Tag: Common Tern
Arriving at The Swan on Monday evening I met up with Ronnie and Liz at the start of our Seabird Spectacular holiday. Of all of our holidays, this is the one that concentrates on the really outstanding wildlife available on the Northumberland coast in the summer.
Tuesday started out very nice, although cloud cover was increasing and, by lunchtime, eventually it was overcast, misty and spotting with rain. We’d spent the morning around Druridge Bay, with one of the highlights being a very obliging male Reed Bunting who sat just a few metres away from us and sang for over 20 minutes, Wall and Green-veined White Butterflies flitted across the tracks ahead of us, Sedge and Reed Warblers played hide-and-seek in the edge of the reeds and a male Marsh Harrier quartered a reedbed, giving prolonged views at relatively close range. As we ate lunch, overlooking the North Sea, watching Eiders, Guillemots, Kittiwakes, Fulmars and Gannets, the southeasterly breeze was starting to build a noticeable swell…
The inevitable happened and our planned sailing around Coquet Island was cancelled on safety grounds, so we continued around Druridge Bay. Sandwich Terns and a Grey Seal were near the weir between Amble and Warkworth and we ended up watching five Otters as they munched their way through a feast of Eels A Great Northern Diver flew south between Coquet Island and the mainland and we could see clouds of Puffins and a few ghostly white Roseate Terns from our clifftop vantage point. Swifts were around in good numbers – a scythe-winged menace to flying insects – and at the end of the day we returned to The Swan and were joined for dinner by Sarah.
After Tuesday’s cancelled boat trip it was a relief to see that the wind had died down by Wednesday morning, and our all-day birdwatching trip to the Farne Islands went ahead as planned. There were lines of Puffins, Guillemots and Razorbills streaming back towards the islands, Gannets were effortlessly heading either to or from the Bass Rock, and the sights, sounds and smells of the seabird colony were just a few minutes away when we came across two Harbour Porpoises. Cormorants and Shags perched sentinel-like on the Scarcar rocks and landing on Staple Island we watched Guillemots, Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Puffins, Razorbills, Shags and Rock Pipits at close range before having our picnic lunch in superb weather conditions on this magical rock just a few miles offshore from the Northumberland coast. Transferring across to Inner Farne at 13:00, via a brief detour to look at the Grey Seals lazing in the sunshine, we were greeted by Head Ranger David Steel and then enjoyed the very different experience of running the gauntlet of a succession of angry Arctic Terns. Common and Sandwich Terns were around too, and we watched Puffins skilfully avoiding the attention of Black-headed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. A pair of Rock Pipits nesting beneath the boardwalk were carrying beakfuls of food and I had a Farnes ‘tick’ in the shape of a Swift soaring over the lighthouse buildings. We tried to find a Roseate Tern in amongst the roost by the Inner Farne jetty, but without success. Back to The Swan for tea, reflection on a successful day and my Plan B…
Today was planned to be a one-day extension to the holiday, visiting the North Pennines, but we’ve moved that to tomorrow and the ladies have an extra afternoon out with me, to take the boat trip around Coquet Island
In near-perfect conditions we arrived at Seahouses yesterday evening for our 3hr coastal cruise on Ocean Explorer. As well as some of our ‘regulars’ we had Andy, Jan and Sam on board, on their final evening in Northumberland.
Soon after heading south down the coast towards Dunstanburgh we came across a couple of Harbour Porpoises. Typically shy, they surfaced a few times and then vanished into the depths. Gannets featured throughout the evening, passing both north and south, and one or two were seen diving. Puffins, Guillemots and Razorbills were bobbing about on the water and a mixed flock of Arctic and Common Terns and Kittiwakes had found something to hold their interest. We stopped to see if anything else would come along, and were soon joined by a Fulmar, stunning in the beautiful light.
We gradually headed north, and approached the Farne Islands as the sun began to set. Grey Seals poked their heads out of the water and came off the rocks to investigate our boat, Cormorants and Shags perched sentinel-like on the rocky islets, Turnstones prodded and poked their way around the edge of the mass of Seals and Sam punched the air in elation as his first Curlew flew by The setting sun provided an opportunity to experiment with an aspect of photography that I’ve never really been able to get to grips with, and one which I’ve always been fairly ambivalent about. Excellent light, excellent location, all the ingredients were there to convince me…
With our focus in late-July on the North Sea and its enigmatic wildlife, a land-based trip makes a pleasant change from riding the waves. I collected Catherine, Mark, Jacob and Izzy from their holiday accommodation in Howick and we set off down the Northumberland coast towards Druridge Bay.
