This morning was another early start, and I crawled out of bed at 03:30 as the alarm disrupted my sleep…
I collected Daniel and Nigel from Ponteland and we headed towards the North Pennines. Curlew and Lapwing were displaying over the fells, but in the icy cold stiff breeze, Red Grouse and Black Grouse were more of a challenge to find than they were yesterday. Golden Plover, Oystercatcher, Common Snipe and Common Redshank were quickly found and we came across some much more obliging Red Grouse, and two Fieldfare, before heading even further to the southwest. Nigel had just spotted a probable Common Redstart, in a plantation dripping with Mistle Thrushes, when the light drizzle, that had accompanied us for most of the trip, turned to sleet and then proper snow with large flakes speckling the windscreen of the car 🙂 We sat it out, and once the poor weather had cleared the hills produced the sort of birding that is jaw-dropping. First a Short-eared Owl, quartering the fells with stiff, slow, wingbeats before dropping onto a vole in the grass and then obligingly taking it onto an open area where we could watch it through the telescope. Soon after that we came across 14 Blackcock, who abandoned foraging, flew to a lek right in front of us and then all kicked off as a Woodcock shuffled through the grass, accompanied by an aural backdrop of calling Snipe. In the bone-chilling cold, yesterday’s Spring Gentians were no longer displaying their finery and Black-headed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls were struggling against the breeze as Skylarks soared overhead and a Kestrel matched the success of the Shortie before we finished with lunch and a Dipper 🙂
Yesterday was an early start for David, who was the runner up in the junior category of last year’s North East Wildlife Photography competition, and his parents Helen and John. We’ve sponsored the junior category since the inception of the competition and, for some reason, the winners of the prize that we offer usually choose to have their Bespoke photography trip in the North Pennines…
With beautiful light soon after sunrise, Brown Hare, Lapwing, Meadow Pipit, Red Grouse and Black Grouse were soon subject to the scrutiny of David and his camera. The Hares, in particular, looked stunning with natural rim-lighting. After a few Red Grouse remained stubbornly tucked down in the vegetation we came across the star of the day. This Red Grouse wasn’t hiding his light under a bushel, in fact he appeared to be auditioning for Britain’s (Moorland’s) Got Talent. First he was on a fence post, pushing his breast out and watching us intently. Then he dropped to the ground and had a couple minutes feeding before hopping back to the fence post. Back to the ground for another feed and then he decided it was time to advertise his territory. Stretching his neck and head high above the grass he started calling. As well as the typical grouse call, he was making lots of churring, clucking sounds that we probably wouldn’t have heard if we were any further away from him. What was really impressive though, was how his whole body quivered with each prolonged call. I’ve never watched a grouse at such close range before so it was remarkable to see the physical effort that goes into his territorial song.
Fieldfare were hopping amongst clumps of rush, no doubt feeding up ready for their migration, and in bright sunshine we found, largely thanks to Helen’s sharp eyesight, dozens of Spring Gentian in flower 🙂 Over the moors, Curlew and Skylark were displaying, Common Snipe and Common Redshank were perched on fence posts and a Ring Ouzel flew by before 3 Dippers chased each other back and forth along a small stream while we were having our lunch.
I collected Luke and Louise from Alnwick, for the first of their three trips with us this week, and we headed north to Lindisfarne…
Crossing the causeway, with hardly any water in sight, it was hard to believe that this has been the scene of so many attempts by the unwary and the foolish to drive through seawater that brings their journeys to an abrupt end and the ignominy of having to be rescued by the RNLI and RAF. On the island, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff were singing from deep cover as foraging Lapwings were joined by a Fieldfare that was chancing it’s arm with repeated threat displays. Meadow Pipits were sitting on fence posts and dry stone walls as the air all around seemed to be filled with singing Skylarks. Eight Roe Deer were feeding in a grassy field and a buck near the village took umbrage at beeing watched and took off at pace, clearing fence after fence and wall after wall as he headed towards the dunes on the north of the island. House Sparrows were chirping from what seemed like every bush on the island and Grey Herons blended in to the reeds around the Lough to such an extent that Louise’s sharp eyes picked one out and it took a while, and the heron suddenly moving it’s head, before myself and Luke could see it.
As a cold north easterly breeze gathered pace, the eerie calls of Grey Seals and the shrill cries of Curlew carried across the mudflats. Pink-footed and Barnacle Geese, surely getting ready to depart for northern climes, arrived with the rising tide and Little Egrets, Wigeon, Teal, Redshank, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Shelduck, Herring, Black-headed, Common, Lesser Black-backed and Great Black-backed Gulls were joined along the edge of the swelling water by three Whimbrel.
To enjoy my unedited views about Holy Island causeway strandings, why not join one of our Lindisfarne Safaris? We run them throughout the year, although October (for migrants), November-February (wintering waders and wildfowl) and June-July (flora and insects) are the slightly better months to visit.
