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 🙂
Thursday was a trip I’d been looking forward to for several months…Sue’s 5th trip with NEWT was a day searching for and identifying wading birds. Some, like the Curlew with it’s eerie cry and long downcurved beak are straightforward, but others can be a bit trickier…
A field full of Oystercatcher and Lapwing close to the coast started the trip, and 30+ Whooper Swan in the same fields were a nice find. Down on to the Aln Estuary anad more Oystercatcher and Lapwing, along with Redshank, Curlew and a lone Woodcock which dived into cover after a presumably challenging journey across the North Sea. Vast flocks of Woodpigeon, Jackdaw, Rook and Pink-footed Goose darkened the sky close to the horizon and we headed up the coast. Smaller waders were soon in our sights, with Dunlin alongside Sanderling and Ringed Plover while Turnstone were busy turning stones, kelp and anything else that they thought might conceal something to eat and the plaintive calls of Grey Plover carried across the beach on the strengthening breeze. Along the shoreline Redshank were probing the mud alongside Bar-tailed Godwit and a lone Pink-footed Goose flew northwards, calling constantly. A stream of Blackbirds heading westwards marked an obvious arrival of migrants and a second Woodcock flew ‘in-off’ as we had lunch. Knot alongside Dunlin allowed a nice comparison of two species that can be tricky at a distance and vast flocks of Golden Plover and Bar-tailed Godwit resembled Starling murmurations as they wheeled and turned distantly between Holy Island and the mainland. Just offshore from the mud where the waders were feasting Common Eider and Red-throated Diver were riding the swell, a Great Northern Diver flew north, flotillas of Shag were diving, flocks of Wigeon, Teal and Pale-bellied Brent Goose were disturbed by the rising tide and, as light levels began dropping, Sue spotted two Little Egrets as they left the mud and headed towards a nighttime roost.
Before the end of the day, Sue had already booked her next trip with us – Kielder next March. There’ll be fewer waders, and less mud 🙂
Yesterday was Pete and Jan’s 9th trip with NEWT and we headed to a location that they haven’t visited with us previously…
Heading north from Embleton we soon encountered the first rain of the day, and by the time we reached the Holy Island causeway the mud and shallow water around the array of Redshank, Greenshank, Curlew, Dunlin and Bar-tailed Godwit was being battered by a fairly torrential shower. As the rain eased, everything scattered as a Peregrine flew over; a muscular menace above mudflats where Grey Seals were hauled out as the tide fell, and a dense flock of Golden Plover settled once the danger had passed. Once the rain eased, we headed across onto the island and began the entertaining game of hide-and-seek that characterises mid-October birdwatching on the coast with birds arriving from the east. Blackcap, Reed Bunting, Robin, Linnet, Stonechat and Meadow Pipit all appeared, vanished and reappeared as the air overhead was filled with calls of Lapwing, Curlew, Grey Plover and Skylark. Three Roe Deer were in a nearby field and a Firecrest put in an unobligingly fleeting appearance in one of many, many bushes that held Goldcrests. We eventually made our way to the north side of the island and joined the twitch of a very obliging Isabelline Wheatear. Every bush seemed to hold Robin and Goldcrest and, along the Straight Lonnen, Redwing, Song Thrush and Blackbird were feeding avidly and a very grey ‘eastern’ Goldcrest stood out from the more typical birds as a Ring Ouzel flew over before diving for cover in a hawthorn bush. After lunch, another bush full of ‘crests produced two Firecrests in view at the same time before we headed back across to the mainland.
Another great day out with Pete and Jan, and the weather forecast looks like it could bring even more arrivals from the east over the next few days 🙂
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 🙂
The unpredictability of the weather in northern England is one of the reasons I love living here. Early August and you just don’t know whether there’ll be clear skies and sunshine, or something akin to the depths of the autumn…
I arrived at Kingston Park and met up with Chris (for his third trip with NEWT), Diane and Robin and we headed up the A1 to Berwick where we collected Gill (for her second trip with NEWT in a week). Our first destination was the Holy Island causeway, where we found a Common Seal, Little Egret, Dunlin, Redshank, Curlew, Sanderling, Ringed Plover, a distant dense flock of Golden Plover and a few Whimbrel (including one bird that was obligingly standing next to a Curlew). A sudden increase in wind strength heralded the arrival of the first rain shower of the day, and a noticeable drop in temperature. Thinking that the poor weather was going to move through earlier than forecast I decided to switch around the plan for the rest of the day and we headed down the coast where we watched Sandwich Terns, Gannets and masses of gulls feeding as Fulmars soared past us on stiff wings, effortless in the breeze. Rafts of Eider were just beyond the breaking surf as a female Goosander sat preening on the edge of a rockpool and Knot and Turnstone rummaged in the seaweed exposed on the falling tide. Back to scanning the mudflats and Grey Plover joined the days wader list and Grey Seals called mournfully from exposed sandbanks before we crossed over onto Holy Island with the weather showing signs of improvement. An adult Mediterranean Gull was an unexpected find in the car park and we set off to walk around the bits of the island that weren’t busy with visitors…
Grey Herons, Little Grebes and Moorhen were around the edges of the Lough as a Reed Warbler delivered it’s rhythmic chuntering song from a hidden perch in the reeds and the rest of our walk produced Stonechat, Meadow Pipit, a juvenile Kestrel, Cinnabar moth caterpillars and, probably the bird of the day, a Short-eared Owl quartering the dunes and fields with impressively slow deep wingbeats 🙂
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.
