Day 1. 19/02/17. I arrived at the Bamburgh Castle Inn for the start of our Winter Wonderland holiday, then met up with with Christine, John, Linda and Rosie in the bar and outlined the plan for the next two days while we enjoyed a fantastic meal.
Day 2. 20/02/17. Our first full day was targeting Lindisfarne and the North Northumberland coast. Stopping at Budle Bay on our way north we soon found a Spotted Redshank amongst the Common Redshank, Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler, Mallard, Oystercatcher, Shelduck and Curlew as Pink-footed and Greylag Geese and Lapwing swirled distantly against a leaden grey sky on a stiff breeze and Red-breasted Mergansers looked even more comical than usual with their tufts blown to odd angles. A heavy misty drizzle took hold, yet cleared within minutes, leaving a beautiful azure sky draped in fluffy white cloud. A Kestrel perched obligingly as we stopped along a hedgerow that was heaving with Chaffinches. As the receding tide cleared the Holy Island causeway, waders dropped in to feed along the edge of the recently exposed mud. Knot, Dunlin, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Turnstone and Bar-tailed Godwit were all close to the road and easily observable by using the car as a nice, sheltered, warm hide as Pale-bellied Brent Geese flew over us 🙂 Over on the island we found a mixed flock of Dark-bellied Brent Geese, Curlew and Lapwing. As an unseen threat spooked them and they lifted from the field, it was obvious that the number of birds present was far greater than we thought. Grey Seals were hauled out on the now visible sandbars and we headed back across to the mainland. Lunch overlooking the vast expanse of mud produced more geese and ducks, including Pintail, and a distant Little Stint in amongst a flock of Dunlin and Knot. A Merlin had spooked the Chaffinch flock as we headed back south and a quick stop at Bamburgh produced Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone, Ringed Plover and Eider but nothing on the sea in what the wind had whipped up into a frothing mess of whitecaps. The stiffening breeze was making viewing conditions awkward but the final stop of the afternoon brought Song Thrush, Long-tailed Tit, Greenfinch and Goldcrest before we headed back to Seahouses. Dinner was accompanied by a discussion of the plan for Tuesday, and a target list was quickly developed…
Day 3. 21/02/17. Tuesday saw us heading south towards Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. Our first target for the day was a species that’s scarce and often only offers fleeting views…Willow Tit is a regular visitor to the NEWT garden feeding station but I’d got a different site in mind and we enjoyed prolonged views of at least two of these gorgeous little birds, as well as a detailed discussion about how to separate them from Marsh Tit. Reed Bunting, Common Snipe and Common Buzzard joined the day list as an impressive flock of Lapwing and Golden Plover swirled against the sky as we headed off in search of our next target for the day. This one proved fairly straightforward and we had great views of both male and female Brambling. Little Grebe, Goldeneye and Common and Black-headed Gulls accompanied our lunch stop before we had excellent views of some very obliging Common Snipe, Bar-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Ruff, Tree Sparrow and Little Egret. Shorelark was the one target for the day that eluded us, as we had several flight views of a vocal flock of Twite while Ringed Plover were displaying on the beach, Sanderling were scurrying back and forth and a flock of Common Scoter were offshore with Red-throated Divers and Guillemot just beyond the breaking surf. A handsome male Stonechat flushed from bush to bush ahead of us as we walked along the path and the long-staying Pacific Diver eventually gave great views close to a Slavonian Grebe. There was one target species still remaining on the list for the day though, and I was sure that the last hour of daylight would bring that one for us. Scanning the edges of reedbeds through the telescope revealed a dark shape that hadn’t been there a few minutes earlier during my last scan of the reedbed, and that dark shape stretched and began loping along, still partly obscured by the reeds. Within a minute everyone had located the Otter as it moved quickly around the edge of the pool and then it vanished, only to appear in the water a few minutes later 🙂 We watched as it swam towards us before losing it from sight behind the near vegetation. After a few minutes of calm all of the Mute Swans were suddenly staring towards the bank right in front of us, and the Otter passed by just a few metres away 🙂 A great finish to our final full day in the field.
Day 4. 22/02/17. Departure day dawned dry, bright and with an icily cold breeze as we gathered for breakfast before all heading off our separate ways.
