Tag: Cormorant

Spring has sprung? Otter mini-Safari 23/02/19

by on Feb.24, 2019, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

After a break from Safaris and blogging, after I was diagnosed with a rare illness last year and had surgery in early January, it was great to be back out in the field with clients yesterday.

I collected Paul and Jennifer, Paul and Kirsty and Alastair and Jess from Newbiggin and we set off for a few hours around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. With temperatures in double figures, Robins, Chaffinches and Dunnocks were singing and a noisy flock of Long-tailed Tits moved through the riverside vegetation. Goldeneye, Gadwall, Mallard, Little Grebe and Cormorant were on the water and a Little Egret was stalking along the edge of a rapidly filling tidal channel. Grey Herons were nest-building and you could be forgiven for forgetting that it’s still winter here…

As daylight faded small flocks of Starling were heading to roost, a Roe Deer was close to the water’s edge and Whooper Swans noisily heralded their arrival. A pair of Canada Geese were looking alert and agitated then Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Goldeneye, Tufted Duck and the geese took off in a panic. From the direction they scattered we could tell where the source of their consternation was…hidden from view by a reedbed in front of us.

As darkness began to exert it’s grip on the eastern sky hundreds of Pink-footed Geese arrived at their nighttime roost, still coming in from all directions when they were only visible as a dark speckling against a leaden grey sky and we headed back to Newbiggin.

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Low light; Bespoke Otter Safari 25/11/18

by on Nov.28, 2018, under Druridge Bay

I collected Colin and Tricia from Newbiggin ahead of a tour around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland searching for Otters and we were soon at our first site…

Little Grebes, Goldeneye and Cormorants were all fishing in water ruffled by a stiff easterly breeze and a Little Egret was trying to fish but constantly harrassed by a juvenile Mute Swan which wouldn’t let it settle in any one spot.  Long-tailed Tits called incessantly as they made their way through the trees and we headed to our picnic spot…with a short detour to the NEWT office for me to change my boots after the sole of the pair I’d been wearing came loose as I tried to lift my foot from some very sticky mud at the bottom of a puddle!

The afternoon was similar to recent days out; a stiff breeze and big flocks of birds.  Teal, Wigeon, Lapwing, Golden Plover, Greylag, Canada and Pink-footed Geese and Starling all being tossed around on the wind and battling to keep their intended course.  Scaup were alongside Tufted Duck and Dunlin, Curlew and Redshank were roosting together, facing into the breeze and taking shelter in the lee of a reedbed.  With dusk encroaching on the gloomy daylight Roe Deer were running along field margins, small groups of Starlings coalesced into one extended murmuration that quickly went to roost with the ghostly apparition of a Barn Owl drifting across in front of us marking the point where the light faded to impenetrable.

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A hard act to swallow; Otter Safari 20/11/18

by on Nov.21, 2018, under Druridge Bay

In March last year I was knocked off my bike by a car in Bedlington (which is our local town).  The day after the incident, I posted in our local Facebook group, thanking everyone who helped me.  “I don’t know if they’re in this group but I’d just like to say a huge thank you to the people who looked after me until the paramedics and police arrived after I was knocked off my bike opposite the market place, especially the lady who held my hand and talked to me...Laid in the road, unable to move your head and with one leg twisted painfully, is a scary experience so it’s hard to put into words how much it helped having people who stopped the traffic, held my hand, talked to me and kept me calm.”

I collected Stephanie and Gary yesterday, just up the road from the NEWT office and Stephanie said “My friend Leigh was the one who held your hand when you were knocked off your bike.” and told me that Leigh decided to train as a first-aider after helping me 🙂  Bedlington and it’s surrounding villages is a small world…and then we headed to Newbiggin to collect Susanne and Leanne.  As they walked across the car park towards us, Leanne looked familiar – one of my chemistry students from 14 years ago!  Small world indeed!

We headed out to explore Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland in search of Otters and, from the state of the sea crashing against the breakwaters of Newbiggin Bay it looked like the wind would present a challenge for the day.  The rest of the day was a series of squally showers, increasing in intensity as the day progressed.  Noisy flocks of Long-tailed Tits foraged in pathside trees and Cormorant, Little Grebe, Red-breasted Merganser and Goldeneye were diving in search of fish.