We started at Newbiggin, following up a recent report of a small pod of White-beaked Dolphins. Only brief sightings of distant dorsal fins were possible, proving just what an elusive species this can be. An adult Mediterranean Gull drifted close by with a few Black-headed Gulls, Jacob concentrated on the flight identification of Common, Arctic and Sandwich Terns, and another short spell of seawatching just up the coast produced lots of Eiders, and a Gannet heading south.
Cresswell Pond produced Little Gull, Black-tailed Godwit, Avocet, Curlew and lots of Lapwings, and then a real star performer as a Barn Owl quartered the dunes. As is often the case, we had a particular target species for the evening and, as Mallards scattered from one section of a pond, and a small group of Teal suddenly became very alert, we concentrated on scanning that area. Sure enough, the swishy, waving tail of an Otter was soon spotted near the Teal, and for a few minutes it gave brief views of it’s tail, head and body as it spread panic throughout the assembled wildfowl. As darkness descended it vanished into the inky gloom and we headed back to the car, encountering Common Frog, Common Toad and Pipistrelles on the way.
As I got home on Tuesday night after our evening pelagic the rain was still hammering down. With a forecast of more rain for Wednesday, and a planned Farne Islands safari, I started thinking about a contingency plan as I dried off all of my camera equipment.
Wednesday dawned…with more heavy rainfall. I needed an idea of what was happening further north and a quick text to William was soon answered; the rain in Seahouses was light and sea conditions were fine so boats were sailing I collected Louise and Martin from Warkworth and we headed north along some decidedly damp roads. A morning birdwatching on the Northumberland coast, including Grey Seal, Roe Deer, Swallow nestlings, Shelduck, Eider, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Redshank and a very obliging Whitethroat, was followed by a lunch break just north of Bamburgh Castle, and then it was time to board Glad Tidings for the sailing across to the islands. With a bit of swell on the sea, a chilly wind kicking spray from the bow, and another oppressive sky the islands were incredibly atmospheric. Puffins were sitting in huge rafts just off the islands, Guillemots and Razorbills were flying back to the cliff ledges with fish, Gannets were soaring majestically by the boat, Grey Seals lazed in the surf and Kittiwakes called incessantly from their precipitous nest sites. As we landed on Inner Farne the aerial bombardment from the Arctic Terns was much reduced from the level of recent weeks, and there were plenty of young terns trying out their wings in short flights across the boardwalk. Sandwich Terns were carrying food back to quite large chicks and the island seemed to be awash with Puffins. Every flat area next to the sheer cliff faces was covered in them and hundreds were flying around the island. Louise, like many of our clients when seeing Puffins for the first time said “Aren’t they small”. Everyone expects them to be bigger than they actually are. Kittiwake chicks were almost too big for the nest ledges, and Razorbills and Guillemots were watched at close quarters too. With the poor weather the number of visitors to the island was quite low, making for quite a different experience to our trips earlier this year when all of the boats were full.
Most of our Farne Islands trips this year have been on Glad Tidings 1, and Bobby and Billy always keep their passengers entertained. Now, as I look out of my office window while I’m typing this on a fine, dry, sunny afternoon, Bobby’s words, as he delivered us safely back to Seahouses come to mind “Aye, it’s improved. Now it’s like a fine autumn day rather than a bad winter one”.
A second consecutive Druridge Bay mini-safari was our activity on Friday morning and I arrived at Church Point to meet Gavin, Mark, Cindy and Esther for morning’s birdwatching around the NEWT ‘local patch’. My main concern was how the previous afternoon’s torrential downpour would have affected ground conditions at the sites we visit. As it was, the ground wasn’t too wet and everywhere we went was easily accessible.
Late June and early July is always a good time to start to search for passage waders, with the earliest returning adult birds often still in their breeding garb. Two Dunlin, still with solid black bellies, dropped in, a Common Sandpiper was sitting motionless, before setting off along the water’s edge with that characteristic bobbing motion and 5 Black-tailed Godwits flew low over the water before dropping out of sight in a dip in a nearby field. Two Avocets arrived and at least 7 Little Gulls were roosting. As we continued up the coast a Marsh Harrier rose from, and dropped back in to, a reedbed, Great Crested Grebes cruised around serenely and Common, Arctic and Sandwich Terns were all splashing about as they bathed. Is there a better place than the southeast Northumberland coast at this time of the year?
