Tag: Blue Tit

A sting in the tale; Druridge Bay 10/04/2014

by on Apr.21, 2014, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland

With a holiday for a family wedding in Scotland looming, my last day out with clients for a couple of weeks was a mini-safari around Druridge Bay.  The unpredictable weather of recent weeks had been replaced by something much better as we headed north along the coast.

The remnants of winter birdwatching, in the shape of Wigeon, Goldeneye, Pintail and Red-breasted Merganser, were intermingled with the early spring in the elegant form of at least three Avocets, and a lone Whooper Swan, in the midst of a herd of Mute Swans, probably hasn’t made it’s mind up what it’s doing for the summer yet.  Towards the end of the afternoon a yapping flock of Pink-footed Geese flew north, quickly gaining altitude as if heading off towards Iceland…before encountering the stiff northwesterly wind and looping back round again…and again…and again, before they eventually gave it up as a bad job and settled on the water with the discordant sounds of Canada and Greylag Geese around them.  The comings and goings at a feeding station held the attention for some time, with Great Tits, Coal Tits, Blue Tits, Tree Sparrows and Chaffinches all clustering around the feeders.

Trips including young children can be a bit fraught but 3-year old Sylvie demonstrated a sharp eye for finding spiders, and 5-year old Felix, with some help from his little sister, wove a remarkable tale of a superhero Otter with a poisonous sting in it’s tail that I could have listened to for the rest of the day – a great way to finish work before NEWT’s first ‘proper’ holiday for a long time 🙂

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Look who’s stalking; bespoke photography 24/03/2014

by on Mar.29, 2014, under Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast, Photography

Monday was a day with the potential to go either way, and I was nervous.  I first met John when himself and Helen were on a North Sea pelagic in June last year and we found this little beauty.  This trip was something altogether different though – Helen had arranged a one-to-one photography day.  Our one-to-one days focus on whatever our clients would like to work on – sometimes techniques (exposure/composition/fieldcraft etc.), sometimes species (Black Grouse, Otter and Red Squirrel are just some of the ones we’ve helped clients to photograph) – and John’s request was to develop his techniques for getting good images of shorebirds.  Now, using fieldcraft developed over 40yrs is one thing when I’m in the field on my own…teaching it, with our subject right where it can see us, is slightly more challenging 😉

I collected John from home in Morpeth and we headed north until we were in the impressive shadow of Bamburgh CastlePurple Sandpiper, Oystercatcher, Turnstone and Eider were all approached with stealth and patience before we made our way down the Northumberland coast to Druridge Bay, stopping off and stalking Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Sanderling, Redshank, Grey Plover, Ringed Plover and Dunlin and finishing the day’s photography with the slightly easier proposition of Reed Bunting, Blue Tit and Lesser Redpoll at a feeding station before admiring the Red-necked Grebe that I first found back in mid-February – now in a much more attractive plumage than it was five weeks ago.

John very kindly supplied some of his images from the day, for which we’re very grateful, so here they are 🙂  You can click on them to see the full size images, and please do get in touch with us if you’d like to get more from your camera equipment.

Common Eider, Somateria mollissima, Northumberland, photography tuition, bird photography, one to one photography, bird photography holidays

Common Eider

Turnstone, Arenaria interpres, Purple Sandpiper, Calidris maritima, Northumberland, photography tuition, bird photography, one to one photography, bird photography holidays

Purple Sandpiper and Turnstone

Oystercatcher, Haematopus ostralegus, Northumberland, photography tuition, bird photography, one to one photography, bird photography holidays

Oystercatcher

Common Redshank, Tringa totanus, Northumberland, photography tuition, bird photography, one to one photography, bird photography holidays

Common Redshank

Sanderling, Calidris alba, Northumberland, photography tuition, bird photography, one to one photography, bird photography holidays

Sanderling

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Marsh Harriers and Murmurations; Photography mini-safari 23/03/2014

by on Mar.26, 2014, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Photography

Some wildlife experiences are so special that on their own they can make an entire trip memorable.  Having two happening at the same time is just distracting…