A Cormorant managed to generate a false alarm as it wrestled with a large Eel – the bird’s black body and the tail of the fish combining to do a remarkable impression of an Otter fishing with it’s tail up out of the water 🙂  Having managed to swallow the Eel, the Cormorant caught an even larger one a few minutes later and we were able to watch as it tossed the Eel until eventually grabbing it around the head and swallowing it in one go.  That was followed by a couple of minutes of watching the Cormorant’s neck bulging and writhing as it struggled to get the Eel down into it’s stomach.  Incredibly it started fishing again straight away and caught and swallowed a much smaller Eel.

A theme in the last couple of weeks has been Sparrowhawks causing consternation among roosting wader and wildfowl flocks, and yesterday was no exception.  Knot, Dunlin, Redshank, Lapwing, Golden Plover, Curlew, Teal, Mallard, Gadwall and Wigeon all took flight repeatedly before the Sparrowhawk eventually flew past us.  A dense flock of Kittiwakes flew along over huge rolling waves and foaming surf and as Starlings, Lapwings and Golden Plover struggled against the strengthening breeze and geese arrived to roost the next squall took the light levels from challenging to near dark in a matter of minutes and we headed back toward he bright lights of Newbiggin 🙂

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Mesmerising murmuration; Druridge Bay Bespoke birdwatching 15/11/18

by on Nov.17, 2018, under Druridge Bay

A lot of our clients muse on the possibility of retiring and moving to Northumberland, and John had done just that and booked a bespoke day out with us to explore some of the lesser-known birdwatching sites around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland

With an almost cloudless blue sky and a chill wind we set out and were soon watching Common Redshanks as they probed the mud along the waterline with Red-breasted Mergansers in the background, a Grey Wagtail flycatching from rocks amidst fast flowing water, and a Sparrowhawk against the azure sky mobbed by a swarm of JackdawsBullfinches and Goldcrests called from hidden positions in hawthorn bushes and a Short-eared Owl quartering rough grassland plunged out of sight after prey repeatedly without ever appearing carrying anything.  The plan for dusk was a visit to (hopefully) a Starling roost.  With Water Rails squealing from reedbeds, and Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Gadwall, Goldeneye, Mute Swan and Whooper Swan on the water around roosting Lapwings, Golden Plovers and Cormorants, Starlings started to arrive.  Cloud after cloud of birds landed in a small section of reeds before leaving again in groups of a few hundred birds every few seconds.  A sudden panic ran through the flock and as they bunched tightly, twisting and turning, a Sparrowhawk came through before settling on the ground before reappearing around the end of the reeds and flying past us carrying a Starling.  With dusk descending to darkness the murmuring rustle of birds in the reedbeds faded to silence as we walked back to the car.

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Falling; Bespoke Otter Safari 11/10/18

by on Oct.12, 2018, under Druridge Bay, Otter

As I left the house to head north to Embleton to collect John and Margaret for an afternoon and evening searching for Otters around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland a flock of 43 Redwings passed overhead, heading southwest on the stiff breeze and drizzle…

Rather than lunch overlooking the North Sea I thought that one of our regular Otter sites would be a better early afternoon option.  With an impressive range of wildfowl, Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Red-breasted Merganser and Mute Swan, an impressive raft of Coots, Moorhens picking around the base of the reedbeds, Grey Herons standing motionless and with Golden Plover and Lapwing facing into the breeze the water was gently rippling as three Otter cubs appeared in the distance 🙂  They swam out of sight then reappeared, alarming Mallards as they came out of the water and onto a muddy bank before taking a few minutes to make their way along the edge of a reedbed and out of sight.  When they put in another appearance they were led by mum before they all slipped out of sight again.

An impressive wader roost included Ruff, Dunlin, Common Redshank, Knot, Lapwing, Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, Black-tailed Godwit and Common Snipe.  The high-pitched ‘seep’ calls of Redwings passing overhead were the aural backdrop to an encounter with that gorgeous gem of autumn birding on the east coast, a Yellow-browed Warbler.  As it played hide-and-seek with us, another one was behind us at the same time 🙂

We finished the day as we so often do at this time of the year; a distant Otter feeding intensely as skeins of Pink-footed and Greylag Geese dropped out of the sky in front of us and Starlings murmurated against a darkening sky 🙂

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Stirring things up; Druridge Bay Safari 07/10/18

by on Oct.10, 2018, under Druridge Bay

I collected Ruth and Chris, and Wendy, Peter and Elizabeth, from Church Point and we set out for an afternoon and evening around our local patch, Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland, with one species in particular at the top of the trip wish list…