Thursday morning was a Druridge Bay mini-safari and, when I arrived at Church Point, Michelle and Andy, and Jane, were already there. We set off for a morning of birdwatching on the southeast Northumberland coast in cool, overcast conditions…but by the time we reached Cresswell the rain had started and visibility was closing in rapidly. Birdwatching in conditions where you can hear the birds, but can’t really tell where they are, is a quite surreal experience. As the poor weather moved on, so did we…and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat as we enjoyed an obliging Common Snipe perched on a fence post, at least three Long-eared Owls, including recently fledged young birds, two male Marsh Harriers and one female, a Common Cuckoo, Common, Arctic and Sandwich Terns bathing, Great Crested Grebes and a Grey Heron peering in our direction through the reeds.
At the end of the trip we returned to Church Point and I headed back to the office where, a couple of hours later, it suddenly turned very dark…
Wednesday was a trip that I’d been looking forward to for some time. Syd is a regular client, and always very entertaining, and this time around his son Gavin was booked with him as well, for a Farne Islands safari.
With plenty of comments on Twitter in the weeks leading up to the trip, we were all praying for good sea conditions for the day. The forecast suggested that the afternoon could be a bit wet so I thought about visiting Staple Island instead of Inner Farne, before satisfying myself that it would stay dry for us in the afternoon and sticking with my original plan of walking along the dunes at Newton in the morning, and catching the 1pm boat to Inner Farne. The morning walk produced lots of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits as well as Common Blue Butterflies and Northern Marsh, Pyramidal and Bee Orchids. The tern colony was a hive of activity, with the Arctic Terns bringing food to their chicks and some Little Terns engaging in some late season breeding activity. While we were there, the terns kept lifting from the dunes in a ‘dread’ but the source of their concern wasn’t immediately obvious. Myself and the wardens commented that it was what we would expect if a Peregrine was passing over, but scanning the sky overhead didn’t produce the menacing shape of that particular predator. Eventually we did spot a raptor, although not an expected one, as a Marsh Harrier flew south along the fields inland from the terns. After having our lunch stop in the shadow of Bamburgh Castle, we took the short drive to Seahouses. Approaching Monk’s House Pool, Syd and Gavin had the bird of the day as a Hobby flew north over the roadside fields.
We boarded Glad Tidings IV for the journey across to the islands and sat next to local birder TC, who had watched all of the hirundines in Seahouses start alarming…just a few minutes before the Hobby was between Seahouses and Bamburgh. After the sailing around the islands, with their Grey Seals, Guillemots, Razorbills, Puffins, Kittiwakes, Fulmars, Shags and Common, Sandwich and Arctic Terns, we landed on Inner Farne and Gavin concentrated on photographing Puffins. We were ‘treated’ (if that’s the right word…) to an example of just how cruel nature can be as a Kittiwake chick wandered away from it’s nest and towards the edge of the ledge. It turned back from the edge, made it’s way unsteadily back to the nest, and was promptly tossed over the edge of the cliff by the adult! As it landed on the next ledge down, it was attacked and killed by 2 juvenile Shags in front of a group of horrified onlookers.
After nearly 2 hours on Inner Farne, we boarded Glad Tidings for the journey back to the mainland…and the first few drops of rain fell as we reached the top of the steps on the harbour
Saturday’s Whale and Dolphin Cruise from Seahouses turned out to be an excellent few hours of birdwatching off the Northumberland coast.
As we left the harbour, the swell of the tide had the boat rocking gently up and down. A mile or so later and we were in what I think of as ‘proper’ pelagic conditions; choppy sea, lots of whitecaps, an eerie wind whistling around the boat…and birds everywhere. The atmosphere when the North Sea is like that is filled with anticipation. A Pomarine Skua, athletic, muscular and menacing harrassed Kittiwakes, our first Great Skua of the trip (the first of several) lumbered by, Arctic Skuas flew along the wave troughs and the fragile, delicate figure of a Long-tailed Skua headed north in the rapidly strengthening wind. Fulmars soared effortlessly by, small groups of Gannets, those masters of efficient flight, featured throughout the trip and Sooty Shearwaters, a real seawatcher’s bird, entertained as they circled the boat. Added to that there were Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills, Manx Shearwaters and Herring, Great Black-backed, Lesser Black-backed and Black-headed Gulls and Arctic, Common, Sandwich and Roseate Terns. With so many whitecaps, and some ‘interesting’ swell, we weren’t fortunate enough find any cetaceans, but one participant summed up offshore wildlife so well “You’re on a boat, it’s an experience, enjoy it, you never know what you’ll see.”
As the rain hammered down while I packed the car ready for Sunday’s Otter Safari I was filled with optimism; the weather forecast (really, I should stop believing these…) suggested that the afternoon and evening would be dry and bright.
