Tag: Great Northern Diver

Mud, glorious mud; Bespoke Wader ID Workshop 03/11/16

by on Nov.07, 2016, under Lindisfarne

Thursday was a trip I’d been looking forward to for several months…Sue’s 5th trip with NEWT was a day searching for and identifying wading birds.  Some, like the Curlew with it’s eerie cry and long downcurved beak are straightforward, but others can be a bit trickier…

A field full of Oystercatcher and Lapwing close to the coast started the trip, and 30+ Whooper Swan in the same fields were a nice find.  Down on to the Aln Estuary anad more Oystercatcher and Lapwing, along with Redshank, Curlew and a lone Woodcock which dived into cover after a presumably challenging journey across the North Sea.  Vast flocks of Woodpigeon, Jackdaw, Rook and Pink-footed Goose darkened the sky close to the horizon and we headed up the coast.  Smaller waders were soon in our sights, with Dunlin alongside Sanderling and Ringed Plover while Turnstone were busy turning stones, kelp and anything else that they thought might conceal something to eat and the plaintive calls of Grey Plover carried across the beach on the strengthening breeze.  Along the shoreline Redshank were probing the mud alongside Bar-tailed Godwit and a lone Pink-footed Goose flew northwards, calling constantly.  A stream of Blackbirds heading westwards marked an obvious arrival of migrants and a second Woodcock flew ‘in-off’ as we had lunch.  Knot alongside Dunlin allowed a nice comparison of two species that can be tricky at a distance and vast flocks of Golden Plover and Bar-tailed Godwit resembled Starling murmurations as they wheeled and turned distantly between Holy Island and the mainland.  Just offshore from the mud where the waders were feasting Common Eider and Red-throated Diver were riding the swell, a Great Northern Diver flew north, flotillas of Shag were diving, flocks of Wigeon, Teal and Pale-bellied Brent Goose were disturbed by the rising tide and, as light levels began dropping, Sue spotted two Little Egrets as they left the mud and headed towards a nighttime roost.

Before the end of the day, Sue had already booked her next trip with us – Kielder next March.  There’ll be fewer waders, and less mud 🙂

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Never mind the Balearics…

by on Oct.12, 2013, under Birdwatching, North Sea

…here’s the Bonxies.

Watching the weather forecast during the week, and having a day on Holy Island on Thursday with Malcolm (trip report to come soon!), convinced me that there was somewhere I needed to be at dawn on Friday.  Arriving at Church Point in the half-light there were a few cars already parked, and a wander along to the point with Mike H found the owners of those cars already intently scanning the angry-looking sea.  Andy McL, Tim C., Eric B., David D. and Jimmy S. were all clustered around the ‘seawatching hut’.

It would be good to be able to report that I’m thoroughly domesticated and house-trained and, after the few hours I’d planned to spend seawatching, I went home, via the supermarket to do the grocery shopping, and did all of the housework.  However, back in what Sarah refers to as ‘the world according to Martin’ that couple of hours to see if there was any movement of seabirds turned into a plan to stay until 12:00…then mid-afternoon…and finally, as the light faded to the point where you could hallucinate the sort of sightings that Ellington’s second best birdwatcher * was enjoying a few miles to the north of us, I gave up just after 18:00.  11 hours on Church Point, but a not-too-shabby day list;

Black Guillemot 1

Great Crested Grebe 1

Pale-bellied Brent Goose 20

Dark-bellied Brent Goose 2

Long-tailed Duck 4

Goldeneye 9

Velvet Scoter 15

Shoveler 24

Red-throated Diver 24

Black-throated Diver 3

Great Northern Diver 7

Manx Shearwater 53

Sooty Shearwater 62

Balearic Shearwater 2

Great Skua 261

Pomarine Skua 3

Long-tailed Skua 3

Arctic Skua 8

Red-breasted Merganser 7

Little Gull 3

Arctic Tern 1

‘blue’ Fulmar 12

Short-eared Owl 1

*Ellington’s best birdwatcher is, and it really goes without saying, Iain’s better half, Janet 🙂