I can’t think of a species of bird that I don’t enjoy watching. Every last one of them has something special, but some just have more than others…
I collected Steve and Carrie from the Bamburgh Castle Inn and we headed north towards Lindisfarne. Starting with a walk along the Crooked Lonnen we’d soon found Spotted Flycatcher, Fieldfare and a stunning male Whinchat. Surely the rest of the island would be dripping with passage migrants? As it turned out that was pretty much it for migrants, but the rest of the day produced a wealth of great birds. The male Whinchat was a clear leader in my own personal bird of the day competition, but a plethora of Meadow Pipits and Skylarks were pretty impressive. Male Reed Buntings are always strikingly contrasty birds and Turnstone, Purple Sandpiper, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Red-breasted Merganser, Eider and Common Scoter are in really excellent condition at the moment. Lines of Gannets flying south were impressive and Sandwich Terns were plunge-diving right in front of us.
Then, as we were about to leave the island (after all, it wouldn’t do to get stranded by the incoming tide…) Carrie spotted a Short-eared Owl. I soon found a second one, as they hunted through the dunes, and the Whinchat had been unceremoniously kicked off the top step of the podium. I find it hard to think of any time that an owl wouldn’t be my bird of the day…and then we came across a couple of breeding-plumaged Grey Plovers 🙂
04/01/2008, and NEWT’s first ever day out with clients was a strange, cold, gloomy day where we managed to find our target species for the day, Roe Deer. Eight years on and I found myself out with clients on January 4th again…
As I arrived at Church Point to collect Roberta and Dougie, the first thing that struck me was the height of the waves crashing into Newbiggin Bay. Then the icy cold wind started probing, although it couldn’t breach the layers of clothing I’d aligned against it. Whichever direction you looked, the weather looked different; a patch of blue sky, sunlight trying to break through the clouds, distant rain…all possibilities seemed open as we headed down the coast. Greylag Geese, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Gadwall, Teal, Coot, Moorhen and a lone Lapwing braved the cold as the first rain shower of the day made the water’s surface dance. Next came what all agreed was the highlight of the day as Goldeneye and Little Grebe drifted apart and the space between them was occupied by an Otter 🙂 With a 75% success rate on our Otter Safaris during 2015 it wasn’t suprising that 2016 started with such an obliging mustelid which came closer and closer before drifting away and feeding incessantly.
Lunch overlooking the North Sea brought Fulmars arcing effortlessly along the cliff tops, a very obliging Little Gull looked tiny alongside Black-headed Gulls and the wader and wildfowl list for the day continued to grow with Wigeon, Red-breasted Merganser, Scaup, Pochard, Pink-footed Goose, Dunlin, Ruff, Redshank, Curlew, Golden Plover and Long-billed Dowitcher. A very vocal Fieldfare gave remarkably confiding views, Goldfinch and Tree Sparrow jostled for position on feeders and, as the wind strengthened, waves crashed on the shore with a roar reminiscent of heavy traffic and the rain showers intensified, we headed back to Church Point.
Tuesday was a trip around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland for Stephen, who’s been out with NEWT a few times already.
As we headed north along the coast it seemed to be getting darker and by 11:00 the light levels were approaching those you would normally expect at dusk in mid-December. Even in the gloom there was plenty to see though; Shoveler, Teal, Wigeon, Mallard, Gadwall, Goldeneye, Tufted Duck and a gorgeous drake Pintail were all looking superb in breeding plumage, Common Snipe gave incredibly obliging views (although they probably thought they were well hidden in short reed stubble), Little Egret really shine in the gloom and the Long-billed Dowitcher at Cresswell occasionally lifted it’s head out of the water 🙂 A very vocal Twite was a lifer for Stephen, a mixed flock of Redwing and Fieldfare added another new species to his list and the high pitched yapping of thousands of Pink-footed Geese reached us before we spotted them dropping from high overhead. On a day when twilight seemed to be with us throughout, the birdwatching was still high quality 🙂
October, mist, drizzle, winds off the sea…
I collected Bernard from Newbiggin and we headed north to begin a day birdwatching around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. A very obliging Dipper was singing from a mid-stream rock, before it started feeding. If you’ve never seen a Dipper feeding, put it on your list of things that you really need to see! As Common Redshank and Curlew probed in gooey estuarine mud, we could see a wave of panic spreading towards us from the north. First, the air was filled with Greylag and Pink-footed Geese, Woodpigeon, Rook, Carrion Crow and Jackdaw. Then Wigeon, Mallard, Canada Geese and Curlew took flight and 20 Black-tailed Godwit passed overhead. A few minutes later the cause of all the consternation put in an appearance – a female Sparrowhawk, menacing and muscular as she followed the coast southwards. Then a sight, and sound, that always warms my heart as 20 Redwing and 6 Fieldfare, winter visitors from Scandinavia, flew over. More waders and wildfowl featured during the afternoon; Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Gadwall, Little Grebe, Common Snipe, Dunlin, Lapwing and Golden Plover resplendent in low autumn sunlight. A Water Rail wandered out of the reeds and our final new bird for the day was an elegant female Pintail, as the calls of Redwing and Fieldfare continued to cut through the afternoon air.
The Northumberland coast in the late autumn is a birdwatching destination that I’ll never tire of. Even in weather that could best be described as inclement, there’s a wealth of wildlife to enjoy.
