Tag: Carrion Crow
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 🙂
Whatever the time of year, that final hour or so before it’s too dark to see any wildlife is invariably the best bit of the day…
I collected Gerry and Tracey from The Swan and we headed towards the coast for a day in search of Otters. Goldcrests, Long-tailed Tits and Robins provided noise and movement in the bushes, Teal, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Common Scoter, Wigeon, Gadwall and Little Grebe were dabbling and/or diving, Cormorant, Goosander and Red-breasted Merganser all emanated an air of sleek menace, Grey Heron and Little Egret stalked patiently along the edges of shallow pools where Black-tailed Godwits radiated elegance, Curlew probed for worms in grassy fields, Eider were just beyond the gently rolling surf as low sunlight illuminated the dunes to structures of extraordinary beauty and Carrion Crows harried a Common Buzzard as it flapped lazily over the coastal fields.
As the sun dipped towards the horizon, ducks and geese were silhouetted against a stunning orange reflection and an all-out assault on the senses began to build. First Starlings, just a few hundred intially, building to a murmuration of several thousand as wave after wave of birds arrived – some to join the swirling amorphous dark cloud overhead, others heading straight in to the reeds as they’d arrived too late to join the party. Water Rails screeched, squealed and chattered from the reeds nearby and Pink-footed Geese began arriving as Roe Deer grazed in the open as the cover of falling light levels provided them with a cloak of safety. A few dozen geese, noisily yapping as they adjusted their approach to be into the headwind ready for landing, became a few hundred, then a thousand or so, and eventually around 5000 with skeins arriving from south and north east. In front of us, the combination of sunset and dark cloud had left one sublime strip of orange light when Gerry said “what’s that just there?”. Sleek, sinuous and menacing, the Otter swam across the strip of light and out of sight from us, although the geese and ducks spent a good 5 minutes staring in the direction it had departed 🙂
As the clouds overhead cleared the darkening sky revealed some of it’s gems; first Arcturus, then the Summer Triangle (Deneb, Vega and Altair) and Mars before the familiar asterism of The Plough and, appropriately as it was accompanied by the remarkable calls of Whooper Swans, Cygnus. A great end to a fantastic day, searching for wildlife and discussing otters, squirrels, Pine Martens, rewilding and post-industrial landscapes with lovely clients 🙂
One of the things I love about leading tours for NEWT is that almost all of our clients enjoy watching all wildlife. No matter what the particular target species is during a tour, there’s always plenty to hold the attention while we search for that target.
I collected Jo from Church Point for what turned out to be a one-to-one birdwatching and otter safari afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland (our other participants had cancelled on Tuesday…). As is often the case wildlife watching was steady during the afternoon, with an interesting ID comparison between Black-headed Gull and Bonaparte’s Gull, but the evening, and falling light levels, brought the best of the day. A lone Avocet was voicing it’s displeasure at something – it isn’t always certain what, Avocets are just generally noisy and feisty – a distant whirring resolved into the drumming of a Common Snipe almost directly overhead, Curlew were calling over the marshes as a Brown Hare loped by and an obliging Barn Owl quartered grassland in front of us, periodically dropping into the vegetation but reappearing without prey until it was finally driven away by the attention of couple of Carrion Crows. Small flocks of, mainly juvenile, Starling began gathering until there were several thousand whirling around us, their wing beats like the arrival of a storm. My attention was on a group of Tufted Ducks though – alert, looking nervous and constantly lifting their heads to look around the water. I pointed them out to Jo and said I was confident that they’d seen an Otter close by. 20 minutes later and there it was 🙂 We watched it for an hour before it slipped from view. Then it reappeared and I gave directions “over to the right, next to that Mute Swan“…just as Jo spotted one away to our left, and a third one in front of us! Three Otters in an atmospheric cloud-heavy dusk and a second Barn Owl carrying prey low over the ground made for an exciting end to the day 🙂
October, mist, drizzle, winds off the sea…
I collected Bernard from Newbiggin and we headed north to begin a day birdwatching around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. A very obliging Dipper was singing from a mid-stream rock, before it started feeding. If you’ve never seen a Dipper feeding, put it on your list of things that you really need to see! As Common Redshank and Curlew probed in gooey estuarine mud, we could see a wave of panic spreading towards us from the north. First, the air was filled with Greylag and Pink-footed Geese, Woodpigeon, Rook, Carrion Crow and Jackdaw. Then Wigeon, Mallard, Canada Geese and Curlew took flight and 20 Black-tailed Godwit passed overhead. A few minutes later the cause of all the consternation put in an appearance – a female Sparrowhawk, menacing and muscular as she followed the coast southwards. Then a sight, and sound, that always warms my heart as 20 Redwing and 6 Fieldfare, winter visitors from Scandinavia, flew over. More waders and wildfowl featured during the afternoon; Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Gadwall, Little Grebe, Common Snipe, Dunlin, Lapwing and Golden Plover resplendent in low autumn sunlight. A Water Rail wandered out of the reeds and our final new bird for the day was an elegant female Pintail, as the calls of Redwing and Fieldfare continued to cut through the afternoon air.
