Tag: Golden Plover
Towards the end of a day in the North Pennines with Tony and Caroline, I suggested that we should head back to a Black Grouse lek where we’d watched two Blackcock pottering about in the early afternoon…
Everything had been performing well. Red Grouse and Black Grouse playing hide-and-seek-and-run-away-a-bit, Curlew, Redshank, Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Golden Plover and Snipe all displaying, Skylark and Meadow Pipit singing as they ascended skywards, a Wheatear on a midstream rock doing a credible impersonation of a Dipper and the mystery bird of last week’s trip revealed to be a Starling…with a pale crescent on it’s breast!
Now, we were overlooking a lek site that we regularly visit on our North Pennines trips. Two hours earlier there had been just two Blackcock visible, now there were nine, or ten, or five, or two…every scan produced a different total as birds stopped feeding, sat down in the long vegetation and simply vanished. A few minutes later they all stood up, started feeding and wandered about for a little while before repeating the process. After another cycle of ‘feed-hide-reappear’, a minor skirmish developed in amongst the feeding birds. Two Blackcock squared up to each other; wings spread, tails raised, leaping into the air and lashing out at each other. All of the other birds suddenly became very alert, and then the fight stopped and they took flight to the nearby area of low vegetation where we’re used to seeing them display. Other birds, previously unseen, arrived and soon there were 14 of them; arranged in pairs they began the dance that characterises the early mornings of the North Pennines, each bird facing one adversary, strutting around, leaping and cooing (although the wind was carrying that evocative song away from our ears). Four pairs stopped, and adopted a much more relaxed posture, then two more pairs followed suit. Soon only two birds were still displaying…and, bizarrely, the other 12 were standing in the exact positions where they’d been when they gave up, like an odd game of musical statues. Finally one of the remaining combatants pulled his wings in, lowered his tail and raised his head. The final lekking bird stopped soon after, and we assumed that he was the afternoon’s winner. As the gladiatorial contest ended, all of the other birds came out of the trance that they appeared to be in and began feeding. The defeated bird from the final pairing made a half-hearted attempt at resuming the battle, but soon desisted when the reigning champion headed menacingly in his direction.
Sometimes a wildlife experience is just breathtaking, and watching the lek, from the trigger that kicked it all off to the final mystifying tableau, has crashed into my all-time Top 5
As I collected Jenny and Rob for a day in the North Pennines, the weather looked promising, although a little breezy, and we were quickly in the hills. The song of Lapwing, Curlew, Snipe, Redshank, Golden Plover and Oystercatcher carried on the breeze as we found our first Black Grouse of the day – a Blackcock and two Greyhens. Red Grouse seemed to be filling every available bit of moorland and we had an ‘is it or isn’t it?’ moment with an upright, backlit, black bird on an old barn that seemed to show a pale crescent on the throat/breast. It flew out of sight and we were left wondering (I’ve been back and do know what it is, but you’ll have to wait for my next blog post…).
Our afternoon finished with eight Blackcocks lekking, but probably the stars of the day were one of our smaller moorland birds, as we came across a succession of Wheatears. Strikingly handsome male, and subtly beautiful female, Northern Wheatears are always a pleasure to see, but the real surprise was a group of six birds together. Big, upright, and flushed underneath with pinky-orange, these birds were Greenland Wheatears. Migration doesn’t happen only on the coast
As I drove to Peth Head Cottage on Thursday afternoon, the rain was hammering against the car windscreen. Friday’s forecast was good though so, after a meal at The Travellers Rest in Slaley, I reminded Derek and Deirdre that we would have an early start the next morning.
19/04/2013 05:00…the incessant ringing of the alarm pierced the depths of my sleep and I jumped out of bed, showered and opened my bedroom window. The dawn chorus, mainly Blackbirds, Robins and Song Thrushes, was deafening, and the last remnants of rain were pattering down as we set off across the moors to a Black Grouse lek. Roe Deer were watching us from a roadside field and a Tawny Owl flew across in front of us, no doubt heading for a secluded daytime roosting site. First lek site, no birds, second lek site two Greyhens and a distant altercation between two Blackcock along a drystone wall as Curlew, Snipe, Oystercatcher and Lapwing displayed nearby and a Common Buzzard lumbered its way across the horizon. A third site produced the goods though as, adjacent to a field filled with summer-plumaged Golden Plover, two Blackcock were strutting their stuff for the benefit of three Greyhens…who watched them with what appeared to be complete indifference
After returning to Peth Head for a delicious, and very filling, breakfast (accompanied by Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Siskins, Robins, Dunnocks and a Reed Bunting on the feeders just outside the dining room window) we set out again. By now, the sun was up, bathing the moors in sublime warm tones, and Derek spotted the tell-tale white flash of a displaying Blackcock. This bird was strutting around next to two Greyhens, head down, tail up, pausing occasionally to stand bolt upright before jumping in the air and singing. Just beyond the lekking lothario, a Short-eared Owl was quartering the moor. Backwards and forwards on long narrow wings, the owl flew closer to our position, until eventually binoculars were put down when the field of view was completely filled with yellow-eyed menace as the owl flew over the bonnet of the car before veering away just inches from the windscreen.
