In glorious sunshine I arrived in Longframlington to collect Lisa and Lucy ahead of a day searching for Otters, Red Squirrels and Kingfishers around Druridge Bay and the Northumberland coast. I was greeted by Ridley, Lisa’s cockerpoo, and it was quickly decided that he would be joining us on the trip 🙂
Our first Otter site had an obvious area of water that the Mallard, Teal, Gadwall, Tufted Duck and Little Grebe were all avoiding, and Greylag Geese left in a bit of a hurry, but no sign of the sinuous predator we were searching for. A change to our usual picnic spot brought a brief glimpse of a female Merlin as she chased Lapwing and Wigeon, and then a Bittern flew between reedbeds. Red Squirrels were next on our planned route for the day and I had 20mins dog-sitting while Lisa and Lucy checked the edge of the trees that I suggested. Sure enough, they returned with photographs of Red Squirrel and we were on our way to the next Otter site 🙂 Through binoculars I could see dark shapes twisting and turning at the water’s surface and, with the additional magnification of our telescope, those shapes resolved into two Otter cubs in a play-fight 🙂 We went along to where they were, but by that time they were out of the water and running around on boulders and through the dense undergrowth before quickly vanishing.
We headed to our final Otter site to finish the day, and the weather was starting to deteriorate. As the breeze whistled in our ears, the temperature dropped so our breath was condensing into lingering clouds, a cold damp mist took hold over the water and Red-breasted Merganser and Goldeneye were displaying, Starling arrived to roost, foregoing the elegant ballet of the murmuration in favour of quickly finding shelter, the eerie cries of Curlew echoed across the pool and Lapwing formed a tight panicked flock as a Sparrowhawk flew low over the reeds, a Bittern flew by in the gloom and Little Grebe scattered as an Otter swam across in front of us, tucked in to the reed edge and sheltered from the breeze 🙂
Thursday was a mini-Safari exploring Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland and the weather forecast had me donning layer after layer…
I collected Chris and Carol from Church Point and we set off. Getting out of the car at our first destination it didn’t seem quite as cold as forecast – until we were facing into the wind, when it started to feel really chilly. Cormorant, Little Grebe, Red-breasted Merganser, Goosander and Goldeneye were all diving in search of fish and we continued on our way. A remarkable mixed flock of Twite, Turnstone, Pied Wagtail and Sanderling were plundering an ad hoc feeding station on the beach and Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Gadwall, Tufted Duck and Scaup were all dabbling as Curlew noisily took flight, Lapwing were tossed about on the breeze and Starlings arrived at their evening roost, dispensing with the intricacies of a murmuration and diving straight into the shelter of the reeds.
As dusk enveloped everything around we headed back to the car, serenaded by a chorus of Water Rails from deep within the reeds and with an icy cold breeze somehow making five layers not quite enough!
I collected Phil and Richard and we set out for a day birdwatching around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. The forecast suggested there was the possibility of a rain shower sometime in the early afternoon…
Eider were well-appreciated, as Golden Plover carpeted the mud at low tide, and other ducks are starting to look very smart as they moult into breeding plumage; Teal, Mallard, Gadwall, Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Shoveler and a lone Scaup. Tuesday’s Long-tailed Duck was still present, consorting with male and female Wigeon, although quickly vanished from view. Grey Herons, Little Egrets, Curlew, Redshank, Lapwing, Avocet and Black-tailed Godwit were either in the shallows or on the muddy edge, Cormorants were doing that fantastic Otter impression that they’re so good at and the bushes along the footpaths held Song Thrush, Blackbird, Goldcrest, Chaffinch, Blue Tit, Coal Tit and a vocal Ring Ouzel that expressed it’s annoyance as we walked by. The southward migration of Pink-footed Geese continued, and two each of Brent Goose and Barnacle Goose were less expected. Dunnocks were subjected to greater scrutiny than usual (with the recent arrivals of Siberian Accentors, you just never know…) and Goldcrests were watched at close range as they made their way through willows.
As for that rain shower…an almost apocalyptic 5 minutes that just happened to coincide with us walking back to the car from the Oddie Hide at Druridge Pools. Driven by a NNE wind though, I wasn’t too distressed by it 🙂
Sunday’s Otter mini-Safari started at Church Point with an intense rainbow visible away to the east, and variable weather conditions depending on which direction we looked…
I collected Gemma and Jay, then Arthur and Gill and we headed up into Druridge Bay to start our search. Pink-footed Geese, one of the great harbingers of the coming winter, were grazing in roadside fields, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Coot, Moorhen, Teal, Gadwall, Cormorant, Little Grebe and Great Crested Grebe were all looking just too relaxed, Starlings were starting to assemble ready for the evening’s murmuration and Greylag and Canada Geese filled the air with a cacophony that most would find it hard to describe as pleasant 🙂 Grey Herons and Little Egrets stalked along the water’s edge at dusk as skeins of geese flew to roost, Mallard and Teal scattered nervously from one heavily shaded area close to the bankside but the cause of their distress remained unseen and, in the gloom of fading light, a flash of iridescent blue as a Kingfisher flew by and perched on a rock just upstream from us before plunging into the water and returning to its perch with a small fish. That was repeated with the bird using a range of rocks, twigs and branches as a perch before it vanished into a bush as two Grey Herons engaged in a noisy dispute and disturbed it’s hunting.