I collected Rebecca and Gill from Church Point, for an afternoon around Druridge Bay that had only been finalised earlier on Sunday morning.  Northumberland hit us with its own peculiar brand of ‘four seasons in one hour’ as we set out, including a shower of hail/snow.  Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Coal Tits, Great Tits, Blue Tits, Woodpigeons, Tree Sparrows and Reed Buntings were clustered around feeding stations – always a good spot to practice your wildlife photography – and we popped along to Amble Harbour to catch up with some nicely photogenic Common Eider.  Equally entertaining, as always, was Dave Gray 🙂

As sunset approached we headed for the final destination that I’d planned for the afternoon.  A small flock of Starlings was just the warm-up act for the finale to our trip.  Soon, a larger group could be seen gathering away to the south and they began to head northwards towards our vantage point.  Group after group joined the murmuration and suddenly they split as a male Marsh Harrier flew in, followed quickly by a female.  Drifting in unison they kept rolling in mid-air to touch talons, as the murmuration carried on just a few metres above them.  As the sun dipped below the impressive ridge of Simonside away to the west, the murmuration did just what Rebecca was hoping for and passed right over the last glow of the setting sun 🙂  As we returned to Newbiggin a flock of Whooper Swans flew north overhead, calling as they faded into the gloom of the coming darkness.

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Never work with children or animals…

by on Feb.18, 2014, under Northumberland, Photography, Southeast Northumberland

Back when I was a teacher, and developing demonstration experiments, I came across a piece of advice that has stuck with me since then ‘prior practice prevents poor presentation’.  It served me well; it’s far better to accidentally set fire to the ceiling tiles in your classroom when there’s just yourself, a lab technician and a fire extinguisher there.  And what did I learn from that incident? Make sure your class are sitting towards the back of the room, and keep the fire extinguisher close to hand 😉

We apply a similar philosophy with NEWT.  Recce sites consistently and, even when a site is regularly producing sightings of the target species, keep searching for new sites too.  Preparation for our beginners photography workshop at the weekend involved baiting three locations with hazelnuts, to maximise the chances of Red Squirrels appearing right in front of us in a photogenic location with lighting angles worked out well in advance.  We visited the sites on Saturday in poor weather conditions and re-baited with over a pound of nuts.  Sunday dawned and I met up with Bryan.  His previous trip with us had been a successful search for Otters, and Red Squirrels have always been an easier mammal to track down…

The weather couldn’t have been better; bright sunshine always helps.  Coal Tits, Great Tits, Blue Tits, Long-tailed Tits, Chaffinches, Blackbirds and Magpies seemed to be everywhere around us.  However, not any sight of a squirrel 🙂 They’d cleaned out the nuts from all of the sites we’d baited, so we re-baited, and waited.  The likely explanation is that the combination of a stiff cold breeze and the extraordinary number of people walking their dogs through the woods meant that they were keeping their heads down.  So I’ve set up a baiting area in a much quieter piece of woodland, and invited Bryan to come along for a session photographing the squirrels there once I’ve determined the best angles and times of day.  No matter how much preparation you put in, sometimes the unpredictable nature of wildlife still gets the better of you 🙂

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Four seasons in one day

by on Apr.16, 2013, under Birdwatching, Kielder, Northumberland

Last week’s Kielder Safari was at the back end of that period of wintry weather that seemed to have been around for quite some time, and the snow provided one of the highlights of the day.

I collected Lucy, Mark and ‘the Mums’, Pat and Alison, from their holiday cottage in Falstone and we set out to explore the border forests.  Coal Tits, Great Tits, Blue Tits, Greenfinches and Chaffinches…and Chaffinches…and Chaffinches were seen in the forested areas and there seemed to be a small movement of Blackbirds, with four males in quick succession heading west along one steep sided valley.

Dipper was on the target list for the day, and a stop at one of our favourite spots just south of the Scottish border produced not one, but two birds; dipping, swimming, flying, calling – a whole range of Dipper behaviour 🙂  Another riverside stop at a ‘staked out’ spot produced views of a gaudy drake Mandarin, looking so odd in the cold and gloom of the mid afternoon as he made his way along the edge of the water.

Wild Goats feature in most, if not all, of our Kielder trips and we had them on open moorland as well as a small group in amongst the trees along a forest track.  Also out on the open moors, Red Grouse took a little bit of effort to find (as they often do in strong cold winds), and a Common Buzzard caused momentary panic as it looked particularly narrow-winged and pale.