Deeper into the North Pennines AONB, over moorland liberally sprinkled with pairs of Red Grouse, flocks of Golden Plover flying around and giving their plaintive call, with a Dunlin easily picked out in one flock by it’s small size, and farmland with Brown Hares chasing each other, Derek’s sharp eyes picked out a bird on telegraph wires…and we had our first Ring Ouzel of the trip. Singing it’s simple song, this could well have been the bird that I watched with Sarah in late March. A pair of Ring Ouzels followed soon after, staying just ahead of the car as we traversed a narrow road high above Weardale. Deirdre spotted several displaying Blackcock and we passed from Weardale into Upper Teesdale. Walking the remote moors produced close views of Red Grouse, Golden Plover, Wheatear, Skylark and Meadow Pipit before a completely unexpected find; for a second I wasn’t sure what I was watching, as a large brown and white bird drifted over the moor with deep lazy wingbeats, but as I lifted my binoculars I could barely contain my excitement as I let Derek and Deirdre know that there was an Osprey flying by! We watched the bird as it hovered and then dived into a nearby reservoir, but it’s departure route took it out of sight so we didn’t see if it was successful in its hunt. A pair of Goosander were feeding along the reservoir edge and, as they eventually crossed the open water, they picked up a Tufted Duck for company.
I had a hunch that Black Grouse would be lekking late afternoon, so we returned to a site that had held just one resting Blackcock earlier in the day. Sure enough, ‘the boys’ had gathered for a bit of a barney; 15 of them had turned up – seven obvious pairs of combatants and one bird sitting off to one side holding his wings, head and tail in the typical display posture but just standing still and watching the series of duels that were taking place in front of him. A couple of them broke out into physical fights, and all of the birds were calling as the lek reached a crescendo before, as if someone had flicked a switch, they suddenly lowered their undertail coverts, lifted their heads, folded their wings back in and started nonchalantly pottering around the gladiatorial arena as if nothing had happened. Just as exciting though, was what was going on above the lek. In my field of view I could see a Curlew drop almost vertically before heading skyward again. I raised my binoculars to follow it’s path and as it dropped again it was harassing, with the assistance of a flock of Black-headed Gulls, a male Goshawk! Open moorland may not be typical habitat for this fearsome inhabitant of our upland forests, but it isn’t the first time we’ve seen one out of context in late April.
Back across the moors to Hexhamshire we saw more Red Grouse, more Black Grouse and, after a quick stop back at Peth Head we headed out to eat at the Dipton Mill Inn. We followed that with a drive into Slaley Forest for Woodcock and Tawny Owls then, before retiring to bed, I stood in the dark outside the cottage and listened as at least four Tawny Owls called from close by. A superb end to an excellent day
With the cessation of the rain that plagued Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, Wednesday dawned cold and breezy; almost ideal for a day out on the birdwatching paradise that is the Northumberland Coast in the Winter.
As I collected Ele and Lisa from their holiday cottage in the shadow of Bamburgh Castle, the icy northerly wind cut through the multiple layers that I’d put on before leaving the house. We started our day’s birdwatching at Budle Bay, where the wind somehow seemed even icier, and Oystercatchers, Redshank and Curlew were probing the oozing mud as a distant Peregrine flushed flocks of Lapwing and Golden Plover. Eiders were surfing the top of the impressive swell on the open coast and we headed south towards Druridge Bay. Mediterranean Gulls drifted overhead, ghostly pale, as Oystercatchers, Curlew, Turnstone, Redshank and Sanderling worked along the edge of the surf. Among all the immaculate ducks, two species really stood out; Goosander sleek and menacing, and Red-breasted Merganser drakes all trying to out do each other in their attempts to attract the ladies. A flock of Pink-footed Geese fed in a nearby field
As daylight faded a flock of Waxwings were in the distant tree tops and two species that are always a pleasure to see put in an appearance. Short-eared Owl and Barn Owl drifted along the edges of the reedbeds; death on silent wings. Here are a couple of pictures of them from earlier this year (in better light and a gentler breeze!).