We always try to provide a weather forecast a day or two before a trip; it helps people to decide what footwear would be appropriate for example. Sunday’s update for everyone booked on yesterday’s Otter Safari was ‘Current weather forecast suggests dry and warm with only a very light NE breeze.’ By yesterday morning that had changed to ‘…likely to be cooler than anticipated, damp/misty and windy…’
I arrived at Church Point to collect Pamela, Conrad and David & Dianne, and we set off for an afternoon and evening searching for Otters around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. A beautiful ghostly pale adult Mediterranean Gull in the car park provided a nice comparison with the Black-headed Gull it was sitting next to and in the heavy mist that was about as far as we could see at the start of the tour. Another Mediterranean Gull, this time a juvenile moulting into 1st-winter plumage provided an even more educational experience. Gulls may not be everyone’s cup of tea but they’re great for learning all of the basics of moult and aging 🙂 Cormorant, Little Grebe, Canada and Greylag Geese, Mute Swan, Gadwall, Mallard, Wigeon, Teal, Tufted Duck, Grey Heron and Lapwing were just about everywhere we went, Ruff demonstrated their obvious sexual dimorphism, Starling murmurations were developing in the misty gloom of mid-afternoon and Little Egrets were delicate, luminous, silently stalking along the water’s edge. A juvenile Marsh Harrier quartered the edges of nearby fields but was subjected to continuous harrassment from corvids and a late brood of quite well-grown Swallows watched us from their nest. As dusk approached we were overlooking a stretch of water that I had high hopes for. Suddenly, hitherto unseen on the water in the dark shadows of bankside vegetation, Teal scattered in an almost perfect circle, including some that flew straight into the tree-lined bank and the impenetrable darkness was bisected by the typical line of bright water of the wake of an Otter 🙂 In the deep gloom of dusk, and the softening blanket of mist, it was proving difficult to pin down, and not everyone managed to, and the sequential flushing of Grey Heron along the bank hinted at it’s progress before it eventually surfaced near a group of Mute Swans, diving in a slightly more obliging location for a minute or so before it disappeared into the darkness.
I collected Susan and Mike from Seaton Burn and then Frank, Gabrielle, Boudewijn and Odette from The Swan before heading to the coast. Boudewijn’s sharp eyes picked out tiny insects as we made our way along footpaths with dense vegetation alongside as Swallows and House Martins swooped low over the fields, picking off flying insects that had strayed just a bit too far from safety. Adult Swallows were feeding young in a nest just a few feet away from us and, out on the water, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Gadwall, Wigeon and Pochard were all decked out in the shabby chic of late summer and a Grey Heron caused alarm as it flew in, scattering Lapwings and Black-headed Gulls from the edge of the pool. Cormorants dived, doing their best Otter impressions, Common Sandpipers bobbed nervously on the riverbank, a well-grown brood of Goosander were remarkably well camouflaged amongst piles of rocks and Little Egrets were stalking tiny fish in the shallows. As the wind started to pick up and the first few drops of rain began to fall, Swifts scythed their way through clouds of insects overhead. Whimbrel was a nice addition to the wader list for the day along with Curlew and Redshank which are much more expected. Common and Sandwich Terns called as they flew by and Eider were rafting on a flat sea as we had our picnic. Our final site for the day was where I was confident we’d find an Otter. Starlings were murmurating, Reed Buntings and Meadow Pipits flicked through the vegetation just ahead of us, a roe Deer emerged from behind a reedbed to take a drink at the water’s edge…and then the sky turned dark rather quickly and the rain started hammering down 🙁 That did produce one entertaining moment though, as a rather large Great Crested Grebe chick took shelter on its parent’s back just before we admitted defeat to the weather.
As much as I enjoy searching for, and finding, wildlife with our clients I have to admit to a fascination what wildlife does and how it behaves…
Druridge Bay is a great place throughout the year, there’s always plenty to see, and Thursday was no exception. Great Crested Grebes, haughtily elegant, Mallard, Wigeon, Teal, Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Shoveler, Shelduck, all so different from the duller plumage they’ll be wearing shortly, dainty Little Gulls flycatching amnogst flocks of Black-headed Gull and even a couple of rarities, Great White Egret, hunched in the rushes near a Grey Heron, and Bonaparte’s Gull, roosting with Black-headed Gulls, for good measure.
