Tag: Common Sandpiper

A raptor day :-) Kielder Safari 20/04/17

by on Apr.21, 2017, under Kielder

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 🙂

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Early Spring; Bespoke Cheviots/Druridge Birdwatching 10/04/17

by on Apr.11, 2017, under Cheviot Valleys, Druridge Bay

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 🙂

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Amphibians; Otter Safari 25/08/16

by on Aug.28, 2016, under Druridge Bay

All wildlife tends to have it’s own niche, and those can be temporary…

I collected Meryl and Kate from The Swan and we headed towards the coast to spend the afternoon and evening searching for Otters around Druridge Bay and south east Northumberland.  The weather forecast wasn’t great but, as Little Egrets, Grey Herons, Cormorants and Goosanders helped themselves to small fish, and much larger fish leapt out of the water nearby, it was slightly misty but the forecast rain stayed away.  Common Sandpipers flew low across the water with their odd flicking wingbeats, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Common Redshank, Lapwing, Dunlin and Ringed Plover were all either feeding or roosting, House Martin and Sand Martin were enjoying a plethora of flying insects in the humid conditions and Goldfinch and Linnet flushed from the riverside scrub each time a walker came along the path.  Heading towards dusk, although with waves of low cloud passing through almost continually it was difficult to discern a change in light levels, Greylag Geese came to roost, emerging noisily from the mist, and Starlings began their murmuration.  A quick trip up to Amble allowed the ladies to sample the delights of Amble’s finest fish and chips before we headed to our final site for the day.

Great Crested Grebe chicks were begging in near darkness, a Great Crested Newt was a surprising find and, as the rain had finally arrived, Common Toads and Common Frogs were everywhere along the footpaths and roads in the damp, drizzly dark.  Another one of those transient niches that creates quite a spectacle when conditions are just right 🙂

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“Can you remember when…”; Druridge Bay Safari 04/08/16

by on Aug.05, 2016, under Druridge Bay

Yesterday was a Druridge Bay Safari for Andy, Jill and Cat, who’d been out with us in February, and Gill, who’s a newcomer to NEWT, but has two more trips booked next week 🙂

Five Little Egret together between Amble and Warkworth was a good start to the day, while 15 juvenile Goosander formed a sleek and menacing flotilla along the river as mum watched sleepily from the river bank nearby.  Curlew and Lapwing flew overhead and we continued down the coast where more Little Egret awaited.  This was a really rare bird in Northumberland, not too long ago, so encountering them just about everywhere you look is quite odd.  Waders were next on the list and an impressive selection at Cresswell included a stunning summer-plumaged Knot, 1 Ruff, 2 Common Sandpiper, 2 Little Stint, 5 Avocet, 14 Golden Plover, 24 Black-tailed Godwit and lots of Dunlin, Curlew, Lapwing and Oystercatcher.  Alongside them were another 10 Little Egret! Len and (another) Gill were in the hide and Gill asked “Can you remember when…” 🙂

The end of the afternoon brought another wader for the list (Common Snipe), Yellow Wagtails and a Pied Wagtail dicing with death around the hooves of cattle and a close encounter with an adult and chick Great Crested Grebe.  The chick’s incessant begging, even when it was apparently asleep with it’s head tucked under it’s wing, had the adult hunting constantly and effectively. Time and again it surfaced with a small fish which it shook and battered on the water’s surface before offering to the chick, which went quiet for just a few seconds before resuming it’s demand for food.

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Summer…; Otter Safari 25/07/16

by on Jul.28, 2016, under Druridge Bay, Otter

July is a month when most of my time is spent at sea, either carrying out transect surveys or leading pelagic trips, so an afternoon and evening looking for Otters brings some welcome variation…