As the afternoon wore on, and the skies were suddenly blue and the landscape bathed in sunlight, it was a great contrast to the start of the day.  Just a few hours earlier we were standing on the edge of a steep forested valley, looking across to one of our most reliable sites for Goshawk, watching as a succession of snow storms moved along the valley, driven by the strong easterly wind, and the very edge of the snow just peppered our position. ‘The Mums’ retreated to the car (and who could blame them?) the Goshawks and Red Squirrels stayed in the shelter of trees (and who could blame them?) and comparisons were drawn with New Zealand, Canada, and the possibility of four seasons in one day.  The forest and Kielder Water may be a man-made landscape, but it has the feel of a remote wilderness area, and some excellent wildlife too 🙂

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Would you like to stroke my Badger?

by on Mar.06, 2013, under Birdwatching, Kielder, Northumberland

On Saturday I was in the Kielder area with Sarah, collecting our new mountain bikes from Ian at The Bike Place. The weather was glorious; blue skies, sunshine – everything you would want on a day there with clients.

Skip forward to Sunday morning…

I collected Jon and Alison, Jill and Steve & Laura and Nicola from Hexham and we headed north towards the Border Forests.  The weather was somewhat different; overcast, not even a slight breeze and the air was damp and bitterly cold.  In those conditions the forest is an ethereal place, remote, other-worldly and an experience in itself.  Mistle Thrushes and Chaffinches seemed to be everywhere that we looked, Common Buzzards were sitting hunched on tree-tops and telegraph poles, Roe Deer crossed the track ahead of us and the only Common Crossbills of the day were a group of four that flew by as we were trying to locate a very vocal Raven. Then, a very nice policeman stopped and showed us his Badger and Red Squirrel 🙂 A Green Woodpecker yaffled from the wooded slopes below us and Goldcrests, Blue Tits, Great Tits and Robins could all be heard.

Heading towards the border a Dipper sat on a rock at the water’s edge, bobbing up and down before heading upstream in a whirr of wing beats.  Red Grouse was found soon after heading up onto the moors around Newcastleton and the next addition to the trip list was probably the highlight of the day (apart from the Badger…).  The next grouse was well hidden, with only it’s head visible but, as I stopped the car to let everyone have a good look at it, it raised itself from the heather and revealed it’s true identity; a stunning male Black Grouse, resplendent in the day’s only real attempt at sunshine.  He wasn’t alone though, as two more Blackcock appeared from amongst the heather and eventually a total of five flew across the road and settled again.

After a picnic stop in one of my favourite places, we went in search of Wild Goats. It didn’t take too long to find one and, as is often the case, once you’ve found one you soon find more.  This prompted the following exchange in the back of the car “That goat’s got a baby” “You’re kidding me”…

Heading back towards Northumberland a flock of Fieldfares were on telegraph wires and two Great Spotted Woodpeckers were perched at the top of a small tree by the road.  A walk to the hide at Bakethin produced Goldeneye, Mallard, Tufted Duck and Pochard and one of Northumberland’s more exotic inhabitants rounded off the day as we watched at least five Mandarins, including three gaudy drakes and two subtly beautiful ducks in a tributary of the north Tyne.

The weather was an experience, we had some excellent wildlife to enjoy, and we hardly saw another person all day…but what really made the day for me was having six clients who all got on so well with each other, were really enthusiastic about birdwatching and wildlife and provided a steady level of entertainment throughout the day 🙂

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Big Garden Birdwatch 2013

by on Jan.31, 2013, under Birdwatching, Choppington Woods, Family and friends, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

Last weekend was the Big Garden Birdwatch and we followed tradition by sitting in our kitchen with a mug of coffee, and a bacon and tomato sandwich, having topped up all of the feeders the evening before.  An hour later, we’d racked up a list of 21 species; Blackbird 3, Jackdaw 2, Collared Dove 2, Robin 3, Chaffinch 20, Great Tit 3, Coal Tit 3, Magpie 1, Blue Tit 2, Dunnock 1, Goldfinch 8, Jay 1, Bullfinch 1, House Sparrow 1, Greenfinch 1, Woodpigeon 2, Redwing 1, Tree Sparrow 1, Song Thrush 1, Sparrowhawk 1, Brambling 2. Quite a successful hour, although most species weren’t present in the numbers we would have expected and, as usual, several species that had been visiting the garden in recent days (Marsh Tit, Willow Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Siskin, Great Spotted Woodpecker) failed to appear during the 1 hour of the survey.  Easy birding, and part of a huge national survey.  If you didn’t do it this year, give it a go in 2014 🙂

