Sunday was a second day out for Edward and Isabel, although this time a bespoke trip. I collected them from Greycroft and we headed south. Brambling was the first target on our list for the day and an impressive flock was alongside Nuthatch, Chaffinch, Coal Tit and a male Siskin. Red Squirrel was another target species for the day, and we enjoyed prolonged views of one, as another male Brambling called from a treetop nearby and Goldfinches plundered a feeding station. Long-tailed Tits fed just above our heads and Fulmar found themselves in range of Edward’s camera as we had lunch overlooking the North Sea. Twite, Pied Wagtail and Sanderling on the beach were our first post-lunch stop and then we headed further north to our last site for the day, with a brief glimpse of a Stoat as it ran across the road in front of us.
Dusk often brings the best of the day and, as Whooper Swans swam across the reflection of the setting Sun, a Kingfisher dived from the reeds, a Water Rail flew between reedbeds, Grey Herons squabbled over prime feeding spots and the assembled wildfowl followed the progress of a Red Fox as it trotted along the bank. Once it was too dark to see anything in front of us we headed back to Alnwick.
Another great day out with clients who were really good company. It’s never really any other way 🙂
There are a few species that really epitomise winter wildlife-watching, and they include my favourite bird, one of my favourite mammals, and another bird that never fails to excite…
I collected Andy from Whitley Bay (it’s great to have him back from Mull for a few months over the winter!) and we had an interesting chat about plankton sampling and microscopy as we drove up the coast to collect Genine from Newbiggin. Genine’s last trip with NEWT was a breathtaking pelagic in early September, and now we were out in search of Otters and any other birds and wildlife that we could find around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. I suggested that we started with a quick search for Waxwings, just a few minutes down the road. As we approached where they’d been seen the previous day, a flock flushed from a rowan tree where they were gorging themselves on berries. We watched them land in the bare branches of a tall tree nearby and counted at least 120 birds, with another 60 flying around and landing in trees just along the road. In the cold and damp, we started our search for Otters, and were soon watching one as it fed on small fish. With hardly a breath of wind, the water was flat calm and we tracked the Otter‘s movement by the trail of bubbles it left each time it submerged before, after around half an hour, it left the water and vanished up the bank and behind a fallen tree. Curlew, Lapwing, Common Redshank and Oystercatcher were probing the mud along the water’s edge and a flash of electric blue heralded the arrival of a Kingfisher, which played a game of hide and seek with us as Goldfinch and Bullfinch perched in the tops of trees, the disembodied weak winter song of a Robin came from the depths of a hawthorn and two Sparrowhawks tussled in mid-air overhead before one gave up the fight and flew well away. Long-tailed Duck, Common Scoter, Common Eider, Goldeneye, Wigeon, Mallard, Red-breasted Merganser and Tufted Duck were a nice haul of wildfowl as Little Grebe warily watched the spot where the Otter had vanished and Long-tailed Tits called unseen from nearby bushes.
The approach of dusk brought thousands of Starlings in a swirling murmuration before they dropped into the reedbeds for the night as the high-pitched yapping of Pink-footed Geese and the discordant honking of Greylag Geese betrayed the presence of skein after skein arriving from feeding areas to the south of us. Squealing Water Rails remained hidden and, as the last rays of daylight filtered through from the western horizon, Whooper Swans arrived. Big, ghostly and quiet on their approach, as they hit the water they began whooping and their haunting voices accompanied our walk back to the car in the dark.
Proper wintry cold, almost continuous drizzle, stunning wildlife and lovely clients – just a great way to spend a day in mid-November 🙂 We’ll be running Otter Safaris, Druridge Bay Safaris and Lindisfarne Safaris right through the winter, so get in touch, wrap up warm and come and join us for a day searching for Northumberland’s fantastic wildlife!