I collected Susan and Mike from Seaton Burn and then Frank, Gabrielle, Boudewijn and Odette from The Swan before heading to the coast.  Boudewijn’s sharp eyes picked out tiny insects as we made our way along footpaths with dense vegetation alongside as Swallows and House Martins swooped low over the fields, picking off flying insects that had strayed just a bit too far from safety.  Adult Swallows were feeding young in a nest just a few feet away from us and, out on the water, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Gadwall, Wigeon and Pochard were all decked out in the shabby chic of late summer and a Grey Heron caused alarm as it flew in, scattering Lapwings and Black-headed Gulls from the edge of the pool.  Cormorants dived, doing their best Otter impressions, Common Sandpipers bobbed nervously on the riverbank, a well-grown brood of Goosander were remarkably well camouflaged amongst piles of rocks and Little Egrets were stalking tiny fish in the shallows.  As the wind started to pick up and the first few drops of rain began to fall, Swifts scythed their way through clouds of insects overhead.  Whimbrel was a nice addition to the wader list for the day along with Curlew and Redshank which are much more expected.  Common and Sandwich Terns called as they flew by and Eider were rafting on a flat sea as we had our picnic.  Our final site for the day was where I was confident we’d find an OtterStarlings were murmurating, Reed Buntings and Meadow Pipits flicked through the vegetation just ahead of us, a roe Deer emerged from behind a reedbed to take a drink at the water’s edge…and then the sky turned dark rather quickly and the rain started hammering down 🙁 That did produce one entertaining moment though, as a rather large Great Crested Grebe chick took shelter on its parent’s back just before we admitted defeat to the weather.

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Cheviot Valleys Bespoke Birdwatching 23/05/16

by on May.25, 2016, under Cheviot Valleys

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 damselfliesWillow 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…

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Autumn passage; Northumberland Coast Bespoke Birdwatching 01/09/2015

by on Sep.03, 2015, under Druridge Bay

The start of the month brought returning clients, David and Mary who were out with us in 2009 and 2012 and who we see at the Bird Fair each August.

Starting at Newbiggin we set out south down the coast and soon found ourselves standing on a track with nine Blackbirds ahead of us, along with Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Goldfinches, Linnets and House SparrowsLittle Grebes slept and dived as young Grey Herons stalked along the water’s edge and demonstrated just how inelegant they are in flight – and especially in landing 🙂  A lunchtime stop overlooking the North Sea produced rafts of Eider, Fulmars arcing effortlessly over the waves and a Harbour Porpoise feeding just offshore as Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Turnstone explored the shoreline.  The afternoon was dominated by waders; Black-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Lapwing, Ruff, Curlew, Common Sandpiper, Dunlin. Greenshank, Oystercatchers arriving for their high-tide roost stunning in beautiful light against a dark brooding sky and Common Snipe demonstrating their exceptional camouflage in amongst clumps of rush.  Stonechats flicked their tails nervously from precarious perches on barbed wire and Goldfinches, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs swarmed in rank vegetation and nearby trees.

See you at the Bird Fair next year 🙂

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Eight year itch; Otter Safari 18/07/2015

by on Jul.20, 2015, under Druridge Bay, Otter

It’s always a pleasure when clients who haven’t met before get on so well with each other.  Of course they always have a shared interest in wildlife, and other shared interests feature regularly (camping, walking and cycling in particular), and long quests in search of an elusive species soon become a talking point…

I arrived at Church Point for an afternoon/evening search for Otters, and quickly met up with John, then Lucy, Matt and Graham and finally Kate.  Conversation quickly turned to Otters, and the pressure was ramped up when Kate revealed that her attempts to see an Otter had stretched over several holidays…and eight years 🙂  Conditions weren’t promising – a howling wind that was tossing Starlings and Lapwings around and a male Marsh Harrier was battling into the breeze, almost at a standstill.  Whitecaps on a pond is never a situation that fills me with joy on an Otter safari, and we continued checking all of the likely locations.  Mediterranean Gull, Avocet, Knot, Black-tailed Godwit, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Common Sandpiper, Dunlin, Little Grebe and Yellow Wagtail were all added to the bird list for the day, Kate spotted a Red Fox creeping into the reeds, but there was still no sign of the sinuous predator.  Early evening, the conditions changed 🙂  The wind died off and the sea was suddenly very calm, so much so that we were able to enjoy watching Harbour Porpoises from our picnic spot.  Things were looking up…

We settled into position at the site where I’d planned to spend the last couple of hours of daylight, enjoying a chat with Cain, then the day suddenly got really interesting.  First a Barn Owl, white death on silent wings, ghosted by just a few metres away from us.  I concentrated on an area of water with very few birds on it – often a good indication that there’s something the birds are unhappy about.  Scan left to right – two Little Grebes sleeping, scan right to left – two Little Grebes sleeping, scan left to right – three Little Grebes sleeping?  The third Little Grebe didn’t look quite right…which wasn’t a surprise as it was an Otter with just it’s nose sticking up through the blanket of weed on the water’s surface 🙂  A quick text to Cain and he joined us again, and the Otter entertained us for an hour.  Emotional at seeing her first Otter, Kate still grabbed her camera, pointed it down the eyepiece of our ‘scope and started filming it 🙂  The magic continued, as a Long-eared Owl flew around the edge of the bushes in front of us before perching on a fence post, baleful orange eyes staring at us.  Then a second Otter swam across in front of us, while the first one was still hunting in the darkening gloom and the eeirie cries of Curlew coming to roost cut through the chill evening air.