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Seabird Spectacular 10-13 June 2013; birdwatching on the Northumberland coast

by on Jun.13, 2013, under Birdwatching, Coquet Island, Druridge Bay, Farne Islands, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

Arriving at The Swan on Monday evening I met up with Ronnie and Liz at the start of our Seabird Spectacular holiday.  Of all of our holidays, this is the one that concentrates on the really outstanding wildlife available on the Northumberland coast in the summer.

Tuesday started out very nice, although cloud cover was increasing and, by lunchtime, eventually it was overcast, misty and spotting with rain.  We’d spent the morning around Druridge Bay, with one of the highlights being a very obliging male Reed Bunting who sat just a few metres away from us and sang for over 20 minutes, Wall and Green-veined White Butterflies flitted across the tracks ahead of us, Sedge and Reed Warblers played hide-and-seek in the edge of the reeds and a male Marsh Harrier quartered a reedbed, giving prolonged views at relatively close range.  As we ate lunch, overlooking the North Sea, watching Eiders, Guillemots, Kittiwakes, Fulmars and Gannets, the southeasterly breeze was starting to build a noticeable swell…

The inevitable happened and our planned sailing around Coquet Island was cancelled on safety grounds, so we continued around Druridge Bay.  Sandwich Terns and a Grey Seal were near the weir between Amble and Warkworth and we ended up watching five Otters as they munched their way through a feast of Eels 🙂 A Great Northern Diver flew south between Coquet Island and the mainland and we could see clouds of Puffins and a few ghostly white Roseate Terns from our clifftop vantage point.  Swifts were around in good numbers – a scythe-winged menace to flying insects – and at the end of the day we returned to The Swan and were joined for dinner by Sarah.

After Tuesday’s cancelled boat trip it was a relief to see that the wind had died down by Wednesday morning, and our all-day birdwatching trip to the Farne Islands went ahead as planned.  There were lines of Puffins, Guillemots and Razorbills streaming back towards the islands, Gannets were effortlessly heading either to or from the Bass Rock, and the sights, sounds and smells of the seabird colony were just a few minutes away when we came across two Harbour Porpoises. Cormorants and Shags perched sentinel-like  on the Scarcar rocks and landing on Staple Island we watched Guillemots, Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Puffins, Razorbills, Shags and Rock Pipits at close range before having our picnic lunch in superb weather conditions on this magical rock just a few miles offshore from the Northumberland coast.  Transferring across to Inner Farne at 13:00, via a brief detour to look at the Grey Seals lazing in the sunshine, we were greeted by Head Ranger David Steel and then enjoyed the very different experience of running the gauntlet of a succession of angry Arctic TernsCommon and Sandwich Terns were around too, and we watched Puffins skilfully avoiding the attention of Black-headed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls.  A pair of Rock Pipits nesting beneath the boardwalk were carrying beakfuls of food and I had a Farnes ‘tick’ in the shape of a Swift soaring over the lighthouse buildings.  We tried to find a Roseate Tern in amongst the roost by the Inner Farne jetty, but without success.  Back to The Swan for tea, reflection on a successful day and my Plan B…

Today was planned to be a one-day extension to the holiday, visiting the North Pennines, but we’ve moved that to tomorrow and the ladies have an extra afternoon out with me, to take the boat trip around Coquet Island 🙂

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Winter birdwatching around the Farnes

by on Dec.12, 2010, under Birdwatching, Farne Islands, Holy Island, Northumberland

After postponing our Seal and Seaduck Special last Saturday (sea conditions were ideal, but it would have been really irresponsible to encourage anyone to drive on Northumberland’s roads at the time) we arrived at Seahouses Harbour yesterday morning ready for our final boat trip of the year.