The weather forecast had been looking very promising, so it was a surprise that the first drops of rain started as we gathered before setting off.  Within 30mins it was unpleasantly wet and Little Egrets were stalking along the water’s edge as a flotilla of Cormorants did their best to made a dent in the local fish population.  As the rain eased the breeze strengthened and Stonechats were waving in the wind at the top of reedmace.  Exposed mud was covered in Lapwings, Dunlin, Common Redshank, Spotted Redshank and lots of Common Snipe.  The high yapping calls of Pink-footed Geese drew our eyes towards v-shaped skeins of them heading north then, after our picnic on a clifftop overlooking the North Sea, it was time to head to our final site for the day.  Within a few seconds I’d found two Otter cubs play fighting near a bay in the reeds and with everyone’s attention focused on that spot there were suddenly 4 Otters running almost head on towards us 🙂  They vanished into the reeds and the next hour saw an extraordinary arrival of geese; Canada, Greylag,, Barnacle and Pink-footed all heralded their arrival with calls cutting through the gloom of dusk.  More and more arrived, settling in shallow water, and the noise level continued rising then suddenly with a loud rush of wingbeats and a deafening cacophony of mixed goose calls they lifted from their roost in panic…as one of the Otter cubs had reappeared and was bounding straight across the mud and through the roost 🙂  It slid effortlessly into the deeper water and swam out of sight before putting in another appearance as it ran across the reed edge right in front of us as dusk descended towards darkness and we headed back towards Newbiggin.

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Shifting breeze; Bespoke Druridge Bay Safari 17/09/18

by on Sep.18, 2018, under Druridge Bay

Yesterday was a Bespoke Druridge Bay Safari for Russell and Elena and I was glad it was happening before the forecast deterioration in the weather over the next few days.  I collected them from Rothbury and we headed towards the coast and an afternoon and evening around NEWT’s local patch, which turned into an enlightening discussion about photography, food, fly fishing and Sea Buckthorn…

Tufted Ducks, Mallards and a very smart Wigeon were all illuminated by some very nice light and, as we watched a Little Stint scurrying around between Curlew, Lapwing, Common Redshank and Spotted Redshank there was obviously some unease among the waders.  Canada Geese and a Cormorant were looking very alert and the Lapwings took flight before settling again.  Then the cause of all the agitation appeared and we watched the Otter on and off for around 90 minutes before it disappeared next to a reedbed 🙂  Little Egrets were roosting in riverside trees and there was another outbreak of consternation as Mallards all hurried off and a flock of Black-headed Gulls circled something swimming across the river.  It was long and sleek like an Otter, but there was something about the way it was holding its head at an angle that just didn’t seem right…then the Grey Squirrel got out of the water and ran towards the trees!

Our picnic spot overlooking a fairly calm North Sea brought Fulmars and Gannets, and a walk along a well vegetated track produced lots of bees, relatively docile in the cooling evening air, and a Red Admiral as well as plenty of Speckled Wood butterflies.  As dusk approached Swallows and House Martins were gorging themselves on a myriad of flying insects and there was more unrest among roosting birds.  First a sudden departure of Cormorants, then ducks scattered and an Otter appeared briefly before vanishing into the reeds next to a group of Mute Swans.  A female Marsh Harrier caused even more panic then, with Water Rails squealing all around us, a Sparrowhawk was harassed by Carrion Crows and Pink-footed Geese arrived in noisy yapping flocks against a darkening sky with Mars, Saturn and the Moon all bright away to the south there was another kerfuffle against the reeds and not one, not two, not three, but four Otters feeding in the shallows as the light levels dropped to ‘challenging’ 😉  Fade to black…

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Deluge; Otter Safari 06/09/18

by on Sep.07, 2018, under Druridge Bay, Otter

Our second Otter Safari in 2 days looked as thought it was unlikely to be blessed with the same good weather as Wednesday…

