Tag: Great Spotted Woodpecker
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
On Saturday I was in the Kielder area with Sarah, collecting our new mountain bikes from Ian at The Bike Place. The weather was glorious; blue skies, sunshine – everything you would want on a day there with clients.
Skip forward to Sunday morning…
I collected Jon and Alison, Jill and Steve & Laura and Nicola from Hexham and we headed north towards the Border Forests. The weather was somewhat different; overcast, not even a slight breeze and the air was damp and bitterly cold. In those conditions the forest is an ethereal place, remote, other-worldly and an experience in itself. Mistle Thrushes and Chaffinches seemed to be everywhere that we looked, Common Buzzards were sitting hunched on tree-tops and telegraph poles, Roe Deer crossed the track ahead of us and the only Common Crossbills of the day were a group of four that flew by as we were trying to locate a very vocal Raven. Then, a very nice policeman stopped and showed us his Badger and Red Squirrel A Green Woodpecker yaffled from the wooded slopes below us and Goldcrests, Blue Tits, Great Tits and Robins could all be heard.
Heading towards the border a Dipper sat on a rock at the water’s edge, bobbing up and down before heading upstream in a whirr of wing beats. Red Grouse was found soon after heading up onto the moors around Newcastleton and the next addition to the trip list was probably the highlight of the day (apart from the Badger…). The next grouse was well hidden, with only it’s head visible but, as I stopped the car to let everyone have a good look at it, it raised itself from the heather and revealed it’s true identity; a stunning male Black Grouse, resplendent in the day’s only real attempt at sunshine. He wasn’t alone though, as two more Blackcock appeared from amongst the heather and eventually a total of five flew across the road and settled again.
After a picnic stop in one of my favourite places, we went in search of Wild Goats. It didn’t take too long to find one and, as is often the case, once you’ve found one you soon find more. This prompted the following exchange in the back of the car “That goat’s got a baby” “You’re kidding me”…
Heading back towards Northumberland a flock of Fieldfares were on telegraph wires and two Great Spotted Woodpeckers were perched at the top of a small tree by the road. A walk to the hide at Bakethin produced Goldeneye, Mallard, Tufted Duck and Pochard and one of Northumberland’s more exotic inhabitants rounded off the day as we watched at least five Mandarins, including three gaudy drakes and two subtly beautiful ducks in a tributary of the north Tyne.
The weather was an experience, we had some excellent wildlife to enjoy, and we hardly saw another person all day…but what really made the day for me was having six clients who all got on so well with each other, were really enthusiastic about birdwatching and wildlife and provided a steady level of entertainment throughout the day
Last weekend was the Big Garden Birdwatch and we followed tradition by sitting in our kitchen with a mug of coffee, and a bacon and tomato sandwich, having topped up all of the feeders the evening before. An hour later, we’d racked up a list of 21 species; Blackbird 3, Jackdaw 2, Collared Dove 2, Robin 3, Chaffinch 20, Great Tit 3, Coal Tit 3, Magpie 1, Blue Tit 2, Dunnock 1, Goldfinch 8, Jay 1, Bullfinch 1, House Sparrow 1, Greenfinch 1, Woodpigeon 2, Redwing 1, Tree Sparrow 1, Song Thrush 1, Sparrowhawk 1, Brambling 2. Quite a successful hour, although most species weren’t present in the numbers we would have expected and, as usual, several species that had been visiting the garden in recent days (Marsh Tit, Willow Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Siskin, Great Spotted Woodpecker) failed to appear during the 1 hour of the survey. Easy birding, and part of a huge national survey. If you didn’t do it this year, give it a go in 2014
I collected Brian from Newbiggin on Saturday for a one-to-one photography afternoon around southeast Northumberland. It was good to find a photographer with the mantra of ‘wait, watch, wait some more’ and we settled among the trees in a dappled woodland. Nuthatch, Treecreeper and Great Spotted Woodpecker all entertained us, Jays were chasing through the trees and Redwings passed overhead, their ‘seee’ calls still resonate deep inside me, nearly 40 years since I first heard them over our school field and then found a bundle of soft feathers where one had fallen prey to the local Kestrel.