The alarm went off at 06:00 on Wednesday, and my heart sank as I looked out of the window…heavy mist, not ideal for any of our tours, but particularly not good for a day in Kielder. I drove to Kingston Park to collect Steph and we headed west in much more promising conditions; low cloud in some valleys, but some sunshine too. We collected Paul and Trish from Wark, and then Ivan from Tower Knowe and headed into the forest. It was a bit cool and misty for any raptors to be up and about, but two Common Crossbill flew by and the air around us was filled with the descending silvery cadence of Willow Warblers as Woodpigeons, Stock Doves and Carrion Crows caused a brief quickening of the heart rate as they flew between plantations.
A walk to the Bakethin reserve produced lots of Siskin, and Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Teal, Oystercatcher, Cormorant and Common Sandpiper were around the water’s edge. As we got back to the car park, which provided good views of Treecreepers, Paul spotted a raptor high overhead, and binoculars resolved it into the impressive shape of an Osprey.
Over the border into Scotland we were soon encountering Common Buzzards, lots of them, and a remarkable number of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits. We reached our picnic spot and, as soup, sandwiches and carrot cake were consumed, raptors began to appear above the skyline. First Common Buzzards, then a female Hen Harrier, followed soon after by a skydancing grey male 🙂 Then more Common Buzzards, and more Common Buzzards. At one point we had between four and six birds behind us, while higher up the valley at least ten were kettling in one thermal along with a Peregrine 🙂 Absolute heaven for any birdwatcher who enjoys raptors…and who doesn’t? Along the stream Reed Buntings were pretending to be Dippers, but we did eventually find the genuine article, which obligingly bobbed up and down on a rock before diving into the fast flowing water, and Wheatears were perched on old stone walls. On the hillsides high above the valley bottom, Wild Goats were grazing as we enjoyed close views of Common Buzzards both perched and flying, and Red Grouse were found as we crossed the moors back towards England.
We finished the trip with an uncountable number of Chaffinches and a real Northumberland speciality as a Red Squirrel ran around on the ground before deciding to hang upside down on a peanut cage, and it was time to reverse the route and drop everyone off.
As the air cools, a pall of pale ghostly mist hangs just above the ground in a wildflower meadow dropping away ahead of me. I’m on a woodland edge, standing on a soft cushion of fallen larch and pine needles. Standing still and blending in, the mist wraps me in its cooling blanket as a flock of Goldcrests move through the trees just behind my vantage point. Overhead Redwings, Rooks and Jackdaws head to roost as a Carrion Crow caws defiantly from the top of a tall larch and Wood Pigeons flutter up and down at tree-top height. The incessant screeching of Jays and chatter of Blackbirds betrays the presence of a Tawny Owl; stirring in preparation for its nocturnal foray, it soon tires of the harassment and heads deeper into the wood. A Woodcock appears at the same point where I emerged from the trees just a few minutes ago, having followed my route alongside the gurgling stream. Away over the fields I can see a Barn Owl, hunting close to the site where it raised this year’s young hoolets, and Roe Deer nervously make their way out into the open. As the light fades and I head for home, it’s hard to believe that I’m on the edge of the most densely populated area of Northumberland and walking through a mixed woodland where there were once three coal mines, including one of the first deep-shaft mines anywhere in the world. For now though, it’s just me and the wildlife…
The autumn regularly produces excellent birdwatching experiences, and our Friday afternoon Lindisfarne mini-safari was no exception.
I collected Pat and Ian from Glororum and we headed north towards Holy Island. With the tide falling, the newly exposed mud provided a veritable banquet for the massed waders and wildfowl. As far as the eye could see the shoreline was lined with Pale-bellied and Dark-bellied Brent Geese, Barnacle Geese were arriving and the mud was a hive of activity with Wigeon, Teal, Bar-tailed Godwits, Curlews, Redshanks, Oystercatchers, Knot, Dunlin and Grey Plover all tucking in. 2 Carrion Crows were administering a warm welcome to a Peregrine, and a Little Egret flew in, landing beside another egret that was stalking around the edges of a pool on the mudflats. As the afternoon wore on, we relocated to Bamburgh, and the rocks there produced excellent views of the waders we’d seen earlier as well as a few Purple Sandpipers.
Then came one of those real experience moments. Despite the strong offshore winds 3 Fieldfares were battling against the headwind, low over the waves. They crossed the beach, flew by us and as they dropped towards the shelter of the coastal fields they were intercepted by 2 Sparrowhawks. The final act of the encounter happened out of sight, but you can’t help thinking that it was a cruel end to a herculean effort.
We don’t usually do North Pennines trips in September; by this time of the year we’re focused closely on the coast, and our inland visits tend to be limited to our own photography projects. However, when we had a ‘phone call on Monday “we’re stopping in Allendale, what can you do for us this week?”, it seemed logical to head into the bleak open expanse of southwest Northumberland and Upper Teesdale.