At this time of year one of the highlights is often wading birds on passage. These birds, so cryptically patterned during the winter months, often appear in rather stunning breeding finery at the end of spring passage, and the start of autumn passage. There’s little quite as remarkable as a male Ruff dressed in his best dancing clothes. This blog post from 2010 has an example of one 🙂 Passage birds in the spring have a raging passion burning in their blood, and as Curlew displayed overhead and Common Snipe dropped into the rushes we came across one male Ruff who was giving it his all. Jumping, prancing, strutting, spreading his ruff like an Elizabethan dandy and bowing handsomely and exaggeratedly at the feet of his intended. There was only one flaw in this impressive dance of desire…the subject of his attention was a Redshank! It would appear that in the absence of any Reeves our Ruff wasn’t going to hide his light under a bushel. Settling for second best, or blinded by desire, his ardour wasn’t dimmed by the persistent rejection from the obviously agitated Redshank 🙂
Wildlife does the funniest things…
“…when I actually see one”. A remarkable number of NEWT’s clients seem to have had holidays on Mull/Shetland/Orkney/Skye searching for Otters (often on guided tours) without seeing one, and that revelation at the start of a tour always ramps the pressure up a bit…
I arrived at Church Point in heavy mist and drizzle, and quickly met up with Sarah and Charlotte, Keith and Maggie, and Stephanie, and we set off for an afternoon and evening searching for Otters around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. I juggled the sites we were visiting, to take account of the weather, but I knew where I thought we should be towards dusk. In the misty, drizzly gloom a Little Egret looked luminous. With warm, humid conditions the air was alive with the sussurating buzz of recently emerged insects. Black-headed and Little Gulls, and swarms of Swifts, were rampaging through the dense clouds of flies as a Pheasant sat motionless in the grass on the water’s edge. Gadwall, Goosander, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Canada Goose and Greylag Goose were all lazing on the water and Common Terns harried a Moorhen that had ventured just that little bit too close to their nest. Grey Herons flew around calling and a dispute over a prime feeding spot broke out between two of these huge birds.
We arrived at what I’d planned as our final location for the evening and I suggested that one particular part of the pool would be worth keeping a close eye on. Was that a dark shape beneath the gulls? I lifted my binoculars and scanned, then decided my eyes must have been playing tricks on me. As I set the ‘scope up, there was an “erm…” from Charlotte, who was looking at the same spot…and there was an Otter 🙂 We watched it for over an hour as it made it’s way around the pool, feeding almost constantly and creating an interesting wildfowl exclusion zone! Here’s an Otter from last year, showing it’s fearsome dentition 🙂
Eventually it vanished into the impenetrable depths of a reedbed and we headed back towards Newbiggin, encountering a Little Owl perched on a telegraph pole at the roadside 🙂
Waders are often spectacular, seabirds are enigmatic and raptors are, well, raptors, but sometimes the smaller birds deserve a lot more attention…
I collected Stephen from North Shields for his 7th day trip with NEWT and we headed north to Druridge Bay. Days out with Stephen are always enjoyableStarting in bright sunshine under blue skies, it soon clouded over, then cleared, then clouded again. Wigeon, Shoveler, Mallard, Tufted Duck and Gadwall all looked in excellent condition, and a Whimbrel was good to see. Great Crested Grebes had their feathers ruffled by a stiffening breeze as Swallows, Swifts, House Martins and Sand Martins were all feeding only a metre or so above the water. Tree Sparrows are always very smart looking birds and a male Yellowhammer provided an extraordinary touch of brilliant colour as the northerly wind brought the first spots of rain. As we sat eating lunch on the clifftop at Cresswell, Fulmars were gliding effortlessly by and a Rock Pipit appeared, carrying food back to it’s nest as the scratchy warble of a Whitethroat carried on the breeze. The rhythmic ranting of Reed Warbler and scattergun song of Sedge Warbler emanated from deep in the reeds and a Reed Warbler obligingly shuffled to the reed tops close to a singing male Reed Bunting.
As we headed back to the car Swifts were racing by at head height and the wind seemed to be strengthening…
I’ve been wondering why it is that I prefer wildlife-watching in an evening rather than at daybreak, and I think I may have an idea…
I collected James, Ruth, Stuart, Jane, Alex and Lawrence from Church Point and we set out for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. Against a chilly breeze, Cormorants were drying their wings and flying out to sea, Sedge Warblers were belting out their song from hidden positions in the reeds, Chiffchaff sang their name incessantly, Reed Buntings perched obligingly in view, Great Crested Grebe were diving, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Gadwall and Teal were dabbling and Greylag Geese were shepherding their goslings along, looking alert as well they might when they’re at a site that’s produced regular sightings of Otter recently. Shelduck and Oystercatcher flew by and, as afternoon progressed into evening, we headed off to one of NEWT’s favourite spots.
With the breeze subsiding it was turning into a sublime evening. A Dipper flew along just above the water, Moorhen were nervously tail-flicking as they stalked through the bankside vegetation, a drake Goosander drifted downstream, shortly before a pair of these big impressive sawbills flew by, a Grey Heron was unusually confiding, Swallow, Sand Martin and Swift hawked the insects that had managed to escape the gaping jaws of the fish that were rippling and leaping from the water, Rabbits were sitting on the bare earth at the edge of a field, close to the safe haven of the hedgerow, Brown Hares were running through crops that they were almost completely hidden by, occasionally pausing and sitting upright with just their ears and the top of the head visible, and then a harsh barking alerted us to the presence of a Roe Deer in long grass nearby.
The transition from our daytime world to the twilight world of some incredible wildlife is what makes it such a special time of the day 🙂