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 🙂
Wednesday brought a first for me – arriving at Church Point to collect Lucy, Jon, Hattie and Lily, the car park was completely full! That’s nice weather for you though…
We started our afternoon around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland with a search for Red Squirrel. With lots of people around it wasn’t entirely surprising that our quarry eluded us, but Chaffinch, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Goldfinch and Dunnock were all benefiting from the supply of free food as everyone tried to get to grips with the contact calls of Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler. Dragonflies were hawking around the tree tops and a range of insects finished up in our sample pot before being released back to the plants we’d taken them from. On to wetter habitats and an attempt to catch a Blue-tailed Damselfly ended comically when it flew from its perch and settled on my finger instead 🙂 Common Snipe, Curlew Sandpiper, Common Redshank, Ruff, Curlew and Lapwing were a nice little haul of waders and a calling Greenshank stayed out of sight as Little Egrets stalked along the water’s edge and Grey Herons tried to remain inconspicuous amongst the clumps of rush. I was called on to answer some tricky questions during the afternoon – “would a Grey Squirrel attack a person?” was slightly easier to answer than “what sort of cloud is that?” 😉
As often is the case, there was a discussion about best wildlife of the trip. Common Snipe and Cinnabar Moth caterpillar both got the seal of approval, although the vote did come before we were heading back down the coast and a Barn Owl was quartering the roadside fields. Death on silent wings, beautifully backlit by the later afternoon sun and the finale to Jon’s 40th birthday wildlife tour 🙂
At this time of year, some of our favourite activities are mini-safaris for families with young children. With reasonable weather mammals, birds, insects. flowers and stargazing can all be wrapped up into an evening around Druridge Bay and the southeast Northumberland coast…
I collected Niall, Emma, Betty and Pearl from Cresswell and we headed off to search for our first target species for the evening. Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Dunnock and Great Tit were all around the feeding station where I thought we’d find a squirrel, and sure enough, Niall spotted one coming through the trees nearby. This was a young Red Squirrel though, and it was struggling with the concept a of a feeder with a hinged lid; sitting on the lid and peering wistfully through the transparent front of the feeder didn’t hold it’s attention for long so it set about plundering the bird feeders, stretching across from the tree trunks and swinging from the feeders like an Olympic gymnast. Then it returned to the squirrel feeder and sat on the platform, lifted the lid and made off with a hazelnut 🙂
Heading up the coast we were treated to the sight of a Barn Owl quartering the dunes on silent wings before hovering and plunging into the grass then rising and flying off carrying a hapless vole in it’s talons. Little Egrets, Grey Herons and Canada Geese were all studied through the ‘scope and Rabbits made brief appearances throughout the evening.
As dusk began fading to darkness, with Shoveler and Teal silhouetted against the final rays of daylight, Noctule Bats were hunting overhead as the near-full Moon made an excellent subject for study with the ‘scope. Turning on the bat detector allowed us to listen to them as well as watching their hunting flight. If you’ve never heard a Noctule then treat yourself by listening to a recording of one. Betty’s comment really sums them up though “It sound’s like it’s beat-boxing”. With the dark cloak of night finally starting to take a grip, stars and planets appeared as if a light switch had been flicked on. Mars, eeriely red low in the west, Vega, one of the three bright stars that make up the Summer Triangle, and then the grand finale, Saturn; appearing elongated through binoculars, and resolving to the giant planet and it’s rings in the telescope view 🙂
If you’re visiting Northumberland with your family give us a call on 01670 827465 to find out what we can do for you 🙂
The best thing about wildife, and at the same time occasionally the most frustrating thing, is that you can’t ever predict exactly what it’s going to do…
I collected Jeff and Helen, and Kevin, from Church Point and we set off for an afternoon around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. The afternoon had an almost constant aural backdrop of Chiffchaff song, and Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Robin, Blackbird and Goldcrest all added to the springlike feel of the afternoon. Curlew, Redshank and Oystercatcher were all probing in gooey mud but with no sign of agitation to suggest that there was an Otter around. A family of Whooper Swans were a reminder that winter is only just behind us, while Swallows and Sand Martins heralded the move towards the summer. Skylark and Meadow Pipit both demonstrated that they’re more than brown and uninteresting, Marsh Harriers and Common Buzzards are likely to remain a feature of our Druridge Bay trips for a few months, a handsome Roebuck ran across the fields and vanished behind a hedge and the assembled wildfowl had got their eye on something in the reeds…Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Canada Goose and Greylag Goose were all fixated on one small area of a reedbed. Alert, nervous and barely breaking their gaze they’d obviously spotted something. What though? Whatever it was remained hidden from our sight, although it held the attention of the birds for a long time. The reedbed was probably a much better option than braving the keen northerly breeze!