I collected Alison and then Amanda and David from Newbiggin and we set off for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland searching for Otters.  When the Otters eluded us on Wednesday I’d seen enough at each site we checked to be confident that we’d find Otters this time, and thought that changing the order we visited each site would do the trick…and within a minute of arriving at our first site I’d picked a likely spot for an Otter – and there was one 🙂  In fact there were two, and they caused some consternation among Little Grebes, Tufted Ducks, Mallards and Greylag Geese before vanishing.  Alison hadn’t managed to spot either of them through the ‘scope so I pointed it in the direction of a Water Rail and let everyone marvel at the odd-looking denizen of the reedbed while I scoured the entire pool trying to relocate the Otters.  Amanda beat me too it though, about ten minutes after we lost sight of the Otters one appeared right in front of us!  It slowly made it’s way across the pool, scattering Mute Swans, Little Grebes, Cormorants, Gadwall, Wigeon, Teal, Mallard and Canada Geese before finally vanishing into the dark depths of a distant reedbed.  All of this was going on with a noisy backdrop of Lapwings, Common Redshank and geese as Starlings swirled overhead and 3 Spotted Redshank, dashingly elegant, raced through the shallows.  We could see heavy rain away to the north, and the first few drops began to disturb the calm water.  Up to that point there hadn’t even been a hint of a breeze but that changed and suddenly the wind was very noticeable, as was the arrival of the heavy rain; torrential rain that flooded the roads along the coast and made observing anything quite difficult although three Spotted Redshank, looking remarkably like the same three from earlier in the afternoon dropped in – were they making their way south down the Northumberland coast the same way we were?  A remarkable 123 Mediterranean Gulls settled on the water as the rain intensified, and as we continued down the coast there were more in fields and along the shoreline.

Dusk began to creep up sooner than expected under a leaden grey sky with a remarkable fiery orange sunset on the western horizon as a Grey Heron caught an impressive fish in shallow water, a Kingfisher flew by, Little Egrets stood out in the deepening gloom and it was time to head back to Newbiggin.

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Waiting for the weather; Druridge Bay Bespoke Birdwatching 13/08/18

by on Aug.15, 2018, under Druridge Bay

With a fairly awful weather forecast for Sunday, we’d rescheduled Linda and Peter’s day with NEWT around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland for Monday, where the forecast suggested it would rain until lunchtime and then improve after that…

Pre-lunch it was indeed lovely weather for ducks and Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Shoveler and Tufted Duck all provided slightly more of an ID challenge than usual with the drakes now in eclipse plumage.  Hundreds of Greylag Geese were roosting as an assortment of waders fed around them; Avocet, Lapwing, Dunlin, elegant Black-tailed Godwit, Ruff, Knot, Curlew, Common Redshank and a Greenshank that heralded it’s arrival with a strident “tyeu tyeu tyeu”.  Water Rails were nervously dashing in and out of the reed edge as Moorhens fed more boldly away from the edge, Coots demonstrated that they have none of the nervousness of their relatives and Sand Martins, House Martins and Swallows enjoyed a feast of flying insects in the warm, humid air..  Lunch overlooking the North Sea brought Gannets and Fulmars soaring effortlessly over the water.  Walking along a narrow hedge-lined track a Sparrowhawk burst through the bushes, carrying a hapless bird as Tree Sparrows delivered a noisy lament for the fallen.

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The sublimity of evening; Bespoke Otter Safari 05/07/18

by on Jul.06, 2018, under Druridge Bay, Otter

I’ve never been great in hot sunny weather so as I collected Mike and Moira, for an afternoon and evening searching for Otters around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland, I was hoping for an increase in cloud cover…

In the heat of the afternoon, Avocets were harassing Grey Herons and Shelduck ducklings were skittering about on the surface of coastal pools as a Roe Deer ghosted through the reeds at the water’s edge and Lapwings squabbled nearby.  A Little Owl glared down from it’s perch between chimney pots as cloud began to roll in and Canada and Greylag Geese were looking alert but there was no sign of the cause of their concern

As daylight turned to dusk there was little sign of the Sun and that improved visibility substantially 🙂  Swallows, Swifts, House Martins and Sand Martins were plundering the rich feast of flying insects and a spectacular dense flock of 39 Black-tailed Godwits twisted and turned in the air in front of us as the distinctive call of Whimbrel failed to betray their location.  Water Rails were running nervously in and out of the reeds as another Roe Deer appeared, trotting through the shallow edge of the pool, and Tufted Ducks gathered their ducklings into tight groups as Cormorants took off, Mute Swans began staring at the reeds and a Little Grebe suddenly froze in position.  Then an Otter appeared just in front of us 🙂  We watched it for 45 minutes, including a remarkable tableau of hunting Otter beneath murmuration of Starlings with a Barn Owl quartering the reeds just a few metres away from us, before it vanished into the gloom of dusk and a distant reedbed.

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