Tag: Common Scoter
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 🙂
I arrived in Berwick to collect Juan and Erika from the railway station for their tour of Lindisfarne and the North Northumberland coast and a first for NEWT – clients from Argentina!
We headed down the coast in some unforecast rain and in the mighty shadow of Bamburgh Castle we watched Purple Sandpiper and Turnstone as they picked their way through the rocks within inches of the frothing surf. Common Eider, Common Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Guillemot and Puffin were all rising and falling in a deep swell and Kittiwakes were passing by as we set the telescope up on the side of the car that was sheltered from the wind and rain. Heading north we came across lots of Shelduck, Wigeon, Teal, Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit and Lapwing, as well as smaller numbers of Shoveler, Goosander and Common Redshank, and a lone Kestrel hanging motionless facing into the wind, then over on to Holy Island where the sky was blue, the clouds were white and fluffy and the wind was still howling…
Grey Seals were hauled out on the mud at low tide and as their mournful calls carried on the breeze across the island Skylarks were singing, tiny black dots against the sky, Meadow Pipits were song-flighting and there were at least 21 Roe Deer feeding in a remarkably dense herd. Red-breasted Merganser were having their crests ruffled by the wind, Pied Wagtails were searching for insects around the car park and panic rippled through the birds out on the mudflats. Grey Herons stalked through marshy edges, the eerie cries of Curlew drifted through the dunes and, as we made our way back across the causeway with the tide rising and the sun setting, Common Eider were displaying, Common Redshank and Pale-bellied Brent Geese were on the edge of the rising water and a Curlew decided to sit on the road right in front of us 🙂
Day 1. 19/02/17. I arrived at the Bamburgh Castle Inn for the start of our Winter Wonderland holiday, then met up with with Christine, John, Linda and Rosie in the bar and outlined the plan for the next two days while we enjoyed a fantastic meal.
Day 2. 20/02/17. Our first full day was targeting Lindisfarne and the North Northumberland coast. Stopping at Budle Bay on our way north we soon found a Spotted Redshank amongst the Common Redshank, Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler, Mallard, Oystercatcher, Shelduck and Curlew as Pink-footed and Greylag Geese and Lapwing swirled distantly against a leaden grey sky on a stiff breeze and Red-breasted Mergansers looked even more comical than usual with their tufts blown to odd angles. A heavy misty drizzle took hold, yet cleared within minutes, leaving a beautiful azure sky draped in fluffy white cloud. A Kestrel perched obligingly as we stopped along a hedgerow that was heaving with Chaffinches. As the receding tide cleared the Holy Island causeway, waders dropped in to feed along the edge of the recently exposed mud. Knot, Dunlin, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Turnstone and Bar-tailed Godwit were all close to the road and easily observable by using the car as a nice, sheltered, warm hide as Pale-bellied Brent Geese flew over us 🙂 Over on the island we found a mixed flock of Dark-bellied Brent Geese, Curlew and Lapwing. As an unseen threat spooked them and they lifted from the field, it was obvious that the number of birds present was far greater than we thought. Grey Seals were hauled out on the now visible sandbars and we headed back across to the mainland. Lunch overlooking the vast expanse of mud produced more geese and ducks, including Pintail, and a distant Little Stint in amongst a flock of Dunlin and Knot. A Merlin had spooked the Chaffinch flock as we headed back south and a quick stop at Bamburgh produced Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone, Ringed Plover and Eider but nothing on the sea in what the wind had whipped up into a frothing mess of whitecaps. The stiffening breeze was making viewing conditions awkward but the final stop of the afternoon brought Song Thrush, Long-tailed Tit, Greenfinch and Goldcrest before we headed back to Seahouses. Dinner was accompanied by a discussion of the plan for Tuesday, and a target list was quickly developed…
Day 3. 21/02/17. Tuesday saw us heading south towards Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. Our first target for the day was a species that’s scarce and often only offers fleeting views…Willow Tit is a regular visitor to the NEWT garden feeding station but I’d got a different site in mind and we enjoyed prolonged views of at least two of these gorgeous little birds, as well as a detailed discussion about how to separate them from Marsh Tit. Reed Bunting, Common Snipe and Common Buzzard joined the day list as an impressive flock of Lapwing and Golden Plover swirled against the sky as we headed off in search of our next target for the day. This one proved fairly straightforward and we had great views of both male and female Brambling. Little Grebe, Goldeneye and Common and Black-headed Gulls accompanied our lunch stop before we had excellent views of some very obliging Common Snipe, Bar-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Ruff, Tree Sparrow and Little Egret. Shorelark was the one target for the day that eluded us, as we had several flight views of a vocal flock of Twite while Ringed Plover were displaying on the beach, Sanderling were scurrying back and forth and a flock of Common Scoter were offshore with Red-throated Divers and Guillemot just beyond the breaking surf. A handsome male Stonechat flushed from bush to bush ahead of us as we walked along the path and the long-staying Pacific Diver eventually gave great views close to a Slavonian Grebe. There was one target species still remaining on the list for the day though, and I was sure that the last hour of daylight would bring that one for us. Scanning the edges of reedbeds through the telescope revealed a dark shape that hadn’t been there a few minutes earlier during my last scan of the reedbed, and that dark shape stretched and began loping along, still partly obscured by the reeds. Within a minute everyone had located the Otter as it moved quickly around the edge of the pool and then it vanished, only to appear in the water a few minutes later 🙂 We watched as it swam towards us before losing it from sight behind the near vegetation. After a few minutes of calm all of the Mute Swans were suddenly staring towards the bank right in front of us, and the Otter passed by just a few metres away 🙂 A great finish to our final full day in the field.