Our returning clients theme continued last week, when I collected Elaine and Sue for an Otter Safari, concentrating mainly around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. We first met between Christmas and New Year 2008 when they joined myself and Sarah on a guided walk on Holy Island. On that day Elaine photographed this stunning Stonechat
and we also had a brief view of a Jack Snipe as it flushed ahead of us.
Last Wednesday we set off up the coast, stopping to check our favourite Little Owl site. Elaine spotted the bird, as it was mobbed by no less than six Magpies. It fixed it’s tormentors with what can only be described as a look of utter contempt and they gradually drifted away. Cresswell Pond produced a persistently-bobbing Jack Snipe, tucked in amongst the reeds and much more obliging than our 2008 bird on Holy Island, and plenty of Common Snipe like this one, again photographed by Elaine.
Curlew, Golden Plover, Lapwing, Dunlin, Redshank and Oystercatcher were all roosting around pool edges and the change out of eclipse plumage was very noticeable among the ducks, with drake Teal looking particularly good. As the warm autumn sunshine bathed the landscape around us, the air was suddenly filled with dragonflies and Elaine captured this portrait of a stunning Migrant Hawker.
There’s something captivating about dragonflies and, as myself and Sue concentrated on scanning reed edges for any indication that an Otter was lurking, Elaine returned to the spot where the dragonfly had been earlier. Within a matter of minutes the temperature fell slightly and insect activity ceased.I’m not sure we have any finer insect than Migrant Hawker, and you can see from Elaine’s photo what a stunner it is.
As sunset neared and we searched for any sign of our quarry, we watched a Starling murmuration developing as a herd of Whooper Swans flew between distant fields. Just before it got dark the Whoopers appeared overhead, giving their eerie call and dropping into their overnight roost site. After a really enjoyable day out, we returned to our starting point and I looked forward (with good reason!) to seeing Elaine’s images from the day, which I’m really happy to be able to post in our blog – thank you Elaine .
It’s a rare day when a trip features a limited number of birds and other wildlife, but even the days with lots to see often have a few things that really stand out; sometimes by being scarce, sometimes it’s an intriguing behaviour, and sometimes it can be something that’s quite common but rarely seen. An outstanding day would produce all of those…
I collected Helen and Chris from Church Point for an afternoon of birdwatching and other wildlife around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland in near-perfect weather. Before we headed up the coast though, we spent some time studying the Mediterranean Gulls on the beach and in the car park. Cormorants were feeding just offshore and a very long-billed Dunlin was pottering about on the sand. Working our way along the reserves that line Druridge Bay, one of NEWT’s favourite winter visitors provided some entertainment; a small herd of Whooper Swans had chosen a pool as a stop-off point – provoking a furious reaction from the resident pair of Mute Swans. Teal, Goldeneye, Wigeon, Shoveler, Mallard and Gadwall drakes were all looking good, following their exit from eclipse plumage, Long-tailed Tits flew past, one by one, a Goldcrest was flicking around in a bush nearby, a chirping Tree Sparrow allowed us to approach incredibly close and a Guillemot was hanging around at the base of the weir on the River Coquet. Flocks of Curlew, Golden Plover and Lapwing filled the air, and a Jack Snipe provided lots of entertainment as it bobbed up and down on the edge of a reedbed, as nearby Common Snipe seemed more interested in disputing possession of feeding areas than actually feeding.
As the end of the trip approached, much too soon with such good company, we were in a small wooded valley, searching for Badgers. We could hear the sound of them blundering through the undergrowth, but a barking dog nearby seemed to spook them and all went quiet. For most of the time that we were there we were under the baleful glare of a feathered sentinel, as a Tawny Owl stared at us from the fork between a branch and tree trunk. Wildlife, watching the wildlife-watchers
As darkness descends it seems like a whole different world appears, and in the remnants of the daylight you need to be alert as the creatures that frequent the shadowy hours make an appearance.
With Lawrie and Linda, Mike and Mary & Pat and Janice all safely in the car, we set off for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and south east Northumberland on an Otter Safari. One of the best things, about any wildlife that we go looking for, is that it’s in a series of superb wildlife-filled locations so there’s always something to look at. At this time of the year, that’s often passage waders like Dunlin and Ruff, large roosting and feeding flocks of Lapwing, Golden Plover and Curlew and gatherings of Linnets and Goldfinches in newly harvested fields.
Invariably, the part of the trip that I get really excited about is that bit that takes place in the half-light. As we walked along a riverbank, a Water Vole put in a very brief appearance and a Grey Heron, stalking through the shallows, took flight in alarm as Mallards hurried nervously away from the vegetation at the water’s edge. Something was unsettling them, and Lawrie soon picked up the menacing figure of an Otter as it crossed the river. Two more brief sightings, as Daubenton’s Bats skimmed the water surface below us, and then it was too dark to make out any detail and we headed back, under a clear sky.
