Tag: Common Eider
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 🙂
Thursday was a trip I’d been looking forward to for several months…Sue’s 5th trip with NEWT was a day searching for and identifying wading birds. Some, like the Curlew with it’s eerie cry and long downcurved beak are straightforward, but others can be a bit trickier…
A field full of Oystercatcher and Lapwing close to the coast started the trip, and 30+ Whooper Swan in the same fields were a nice find. Down on to the Aln Estuary anad more Oystercatcher and Lapwing, along with Redshank, Curlew and a lone Woodcock which dived into cover after a presumably challenging journey across the North Sea. Vast flocks of Woodpigeon, Jackdaw, Rook and Pink-footed Goose darkened the sky close to the horizon and we headed up the coast. Smaller waders were soon in our sights, with Dunlin alongside Sanderling and Ringed Plover while Turnstone were busy turning stones, kelp and anything else that they thought might conceal something to eat and the plaintive calls of Grey Plover carried across the beach on the strengthening breeze. Along the shoreline Redshank were probing the mud alongside Bar-tailed Godwit and a lone Pink-footed Goose flew northwards, calling constantly. A stream of Blackbirds heading westwards marked an obvious arrival of migrants and a second Woodcock flew ‘in-off’ as we had lunch. Knot alongside Dunlin allowed a nice comparison of two species that can be tricky at a distance and vast flocks of Golden Plover and Bar-tailed Godwit resembled Starling murmurations as they wheeled and turned distantly between Holy Island and the mainland. Just offshore from the mud where the waders were feasting Common Eider and Red-throated Diver were riding the swell, a Great Northern Diver flew north, flotillas of Shag were diving, flocks of Wigeon, Teal and Pale-bellied Brent Goose were disturbed by the rising tide and, as light levels began dropping, Sue spotted two Little Egrets as they left the mud and headed towards a nighttime roost.
Before the end of the day, Sue had already booked her next trip with us – Kielder next March. There’ll be fewer waders, and less mud 🙂
I arrived in Seahouse to collect Jill, Pete, Liz and Bernie and we had a couple of hours on the coast before heading back to the harbour and boarding Glad Tidings. We were only just out of the harbour when the skipper slowed the boat almost to a halt…as a group of 5 Bottlenose Dolphins passed across our bow 🙂 We watched as they had a quick fly-by of another boat that was leaving the harbour and then they were gone.
As lines of Puffin, Razorbill and Guillemot passed by, there was a notable change in the weather. Blue skies and sunshine were replaced by cloud and falling temperatures, and a heavy mist was shrouding the islands. The Farne Islands are a surreal place as it is, but when some of the islands were just dark shapes in the mist they took on a whole different persona. The loud cries of Kittiwake echoed around the gullies, Sandwich, Common and Arctic Tern were all incubating eggs or chicks, a handsome male Red-breasted Merganser was sitting on the water just off the Inner Farne jetty and the whirling parade of Puffins carrying fish back to their nests was the focus of everyone’s attention, although female Common Eider sitting motionless on nests with small ducklings were greatly appreciated too.
With the first rain drops beginning to spatter on the car windscreen just after we returned to dry land we headed along the coast so I could reveal some of the better spots for wildife photography; what’s there? what time of day? what time of year? Then it was time to head back to Seahouses. Are the Farnes the best wildlife experience you can enjoy in England? Britain? the world? Possibly…
I collected Gill and Stuart from The Swan, ahead of a day in search of photographable Otters, and the most noticeable thing was the gentle breeze and lack of rain/sleet/hail/snow 🙂 Always a good start…
After a morning of Treecreepers, Moorhen, Little Grebe, Long-tailed Tits, mirror-calm water, two separate incidents where Mallards, Mute Swans and Black-headed Gulls all gave an indication that they’d spotted a predator and lots of entertaining discussion about the ethics of wildlife photography (and the brilliance of the Nikon D810) we had lunch overlooking the remarkably calm North Sea, with a flock of Eider offshore and Fulmars arcing along the cliff tops. I’d seen two Otter cubs on Thursday, when I was getting in some recce work before the arrival of Storm Gertrude, so I’d already decided where we’d be spending the afternoon. Goldeneye and Little Grebe were sitting quietly on the water, a lone Little Egret was stalking through the shallows and Cormorants, those briefly convincing Otter lookalikes, were busy eating their way through plenty of small fish. Then, the change in behaviour I was looking for; Redshank scattered and Cormorants took off as if they’d rather be anywhere other than where they’d been feeding. Looking like a rock moving slowly through the shallow water the adult Otter was hunting, head and tail submerged and it’s impressive muscular torso above the water line 🙂 Then, much closer to us, an Otter cub diving persistently, crunching it’s prey each time it surfaced. Closer and closer, until it obligingly got out of the water in front of us. A second cub was slightly more distant, and we’d got three separate Otters in view as a Kingfisher treated us to repeated fly-bys on what seemed to be a regular feeding circuit.