Day 4. 22/02/17. Departure day dawned dry, bright and with an icily cold breeze as we gathered for breakfast before all heading off our separate ways.
We’ll be adding 2017 and 2018 dates to our holiday page shortly but please do get in touch if you’ve got any questions about what we offer. Our short break holidays have a maximum of 6 participants, and a relaxed pace, and we’re always happy to create something bespoke too 🙂
There are a few species that really epitomise winter wildlife-watching, and they include my favourite bird, one of my favourite mammals, and another bird that never fails to excite…
I collected Andy from Whitley Bay (it’s great to have him back from Mull for a few months over the winter!) and we had an interesting chat about plankton sampling and microscopy as we drove up the coast to collect Genine from Newbiggin. Genine’s last trip with NEWT was a breathtaking pelagic in early September, and now we were out in search of Otters and any other birds and wildlife that we could find around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. I suggested that we started with a quick search for Waxwings, just a few minutes down the road. As we approached where they’d been seen the previous day, a flock flushed from a rowan tree where they were gorging themselves on berries. We watched them land in the bare branches of a tall tree nearby and counted at least 120 birds, with another 60 flying around and landing in trees just along the road. In the cold and damp, we started our search for Otters, and were soon watching one as it fed on small fish. With hardly a breath of wind, the water was flat calm and we tracked the Otter‘s movement by the trail of bubbles it left each time it submerged before, after around half an hour, it left the water and vanished up the bank and behind a fallen tree. Curlew, Lapwing, Common Redshank and Oystercatcher were probing the mud along the water’s edge and a flash of electric blue heralded the arrival of a Kingfisher, which played a game of hide and seek with us as Goldfinch and Bullfinch perched in the tops of trees, the disembodied weak winter song of a Robin came from the depths of a hawthorn and two Sparrowhawks tussled in mid-air overhead before one gave up the fight and flew well away. Long-tailed Duck, Common Scoter, Common Eider, Goldeneye, Wigeon, Mallard, Red-breasted Merganser and Tufted Duck were a nice haul of wildfowl as Little Grebe warily watched the spot where the Otter had vanished and Long-tailed Tits called unseen from nearby bushes.
The approach of dusk brought thousands of Starlings in a swirling murmuration before they dropped into the reedbeds for the night as the high-pitched yapping of Pink-footed Geese and the discordant honking of Greylag Geese betrayed the presence of skein after skein arriving from feeding areas to the south of us. Squealing Water Rails remained hidden and, as the last rays of daylight filtered through from the western horizon, Whooper Swans arrived. Big, ghostly and quiet on their approach, as they hit the water they began whooping and their haunting voices accompanied our walk back to the car in the dark.
Proper wintry cold, almost continuous drizzle, stunning wildlife and lovely clients – just a great way to spend a day in mid-November 🙂 We’ll be running Otter Safaris, Druridge Bay Safaris and Lindisfarne Safaris right through the winter, so get in touch, wrap up warm and come and join us for a day searching for Northumberland’s fantastic wildlife!
Whatever the time of year, that final hour or so before it’s too dark to see any wildlife is invariably the best bit of the day…
I collected Gerry and Tracey from The Swan and we headed towards the coast for a day in search of Otters. Goldcrests, Long-tailed Tits and Robins provided noise and movement in the bushes, Teal, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Common Scoter, Wigeon, Gadwall and Little Grebe were dabbling and/or diving, Cormorant, Goosander and Red-breasted Merganser all emanated an air of sleek menace, Grey Heron and Little Egret stalked patiently along the edges of shallow pools where Black-tailed Godwits radiated elegance, Curlew probed for worms in grassy fields, Eider were just beyond the gently rolling surf as low sunlight illuminated the dunes to structures of extraordinary beauty and Carrion Crows harried a Common Buzzard as it flapped lazily over the coastal fields.
