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 🙂
I collected Luke and Louise from Alnwick, for the first of their three trips with us this week, and we headed north to Lindisfarne…
Crossing the causeway, with hardly any water in sight, it was hard to believe that this has been the scene of so many attempts by the unwary and the foolish to drive through seawater that brings their journeys to an abrupt end and the ignominy of having to be rescued by the RNLI and RAF. On the island, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff were singing from deep cover as foraging Lapwings were joined by a Fieldfare that was chancing it’s arm with repeated threat displays. Meadow Pipits were sitting on fence posts and dry stone walls as the air all around seemed to be filled with singing Skylarks. Eight Roe Deer were feeding in a grassy field and a buck near the village took umbrage at beeing watched and took off at pace, clearing fence after fence and wall after wall as he headed towards the dunes on the north of the island. House Sparrows were chirping from what seemed like every bush on the island and Grey Herons blended in to the reeds around the Lough to such an extent that Louise’s sharp eyes picked one out and it took a while, and the heron suddenly moving it’s head, before myself and Luke could see it.
As a cold north easterly breeze gathered pace, the eerie calls of Grey Seals and the shrill cries of Curlew carried across the mudflats. Pink-footed and Barnacle Geese, surely getting ready to depart for northern climes, arrived with the rising tide and Little Egrets, Wigeon, Teal, Redshank, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Shelduck, Herring, Black-headed, Common, Lesser Black-backed and Great Black-backed Gulls were joined along the edge of the swelling water by three Whimbrel.
To enjoy my unedited views about Holy Island causeway strandings, why not join one of our Lindisfarne Safaris? We run them throughout the year, although October (for migrants), November-February (wintering waders and wildfowl) and June-July (flora and insects) are the slightly better months to visit.
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!
I collected Adrian and Ruth from Seahouses for the first of their two days out with us this week; a Cheviots-plus Bespoke tour…
We started at Bamburgh, with Oystercatcher, Redshank and Purple Sandpiper along the edge of the breaking surf, Common Eider, Common Scoter, Red-throated Diver and a lone Puffin surfing the waves just beyond and distant Gannets breaking the horizon above a sea that had been whipped into a mass of whitecaps by a stiff northerly breeze.
Heading inland, it was starting to look cloudier and the forecast deterioration in the weather seemed to be on its way. You can’t necessarily trust the forecast though, and the spectacular landscape of the Cheviot valleys was bathed in sunlight. The triumvirate of nervously bobbing riverside dwellers all put in very obliging appearances; Dipper, Grey Wagtail and Common Sandpiper have so much in common, and are always great to watch. Sand Martins and Swallows, always a sign that things are changing, were hawking insects overhead as a Raven flew by, the eerie cries of Curlew revealed their presence as they displayed high over the valley, Red Grouse chuckled from the surrounding heather, Chiffchaffs were singing their relentlessly onomatopaeic song from every clump of trees and Ruth spotted a stunning male Ring Ouzel hopping around on a fellside that was dripping with Mistle Thrushes and Wheatears. Lunch was accompanied by 3 Common Buzzards high overhead, tussling and skydiving as partnerships and territories for the breeding season start to take shape.
Continuing along our planned loop for the day brought us to the coast of Druridge Bay and Avocet, Shorelark, Ringed Plover, Kestrel, Sanderling, a raft of at least 9 Red-throated Divers and then, as we headed back to the car at the end of the day, a Short-eared Owl quartering rough fields with deep slow wingbeats 🙂
A day around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland was in store as I arrived at Church Point to collect Sam, Luke, Perdi and Georgina.