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Porpoiseful birdwatching; Druridge Bay Safari 06/07/2015

by on Jul.08, 2015, under Druridge Bay

mid-Summer can be a quiet time for birdwatching, but there are some days where everything just falls into place…

I arrived in Seahouses to collect Nigel and Barbara for a day birdwatching further south on the Northumberland coast, and we headed towards Druridge Bay in beautiful hot summer weather.  With a flat calm sea we started with a little while seawatching.  Gannet, Sandwich Tern, Eider and Fulmar were all flying by, but our attention was gripped by at least 6 Harbour Porpoise, including a mother with a very small calf 🙂  Moving on we watched the elegant trio of Little Egret, Avocet and Black-tailed Godwit.  There were at least 22 of the latter, in a mixed roosting flock with Lapwing, Wigeon, Curlew and 9 Mediterranean Gulls of varying age.  More gull interest came in the form of 8 Little Gulls, also with a range of ages.  A Sedge Warbler clambered to the top of the reeds briefly before dropping out of sight and breaking into song, a male Linnet looked garishly pink, male Stonechat and male Reed Bunting vied for the award of ‘most attractive’ and we steadily made our way north.  Male and female Marsh Harriers impressed, as they always do, Great Crested Grebe sailed serenely by and our wader count for the day rose, with Common Sandpiper, Oystercatcher and Redshank.  A quick ID masterclass was helped by Herring, Lesser Black-backed and Great Black-backed Gulls all sitting in a line, surrounded on both sides by Cormorants.

Nigel had mentioned a species that they hadn’t managed to see previously, and as the cold wind cut through the overcast conditions – did I forget to mention the weather had changed 😉 – we went in search of it.  “Curlew…curlew…curlew…stripy mean-looking face with shorter bill”, and there was another ‘lifer’ for Nigel and Barbara – a Whimbrel, and a great way to end the day 🙂

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A hailstorm of quality; Cheviots Prestige Tour 19/05/2015

by on May.22, 2015, under Cheviot Valleys

As I arrived at Spindrift to collect David and Margaret for their second trip with NEWT, following a day in the North Pennines in 2013, I was thinking about how to structure the rest of the day.  The weather forecast suggested that there would be heavy showers by early afternoon, so I thought it would make sense to do a longer walk before then, and check sites that we could park near as the afternoon wore on and the weather deteriorated…

One of the main target species for our trips into the Cheviot Valleys is Ring Ouzel, so hearing a male in full song as you get out of the car is always a good start 🙂  He was singing from a dry stone wall, as his mate hopped around on the grass below and a second pair of ouzels flew over calling.  A pair of Whinchats were on a heather covered hillside where a Red Grouse was sunning herself, as Grey Wagtails and Dippers bobbed up and down on midstream rocks, the buzzing song of a Common Redpoll revealed the presence of this attractive finch overhead and a Tree Pipit parachuted down from the sky.  A few spots of rain soon cleared to give much brighter conditions and Common Buzzards soared and lazily hovered over the valley tops as a Cuckoo called persistently but remained hidden from view.  Then the sky started to darken and a few drops of rain quickly turned into a heavy hailstorm with rumbling thunder adding to the extraordinary atmospheric conditions.  The hailstorm moved away down the valley and we made our way back to the car, stopping to admire a male Ring Ouzel feeding only 30m away from us, in a field rendered white with hail.  Common Sandpipers bobbed along the stream edge and more Common Buzzards soared against the steep sides of the valley.

There were two species that David and Margaret were both very keen to see during the day, and I thought I knew just the place for them.  So, in mid-afternoon we found ourselves in a beautiful, atmospheric area of woodland…marvelling at the beauty of a pair of Common Redstarts and watching a mating pair of Pied Flycatchers, with all four birds in the same tree at one point 🙂  As we headed back to Seahouses, we could see some impressive storms in every direction, so I suspected I might have a challenging drive back home at the end of the day…

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