As the sun dipped towards the horizon, ducks and geese were silhouetted against a stunning orange reflection and an all-out assault on the senses began to build. First Starlings, just a few hundred intially, building to a murmuration of several thousand as wave after wave of birds arrived – some to join the swirling amorphous dark cloud overhead, others heading straight in to the reeds as they’d arrived too late to join the party. Water Rails screeched, squealed and chattered from the reeds nearby and Pink-footed Geese began arriving as Roe Deer grazed in the open as the cover of falling light levels provided them with a cloak of safety. A few dozen geese, noisily yapping as they adjusted their approach to be into the headwind ready for landing, became a few hundred, then a thousand or so, and eventually around 5000 with skeins arriving from south and north east. In front of us, the combination of sunset and dark cloud had left one sublime strip of orange light when Gerry said “what’s that just there?”. Sleek, sinuous and menacing, the Otter swam across the strip of light and out of sight from us, although the geese and ducks spent a good 5 minutes staring in the direction it had departed 🙂
As the clouds overhead cleared the darkening sky revealed some of it’s gems; first Arcturus, then the Summer Triangle (Deneb, Vega and Altair) and Mars before the familiar asterism of The Plough and, appropriately as it was accompanied by the remarkable calls of Whooper Swans, Cygnus. A great end to a fantastic day, searching for wildlife and discussing otters, squirrels, Pine Martens, rewilding and post-industrial landscapes with lovely clients 🙂
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 🙂
Monday was our 5th evening pelagic and we boarded JFK Two at Royal Quays with Common Terns flying back to their nests and a chilly breeze stiffening the flags on the boats moored in the marina.
Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls soon formed a stalking party just behind us and Gannet, Kittiwake, Guillemot, Razorbill, Puffin, Fulmar, Manx Shearwater and Common Scoter were all seen, as well as a couple of Curlew. Away to the west of us the weather over Northumberland looked poor, and on the eastern horizon we could see rain. The dark, brooding waves lapped against the side of the boat and, as we made our way back down the coast, breaks in the leaden grey cloud brought another spectacular sunset 🙂
Our third evening pelagic for 2016 sailed from Royal Quays under an unremarkable grey sky and with good visibility and a calm sea.
Three hours later, and after Common Scoter, Gannet, Puffin, Razorbill, Guillemot, Fulmar and Kittiwake had kept everyone occupied, we were heading south towards the marina. The ‘ping’ of a text message arriving on my mobile distracted me from my focus on the water close to the shore…
‘bottlenose dolphins going south past Seaton Sluice, heading towards St Mary’s, swimming slowly along the tide line’.
A quick ‘phone call brought more information ’10-15mins ago they were right where you are now’…and then they surfaced 🙂
Friday was our second North Sea pelagic trip for 2016 and as we sailed from Royal Quays the sky looked a bit dark away to the north…
By the time we were off Whitley Bay we were under blue skies and sunshine while away to the west of us Northumberland was being battered by storms of hail and rain. Suddenly the wind picked up and the sea became a mass of foaming white horses and the first drops of rain hit the boat. With the wind whistling around the boat we soon picked up an entourage of Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Gulls may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but against a dark grey sky there’s no denying they’re quite impressive birds. Just a few metres above the deck they seemed to be sheltering in the lee of the wheelhouse as we headed into the wind. Gannets flew by and a flock of Common Scoter, looking to be just perfectly placed in the dark weather conditions, overtook us and headed north. Fulmars flew effortlessly just a few centimetres above the waves while Puffin and Guillemot made flight look like a much more laboured undertaking and away to the east a double rainbow had formed. As conditions settled back down we found a small group of Gannets diving into the water and it was time to head back to port.
Wednesday was the first of this years NEWT North Sea Pelagic trips and the weather forecast looked good…
Allan had been out with a party of anglers all day, and the sea was still pretty calm when he sailed back to Royal Quays before the start of our trip. I’d been seawatching during the morning, watching what was only the third record of a live, offshore, Sperm Whale for Northumberland, and there were lots of Gannets feeding, so clearly lots of food available which is always a good sign 🙂 The sea is a fickle mistress though and , driven by a stiff breeze that had picked up just as we sailed, the long rolling swell from the north slowed our progress. Gannets, Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills, Fulmars and Kittiwakes passed by, a Grey Seal poked it’s head out of the water near St Mary’s and a flock of Common Scoter were characteristic even at a distance. With the swell building further we headed to the relative calm of Newbiggin Bay and our sailing back down the coast was close to shore where, sheltered from the breeze and with the tide pushing us from behind, it was like a different world 🙂