As much as I enjoy searching for mammals during the winter, there’s no denying that the middle of the summer can be a very productive time to concentrate on fur rather than feathers…
I collected Jane and Mike from Seahouses and we headed towards Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland for an afternoon and evening exploring NEWT’s local patch. Barn Owls are always a welcome sight and this one was no exception as it quartered, hovered and dropped to the ground in pursuit of prey. A mixed flock of waders included Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, Common Snipe, Lapwing, Ruff and Redshank as a Brown Hare wandered by. A mammal that is a real Northumberland speciality put in a very welcome appearance. Descending a tree trunk head first the Red Squirrel was intent on raiding a feeder. Then it was away back up the tree before demonstrating it’s agility by leaping from tree to tree on thin branches. A distant Otter was slightly less than obliging as it made it’s way along the edge of a reedbed before vanishing into the gloom. As dusk approached we were sitting in a narrow, steep-sided valley watching for Badgers. As pipistrelles flicked across our field of vision, we could hear the cracking branches that betray the presence of a large clumsy animal and there was a brief glimpse of black and white through the trees opposite. Light levels continued to fall and a Roebuck wandered out into the open. He paused briefly, looking directly at us, and was then spotted by another roebuck who took exception to his presence and let out a series of blood-curdling yells. If you were walking through woodland at dusk and didn’t know what the sound was it could be pretty terrifying 🙂
Thursday was a Lindisfarne Safari where we had the option of either staying on the island over the high tide period, or concentrating on the mainland sites in the Lindisfarne NNR…
I collected Stephen and Kate from The Swan, and we headed up the A1 to collect Gordon and Mandy for their 4th day out with NEWT. With a stiff chilly northerly breeze we decided that the mainland would be the better option, but we started on the Holy Island causeway. Knot were hunched against the wind on the mud as the rising tide approached, flocks of Dunlin flew just inches above the road and we had the opportunity to compare the size difference between Sandwich Tern and Little Tern as both species hovered obligingly close to each other over the South Low, diving into the water in pursuit of small fish. Curlew probed the mud on the periphery of the encroaching tide and Grey Seal were ‘bottling’ as they were lifted them from their low-tide haul outs by the water. The simple song of Reed Bunting carried on the breeze from their exposed perches on hawthorns and fence posts as ‘parachuting’ Meadow Pipits displayed nearby. Golden Plover were stunning in breeding plumage, and flocks of Ringed Plover were accompanied by Dunlin sporting the jet black bellies of the breeding season. Offshore, Eider were riding the impressive swell as Gannet and Fulmar soared on the wind, Common, Arctic and Sandwich Terns were plunging into the water, Shag and Cormorant flew by and lines of Puffin, Guillemot and Razorbill flew to and from the Farne Islands.
The influence of the weather on our wildlife can never be underestimated. Strong cold winds are often a signal for everything to go into hiding, seeking warmth and shelter in reedbeds, bushes, behind rocks…pretty much anywhere where they’ll be tricky to see. Last Saturday was in that cold and windy category so I was pleased that Wednesday’s Druridge Bay trip looked as though it would be blessed with warm sunshine 🙂
I collected Karen and Richard from Newbiggin by the Sea and we set out for a day birdwatching around NEWT’s local patch. With a slight change in the weather, the wildlife responded obligingly; the onomatopoeia of Chiffchaffs was near constant throughout the day, as was the rough throaty warble of Whitethroat. A remarkably obliging Sedge Warbler sat in the reed tops in front of us, occasionally sallying forth in song-flight before returning to his stage, close to a male Reed Bunting who was singing his somewhat simpler song. Avocets were an elegant study in black and white, Dunlin and Ruff are both attractive birds in breeding plumage, Little Gulls are incredibly tiny when seen alongside other birds, Skylarks were dust-bathing, Tree Sparrows were hopping around on the footpath just a few feet away from us and goslings were grazing close to the water’s edge.
A food pass between male and female Marsh Harriers happened in front of us, Great Crested Grebes were engaged in their elaborate courtship dance and two male Lapwings left a cloud of feathers as they came to blows over what was presumably a prime patch of mud and rushes. With the warmth of the sunshine and an obvious hatch of insects, the air overhead was filled with Swifts and it finally felt like the summer was here as they started screaming 🙂
There’s a special quality to the winter; stark, icy landscapes filled with vast flocks of wintering birds grip the attention and leave you marvelling at the inhospitable conditions our winter wildlife contends with. We can wear a range of incredibly technical clothing, and head back to the car, or even indoors, if conditions deteriorate but wildlife just has to get on with surviving…
I arrived at Middleton to collect Lesley and Andrew, who were enjoying a week in Northumberland that included their wedding, for their second trip with NEWT (following a successful Otter Safari in May last year) and we headed towards Holy Island. As we walked out to The Lough, flocks of Pale-bellied and Dark-bellied Brent Geese flew in off the mudflats heading towards the flooded fields where we’ve seen them roosting and bathing over the last couple of weeks. The flooded fields were frozen fields though, and the geese circled over them before heading back out onto the mud. Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Gadwall, Goldeneye and Shoveler were all very skittish and we could even track the progress of whatever was disturbing them by their movements, although whatever it was remained unseen by us. Vast flocks of Golden Plover filled the air and Skylark song carried on the icy breeze. Back on the mainland the rising tide brought Curlew, Knot, Dunlin, Turnstone, Bar-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover and Common Redshank closer and closer to us. Then, as the encroaching tide lapped at their toes in the grass at the edge of the mudflats, 12 Skylark suddenly rose in front of us as a flock of Lesser Redpoll sat in bushes behind our viewing point.
Eider, Long-tailed Duck, Common Scoter, Red-breasted Merganser, Slavonian Grebe and Red-throated Diver were on the sea just beyond the rocks where Purple Sandpipers were engaging in their daily dance with the breaking surf and it was time to head back after an enjoyable day with clients who have a great love for Northumberland, and an extraordinary knowledge of great places to eat – we’ll be trying out their recommendations over the next month or so 🙂