I collected Jan and Pete from their holiday cottage and we headed cross country as I explained that birdwatching in the North Pennines tends to be about quality rather than quantity…
Sure enough, the mouth-watering quality of birdwatching on the moors was soon evident. After lots of obligingly photogenic Red Grouse we went through a remarkable period of raptor sightings. Kestrels and Common Buzzards were followed by a Peregrine harassing a Carrion Crow, a Common Buzzard somehow getting embroiled in that same dispute, a Merlin that raced across the fell behind the intriguing 3-way dogfight, more Kestrels and Common Buzzards, and a Sparrowhawk that had caught a Lapwing (which broke free and flew off, with the Sparrowhawk in pursuit).
Then we had a quantity of quality, as our afternoon and evening produced no less than 73 Black Grouse! 54 Blackcocks and 19 Greyhens was an extraordinary total for one trip and we enjoyed the sight of the cryptically patterned Greyhens, the iridescent blue of the adult Blackcocks and we picked out a few young birds amongst the groups as well.
Rounded off with a carmine pink sky just after sunset, we’ll have to think about adding some autumn North Pennines trips into our schedule for 2012 🙂
I’ve been a general naturalist since an early age, but birdwatching has been the thing that has always gripped my imagination. As a wildlife guide though, is that really enough? That’s a question that seems to arise occasionally on internet forums. I decided at an early stage of NEWT that I needed a much broader and deeper knowledge, so I spend a lot of time studying things that once upon a time (I’m ashamed to admit) I would have ignored, or even not noticed. Every day that I spend with clients, I make an effort to learn from them, whilst imparting my own knowledge, skills and understanding of what we encounter.
On Thursday I led an afternoon of guided birdwatching around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. The blazing sunshine when I collected Karen from Newbiggin made it almost impossible to see anything in the bay but, as each small gull flew by, we checked for the identification features that would provide us with a Mediterranean Gull. All proved to be Black-headed Gulls, and we headed north up the coast. As we stood by the River Coquet, discussing how to separate Carrion Crow, Rook and Jackdaw in flight, I saw the tell-tale ghostly wings of a Med Gull as it drifted down towards the water’s edge. Jet black hood, pristine white wingtips and, as perfect as if it was scripted, sitting next to an adult Black-headed Gull allowing easy comparison. Some of our favourite birds followed; Marsh Harrier, Nuthatch, Heron and at least 17 Whimbrel. During the afternoon I learned a feature of Wood Sorrel that will ensure I never misidentify it (again…). Karen, you were right 🙂
Friday was something very different as we were headed inland to the Cheviots for a day searching for summer visitors. After a few hours with a spectacular roll-call of the wildlife of the valleys, including Brown Hare, Roe Deer, Whinchat, Tree Pipit, Wheatear, Spotted Flycatcher, Red Grouse, Curlew and Lapwings (with chicks), we followed the track up a steep sided valley in search of a bird that Sue hadn’t seen before (and really wanted to). As the sky darkened, the wind strengthened and chilled, and the first drops of icy rain began to fall, I spotted 2 distant birds flying down the valley. I didn’t have any doubt about the identification so, when they eventually settled on the tops of the heather, I aimed the ‘scope in their direction and Sue enjoyed her first views of the ‘Mountain Blackbird’. Ring Ouzels may often be seen on passage in the spring and autumn, but high in a remote valley, where you think the elements could give you a good working over at any time and the habitat supports so few species, is simply the right place to see them. Another lesson learned; memorable sightings make you forget about the weather 🙂
4am, and the insistent ringing of the alarm prises me out of bed. Stagger down the stairs, get dressed, find binoculars/hat/gloves and head out into the chill early morning Southeast Northumberland air. The Dawn Chorus is in full flow; Blackbirds are leading the way, and dominating the soundscape around our house, Chiffchaffs are singing from the churchyard and I make a mental note to do this again tomorrow to get some sound recordings.
Walking along the River Wansbeck I can see a pointed snout sticking out of the water distantly. Closer inspection reveals a Grey Seal. A Grey Heron flies by, croaking and screeching as a pair of Carrion Crows harrass it until it turns through 180 and heads away from the annoyance. I move on as well, heading towards Druridge Bay. With ethereal mist rising from a coastal pool, Sedge Warblers are singing from the bushes around me, and I’m concentrating on the mimicry that they employ, when a group of Rabbits suddenly scatter and Lapwings, Black-headed Gulls and Common Terns begin circling and alarming. A movement in the grass reveals itself as a Red Fox; wary, immaculate and healthy – this isn’t the urban scrounger so familiar to many people, but rather what a recent client described as “that’ll be one of those rural foxes then”.
Then, one of those moments that take me back the best part of four decades; a Cuckoo starts calling. My first Cuckoo, all those years ago, was on an early morning birdwatching cycle ride to a site several miles from home. With nobody else anywhere to be seen, and all of the sounds of the early morning to myself, that haunting sound carried from nearby trees before the pointy-winged long-tailed shape of the bird raced across my field of view. I stand and marvel at the bird. It’s fascinating breeding ecology and migration still grip me the way that birdwatching did when I was a little lad. Perhaps I need to start setting the alarm for very early every morning 🙂