We had a brief spell of reasonable light, but the afternoon was mainly characterised by drizzle and gloom; not ideal for photography, but an atmospheric background for the birds that were moving about pre-roost. Then, more calls from the skies as we sat close to a small pond. First, Pink-footed Geese, yapping distantly before coming into view like a distant swirl of smoke as they headed to roost. Then a group of 8 Whooper Swans, heading north. As they vanished into the gloom, the rain increased and brought dusk forward.
Yesterday was the second of four Druridge Bay/Southeast Northumberland afternoon and evening trips this week, and I collected Natalie and Clive from Newton on the Moor just after lunch before heading south.
Starting with a short woodland walk, we enjoyed close views of those arboreal specialists Treecreeper, Nuthatch and Great Spotted Woodpecker, but this time Red Squirrel eluded us.
At East Chevington, we were watching a roosting flock of Lapwing, Ruff and Curlew, and checking through the mass of assembled ducks, when a distant call caught my attention. It was a minute or two before the birds appeared high in the sky to the north, but there they were; 29 Pink-footed Geese, the arrival that for me always heralds the end of the summer.
A flock of Dunlin, Redshank and Curlew at Cresswell contained a Little Stint, and a brief seawatch produced a small flock of Knot heading north.
A patient wait as the orange glow of the sunset illuminated the surface of a pond brought rewards as our attention was drawn to a scattering flock of Coot. Just a few metres from the ripples left by the rapidly departing birds, the menacing shape of an Otter was twisting, turning and diving. As it vanished in to the dark shadows of a reedbed, the final indication of it’s presence were the bright trails left by Mallards and Little Grebes as they made a frantic effort to be anywhere other than where the Otter was. Even more exciting for me, was the completely unexpected appearance of a mammal that I haven’t seen since childhood, as the twilight was punctuated by a loud ‘plop’ and a Water Vole swam cross in front of us Tawny Owls were calling and Common Pipistrelles flitted back and forth as the full moon, and cold wind, made the evening feel really autumnal.
I dropped Natalie and Clive back at Newton on the Moor, and decided to avoid the roadworks on the A1 on the route home and instead took the minor road from Shilbottle to Warkworth. I was still delayed though, but by a young Badger that trotted along the middle of the road ahead of me for a quarter of a mile before wandering into the verge and watching as I passed by. Expect the unexpected…
We just had an all too infrequent ocurrence; both of us at home and able to go out and about together for a whole weekend
On Saturday we decided to concentrate on our local area. Southeast Northumberland offers some excellent wildlife and birdwatching opportunities and, with bookings for the rest of this year coming thick and fast, we’re checking over our Safari Day routes whenever we get the chance so that we hit the ground running once the season gets properly underway.
If our morning excursion is the shape of things to come then it’s going to be an excellent Spring Little Owl, Roe Deer (including a handsome buck with velvet antlers, who watched us between the trees as we trained our binoculars on him), Red Squirrel, point-blank views of Treecreeper, Nuthatch and Great Spotted Woodpecker and lots of fresh Otter spraint all combined into a memorable morning.
As dusk approached we were out and about again. We monitor a few Badger setts regularly and the activity around the sett we checked on Saturday evening was exactly what we’d expect in early March. Another successful outing
Yesterday we were doing something completely different (although birdwatching featured again, of course). We set out for the southwestern border of Northumberland, and beyond, as we pre-walked the route that Martin will be leading for the North Pennines AONB ‘Know Your North Pennines’ course on Wednesday. Journeying to Upper Teesdale gave us the chance to check out some of our favourite Black Grouse sites en route (you’ll be pleased to know that the species hasn’t vanished from Northern England!) and enjoy the sight of Lapwings displaying and flocks of Golden Plover in the fields. Our photography holiday in late October ‘Autumn Colours’ is based in the North Pennines and we finished the day with a visit to one of the area’s gems.
