungent scent of Red Fox, temporarily overwhelming the sweet earthy smell of Autumn decay and the heady perfume of Himalayan Balsam, which areas of the wood will have Goldcrest and Long-tailed Tit and where to search for Red Squirrel and the other inhabitants of this reclaimed colliery site.  Woodpigeons were gathering in treetops frosted orange by the setting Sun and, applying the shape, shadow and shine elements of concealment I chose a position on the shaded side of an Ivy-covered hedge.  Willow Tits and Coal Tits gave quiet alarm calls as a Sparrowhawk flew along the hedge and a Kestrel hovered over the field in the half-light.  Jays were crossing between plantations, Roe Deer ventured out from cover to forage close to the field edge, Redwings arrived to roost and the chacking calls so typical of pre-roost Blackbirds penetrated the crisp, cold air under a clear blue sky layered over the pastel pink of the Belt of Venus away to the east as I had a feeling that there was something close by.  A brief whirr of wings so I turned my head slowly…and found myself eye to eye with a handsome cock Pheasant 🙂

A connection with nature allows us to disconnect, even if only for a short while, from our connection with everyday life.  It’s good for body and soul and so many of our clients comment that one of the things they most enjoy about their days out with NEWT is just how relaxing it is to be taken away from work and the stresses of life.  Applying that to myself is working well too 🙂

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Evolving; Druridge Bay Bespoke Birdwatching 05/06/18

by on Jun.06, 2018, under Druridge Bay

Yesterday was Brian and Carolyn’s 4th day out with NEWT and we were returning to the scene of their 1st – Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland

As we drove down the coast from Seahouses there was an ominous bank of fog just offshore but fortunately that’s where it stayed 🙂  Since that 1st Druridge trip we’ve changed a few things, and we’ve added a new riparian walk that is rich with birdsong.  Woodpigeon, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Chaffinch and Blackbird were all singing around us as clouds of mayflies danced over the water and rough vegetation by the path and Common Blue Damselflies graced us with their presence.  Our picnic stop was accompanied by a Kestrel, riding the updraft from the cliff edge and hanging near motionless in the stiff breeze.  Fulmars were arcing by as lines of Gannets flew north offshore and a Great Skua lumbered menacingly into the breeze.  Shelduck and Mallard had broods of small duckings, Shoveler, Mallard and Gadwall were dabbling as Great Crested Grebe and Tufted Duck were diving and Meadow Pipits song-flighted as Yellow Wagtails proceeded jerkily through the long grass in front of us.  Avocets were sleeping, incubating, feeding and chasing corvids as Dunlin probed in the mud of shallow pools, Ringed Plover were hurrying and scurrying through the grass and Lapwing chicks, fluffy miniature versions of their parents, explored close to the water’s edge as Black-tailed Godwits flew by, revealing their striking black and white upperwings above a wet meadow liberally sprinkled with sentinel-like Grey Herons.

Druridge is our local patch, and somewhere that we visit all year round, but we’re still discovering new locations to add into our trips there so check our website calendar and come along to explore it with us 🙂

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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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…and more persistence :-) Bespoke Cheviot Valleys birdwatching 29/04/18

by on May.01, 2018, under Cheviot Valleys, Uncategorized

Driving towards Bywell to collect Peter and Pat for a day in the Cheviot Valleys I was considering the weather forecast that had suggested it would be dry, bright and breezy.  I was mainly considering it because it was raining…

Dippers were carrying food to their nests, and carrying faecal sacs away to throw in the river.  A Common Sandpiper went swee-wee-wee-wee-wee along the shallow bubbling stream and Grey Wagtails were proving elusive.  Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Chaffinch and Blackbird were singing and a yaffling Green Woodpecker eventually flew by and perched where we could see it for a minute or so.  Red Grouse were chuckling on the heather-clad slopes above us and a male Merlin dashed by and over a ridge.  With hail showers, and snow on much higher ground, Meadow Pipits were coming down by the dozen, off the moor to the valley bottom as Curlews were song-flighting .  After lunch we headed up a narrow steep valley in search of Ring Ouzel.  For around 30mins we could hear one singing, but we couldn’t see him.  A Cuckoo called from the opposite side of the valley and then flew by before perching on a dry stone wall, and the ouzel continued to sing from a hidden perch.  Then, in a moment that couldn’t have been scripted better the Sun broke through the cloud and illuminated a small crag on the skyline – just as a male Ring Ouzel settled on it after chasing another ouzel across the heather 🙂

Another great day out with clients who are serious birdwatchers 🙂

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Save the best ’til last; Druridge Bay Safari 20/04/18

by on Apr.26, 2018, under Druridge Bay

All of our Safari Days have developed over the last ten years, and even on our familiar, regular Druridge Bay Safaris there’s always the possibility of changing the route slightly and visiting sites that we visit ourselves regularly but haven’t taken clients to yet…

That’s how I found myself with Ian and Elaine & Becky and Helen along a stretch of river that was a new one for a NEWT safari.  We were having an afternoon and evening searching for our favourite sinuous predator around the NEWT local patch and in the warm afternoon sunshine Great Spotted Woodpeckers were drumming and Chiffchaff, Robin, Blackbird, Nuthatch, Blackcap, Chaffinch and Coal Tit were all singing.  On a shallow coastal pool there were no fewer than 19 Avocets (genuinely rare up here when we moved to the north east 25 years ago…) and, while Sand Martins and Swallows fed on the rich hatch of flying insects, Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Teal, Gadwall, Great Crested Grebe and Shelduck dabbled and dived as a pair of Garganey remained unobtrusive until the drake started singing his raspy song.

Our picnic spot, overlooking the North Sea produced a high-tide roost of Redshank, Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Dunlin and Purple Sandpiper as Fulmars soared by and Sandwich Terns were plunge-diving just offshore.  The descending silvery cadence of Willow Warblers came from hawthorns alongside footpaths and the afternoon was feeling more Spring than Winter (at last!).

A Little Owl glared balefully from a roadside tree, but remained obligingly perched in full view and we headed to our final location for dusk.  A Short-eared Owl drifted across one reedbed as a female Marsh Harrier quartered another one and Water Rails squealed from a third as the Mute Swans and Greylag Geese seemed to be the only birds in a fairly large area of water…

The Short-eared Owl emerged from the dunes and settled on a distant fence post and I set the ‘scope up so that everyone could have a look at it.  I was scanning the foreground and I thought I saw a dark shape just a few feet behind a Greylag.  I mentioned it but it seemed unlikely that it was an Otter, unless the goose hadn’t seen it and it hadn’t seen the goose…which is what seems to have happened as an adult Otter appeared a few metres further along the reed edge  🙂  After a few minutes with no further sightings a Grey Heron and a Marsh Harrier both flushed from a reedbed further round the pool – and there was an Otter cub too 🙂  We watched as it made it’s way along the edge and then out across the open water with dusk approaching.

 

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