Ghostly white Mediterranean Gulls were drifting through the assembled cloud of Black-headed Gulls as we prepared to head a few miles inland, and a Swallow over the caravan park was an unexpected find. A Long-tailed Duck on the river Wansbeck was a nice surprise, alongside Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Goosander, Red-breasted Merganser and Mute Swan. Skeins of Pink-footed Geese passed overhead, making their way south, as Little Egret, Grey Heron and Little Grebe feasted on what seemed to be a never-ending supply of tiny fish, Common Redshank flew back and forth and a Sparrowhawk panicked Woodpigeons in the riverside trees as it flew through. In the dunes along Druridge Bay Stonechat, Reed Bunting and Meadow Pipit flicked between bushes and fence posts. The recent wet weather, accompanied by easterly winds has left the coast dripping with Goldcrests, and a feeding flock of around a dozen of these tiny gems was scrutinised for anything different. Lapwing and Curlew were calling over the fields and a Common Scoter offered views that were vastly different to the usual dark dots riding the crest of waves offshore that typify the species. An incredibly pale grey Chiffchaff joined them briefly before diving into deep cover and not being as obliging as we hoped. As we neared the end of the afternoon one of the species that always enlivens a day birdwatching on the Northumberland coast through the autumn and winter put in an appearance. Dashing and elegant, the Merlin zipped along the dunes before flicking up, over and out of sight, in pursuit of an unidentified small bird. A handsome bird to end a fine day on the coast 🙂
Wednesday brought a first for me – arriving at Church Point to collect Lucy, Jon, Hattie and Lily, the car park was completely full! That’s nice weather for you though…
We started our afternoon around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland with a search for Red Squirrel. With lots of people around it wasn’t entirely surprising that our quarry eluded us, but Chaffinch, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Goldfinch and Dunnock were all benefiting from the supply of free food as everyone tried to get to grips with the contact calls of Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler. Dragonflies were hawking around the tree tops and a range of insects finished up in our sample pot before being released back to the plants we’d taken them from. On to wetter habitats and an attempt to catch a Blue-tailed Damselfly ended comically when it flew from its perch and settled on my finger instead 🙂 Common Snipe, Curlew Sandpiper, Common Redshank, Ruff, Curlew and Lapwing were a nice little haul of waders and a calling Greenshank stayed out of sight as Little Egrets stalked along the water’s edge and Grey Herons tried to remain inconspicuous amongst the clumps of rush. I was called on to answer some tricky questions during the afternoon – “would a Grey Squirrel attack a person?” was slightly easier to answer than “what sort of cloud is that?” 😉
As often is the case, there was a discussion about best wildlife of the trip. Common Snipe and Cinnabar Moth caterpillar both got the seal of approval, although the vote did come before we were heading back down the coast and a Barn Owl was quartering the roadside fields. Death on silent wings, beautifully backlit by the later afternoon sun and the finale to Jon’s 40th birthday wildlife tour 🙂
As I collected Len and Jean from Middleton Hall, the bright warm sunshine suggested that summer had genuinely arrived 🙂
Heading down to the coast we explored a section of river that has produced regular Otter sightings. Hoverflies and bumblebees were exploring riverside flowers, a Scorpion Fly became the focus of Len’s lens and, as Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Chaffinch sang from nearby bushes, Mallards paddled along the river with their ducklings. A high-pitched mewing preceded the appearance of a Common Buzzard over a nearby hillside, twisting, turning and soaring in the rising heat as Black-headed Gulls drifted in and out of view dipping towards the river before climbing again.
The buzz of insects on a warm summer morning, is there anything that epitomises June any more than that 🙂
Monday was Pete and Jan’s 8th trip with NEWT, and we were heading back to the Cheviot valleys where we’d watched a Cuckoo together back in 2013. It’s always a pleasure to have a day out with them and catch-up on what’s been happening since we last met, as between us we’re keen recorders of a range of wildlife and the other members of their local Natural History Society are always busy recording some weird and wonderful species…
In glorious sunny weather the verges were alive with insects. Lots of hoverflies (I’m just starting to take an interest in these…) and a very bright Orange-tip as well as a couple of unidentified female damselflies. Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff were singing enthusiastically as Oystercatchers plundered the earthworm population of grassy fields before returning to feed their chicks. Brown Hare sat motionless in short crops, as if we couldn’t see them, before realising they were being watched and loping off. The triumvirate of riparian nervous energy all put in an appearance; Grey Wagtail flycatching above the rushing stream, Common Sandpiper bobbing up and down as it made it’s way upstream in a game of avian hopscotch from one bankside rock to the next and Dipper, almost invisible until it turned and revealed it’s bright white throat and breast. On the edges of the heather moorland, Red Grouse were standing, sentinel like, and territorial disputes were revealed by the resonant cries of ‘go back, go back, go back’. Common Buzzards soared on the breeze, a Kestrel flew quickly by and the plaintive cries of Curlew echoed around the valley sides. Throughout the afternoon, our walk towards the Scottish border was accompanied by the onomatopaeic calls of Common Cuckoo. As the air buzzed with the trill of Lesser Redpoll, a Goldcrest showed itself briefly after a burst of song, Spotted Flycatchers sallied from trees and fence posts and Cuckoos were calling from every plantation. One perched in a treetop and was quickly mobbed by Meadow Pipits, another flew over the neighbour it had been having a vocal dispute with, prompting a harsh grumbling response, and others flew across the valley.
