Tag: Common Eider

From the sublime to the gloomy; Bespoke Birdwatching 04/11/2014

by on Nov.13, 2014, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

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.

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Under a darkening sky; Northumberland Coast 27/10/2014

by on Oct.28, 2014, under Birdwatching, Dark Skies, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

Yesterday was a safari day on the Northumberland coast, with a plan to enjoy the birdwatching around our regular Otter sites and then a stargazing session in Druridge Bay.

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.

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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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Birding with a touch of luxury

by on Mar.31, 2012, under Bamburgh Castle, Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Kielder, Northumberland

Delivering a birding package for the first time with a new partner is always a mixture of excitement and worry; will the experience we deliver to our clients blend well with the standards of service, accommodation and food that are provided?  Our exclusive Doxford Hall birding break on Thursday and Friday didn’t hold too many worries though – I’ve attended conferences and other events there before and, having known David Hunter since he was at Matfen Hall, I knew that the entire Doxford experience would be a memorable one for all the right reasons.

I arrived first thing Thursday morning to collect Paul and Sue, who had won their exclusive birding break in a competition that ourselves and Doxford Hall ran recently in Birdwatch magazine.  Our original plan of Druridge Bay on Thursday, Lindisfarne on Friday, had been altered following a ‘phone call during the week from Sue – there was one species they particularly wanted to see, and our recent blog posts had revealed that now might be a good time…so, after a day of hectic communication with the Forestry Commission to arrange access through Kielder, and check where along our route there would be any forestry activity, our first trip headed inland.  We started at Harwood in near-perfect weather conditions; warm, sunny and with a good breeze.  Common Buzzards, Common Crossbills, Siskins and a very vocal Raven were all seen but no Goshawk so we continued west.  Once we were in Kielder another Raven entertained us, tumbling and cronking over a remote farmhouse in the warm afternoon sunshine before soaring heavenwards and then dropping back out of the sky alongside its mate.  We stopped to scan over another plantation, where I’ve watched Goshawks previously, and I soon spotted a bird just above the trees. He quickly got into a thermal and rose until we lost sight of him.  I suggested that we just needed to wait for a Common Buzzard to drift over the Gos’ territory, and we began a patient vigil.  Eventually a Common Buzzard did appear, we all lifted our binoculars to focus on it…and a distant speck in the binoculars above the buzzard grew rapidly larger as the Goshawk dropped out of the sky.  The intruder thought better of hanging around and quickly folded it’s wings back and crossed the valley like an arrow.  Having shepherded the buzzard away, the Phantom of the Forest rose quickly again to resume his sentinel watch.  More Common Crossbills and Common Buzzards followed as we travelled down the valley back towards civilisation, and 2 pairs of Mandarin brought a touch of stunning colour to the afternoon.

Dinner at Doxford Hall on Thursday evening was exceptional (outstanding food and outstanding levels of service throughout the 2 days), and having clients with such an enthusiasm for birding, and fantastic sense of humour, made it even better.  After dinner conversation did reveal that there was an obvious gap in their life-lists though…

Friday’s plan was simple; head to the coast and then bird our way down it to finish in Druridge Bay late afternoon.  We started at Harkess Rocks, in the shadow of Bamburgh Castle, with a very nice flock of 79 Purple Sandpipers.  In the heavy swell a flock of Common Scoters proved elusive, Common Eiders dived through the surf, small rafts of Common Guillemot and Razorbill bobbed about, Gannets soared effortlessly, Sandwich Terns were feeding just offshore and Long-tailed Ducks and Red-breasted Mergansers in breeding finery were a reminder that our winter visitors are about to pack their bags and head north.  Red-throated Divers, including one bird with a very red tinge to it’s throat, were typically elusive, diving just as we got onto them.  I’d got another species in mind though and, when I found one, it was sitting obligingly next to a Red-throated Diver.  Soon, Paul and Sue were admiring the elegant structure, neat contrasty plumage and white flank patch of their first Black-throated Diver. 2 days, 2 lifers 🙂

We headed south and, after watching an adult Mediterranean Gull, and two 2nd calendar year birds, winter and spring came together with flocks of Greylag and Pink-footed Geese, and a Short-eared Owl, being characteristic of the last 5 months of our coastal trips, Green Sandpiper and Whimbrel on passage and a male Marsh Harrier drifting over a coastal reedbed.

