Friday was Adrian and Ruth’s 2nd day out with NEWT, after Monday’s Cheviots Valleys/Druridge Bespoke tour, and I arrrived at Church Point to collect them, as well as Sandra and Paco, and Rachel and Andy. A torrential downpour passed mercifully quickly and we were on our way for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland searching for Otters…
The transitional nature of mid-April was really obvious; Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Teal and Wigeon are typical birds of winter on the Northumberland coast, but now they were alongside displaying Great Crested Grebes and Avocets as a White Wagtail pottered along the edge of a shallow pool, Swallows and Sand Martins were hawking newly emerged insects as the songs of Chiffchaff and Sedge Warbler emanated from deep cover in trees and reedbeds and the descending silvery cadence of Willow Warbler trickled on the breeze. A noisy flock of Long-tailed Tits were just above a male Blackcap who chacked angrily as we disturbed whatever it was that he’d been up to before we walked by and the peace and elegance of Little Egrets was shattered as a Great White Egret objected to their proximity to the rushes where it was hiding. Grey Herons stalked the water’s edge as Skylarks ascended heavenwards, Meadow Pipits parachuted back down at the end of brief display flights and Reed Bunting and Stonechat perched at the tops of isolated bushes in the dunes.
With an icy cold breeze rippling the water’s surface and nipping at noses and fingers we finished at sunset with our quarry for the day having eluded us.
We’re often asked what the chances are of seeing an Otter on one of our trips, and it isn’t an easy question to answer. They’re wild animals and they don’t run to a timetable that guarantees we’ll find them. That’s something that makes wildlife watching so great – the unpredictability of it all 🙂 To put some numbers to it though…this was our 12th Otter Safari since the start of November 2016, and only the 2nd of those where we haven’t found at least one Otter!
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 🙂
mid-April can be a strange time inland. Some summer visitors will have arrived, but you can never be quite sure which ones…
I collected Richard and Florence from West Acre House and we headed westwards towards the central massif of Northumberland. An unexpected, and very pleasant, surprise was bumping into Dean from Cheviot View who was enjoying a walk in the glorious sunshine. Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Great Crested Grebe, Canada Goose, Greylag Goose and Oystercatcher were all pottering around on old gravel pits as Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Blackcap all sang and fed, a Brown Hare loped through the trees and we headed deeper into the valleys as lunchtime approached, encountering Pheasant after Pheasant, and Red-legged Partridge after Red-legged Partridge, as well as Mistle Thrush and Song Thrush obligingly feeding next to each other and offering an opportunity for comparison as a Dipper bobbed up and down on a mid-stream rock before flying up to it’s concealed nest. Red Grouse cackled, the trilling buzz of Lesser Redpoll punctuated the air overhead, the eerie cries of Curlew echoed around the valley, the swee-wee-wee-wee-wee of a nervous Common Sandpiper pierced the excited bubbling of the stream and Common Buzzards soared lazily on the warm breeze as the shocking yellow of a Grey Wagtail added a splash of colour to the dappled light of the valley bottom. Swallow and Sand Martin harvested the bountiful insects overhead and, as we walked back down the valley towards the car, I could hear a simple song from the steeper ground above us. Focusing my attention on the direction that the sound was coming from brought not one, not two, but three Ring Ouzels 🙂
Certainly felt like the spring…
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 🙂
Even after 20 years living in Northumberland, I’m sometimes still amazed at what can be seen in one day, with seven mammals in a day in June 2010 showing what’s possible with planning and just a bit of luck 🙂 Sometimes you just have to hope that the weather’s helpful though…
I collected Mike and Jane from Greycroft and we set off towards the foothills of the Cheviots. Our first targets for the day were reptiles…and it wasn’t looking promising; thick low cloud and a cold breeze really aren’t the ideal conditions for these cold-blooded predators. Nevertheless, we made our way along a track with several likely sunning spots. All were devoid of reptiles, but an hour later, as we were surrounded by the songs of Blackcaps, Garden Warblers, Sedge Warblers andChaffinches, it turned slightly brighter and the temperature rose (from ‘chilling’ to ‘almost warm’!) so I suggested it was time to retrace our route. Almost as if scripted, the most likely looking spot had an Adder laid in it 🙂 It slithered away into the grass and out of sight as we headed on our way. Our next destination was the southeast Northumberland coast and Druridge Bay. Despite a concentrated session checking their regular hang-outs we didn’t manage to find any Red Squirrels, although it was cold and windy which doesn’t help. Birdwatching our way up the coast produced Fulmar soaring along the cliff tops as we ate our lunch, House andSand Martins hawking insects, Dunlin andGrey Plover feeding up on their way north, and a Grey Heron that had found a rich vein of Eels. It caught, and consumed, four in less than an hour! Jane spotted a Roebuckas we drove alongside the fields, and then another two by the River Coquet. Our final stop was in the shadow of Bamburgh Castle, with Common Eider just offshore, as well as waddling up the beach, and a small group of Common Scoter just beyond them.