As Black-headed and Herring Gulls passed overhead in the rapidly deepening gloom of dusk and a strengthening cold breeze brought persistent drizzle we headed back to the car after nearly three hours with the Otters. You just don’t notice the cold and wet when you’re enjoying yourself 🙂
Friday was Tony’s third, and final, day of bespoke birdwatching with NEWT and we headed north in similar weather to Thursday…
Travelling north, Roe Deer seemed unsure which way to run across the road so dodged back and forth in front of us. On the rising tide, Little Egrets, Bar-tailed Godwits, Curlew, Dunlin, Redshank and Oystercatcher were hunting along the water’s edge, Pale-bellied Brent Geese were leapfrogging north, Pink-footed Geese flew south high overhead as the ‘choo-it’ calls of a Spotted Redshank and eerie moaning of Grey Seals cut through the tranquil air. A Common Buzzard was perched on a telegraph pole and the rising tide brought more birds towards us, Herring, Common, Black-headed, Great Black-backed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Ruff, Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover, Wigeon, Goosander, Mallard and Teal were more obliging than distant swirling flocks of Lapwing and Barnacle Goose and a noisy tribe of Long-tailed Tits moved through the trees behind us. Lunch at Stag Rocks produced Common Eider, Guillemot, Gannet, Red-throated Diver, Turnstone, Purple Sandpiper and Shag, then Greenshank and Shoveler were soon added to the day list as we continued south down the coast. Panic amongst Herring Gulls and Cormorants revealed a Grey Seal swimming along the River Coquet and Great Crested Grebe and Goldeneye were the final new birds for Tony’s holiday as a juvenile Marsh Harrier flew by and Greylag and Pink-footed Geese began arriving at their overnight roost.
Wednesday’s weather was a complete contrast to Tuesday as I collected Mike and Janet from Dunstan Steads. This was their second trip with NEWT, after a Lindisfarne trip last November, and today we were heading across to the Farne Islands.
Starting on dry land, we watched Grey Seals lazing in the sunshine as Skylarks soared overhead, Sandwich Terns plunged into the sea and Gannets soared by on the gentle breeze. Crossing to the islands on St Cuthbert II, we soon had streams of Guillemots, Puffins and Razorbills passing by as Grey Seals popped their heads up out of the water around us and Kittiwakes called their name around the cliffs. Once landed on Inner Farne we came under attack by the feisty Arctic Terns 🙂 Common Terns and Sandwich Terns kept themselves to themselves as Black-headed Gulls attempted to rob any Puffins that flew back in with fish, Common Eider and Shags continued incubating eggs and brooding chicks, apparently unconcerned by the presence of so many people, and amidst the mayhem and noise of the tern colony one call stood out. ‘Choo-it, choo-it’ grabbed the attention as a ghostly Roseate Tern flew around the lighthouse and then off towards the mainland, and we had another four encounters with this beautiful species befopre we departed for the mainland 🙂
I pulled into the car park at the mainland end of the Holy Island causeway, and Heather was already there for our Beginners Photography ‘Winter Wildfowl’ workshop. The first thing that struck me as I go out of the car was just how cold it was. With a bitingly cold cold wind racing across the exposed mudflats, it felt like the middle of the harshest winter. So, we started with a session in the car, checking camera settings and delving deep into the recesses of the camera menu. Then it was time to venture back out into the cold. Curlew, Redshank, Bar-tailed Godwit and Turnstone were eking out an existence in the wind-blasted landscape, a Little Egret still looked supremely elegant, with barely a feather ruffled out of place, and Heather’s attention was on a flock of Common Eider in the channel under the causeway. Our county bird is quite stunning, and makes a excellent photographic subject, so Heather was soon engrossed in capturing them whenever they turned their heads towards us and the slightly trickier task of catching one in the act of stretching and flapping it’s wings. Here’s one of my images of a drake Eider, from a warmer and less windy session a few years ago, showing just how beautiful they are.
Our Beginner’s Photography Workshops are ideal if you’re just getting used to your camera, or want to improve a particular skill or technique, so give us a call on 01670 827465 to reserve your place.
The first of two bespoke birdwatching days for Alan and Sandra began when I collected them from Weldon Bridge and we headed across to Druridge Bay and the southeast Northumberland coast.
A ghosty pale Mediterranean Gull was a good start to the morning, Redshank, Turnstone, Oystercatcher and Purple Sandpiper were roosting just above the breaking surf and Eiders were rafting just offshore. Atlantic Salmon heading upstream on the River Coquet provided lunchtime entertainment, then the afternoon brought beautifully sublime light conditions that illuminated Golden Plover and Lapwing as they twisted and turned while Common Snipe slept, fed and bickered with each other in the muddy margins, a Little Egret stalked patiently along the edges of the reeds and a Spotted Redshank stood out like a shining beacon as the sun sank below a thick bank of cloud on the western horizon and it turned cold and gloomy. Starlings came to roost, although with little appetite for a full-blown murmuration, and Pink-footed Geese arrived from surrounding fields, yapping noisily as they dropped from the air towards the water. When it was too dark to see anything and we headed back to the car, the yapping of the late arrivals still cut through the gloom overhead.
I collected John and Pam from home in Cullercoats and we drove up the coast. As we ate our picnic lunch in the shadow of Bamburgh Castle, we could see Gannets diving offshore, beyond the rafts of Common Eider that were surfing the gentle swell. Kestrels were seen throughout the afternoon and a real ‘from the car’ bonus came in the shape of three Roe Deer. As so often happens as we approach the winter, wildfowl dominated the birdwatching. As well as the Eiders, with males resplendent in their breeding finery, Teal, Mallard and Goldeneye looked at their best. As a Grey Wagtail perched on a mid-stream rock, and fish swirled and leapt from the water, a male Kingfisher perched on a branch overhanging the river, flocks of geese peppered the sky wherever we were, and a flock of Greylag Geese began to flush as the search and rescue helicopter passed noisily overhead. Whooper Swans looked as stunning as ever, flocks of Lapwing and Golden Plover swirled in the stiff breeze and, as dusk approached, Pink-footed Geese began arriving to roost. Flock after flock of Pink-feet appeared out of the gloom, announcing their imminent arrival with their yapping calls, eventually in near darkness when they were just a black speckling against the dark grey brooding clouds.
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.