Tag: Goosander

The icy grip of a cold breeze; Druridge Bay mini-Safari 26/01/17

by on Jan.31, 2017, under Druridge Bay

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!

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“…and a Common Seal in a dead tree”; Otter Safari 02/12/16

by on Dec.04, 2016, under Druridge Bay, Otter, Southeast Northumberland

From the Fascinating ‘Life on Earth’ back in the 1970’s, through to the jaw-dropping ‘Planet Earth II‘ that’s currently showing on the BBC (2 episodes to go, ‘Grasslands’ this evening and ‘Cities’ next Sunday!), I’ve always enjoyed David Attenborough’s programmes.  Recent series have included a section at the end of each programme, detailing the planning and effort that went into capturing a particular sequence.  Those sections are really important, as they make it clear just how wildlife doesn’t work to a script…

I collected Emma and Kevin from Newbiggin and we set off for a day in search of Otters around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  My interest was piqued fairly quickly, as Emma removed her camera from it’s bag with a Nikon 200-500mm lens attached – the same lens that I’m currently thinking about buying 🙂  It was a great opportunity to see the lens in action, and to see some of Emma’s stunning images from their safari in Tanzania, but would Northumberland’s wildlife perform for the camera?  As Emma said “You can’t just rock up and expect wildlife to be there in front of you”…

Arriving at our first site I caught a brief glimpse of something dark rolling at the surface and vanishing into the flat calm water.  Otter? or Cormorant?  A loud squawk from a Black-headed Gull caught my attention, and we turned to see two gulls circling over one patch of water.  Look under them, look under them…and there’s an Otter 🙂  Twisting, turning and diving, the adult Otter caught a fish and headed towards a fallen tree…and a small cub swam out to greet it!  Kevin quickly spotted a second cub, and once the adult was out of the water, it was obvious that she’d got three cubs.  The cubs were staying close to the bank as mum headed out into deeper water to catch fish and, each time she swam away from them they’d start calling to her.  Swimming in the shallows, clambering over boulders and fallen trees, scattering terrified Goldeneye, Goosander, Little Grebe and Cormorant as a Kingfisher flashed by, and eventually disappearing, presumably for a nap after a busy couple of hours, this was a strong contender for ‘best Otter sighting for NEWT’ 🙂  Another sighting late afternoon, at a different site (where we know there’s a female with three cubs), provided an interesting observation of Otter behaviour.  This time the female was catching food and taking it out of sight, presumably to her cubs.  While she was still hunting in front of us I noticed Goldeneye and Teal scattering from another part of the pool…and there was an Otter cub.  Eventually the female stopped feeding and headed towards the cub before escorting it back to where we suspected it’s siblings were hiding. passing right in front of us on the way 🙂

A mind-blowing Starling murmuration and Roe Deer drinking at the water’s edge at dusk finished off a day of highlights so, with a certain amount of artistic licence, and to be sung to the tune of the ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’…

20,000 Starling swirling, 9 Sanderling scurrying, 8 Pink-footed Geese yapping, 7 Shorelark shuffling, 6 Otters swimming, 5 Eiiiiddderr Ducks, 4 Cormorants fishing, 3 Sparrowhawk hunting, 2 Lions dozing, and a Common Seal in a dead tree.

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The enchantment of dusk; Bespoke Otter Safari 26/10/16

by on Oct.27, 2016, under Druridge Bay, Northumberland Coast, Southeast Northumberland

Whatever the time of year, that final hour or so before it’s too dark to see any wildlife is invariably the best bit of the day…

I collected Gerry and Tracey from The Swan and we headed towards the coast for a day in search of OttersGoldcrests, Long-tailed Tits and Robins provided noise and movement in the bushes, Teal, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Common Scoter, Wigeon, Gadwall and Little Grebe were dabbling and/or diving, Cormorant, Goosander and Red-breasted Merganser all emanated an air of sleek menace, Grey Heron and Little Egret stalked patiently along the edges of shallow pools where Black-tailed Godwits radiated elegance, Curlew probed for worms in grassy fields, Eider were just beyond the gently rolling surf as low sunlight illuminated the dunes to structures of extraordinary beauty and Carrion Crows harried a Common Buzzard as it flapped lazily over the coastal fields.