When I arrived at Church Point Marc and Marika were already there, and we were joined by Becky and Jim soon after. The trip was a present for one of each couple, and we set off for an afternoon of birdwatching combined with searching for Otters. First stop was one of our Little Owl sites, and Becky’s sharp eyes picked out a juvenile bird that was doing a very passable impression of a stone. Our next stop, beside the River Coquet, produced Common Terns fishing, flyby Curlews (and a discussion of separation from Whimbrel), 4 Common Sandpipers and some impressive thunderstorms away to the north and west of us.
A heavy shower as we reached the NWT reserve at East Chevington kept us in the car for a few minutes, during which time we were entertained by a family party of Stonechats. As the rain eased we walked to the hide overlooking the north pool. Amongst the throng of Common, Sandwich and Arctic Terns and Lapwings were 3 adult Knot, still in breeding plumage. Suddenly the entire roosting flock lifted, and the unmistakeable figure of a Spoonbill flew across our field of vision. It seemed intent on landing, but the constant harrassment from the terns meant that we were treated to several flypasts, including one where it was just 20m away from us. As if this wasn’t spectacular enough, 2 Little Egrets appeared, while the Spoonbill was still circling, and were subjected to the same treatment. Eventually a semblance of calm returned and we watched a juvenile Marsh Harrier as it pranced comically in the wet grass, presumably eating worms that had been brought to the surface by the rain, and a second juvenile harrier harrassed by crows. Another creature to benefit from the rain was a very young Hedgehog busily eating worms and, in a real ‘aahh’ moment, pausing briefly to sniff the air.
Our picnic stop, overlooking the southern end of Druridge Bay, produced rafts of Eiders and Common Scoters, the piping calls baby Guillemots rising from the waves below, Gannets and Sandwich Terns plunging into the sea, at least 3 Arctic Skuas and the majestic lumbering menace of a Pomarine Skua passing south just offshore.
Changeable, showery weather often produces good sunsets, and this was no exception; as a band of steel grey cloud drifted along the horizon, sunlight shone through a narrow gap, fading from gold to orange to red to pink. And there, in the reflection of the dramatic sky, was the main event – an Otter, twisting and turning, creating panic among the waterfowl, perched imperiously on a boulder and then vanishing into the deepening shadows of the water’s edge. Clouds of Noctule Bats and Common Pipistrelles swirled overhead, occasionally passing within a few feet of us, a female Tawny Owl called from the nearby trees, and the scene faded to darkness…
On Saturday morning our destination was Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland and another poor weather forecast ( a bit of a running theme during the holiday…) suggested that we may well get wet. An addition to the mammal list for the trip raced across the road ahead of us; a Stoat – an endearing predator and one of NEWT’s favourite animals.
We arrived in Amble for our sailing around Coquet Island with Dave Gray’s Puffin Cruises; as Dave manoeuvred the excellent Steadfast into the harbour, the rain arrived from the northeast. The sailing around the island produced excellent views of Roseate Terns, as well as Common, Arctic and Sandwich Terns, Gannets, Puffins, Razorbills and Guillemots. As we sailed in a wide arc from the island to begin the journey back to the harbour an Arctic Skua was harassing terns away to the north. Four more Arctic Skuas were followed by a real seawatching prize as a Pomarine Skua lumbered menacingly by before settling on the sea. Our final Arctic Skua flew over the harbour just before we docked and I suggested that the Country Barn Coffee Shop at Widdrington would be the best destination once we were back on dry land.
Refreshed, dried and ready to go we visited the NWT reserve of East Chevington. The tern roost allowed close comparison of Common and Arctic Terns, but the bird described by one participant as ‘bird of the holiday’ was a superb male Marsh Harrier. A juvenile harrier appeared briefly over the reedbed as well, but the male perched for several minutes on a fence post. Just after we reached Druridge Pools, the heavens opened, lightning flashed, thunder rolled and 2 Wood Sandpipers bobbed along the edge of the main pool. A trip to Cresswell, and the most northerly breeding Avocets in England, followed and we all enjoyed views of a very obliging Brown Hare, Little Gulls and both Little and Great Crested Grebes. Another excellent evening meal and entertaining conversation (including David’s comment about Captain Birdseye in a cape..a reference to my appearance during the Coquet Island trip), concluded our final night in Seahouses.
As I put my coffee cup and glass of orange juice on the table at breakfast on Sunday morning I looked out over the harbour and the words “it’s a glorious morning” were quickly followed by “and there’s a Spoonbill!”. Everyone rushed to the window to watch, as Northumberland delivered a fantastic finale to the holiday; poor weather forecasts, some stunning downpours, big seas, beautiful weather, iconic landscapes, excellent birdwatching…all in four days!