Everyone was well wrapped-up and we were soon boarding Glad Tidings VI.  As we sailed out of the harbour a veritable battery of long lenses was produced in readiness for the anticipated wildlife.  With a skipper and crewman with excellent eyesight and wildlife-spotting skills, 2 NEWT guides, and clients with sharp eyes as well, the boat was soon being manouvered to offer the best possible opportunities to view or photograph the wildlife.  After 13 years of organising offshore wildlife trips we know the importance of the skipper to the success (or otherwise…) of the trip and, with Craig and William, we were in excellent hands.

The first half of the trip concentrated on the Farne Islands themselves.  A lot of the Grey Seals had well-grown pups, quite a few of the adults were moulting and there were a couple of cow seals still heavily pregnant.

Grey Seal, Offshore wildlife photography, Northumberland, 11/12/2010

Grey Seal

Grey Seal, offshore wildlife photography, Northumberland 11/12/2010

Grey Seal and the Longstone Lighthouse

Grey Seal, offshore wildlife photography, Northumberland 11/12/2010

Grey Seals

Grey Seal, offshore wildlife photography, Northumberland 11/12/2010

Grey Seals

Shags were sitting around on the islands, Little Auks were bobbing about like corks in the increasing swell, and we had a brief view of a Black Guillemot as it flew from Gun Rock towards Inner Farne.  Heading north we enjoyed the sunny (but cold) weather and scoured the sea just south of Holy Island.  Plenty of Eider were sitting around, along with a pair of Scaup and several Red-breasted Mergansers but a Slavonian Grebe near Guile Point proved elusive.  Red-throated and Great Northern Divers were seen but in much smaller numbers than we would normally expect.  The journey back down the coast featured one of our favourite birds; Long-tailed Ducks were sitting around in groups of 10-15 and offering some excellent photo opportunities.

Long-tailed Ducks on an offshore birdwatching trip, Northumberland 11/12/2010

Long-tailed Ducks

30 or 40 Common Scoters proved a bit more skittish and didn’t come near the boat.  2 Gannets were a bit of a surprise before we returned to the harbour.

Although the wildlife was very obliging perhaps the best thing about the day was the truly beautiful lighting conditions, a real bonus for wildlife photography and something that all of the photographers on board commented on.  We can’t control the light, or the weather, but we keep taking clients to the right places at the right time…

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Not bad for mid-Feb

by on Feb.17, 2010, under Birdwatching, Lindisfarne, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

Yesterday I led our first Safari Day of this week, to Lindisfarne and the North Northumberland coast.  Although I really enjoy trips where the main quarry is Red Squirrel/Badger/Otter/Fox/Roe Deer my lifelong love affair has been with birdwatching.  Northumberland is a top-quality destination for a winter birdwatching trip; just ask any of the writers/photographers who we’ve taken to the wilds of our home county during the cold(er) bits of the year.

Yesterday was one of those days where you couldn’t wish for better conditions; clear blue sky, warm sunshine (although with sub-zero air temperatures for much of the day), no rain and only a very gentle breeze.  I collected Phil and Barbara from their holiday cottage near Guyzance and we followed the coast all the way to Lindisfarne.  Small groups of Pale-bellied Brent Geese beside the causeway were a novelty for birdwatchers from the southeast, who are used to seeing Dark-bellied Brents during the winter, and they commented immediately about just how black-and-white the Svalbard birds look.  Scanning the fields on the island we located a flock of ~800 Pale-bellied Brents, with a few Dark-bellied mixed in, allowing a direct comparison of the two.  The field was also shared by 200+ Curlew and smaller numbers of Redshank, Lapwing and Golden Plover.  Panic among a group of Starlings was traced to a 1st-Winter Merlin that helpfully perched on a post at the back of the Rocket Field.  It’s amazing how quickly time passes and after 2 hours we headed back towards the mainland among the general exodus that occurs as the end of safe-crossing approaches.  Another Merlin beside the causeway allowed even closer views so we stopped for a few more minutes of appreciation of this small predator.