With a rich variety of mammals, birds, reptiles, flowers and other wildlife, Northumberland in May really is an excellent destination for the keen naturalist. I like it almost as much as I like the winter 🙂
We’ve had the first two bird ID sessions for the North Pennines WildWatch project already, and both have produced some excellent sightings during the ‘in the field’ bit of the course.
The first session, at Eggleston, produced one outstanding bird – at least for those in the group who weren’t impatiently hurrying back for their bread, cheese and soup…as a group of us watched a Song Thrush gathering food, I looked skywards (a good habit to get into, you never know what could be overhead) and there was an Osprey 🙂 Bird of the day/month/year for those who were lucky enough to see it.
One of my favourite species rounded off the first session, and the second session around Muggleswick as well, as we watched Woodcock roding and chasing each other. The end of the first session produced another exciting bird that was missed by the group that headed straight back to the cars, as a few of us heard, and then saw, a Tawny Owl.
Both sessions concentrated on identifying birds by song and call, with paticipants getting to grips with Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Blackbird, Blackcap, Willow Warbler, and Chiffchaff amongst others, and the third session, at Lambley, will have the same focus. I changed approach between the first two sessions, and I’m busy restructuring the course for the third session based on the teaching/learning experiences gained during the first two. I knew there was a reason we bought a parabolic microphone (there’s a reason for everything, we just don’t always realise it at the time…) 😉
The last 2 days were spent running 2 Prestige Tours for Peter and Alison, and the Northumberland coast delivered plenty of birdwatching gems.
On Wednesday we were covering Holy Island and the Northumberland coast, and planned to spend the morning on Holy Island and then come off at lunchtime just before the tide covered the causeway (remember – the crossing times are published for a reason, don’t drive into the North Sea, it won’t end well!). A thorough check around the village, and the Heugh, produced 2 Black Redstarts, Blackcaps, lots of Blackbirds, Fieldfares, Redwings and an intriguing Chiffchaff (almost sandy brown above, very unlike our breeding birds). Grey Seals and Pale-bellied Brent Geese were out on the mud, Dark-bellied Brent Geese, Wigeon and Teal were roosting on the Rocket Field and a Woodcock was flying circuits of the village. As well as an almost continuous wave of thrushes leaving the island, the distinctive flight calls of Skylarks and Lesser Redpolls could be picked out.
Once we were off the island, I’d decided to head north to Goswick. Another Black Redstart and a Yellow-browed Warbler were around Coastgurad Cottage, and we made our way through the dunes. The adult drake Black Scoter was still present, although less than easy to see with a line of rolling surf impeding the view. As the tide rose, flocks of Bar-tailed Godwit, Knot, Dunlin and Grey Plover rose from the exposed sandbar, shuffling along to the next ‘dry’ spot. A Short-eared Owl was seen coming in-off, harrassed by Herring Gulls before finally finding sanctuary on the Snook, and then the bird of the day (well, I think so anyway) appeared just behind us. Tracking south along the coast a juvenile Rough-legged Buzzard was given a bit of a going over by the local corvids.
Heading back towards Seahouses we stopped off at Harkess Rocks, where Purple Sandpipers, Turnstones, Redshank and Oystercatchers were all flitting from rock to rock and Eider were bobbing about just offshore as daylight faded and it was time to return Peter and Alison to their holiday accommodation.
A couple of months after I left my teaching career, I was sent a link to this webpage… and I ended up in a pub at 10:00 on a Tuesday morning, explaining my ideas to an interview panel.
A few weeks after that interview I found myself on an Enterprise Island residential weekend and when we were asked the question “how will you know when your business is a success?” almost everyone answered that the measure of that would be if their customers were happy.
We had our first Cheviots Safari of the year yesterday. I collected Sally and Tony from Morpeth and we headed northwest. On a day that was cold, windy and overcast, the quality of the birdwatching in the Northumberland hills more than made up for the weather; 3 Ring Ouzels perched obligingly in one tree, allowing us a prolonged opportunity to watch them, Curlews were displaying high over the heather moorland, male Red Grouse were as stunning as ever, Chaffinches, Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps, Robins, Redpolls, Meadow Pipits, Mistle Thrushes and Wrens were all singing and we had an unexpected bonus in the shape of a White Wagtail. A real highlight of the day, although it wasn’t a highlight so much as a constant backdrop, was the number of raptors; 14 Common Buzzards (including 7 in the air at the same time), 2 Kestrels chasing each other around and a Sparrowhawk would have been a good haul on a cold day, but as we watched a Peregrine go into a stooping dive we were amazed to see that the object of it’s ire was a Goshawk, beating it’s way steadily across the hillside. As the falcon repeatedly buzzed the ‘phantom of the forest’, buzzards were hanging in the wind high above it, and a kestrel was hovering against the hilltop. It was one of those moments that I really can’t do justice to in writing.
And the connection to the anecdote at the start of this post? My answer to the question was that I would consider NEWT a success if I was happy with what we’re doing. Of course, me being happy requires happy clients… and the reason we had Sally and Tony out with us yesterday was that Sally had been given a gift voucher by one of our previous clients. Happiness is infectious 🙂