In beautiful afternoon light, with the sound of the roaring surf of the North Sea crashing into the east coast, the Short-eared Owl quartering a nearby reedbed and a pair of Great Crested Grebes displaying on the pool in front of us, a couple of comments by Sue – two of many memorable ones during the trip 😉 – summed things up nicely “chilled-out birding” and “we like the view from Martin’s office” 🙂

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…and staying local

by on Mar.15, 2012, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland

After another day on Holy Island on Sunday (carrying out some contract survey work), I collected Jakob and Nancy from Royal Quays early on Monday for a day of birdwatching around the NEWT ‘local patch’; southeast Northumberland and Druridge Bay.

We started with Mediterranean Gulls at Newbiggin.  Gulls may not be everyone’s bird of choice, but I defy anyone to tell me that adult Med Gulls aren’t stunningly beautiful 🙂  Sanderling, Redshank, Oystercatcher, Turnstone and Pied Wagtail were picking along the tideline as we watched the meds and we left them behind to continue our journey up the coast. Seawatching produced Guillemots, Razorbills, several Red-throated Divers, Fulmars using the breeze to soar incredibly close to the cliffsides and a possible ‘Northern’ Eider drifting south among the Common Eiders.  A Peregrine made its way south with those powerful, menacing wingbeats, Rock Pipits in small flocks danced about on the wind, and we left the sea (although not too far away!) and continued our journey.  Geese, which have characterised so much of our birding this winter are still around and we managed Greylag, Pink-footed, Canada, Barnacle, Taiga Bean and Eurasian White-fronted.  Goldeneyes are still around in good numbers, Teal, Shoveler, Gadwall, Wigeon, Red-breasted Merganser and Mallard were all resplendent (as most ducks tend to be in the late winter) and 2 Common Snipe circled several times before deciding that the pond wasn’t to their liking and heading off again.

I returned Jakob and Nancy to the ferry terminal for their return journey to the Netherlands, and made the slightly shorter journey back to Scotland Gate myself.

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Crossing the causeway

by on Aug.26, 2011, under Bamburgh Castle, Birdwatching, Farne Islands, Holy Island, Northumberland

In what appeared to be worsening weather, I drove north to Bamburgh to collect Lyndsey and Petter for their Lindisfarne Safari…and then things improved dramatically, with warm sunshine tempered by a cool southerly breeze 🙂  We started in the shadow of Bamburgh Castle, with Common Eider on the water, Turnstones on the rocks and Sandwich Terns and Gannets fishing just offshore.  A stop at Budle Bay revealed a Greenshank amongst the masses of roosting Redshank and we continued to Holy Island itself.  Waders continued to be the theme of the afternoon, with Ringed Plover, Golden Plover, Dunlin, Curlew and Lapwing all either roosting or feeding on the mudflats close by and Whimbrel calling as they passed through.  As the tide fell, Grey Seals could be seen hauling themselves out of the water, ‘bottling’ in the afternoon warmth, swimming along with a remarkable turn of pace for such big animals, and splashing around like kids in a paddling pool.

Late August, sunny weather, masses of visitors on Holy Island…and the wildlife is still as good as ever 🙂

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On the beach

by on Apr.28, 2010, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland

Our monthly WeBS count should have been done a couple of weeks ago although, with weekends from mid-March through to mid-September fairly well occupied, this morning was the first chance I’d had to do the count.  With today’s tide times, and a mid-morning meeting with a potential sponsor for NEWT, I left the house just after 6am and drove to Cresswell.  Our usual method of covering the 3.75 miles of our survey section is to take 2 cars, leave one at East Chevington and then drive to Cresswell in the other, leaving us with a walk north along Druridge Bay.  As a solo survey it’s a 7.5 mile round journey, and good exercise on the sand.  As I headed north on a deserted beach, the southwesterly wind brought icy, stinging rain.  Nearly 100 Common Eiders were just offshore, 5 Common Scoter were just beyond them and a summer-plumaged Red-throated Diver brought a splash of colour.  A Sand eel had managed to become stranded almost 20m above the receding tideline so I did my good deed for the day and returned it to the sea, although it initially resisted my efforts to pick it up 🙂  Sandwich Terns were flying backwards and forwards along the shore, giving their creaky, rasping call, and a summer-plumaged Sanderling was feeding alongside 2 Ringed Plovers.

With legs stretched and lungs filled with clean sea air I finished my walk and headed home.  All the while I was thinking about my early birdwatching days when I would get up before dawn and cycle to what I’d identified as promising local birdwatching spots.  Sometimes they produced the goods, sometimes they didn’t…but there was always that sense of having the world to yourself.  Sometimes, birdwatching in Northumberland can feel like that in the middle of the day 🙂

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