I collected Mike and Janet from the Dunstanburgh Castle Hotel and we headed north for a day birdwatching around Lindisfarne and the North Northumberland coast. Starting with a walk around Holy Island village, a harsh chuckling call betrayed the presence of a Fieldfare in a small tree. Two others joined it, before they all departed noisily. Then more chuckling Fieldfare, and the high seee calls of Redwing, carried through the air from high overhead and we could make out, in the mist, a mixed flock of these thrushes arriving high from the north east and bypassing the island on their way across to the mainland. A Sparrowhawk raced by, hedge-hopping and swerving out of sight behind The Heugh, as thousands of Pale-bellied Brent Geese flew out onto the exposed mud of the wildfowl refuge area and Shag, Eider and Red-breasted Merganser dived just offshore. A couple of very obliging Rock Pipits showed the subtle, dusky beauty that can only be appreciated with close views and Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Redshank, Oystercatcher and Grey Plover were reaping the rich bounty of the mud, as Dark-bellied Brent Geese settled in the newly exposed mud of the harbour, and the high whistling calls of drake Teal carried across to us from the Rocket Field, a Little Auk flew along the main street through the village. Crossing back to the mainland, a Little Egret was stalking through the shallows along the roadside and Curlew and Oystercatcher were so close we could have almost reached out of the car and touched them. As the falling tide exposed sandbars, Grey Seals were moaning eerily and splashing about in shallow water. Suddenly, there were thousands of Wigeon and Golden Plover in the air. They settled but then flushed again so I started a methodical check of every rock that I could see on the mud. Then I found what I was looking for – a rock that was just too vertical…and the view through our ‘scope revealed the impressive muscular menace of a female Peregrine 🙂 She shuffled around and took off, only to settle on another rock closer to us. Our attention was drawn to a charm of Goldfinches feeding nearby, and the Peregrine departed while we weren’t looking.
As the weather moved through in waves of varying grot, we watched a group of three Roe Deer grazing in a roadside field, and then headed a bit further down the coast. Dusk was approaching rapidly as we watched more waders feeding busily as the tide rose, Lapwings flew over like giant bats and thousands of Black-headed and Common Gulls arrived to roost. Wave after wave of mist and drizzle, wave after wave of birds, wave after wave of waves 🙂
There are days when it’s calm, still and sunny, but those days are rarely as good as the days when the weather adds its own weight to the whole experience of being in Northumberland.
I collected Alan and Sandra for their second day out with NEWT and we headed north, to explore the exceptional birdwatching that the north Northumberland coast has to offer in the late autumn. The closer we got to the coast. the grimmer the weather looked, and as we settled ourselves into position by the Holy Island causeway the rain began pattering against the windows of the car. Using the car as a birdwatching hide can be a very profitable approach in poor weather and I positioned it so that Alan and Sandra’s side of the car was out of the wind and rain. Flocks of Pale-bellied Brent Geese were shuffling along the edge of the rising water, and we could pick out a few Dark-bellied Brent Geese amongst them too. The rising tide brought Curlew, Redshank, Bar-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Oystercatcher and Grey Plover towards us in changeable weather – at one point we were in bright sunshine and heavy rain at the same time, while the mudflats away to the north of the causeway were under a perfect double rainbow 🙂 Three Little Auks flew north towards the causeway and conditions improved. Flocks of Redwing and Fieldfare were typical of poor autumn weather and every bush and tree seemed to hold several Robins. Gannets were feeding offshore from Bamburgh, where some impressive waves were battering the shore, Red-throated Divers flew by and we finished the same as 24h earlier with Pink-footed Geese yapping in the darkness.
Thursday was Pete and Janet’s 6th trip with NEWT, and the dismal, gloomy, drizzly south easterly weather as I drove to Embleton seemed ever so slightly promising 🙂
We started around Druridge Bay, checking a small area of woodland close to the coast, and soon encountered one of my favourite passerines, with three Brambling feeding quietly high in the canopy and two more flying over noisily. Everywhere we went there were Robins and Blackbirds, although little sign of any other migrants other than a large flock of Redwing over Cresswell and a flock of Fieldfare near Beadnell. Leaping Salmon on the River Coquet provided a lot of entertainment and a Cormorant which had been catching small fish, dived, causing a large Salmon to leap clear of the water. The fish splashed back down and the Cormorant surfaced, gripping it behind the gills. As the bird drifted downstream with its catch, we couldn’t believe that it would be able to deal with such a large fish…then it manouvered it so that the fish’s head was pointing down it’s throat and swallowed it whole!
As dusk approached, we were on the coast near Holy Island. Little Egrets, Grey Plover, Curlew and Redshank were on the mudflats and the high yapping sound of Pink-footed Geese could be heard distantly. Skein after skein appeared against the dark clouds overhead, settling close to the oncoming tide. Then more, and more, and more…thousands and thousands of geese, still arriving when it was so dark that they were just a slightly darker speckling against an almost featureless backdrop. Finally, as we headed back to the car, the ‘teu-it’ call of a Spotted Redshank cut through the gloom as the geese continued to arrive.