As the sun dipped towards the horizon, ducks and geese were silhouetted against a stunning orange reflection and an all-out assault on the senses began to build.  First Starlings, just a few hundred intially, building to a murmuration of several thousand as wave after wave of birds arrived – some to join the swirling amorphous dark cloud overhead, others heading straight in to the reeds as they’d arrived too late to join the party.  Water Rails screeched, squealed and chattered from the reeds nearby and Pink-footed Geese began arriving as Roe Deer grazed in the open as the cover of falling light levels provided them with a cloak of safety.  A few dozen geese, noisily yapping as they adjusted their approach to be into the headwind ready for landing, became a few hundred, then a thousand or so, and eventually around 5000 with skeins arriving from south and north east.  In front of us, the combination of sunset and dark cloud had left one sublime strip of orange light when Gerry said “what’s that just there?”.  Sleek, sinuous and menacing, the Otter swam across the strip of light and out of sight from us, although the geese and ducks spent a good 5 minutes staring in the direction it had departed 🙂

As the clouds overhead cleared the darkening sky revealed some of it’s gems; first Arcturus, then the Summer Triangle (Deneb, Vega and Altair) and Mars before the familiar asterism of The Plough and, appropriately as it was accompanied by the remarkable calls of Whooper Swans, Cygnus.  A great end to a fantastic day, searching for wildlife and discussing otters, squirrels, Pine Martens, rewilding and post-industrial landscapes with lovely clients 🙂

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Searching; Otter Safari 18/10/16

by on Oct.21, 2016, under Druridge Bay

A day around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland was in store as I arrived at Church Point to collect Sam, Luke, Perdi and Georgina.

Ghostly white Mediterranean Gulls were drifting through the assembled cloud of Black-headed Gulls as we prepared to head a few miles inland, and a Swallow over the caravan park was an unexpected find.  A Long-tailed Duck on the river Wansbeck was a nice surprise, alongside Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Goosander, Red-breasted Merganser and Mute Swan.  Skeins of Pink-footed Geese passed overhead, making their way south, as Little Egret, Grey Heron and Little Grebe feasted on what seemed to be a never-ending supply of tiny fish, Common Redshank flew back and forth and a Sparrowhawk panicked Woodpigeons in the riverside trees as it flew through.  In the dunes along Druridge Bay Stonechat, Reed Bunting and Meadow Pipit flicked between bushes and fence posts.  The recent wet weather, accompanied by easterly winds has left the coast dripping with Goldcrests, and a feeding flock of around a dozen of these tiny gems was scrutinised for anything different.  Lapwing and Curlew were calling over the fields and a Common Scoter offered views that were vastly different to the usual dark dots riding the crest of waves offshore that typify the species.  An incredibly pale grey Chiffchaff joined them briefly before diving into deep cover and not being as obliging as we hoped.  As we neared the end of the afternoon one of the species that always enlivens a day birdwatching on the Northumberland coast through the autumn and winter put in an appearance.  Dashing and elegant, the Merlin zipped along the dunes before flicking up, over and out of sight, in pursuit of an unidentified small bird.  A handsome bird to end a fine day on the coast 🙂

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Amphibians; Otter Safari 25/08/16

by on Aug.28, 2016, under Druridge Bay

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 🙂

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Avoiding the crowds; Lindisfarne mini-Safari 23/08/16

by on Aug.26, 2016, under Holy Island, Lindisfarne, Northumberland Coast

Northumberland is a sparsely populated county where it’s relatively easy to get away from it all and enjoy watching wildlife without the hustle and bustle of large numbers of other people…