We’ll be adding 2017 and 2018 dates to our holiday page shortly but please do get in touch if you’ve got any questions about what we offer. Our short break holidays have a maximum of 6 participants, and a relaxed pace, and we’re always happy to create something bespoke too 🙂
Sunday was a second day out for Edward and Isabel, although this time a bespoke trip. I collected them from Greycroft and we headed south. Brambling was the first target on our list for the day and an impressive flock was alongside Nuthatch, Chaffinch, Coal Tit and a male Siskin. Red Squirrel was another target species for the day, and we enjoyed prolonged views of one, as another male Brambling called from a treetop nearby and Goldfinches plundered a feeding station. Long-tailed Tits fed just above our heads and Fulmar found themselves in range of Edward’s camera as we had lunch overlooking the North Sea. Twite, Pied Wagtail and Sanderling on the beach were our first post-lunch stop and then we headed further north to our last site for the day, with a brief glimpse of a Stoat as it ran across the road in front of us.
Dusk often brings the best of the day and, as Whooper Swans swam across the reflection of the setting Sun, a Kingfisher dived from the reeds, a Water Rail flew between reedbeds, Grey Herons squabbled over prime feeding spots and the assembled wildfowl followed the progress of a Red Fox as it trotted along the bank. Once it was too dark to see anything in front of us we headed back to Alnwick.
Another great day out with clients who were really good company. It’s never really any other way 🙂
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.
Thursday was Pete and Janet’s 6th trip with NEWT, and the dismal, gloomy, drizzly south easterly weather as I drove to Embleton seemed ever so slightly promising 🙂
We started around Druridge Bay, checking a small area of woodland close to the coast, and soon encountered one of my favourite passerines, with three Brambling feeding quietly high in the canopy and two more flying over noisily. Everywhere we went there were Robins and Blackbirds, although little sign of any other migrants other than a large flock of Redwing over Cresswell and a flock of Fieldfare near Beadnell. Leaping Salmon on the River Coquet provided a lot of entertainment and a Cormorant which had been catching small fish, dived, causing a large Salmon to leap clear of the water. The fish splashed back down and the Cormorant surfaced, gripping it behind the gills. As the bird drifted downstream with its catch, we couldn’t believe that it would be able to deal with such a large fish…then it manouvered it so that the fish’s head was pointing down it’s throat and swallowed it whole!
As dusk approached, we were on the coast near Holy Island. Little Egrets, Grey Plover, Curlew and Redshank were on the mudflats and the high yapping sound of Pink-footed Geese could be heard distantly. Skein after skein appeared against the dark clouds overhead, settling close to the oncoming tide. Then more, and more, and more…thousands and thousands of geese, still arriving when it was so dark that they were just a slightly darker speckling against an almost featureless backdrop. Finally, as we headed back to the car, the ‘teu-it’ call of a Spotted Redshank cut through the gloom as the geese continued to arrive.
Our fourth trip this week was a day birdwatching with Simon, who was back again after previous trips including a stunning Farne Deeps pelagic in 2012. We’d spoken in advance of the trip and Simon was keen to add a few of Northumberland’s wintering birds to his life list; divers, grebes, Purple Sandpiper and Brambling were all mentioned as desirable.
When I arrived to collect him on Thursday morning, I was still wrestling with the challenge of heading inland for Brambling, yet leaving plenty of time to explore the Northumberland coast. That worry was quickly taken away, as putting a feeder up outside the holiday cottage meant that Simon had found one of the species on his wish list himself 🙂 Covering most of the coast from north to south produced five lifers; Red-throated Divers just beyond the surf, Long-tailed Ducks including a breathtakingly beautiful drake, Purple Sandpipers unobtrusively poking around in rock pools, displaying Goldeneye rivaling the attractiveness of the Long-tailed Ducks and, as the afternoon light faded and the rain finally arrived, a very obliging Water Rail. Twite, Stonechat, Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting, Skylark, Marsh Harrier, Slavonian, Little and Red-necked Grebes, Shelduck, Bar-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Grey and Golden Plover, Lapwing, Gannet, Curlew, Teal, Mallard and Wigeon may have been reduced to a supporting role for the day, but all combined to produce an excellent day’s birdwatching on the Northumberland coast 🙂
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 🙂
I’m easily distracted and always have been, but also quite obsessive. Maybe an odd combination, but it seems to work for me. With an office window that looks over several allotments and gardens, as well as the 76ha of mixed woodland that is Choppington Woods Local Nature Reserve, I’m quite keen on keeping a close eye on what turns up in the garden…
With the shaded areas of the garden still carrying a light veneer of frost, and a stiff southeasterly breeze cutting to the bone as I filled the feeders yesterday morning, a Common Buzzard soared overhead as the Coal Tits perched just a few feet above me, providing encouragement for me to hurry up and fill the feeders. As soon as I was back inside, the tree was a mass of excitement. Chaffinches were dropping in from every direction and I settled to checking through the birds on the feeders, and on the ground below them, hoping that the Bramblings we’ve had for the last few couple of months would be still around. What I found instead were visitors that were even more unusual in the context of our feeding station – 3 Lesser Redpolls were picking at fallen seed on the ground and a Goldcrest was hurrying around the edges of the shrubbery nearby. The Redpolls were just another episode in what has been an unusual winter in our garden; our first garden record of Marsh Tit, second record of Tree Sparrow (2 birds which have been with us every day for a few months now), third record of Nuthatch, the return of Willow Tit after nearly a two year absence, regular sightings of Brambling and occasional Treecreeper have made this a winter where we really couldn’t predict what would be on the feeders whenever we checked them.
