Tag: Coal Tit

Save the best ’til last; Druridge Bay Safari 20/04/18

by on Apr.26, 2018, under Druridge Bay

All of our Safari Days have developed over the last ten years, and even on our familiar, regular Druridge Bay Safaris there’s always the possibility of changing the route slightly and visiting sites that we visit ourselves regularly but haven’t taken clients to yet…

That’s how I found myself with Ian and Elaine & Becky and Helen along a stretch of river that was a new one for a NEWT safari.  We were having an afternoon and evening searching for our favourite sinuous predator around the NEWT local patch and in the warm afternoon sunshine Great Spotted Woodpeckers were drumming and Chiffchaff, Robin, Blackbird, Nuthatch, Blackcap, Chaffinch and Coal Tit were all singing.  On a shallow coastal pool there were no fewer than 19 Avocets (genuinely rare up here when we moved to the north east 25 years ago…) and, while Sand Martins and Swallows fed on the rich hatch of flying insects, Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Teal, Gadwall, Great Crested Grebe and Shelduck dabbled and dived as a pair of Garganey remained unobtrusive until the drake started singing his raspy song.

Our picnic spot, overlooking the North Sea produced a high-tide roost of Redshank, Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Dunlin and Purple Sandpiper as Fulmars soared by and Sandwich Terns were plunge-diving just offshore.  The descending silvery cadence of Willow Warblers came from hawthorns alongside footpaths and the afternoon was feeling more Spring than Winter (at last!).

A Little Owl glared balefully from a roadside tree, but remained obligingly perched in full view and we headed to our final location for dusk.  A Short-eared Owl drifted across one reedbed as a female Marsh Harrier quartered another one and Water Rails squealed from a third as the Mute Swans and Greylag Geese seemed to be the only birds in a fairly large area of water…

The Short-eared Owl emerged from the dunes and settled on a distant fence post and I set the ‘scope up so that everyone could have a look at it.  I was scanning the foreground and I thought I saw a dark shape just a few feet behind a Greylag.  I mentioned it but it seemed unlikely that it was an Otter, unless the goose hadn’t seen it and it hadn’t seen the goose…which is what seems to have happened as an adult Otter appeared a few metres further along the reed edge  🙂  After a few minutes with no further sightings a Grey Heron and a Marsh Harrier both flushed from a reedbed further round the pool – and there was an Otter cub too 🙂  We watched as it made it’s way along the edge and then out across the open water with dusk approaching.

 

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Another raptor day :-) Kielder Safari 05/04/18

by on Apr.06, 2018, under Hen Harrier, Kielder

When we’ve got a day in and around Kielder and the Scottish Borders ahead of us what I’m hoping for is blue sky, not too much cloud and a nice breeze…exactly what we’d got as I collected Ian and Ian from Newbiggin, Joan and Jerry from Hexham and Duncan and Laura from Bellingham…

As Chaffinches belted out their song from the treetops, Coal Tits sang, a Green Woodpecker yaffled and a small flock of Common Crossbills plundered the cones of a Larch tree nearby a male Goshawk flew along the treeline opposite our watch point.  Common Buzzards began displaying as 2 more Goshawks put in a brief appearance and a Sparrowhawk provided a nice comparison with it’s much larger, and really rather different relative.  A very obliging Goldcrest was just a few metres away from us as Ian spotted an Osprey which spent a couple of minutes hovering over the water before deciding there wasn’t anything worth pursuing.

The afternoon managed to equal, if not surpass, the morning’s raptor watching.  Shaggy Wild Goats grazed close to the road, Skylark and Meadow Pipit flew across the narrow road ahead of us as we crossed the moors, more Common Buzzards, including 8 in the air at the same time along one ridge, Merlins angrily buzzing Common Buzzards and Ravens and then, just about the best raptor-watching experience there is…as Red Grouse cackled from the heather nearby a male Hen Harrier drifted along the skyline before rising and falling on deep deliberate wingbeats.  Then a female rose from the heather and mirrored his skydancing display.  The exuberant glorious synchronised dance of the grey male and ringtail was repeated every few minutes before they both raced angrily across the fell to see off a Common Buzzard that had drifted just too close for their liking, and we headed from the hills down through Kielder and back to civilisation 🙂

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Setting sun; Bespoke Wildlife Safari 05/02/17

by on Feb.06, 2017, under Northumberland Coast

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 SiskinRed 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 🙂

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Damp; Druridge Bay 19/10/16

by on Oct.21, 2016, under Druridge Bay

I collected Phil and Richard and we set out for a day birdwatching around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  The forecast suggested there was the possibility of a rain shower sometime in the early afternoon…

Eider were well-appreciated, as Golden Plover carpeted the mud at low tide, and other ducks are starting to look very smart as they moult into breeding plumage; Teal, Mallard, Gadwall, Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Shoveler and a lone Scaup.  Tuesday’s Long-tailed Duck was still present, consorting with male and female Wigeon, although quickly vanished from view.  Grey Herons, Little Egrets, Curlew, Redshank, Lapwing, Avocet and Black-tailed Godwit were either in the shallows or on the muddy edge, Cormorants were doing that fantastic Otter impression that they’re so good at and the bushes along the footpaths held Song Thrush, Blackbird, Goldcrest, Chaffinch, Blue Tit, Coal Tit and a vocal Ring Ouzel that expressed it’s annoyance as we walked by.  The southward migration of Pink-footed Geese continued, and two each of Brent Goose and Barnacle Goose were less expected.  Dunnocks were subjected to greater scrutiny than usual (with the recent arrivals of Siberian Accentors, you just never know…) and Goldcrests were watched at close range as they made their way through willows.