Our picnic spot, overlooking the mudflats between Holy Island and the mainland, provided excellent views of flocks of Lapwing and Golden Plover in the air as well as lots of Shelduck, Eider, Pintail and more PB Brents.  We enjoyed all of these in the company of Tom Cadwallender, Natural and Cultural Heritage Officer for the Northumberland Coast AONB, who was supposed to be meeting a camera crew from Inside Out.  When we left Tom, they were already 20mins late…

Continuing down the coast, a very obliging Common Buzzard pranced around a field, presumably looking for worms.  The Skate Road held well over 1000 Common Scoter, 90+ Purple Sandpipers were huddled on the rocks as the incoming tide washed against their feet and a careful scan produced a few pairs of Long-tailed Ducks (Barbara’s 2nd lifer in a matter of minutes).  Red-throated and Great Northern Divers were, well diving mainly, and Slavonian Grebes were bobbing about just beyond the surf.

Our final destination for the day was Newton, and the decision to detour from the coast route down the dead-end road to Low Newton proved to be an inspired one.  As dusk approached the assembled ducks on the pool (Teal, Goldeneye, Mallard, Gadwall) all provided entertainment as they called to each other.  Then, just a few feet in front of us, a Long-eared Owl silently hunting.  We all held our breath as it approached and then it veered away as silently as it had arrived.  The walk back to the Landy was to provide probably the best bird of the day, and one of those Northumberland birdwatching moments that was quite simply sublime; against an increasingly starry sky and crescent moon, with an impressive amount of Earthshine, a Bittern flew low over our heads and out over the bay.

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A bit of this…

by on Jan.25, 2010, under Birdwatching, Choppington Woods, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Surveys

The last few days have been fairly quiet, although quite varied.  On Thursday I was at the North Northumberland Tourism Association AGM at Paxton House.  On arrival the car park was close to full, with just a couple of spaces not occupied.  I reversed my Mondeo into one of them, thinking that the snow sounded very crunchy, and went into the meeting.  For me the highlight of the event was a talk by Laurie Campbell, covering things that he’s photographed in and around North Northumberland.  Returning to my car and the inevitable…it wouldn’t move anywhere with the wheels spinning on the snow.  Luckily Chris Calvert from Bamburgh Castle was leaving at the same time and, along with Verity from the Grace Darling Museum, he helped to push the car clear of the snow.  I wouldn’t have had that problem in the Landrover…

On Friday I chaired a committee meeting of the Southeast Northumberland Tourism Association.  As a new project, all of the committee are putting in a lot of effort and our AGM will be in February, the website should be up and running soon and we’re designing a leaflet to highlight the tourist attractions in our area.

On Sunday we carried out our WeBS count (a week late but the Birdwatching Northumberland Press Trip coincided with the scheduled count date).  Northeasterly winds at the start of the month have deposited huge volumes of sand a long way up the beach (and along the footpath in Cresswell village) almost to the height of the dunes in some places.  The highlight was a loose group of divers on the sea, 15 Red-throated, 2 Great Northern and 1 Black-throated.  As we approached the Chibburn mouth, the end of our survey section, Sarah commented on the sheer walls of sand next to the Chibburn as it wound it’s way down the beach.  Not surprisingly, Sarah took the sensible approach and walked well away from the edge…at least I earned some brownie points by removing Sarah’s ‘scope and tripod from my shoulder and throwing it clear as the sand gave way beneath my feet.

Now I’ve got a day in the office and it’s gloomy and overcast.  Two Jays and a Great Spotted Woodpecker are in the apple tree and Siskins have started visiting the feeders (after merely flirting with the boundary of our garden earlier in the winter).  Lesser Redpolls are still around the edge of Choppington Woods.  Can we set a new high total for our garden when it’s the Big Garden Birdwatch next weekend?

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