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Battle of the sexes

by on May.02, 2012, under Birdwatching

In our April newsletter, we ran a competition for our subscribers to send us a story about noticing an aspect of wildlife behaviour.  The following story, sent in by Sue Coggin, made both of smile so much that it had to be the winner 🙂

‘I have been watching with great amusement over the last two weeks the behaviour of a pair of Blue Tits in my garden.

We have two bird boxes placed in different locations and this pair who have been coming to feed began investigating one of them much to my delight.
After a while the female noticed the second box and turned her attention to it. After checking it out thoroughly she returned to the male at box number one and seemed to fuss around him to gain his attention.
 
He eventually followed her to the second box and duly checked it out also. Eventually he decided he preferred the first box and returned to it leaving Mrs Blue Tit on her own at number two.
 
This behaviour has been repeated every morning since and they just can’t seem to agree , it seems it’s not only us humans that struggle to concur!’
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Hiding from the wind

by on Oct.25, 2011, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

With a forecast for heavy rain today, we had one more client than expected yesterday for our Druridge Bay/southeast Northumberland tour.

I c0llected Annie from High Weldon, Brian from Bedlington and then David from Warkworth before our first stop at one of our favourite birdwatching spots beside the River Coquet.  The first thing that was apparent was that there was a not inconsiderable wind-chill factor in play.  Thankfully our local area has plenty of reserves with north-facing hides, so plotting a route that would keep us out of the wind wherever possible was quite straightforward.

It wasn’t a day for passerines, although Blue Tit and Goldcrest could be heard calling from deep inside coastal hedgerows, and we found ourselves in the middle of a big swirling flock of Starlings as we ate lunch overlooking the sea, so waders and wildfowl provided the main focus of the day.  Bar-tailed Godwit, Ruff, Dunlin and some very nice flocks of Golden Plover, Curlew, Knot and Lapwing were feeding, roosting and, at Cresswell, taking to the air in a panic as a Peregrine exuded menace as it passed over.  ‘Scope-filling views of Common Snipe always go down well, and there was an excellent array of wildfowl and waterbirds to enjoy; Gadwall, Mallard, Teal, Wigeon,Pochard, Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Pintail, Little Grebe, Coot, Moorhen, and Pink-footed, Greylag and Barnacle Geese were all well appreciated, especially with a lot of the drake ducks out of eclipse plumage and looking quite stunning. especially when the sun broke through the clouds.

When the autumn really starts to feel autumnal, I’m always optimistic 🙂

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Now, that was unexpected

by on Sep.13, 2011, under Birdwatching

I collected Ian and Pauline from Rothbury for a Prestige Tour of Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland and headed towards the coast in what could only be described as a stiff breeze 😉

Nuthatches, Great Tits, Blue Tits, Coal Tits and a Treecreeper were all watched as we sat amongst the trees and Pauline spotted our only Red Squirrel of the trip as it ran between patches of fern nearby.

Beside the River Coquet a Grey Heron sat impassively, Goosanders were sleeping along the riverbank and Curlew prodded around in the mud.  The wader roost at East Chevington was a bit lacking in variety; lots of Lapwings, 20 Ruff, 30 Curlew and single Knot and Bar-tailed Godwit.  An unfamiliar call heralded the arrival of 4 Snow Geese, accompanied by the 3 Bar-headed Geese that have been wandering around Druridge Bay this summer, and a juvenile Marsh Harrier was tossed around on the wind.  A good selection of ducks was on offer; Mallard, Shoveler, Teal, Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Pochard, Gadwall and Pintail. Birdwatching can be tricky in strong wind, but there was plenty to see.  As we drove towards Druridge Pools, I stopped the car so we could look at an unfamiliar shape flying from Cresswell towards Druridge.  A (presumably) escaped Eagle Owl! Druridge produced another magical moment as well, with a juvenile Peregrine hunting Teal above the main pool.

 As the final traces of daylight faded, a Tawny Owl serenaded us as the wind whipped around our ears.

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