As for that rain shower…an almost apocalyptic 5 minutes that just happened to coincide with us walking back to the car from the Oddie Hide at Druridge Pools.  Driven by a NNE wind though, I wasn’t too distressed by it 🙂

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Scarcities; Druridge Bay Safari 16/02/2016

by on Mar.01, 2016, under Druridge Bay

Returning clients are always a pleasure, and as a business it’s a great vote of confidence that we’re doing the right thing…

I collected Lindsay and Abbie from Felton, for their second trip with NEWT after a Kielder Safari in 2012, and we headed down to Druridge Bay to collect Simon for his third trip with us, after a stunning pelagic trip in 2012 and a day on the coast in 2014.  The day featured a lot of the birds that are regular on the Northumberland coast in the winter; mixed flocks of passerines around feeders included, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Great Tit, Tree Sparrow and Long-tailed TitEider rode nonchalantly over the swell near to the shore, Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Mallard, Wigeon, Teal and Little Grebe were dabbling or diving and the end of the day brought two scarcities.  Common Scoter may be a common wintering bird on the sea off Northumberland, but seeing one on a pond is much more unusual.  Black-necked Grebe is an uncommon winter visitor to Northumberland, but a gem in black and white and a great way to finish the day 🙂

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Midwinter mammal magic; Otter and Squirrel Safari 10/01/2016

by on Jan.11, 2016, under Druridge Bay, Otter, Southeast Northumberland

Trips with more than one target species can be tricky, particularly if the different targets don’t occur at the same sites as each other…

I collected Lynn, Alan, Glynis and Michael from Swarland and we headed southeast towards Druridge Bay.  The weather forecast promised showers and the first of those, accompanied by a bone-chilling breeze, hit just as we reached our first site. What didn’t mind the weather though were the two Otter cubs that we were soon watching 🙂  We watched them for 30 mins as they fed synchronously in turbulent water; drifting , diving, bobbing up like corks and, after coming very close to us, eventually drifting away when they heard a dog-walker shouting at her errant pet.  A walk on the beach worked up an appetite for lunch and then we were off in search of our second target for the day.  Chaffinch, Bullfinch, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit and Great Spotted Woodpecker were all visiting feeding stations but in the icy breeze I wasn’t overly confident that we’d have any luck.  Checking a different clump of trees proved the key though, and we soon found ourselves just a few metres away from an apparently unconcerned Red Squirrel 🙂  As dusk approached, Little Grebe, Goldeneye and Mute Swan were silhouetted against water turned pink by a stunning sunset, and Lapwings flew by like gigantic moths in the half light.

Multi-mammal days are always fantastic.  Our one day record on a trip with clients is 8 species, but there’ll surely come a day (probably during the summer when we can search for bats at the end of the day) when we hit double figures!

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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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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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Fantastic Mr Fox; Moorland and Coast 07/03/2014

by on Mar.14, 2014, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Harwood, Northumberland

One of the best bits of being outside and searching for wildlife is the how everything around you ties together to create an experience; the landscape, the wildlife and the weather all come together to produce whatever they may…

I collected Paul and Jeanette from their holiday accommodation in Warkworth and we started out down the coast towards Druridge Bay.  Originally the plan had been Harwood and then the coast, but weather conditions suggested it would be better to reverse that.  Then there was a sudden change from the poor conditions and it was looking like a glorious morning after all so we reverted to Plan A.  The Northumbrian weather responded by throwing everything it could at us; sunshine, azure blue skies, fluffy white clouds, torrential rain and brutal biting winds all came, went and came again 🙂 There was no sign of any Goshawk activity in the good spells but you could hardly blame them 🙂  Eventually we retreated back down to the coastal plain…and had the same sequence of changeable weather all over again!  Feeding stations were a hive of bird activity, with Chaffinches, Long-tailed Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit and a very bright male Siskin all entertaining us, but Red Squirrels weren’t to be seen.  Some of our coastal ponds have been producing regular Otter sightings over the last few months…but the most notable thing was that the howling gale was generating waves that you could have surfed on!  Tree Sparrows and Goldfinches were clinging on to branches as the wind buffeted them and, as Curlew, Lapwing and a nice mini-murmuration of Starlings were tossed about on the breeze, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye; Mallard, Wigeon, Teal, Shelduck and Slavonian, Red-necked, Great Crested and Little Grebe struggled in the waves.

Our final destination for the day was one of our favourite Badger setts.  There was rustling in the scrub on the valley sides, but no stripy black-and-white head appeared, at least not before it was too dark to see.  What did come along though was a Red Fox.  Unusually obliging, this one trotted along just above the sett before stopping and fixing us with a stare.  It didn’t bolt, as foxes so often do, but watched us, and some passing dog walkers, before continuing with its exploration of the hillside.  Often underrated, undervalued, frequently despised…but a thoroughly engaging animal if you take time to watch the almost feline grace of this wild canine.

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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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