Returning clients are always a pleasure, and as a business it’s a great vote of confidence that we’re doing the right thing…
I collected Lindsay and Abbie from Felton, for their second trip with NEWT after a Kielder Safari in 2012, and we headed down to Druridge Bay to collect Simon for his third trip with us, after a stunning pelagic trip in 2012 and a day on the coast in 2014. The day featured a lot of the birds that are regular on the Northumberland coast in the winter; mixed flocks of passerines around feeders included, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Great Tit, Tree Sparrow and Long-tailed Tit. Eider rode nonchalantly over the swell near to the shore, Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Mallard, Wigeon, Teal and Little Grebe were dabbling or diving and the end of the day brought two scarcities. Common Scoter may be a common wintering bird on the sea off Northumberland, but seeing one on a pond is much more unusual. Black-necked Grebe is an uncommon winter visitor to Northumberland, but a gem in black and white and a great way to finish the day 🙂
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.
Losing yourself in the landscape and the wildlife that inhabits it is sometimes just what you need…
I collected Sue from her holiday cottage in Swarland and we headed north towards Holy Island. The weather had been a mixed bag as I drove across; mist, fog, clear blue skies, sunshine, more mist, more fog. This was Sue’s third day out with NEWT, after a successful Otter Safari nearly a year ago (and an unsuccessful one in July last year). Yet again the weather played a pivotal role in the day’s proceedings, with visibility down to less than 100m at times. Holy Island was awash with Blackbirds, Chaffinches, Goldfinches and Wrens – all quite approachable as they fed in the mist – and two Chiffchaffs led us a merry dance before finally settling for a few seconds and letting us identify them.. Our lunch stop brought a very obliging Merlin within reach of our binoculars, and then right in front of our eyes and over our heads chasing a Meadow Pipit, as the disembodied voices of Curlew, Wigeon, Shelduck and Pale-bellied Brent Geese cut through the mist. A Short-eared Owl ghosted along the dunes and into the mist and, with visibility hampered to such an extent, I’d got a plan for the last few hours of the afternoon…and as seven Little Egrets dashed and darted in the shallows, we watched a young female Otter with two cubs as they fed just a few metres away from us. I love watching wildlife, whatever the weather, but the best bit of the day for me was when I dropped Sue back at Swarland and she said “that was just the day I needed”.
Thursday was Tony’s second bespoke birdwatching day with NEWT, and we were heading to Holy Island. The weather was an extraordinary contrast to the mist, murk and torrential rain of Wednesday; clear blue skies and bright warm sunshine accompanied us on the drive north…
Our first port of call on the island was the Vicar’s Garden, and we were greeted by the nasal rasping call of a Brambling. Chiffchaffs were flitting restlessly in the trees, a flycatcher settled for just a few seconds, Redwings were hopping around with Song Thrush and Blackbird on the lawn as Grey Seals moaned from the sandbars of Fenham Flats, Pale-bellied Brent Geese and Dark-bellied Brent Geese flew north, as the rising tide disturbed them, and a flock of Bar-tailed Godwit put on a synchronised flying display that would rival any Starling murmuration. A Yellow-browed Warbler eventually revealed itself, one of three we came across during the morning, and after a walk around the lepidoptera-laden lonnens (Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell, Speckled Wood, Peacock, Silver Y), including watching at least 15 Roe Deer, and a Merlin harrassing a Short-eared Owl, we returned to the car to have lunch. A quick check of my mobile revealed a message about a Radde’s Warbler at Chare Ends. Now that’s easy twitching of a rarity…just a five minute walk from where we were sitting 🙂 The warbler proved elusive though, and it took a little while to show itself and all of the features that make it identifiable. Flocks of Goldfinch and Linnet were in the stubble nearby, a Peregrine flew overhead, scattering waders and wildfowl from the mudflats, a Merlin perched obligingly on top of a Hawthorn bush in the dunes and we headed back south after 7 hours on the island.