Gorgeous weather, and clients who are great company – an ideal start to the summer…
Ever improving weather tends to make days out with clients slightly more relaxed than those days where we’re contending with the elements – although I personally prefer the more challenging days 😉
I collected Julie and Mike from The Plough Inn, not much more than a stone’s throw from the sea, and we set out for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. The reedbeds were resonating with the song of Sedge Warbler and Reed Bunting as Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler were singing from the trees that had grown above the height of the hedgerows, Great Crested Grebes crossed the water with elegant grace and Mute Swan, Greylag Goose and Canada Goose kept a watchful eye on their fluffy babies. A hatch of flying insects had attracted the attention of Swallow, Sand Martin, House Martin and Swift as well as an impressive flock of Black-headed Gulls and at least six 1stSummer Little Gulls. The eerie cries of Curlew carried on the southerly breeze and Lapwing displayed so close that we could hear their wingbeats as well as the nuances of their remarkable calls. Just as remarkable, if not more so, was a Common Snipe ‘drumming’ impressively as it flew back and forth right in front of us while we were dazzled by a shockingly bright Yellow Wagtail.
With the sun appearing beneath the dark grey cloud layer as it neared the horizon, the landscape was suddenly bathed in extraordinary light. Intense greens and yellows contrasted with the subtle hues of areas still in shadow as a Barn Owl ghosted by on silent wings, a Grey Wagtail was flycatching from midstream rocks, a Grey Heron stalked the shallows and Mallard and Goosander swam downstream, carried on the rushing bubbling flow where insects trapped in the surface layer fell prey to hungry fish lunging clear of the water and briefly inhabitating an alien world before splashing back down into the watery darkness.
I’ve been wondering why it is that I prefer wildlife-watching in an evening rather than at daybreak, and I think I may have an idea…
I collected James, Ruth, Stuart, Jane, Alex and Lawrence from Church Point and we set out for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. Against a chilly breeze, Cormorants were drying their wings and flying out to sea, Sedge Warblers were belting out their song from hidden positions in the reeds, Chiffchaff sang their name incessantly, Reed Buntings perched obligingly in view, Great Crested Grebe were diving, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Gadwall and Teal were dabbling and Greylag Geese were shepherding their goslings along, looking alert as well they might when they’re at a site that’s produced regular sightings of Otter recently. Shelduck and Oystercatcher flew by and, as afternoon progressed into evening, we headed off to one of NEWT’s favourite spots.
With the breeze subsiding it was turning into a sublime evening. A Dipper flew along just above the water, Moorhen were nervously tail-flicking as they stalked through the bankside vegetation, a drake Goosander drifted downstream, shortly before a pair of these big impressive sawbills flew by, a Grey Heron was unusually confiding, Swallow, Sand Martin and Swift hawked the insects that had managed to escape the gaping jaws of the fish that were rippling and leaping from the water, Rabbits were sitting on the bare earth at the edge of a field, close to the safe haven of the hedgerow, Brown Hares were running through crops that they were almost completely hidden by, occasionally pausing and sitting upright with just their ears and the top of the head visible, and then a harsh barking alerted us to the presence of a Roe Deer in long grass nearby.
The transition from our daytime world to the twilight world of some incredible wildlife is what makes it such a special time of the day 🙂