I met up with Lynsey, Francis, Gregory and Thea in the main car park on Holy Island ahead of an afternoon mini-Safari around the island.  The car park was busy, really busy, and there were lots of people walking to and from the village and the castle.  There’s so much more to Holy Island than that though, and we set off along the Straight Lonnen and away from the crowds 🙂  Gannets were passing by offshore, Oystercatchers were roosting just above the tide line and Grey Herons were stalking through rockpools as Goosander swam rapidly past them with their heads submerged in a search for fish.  Little Grebe, Moorhen, Coot, Mute Swan and Mallard were on The Lough and Curlew flew overhead.  Viper’s Bugloss and Grass of Parnassus were still in flower as the sharp eyesight of Thea and Gregory brought hoverflies, bees, moths and Meadow Brown, Painted Lady and Small Tortoiseshell flicked back and forth across the path in front of us.  Meadow Pipits appeared out of the grass and vanished almost as quickly and a Pheasant broke into a trot ahead of us.  As the rising tide began to flood over Fenham Flats, the eerie moans of Grey Seals carried on the breeze and a dense swirling cloud of distant waders soon resolved into the familiar shape, and sound, of Golden Plover.  As we returned to the car park, there were only half a dozen cars still there and the island was incredibly quiet as the rising tide had brought the usual mass departure 🙂

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The sharp eyes of youth; Otter Safari 11/08/16

by on Aug.16, 2016, under Druridge Bay, Northumberland Coast

We’ve always said that the best thing for spotting wildife is other wildlife, although the sharp eyes of younger humans could probably give them a run for their money…

I collected Gill from Alnwick, for her third trip with NEWT, and we headed to Bamburgh to collect Debbie, Roger, Joe and Ben.  Our plan for the afternoon and evening was to search Druridge Bay and the Northumberland coast  for Otters and other wildlife.  Oystercatcher, Lapwing and Curlew quickly became the target for some digiscoping by Joe as five Little Egrets sat on the riverbank opposite and a brood of Goosander formed a menacing fleet crossing the river.  Digibinning (yes, that is a real thing!) was then employed to capture images of a Great Crested Grebe and well-grown chick while the light was still reasonable, and we headed to our favourite dusk site.  A Grey Heron stalked the shallows, catching lots of small fish and other unidentified prey, becoming another digibinning target, Mute Swans stalked serenely across the water, a Sedge Warbler flitted around in the reeds just in front of us and then Little Grebe, Mallard, Teal, Gadwall and Tufted Duck all fanned out from one reedbed giving the distinct impression that they’d rather be somewhere other than close to those reeds.  Starlings flushed from their nighttime roost as a Grey Heron flew over and, as dusk began to take on a dark grey cloak, two young Tawny Owls flew out from a bush nearby, a Hedgehog trotted along in front of us and Noctule and pipistrelle bats could be seen and, with the aid of our bat detector, heard.  The walk back to the car brought lots of wildlife and the benefit of Joe and Ben’s keen eyesight allowed us to avoid treading on slugs, snails, spiders and an incredible number of toadlets and froglets 🙂

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Dodging the showers; Lindisfarne Safari 09/08/16

by on Aug.10, 2016, under Holy Island

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 🙂

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“Can you remember when…”; Druridge Bay Safari 04/08/16

by on Aug.05, 2016, under Druridge Bay

Yesterday was a Druridge Bay Safari for Andy, Jill and Cat, who’d been out with us in February, and Gill, who’s a newcomer to NEWT, but has two more trips booked next week 🙂

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.

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Summer…; Otter Safari 25/07/16

by on Jul.28, 2016, under Druridge Bay, Otter

July is a month when most of my time is spent at sea, either carrying out transect surveys or leading pelagic trips, so an afternoon and evening looking for Otters brings some welcome variation…

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 OtterStarlings 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.

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