August is always a stressful month for NEWT. As well as leading our regular safari days, it’s British Birdwatching Fair month, and the week leading up to the Bird Fair is always frantic; checking that we’ve got everything for the stand, mounting a new series of limited edition prints for sale, liaising with all of the other Birdwatching Northumberland partners to make sure that everybody knows exactly which aspects of the project they’re responsible for, and making sure that we’ve got a supply of local beer for the 4pm ‘free bar’ on our stand
Then, after a busy three days, it’s all over and we head north…this year to the thankfully cooler temperatures of Northumberland. From leaving Rutland at 6pm on Sunday to arriving back in Northumberland just after 10pm, the temperature drop was an impressive 14C.
Yesterday was our first post-BirdFair trip, a day of birdwatching around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. I collected Alex from Church Point, and we started with a good scan of the beach. 4 Mediterranean Gulls were close by and a small group of waders contained Oystercatcher, Common Redshank, Sanderling and Ringed Plover. Waders proved to be a theme for the day and we added Common Sandpiper, Spotted Redshank, Lapwing, Ruff, Dunlin, Knot, Curlew Sandpiper, Curlew, Greenshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Turnstone, Wood Sandpiper, Common Snipe, Golden Plover and Avocet to the day list as we made our way around NEWT’s local area. With an impressive supporting cast that included Water Rail, 3 Little Egrets and a Spoonbill it was a great day to be watching the edges of our local ponds, and a real education in just how much inward and outward movement of birds there is from the feeding and roosting wader flocks that grace southeast Northumberland at this time of the year. It was a great day too, to appreciate just how friendly and helpful local birdwatchers are in Northumberland – many thanks to Len and Gill for pointing us in the direction of the Wood Sandpiper, and Gill’s sharp eyes picked out the Spotted Redshank which then vanished without trace soon after being found and appreciated
Despite protestations from Sarah, I still think that you really can’t beat the evening when it comes to wildlife experiences.
As the rain poured (and I really do mean poured) down on Sunday afternoon, I ‘phoned Peter to check that he was managing to make his way to Northumberland successfully for our evening mini-safari around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. As I collected him at 6pm, the weather was improving and we headed to the coast. Our regular Little Owl was perched at the entrance to its nest hole, soaking up the warm rays of the evening sunshine, lazily turning its head to peer at us from above. An adult Mediterranean Gull was a surprise find just south of Cresswell village and, as Gannets soared offshore on those remarkably long thin wings, we headed to Cresswell Pond. All of the assembled Lapwings, Curlew, Golden Plover, Dunlin, Oystercatcher and Avocets lifted in alarm as a Barn Owl passed by on its way to the dunes in search of voles. Willow Warblers were flycatching, Linnets were looking shockingly red in the low sunlight and we continued on our way up the coast. Three more Barn Owls gave an impressive tally for an evening’s birdwatching and a female Marsh Harrier perched very obligingly on a fence post. The light was deteriorating and as we stood by a river, swollen by the heavy rain, a leap, a small splash and the top of its head racing across from one bank to the opposite was the one Otter of the evening. A ferocious predator making its way into the darkening gloom.
We’ve got a busy few weeks coming up, giving talks locally, exhibiting at the Scottish Bird Fair and delivering the bird identification training courses for the North Pennines WildWatch programme. Once that’s out of the way, we’ll be into our busy period for trips out with clients, and then delivering more training courses – this time on offshore wildlife survey techniques for MARINElife/North East Cetacean Project and our local Wildlife Trusts.
With all of that in mind we had a weekend in the North Pennines, staying at Saughy Rigg Farm and making an early start on Saturday to visit a Black Grouse lek. Armed with our new Telinga Pro8W and Stereo DATmic…we sat in the car with the heaters on as the temperature hit 3C and it started snowing We could see the grouse – they were sitting huddled in clumps of rush, looking decidely miserable – but they weren’t performing (at least not early on Saturday morning). A ghostly-pale Short-eared Owl braved the elements, quartering the grassland in search of prey, and the mic picked up the sound of drumming Snipe, calling Curlew and cackling Red Grouse, but once the Blackcock started lekking they were upwind of us and the wind tunnel effect of trying to record them led to a change of tactic and concentrating on photography.
Over the course of the two days, we had excellent views of Red Grouse, Black Grouse, Golden Plover, Curlew, Common Snipe, Redshank, Curlew, Brown Hare, Roe Deer and Rabbit. The maze of little roads throughout the area offer lots of photographic opportunities so we made the most of them