As I sat down to write this, I glanced out of the window and my eye immediately fell on seven bulky finches in our neighbour’s Silver Birch trees. As one of the birds was hanging upside down while feeding, lifting my binoculars only confirmed what I already knew; another infrequent visitor had put in an appearance this winter. I opened the window, and heard the metallic ‘chip-chip’ as the flock of Common Crossbills flew into the pines behind our house. Now, what was I meant to be doing ? 🙂
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 🙂
As a chemist I’ve found fireworks fascinating for some time. While I was still teaching, I developed a series of demonstration experiments that illustrated how different colours are produced by varying the chemicals in the mix and managed, during one particularly spectacular demo, to set fire to a pile of homework and the surface of my desk. Every year there are information campaigns about domestic pets and fireworks, but never really anything about the effect on wildlife…
I met up with Pete and Georgie at Church Point and we set off (in their car, but that’s a whole other story…) around Southeast Northumberland and Druridge Bay. Perhaps my own favourite moment of the day came quite early as a Merlin chased a Common Snipe through the dunes at Cresswell. An elusive Brambling played hide and seek with us nearby and the Coots, Moorhens, Mallards, Teal, Wigeon, Gadwall, Tufted Duck and Shoveler at each pond we visited seemed unconcerned and not indicating the presence of the sinuous predator that enlivens so many of our trips on the coast.
As dusk approached things started to look a bit more interesting; Whooper Swans were clearly alert and agitated, all staring into the same reedbed. We’ve seen it so many times before…and then ‘whoosh’, ‘whoosh’, ‘whoosh’, ‘bang’, ‘bang’, ‘bang’, ‘bang’, ‘bang’, as a fireworks display on a nearby beach scattered everything! Ducks, geese, swans all took to the air and we finished the trip with not very much wildlife in view at all.
As we headed back to the car a figure appeared out of the dark “Dr Kitching. Slight change of plan, Sarah’s poorly so I’ve come to collect you”. The hero of the day was a man whose knowledge of the Northumberland coast is second to none, and whose blog is really worth checking out. Cheers Ipin, you’re a star 🙂
During the winter, when I’m busy with admin and business development, I do most of my birdwatching close to home. Studying Jackdaw and Starling roosts involves a short walk, but with a constant level of activity around the feeding station (conveniently placed to be visible from the office window) I can enjoy the hobby that has been with me since early childhood throughout most of the day.
For the last couple of weeks, I’ve had my camera and tripod set up in the kitchen. Any newcomers to bird photography could do worse than concentrate on the birds in their own garden. I blogged about our feeding station recently, but I make no apologies for adding a few more images to the blog now 🙂One species I finally managed to get some good images of is a bird that captivated me when I first saw a flock of them, nearly 40 years ago, in my neighbour’s Pear tree. With their almost non-stop movement, persistent vocalisations and, let’s face it, looks that are so cute it should be illegal Long-tailed Tits are enchanting. In previous years they’ve been infrequent visitors to our garden but this winter they are here pretty much all day every day. A lot of our clients have made similar observations and wondered why this change of behaviour has happened. Long-tailed Titsare insectivorous and it seems that likely that the hard winter weather, coming so early in the winter has had a devastating impact on their natural food source and made them increasingly reliant on artificially provided food.