Yesterday was one of what are rapidly becoming our favourite trips; afternoon/evening safaris. I collected Claire and Stuart from their holiday cottage near Brinkburn Priory and we headed towards the coast.
Our regular Little Owl watched us imperiously, before turning tail and scuttling out of sight as a dog walker came along the track. The coastal pools along Druridge Bay are hosting an ever increasing number of waders; Dunlin, Turnstone, Redshank, Knot, Ruff, Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Common Sandpiper and Curlew were all roosting, a Spotted Redshank called but remained frustratingly out of sight behind a reedbed, and Greenshank and Whimbrel both responded to imitations of their calls. Then, that most majestic of waders graced the air in front of us, although only briefly; a Black-tailed Godwit flew low over the roost, everything panicked, and a Peregrine carved through the flock before heading out over the sea and then away high to the north. Little Grebes and Grey Herons were both well appreciated, then it was time to check some of southeast Northumberland’s finest mammal sites.
Red Squirrels always go down well with our clients, and the one we watched feeding was no exception. A juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker was equally obliging and we watched it for a while before moving on to our favourite site for Badger watching. Probably the biggest Badger we’ve seen so far trotted across the hillside opposite us and a much smaller animal (maybe a young cub) made it’s way through the undergrowth just over the stream from our position. As darkness approached we found ourselves on a hilltop with a Tawny Owl calling ‘ke-wick’ from the woodland below us. After whistling at waders during the afternoon I imitated the quavering hoot of a male Tawny Owl and waited. The bird called from closer. I called again, and it came closer still. Eventually it flew up into a bare tree, silhouetted against the final glow of daylight in the sky, only 20m away from us. I switched to copying the bird’s ‘ke-wick’ call and it turned to face us directly, ready to challenge this impertinent intruder. I remained silent, not provoking any further response, and the bird flew to a nearby tree, screeching defiantly as we made our way back down the hillside. Common Pipistrelles and Daubenton’s Bats were picked up on the bat detector and seen as they flitted back and forth. The final wildlife of the evening though was close to the cottage at Brinkburn, and was another piece of Northumberland magic; a doe Roe Deer and her fawn ran along the road in front of us.
As Autumn approaches evening safaris mean finishing at a quite amenable hour, so give us a call on 01670 827465 to find out how you can share in these memorable experiences with us.
An early start on Thursday saw us close to home, birdwatching in southeast Northumberland. 6am at Church Point as I collected Mick and Helen was sublime; warm, still and very quiet. Starting with a woodland walk we had excellent views of Red Squirrel and Great Spotted Woodpecker. In the bright sunshine our regular Little Owl was sitting at the entrance to it’s nest. These conditions at this time of the year mean that insects feature prominently in our safaris; Blue-tailed Damselflies and Silver Ground Carpet moths seemed to be everywhere that we walked. Sedge Warblers and Reed Buntings were singing from the reedbeds and Grey Herons stalked patiently along the edges of coastal ponds. The quality of conversation made the morning seem to fly past; environment, conservation, sustainability and renewable energy are all important things to NEWT and it’s always a pleasure to share our love of the northeast and it’s wildlife with clients who know the area and the countryside so well. Mick’s keenness on video recording and photography of the wildlife he sees was enjoyable, and Helen managed to photograph a Sedge Warbler using her mobile ‘phone. All too soon, Thursday (part 1) was over…
Yesterday was the first of several forthcoming days where we’re running multiple trips on the same day, and with 6 clients during the day, and 2 of them joining us for an evening safari as well, it was a day that could go really well, or not…
The primary target species for everyone was our old favourite, Otters. We started with a spot of birdwatching, and excellent views of the Little Owl that we should probably be adding to the NEWT payroll Our first Otter site didn’t produce the goods, although 2 Brown Hares chasing each other around a nearby field provided good entertainment. Once we’d been there as long as I’d decided in advance of the trip, I had a hunch that another site, that has disappointed for several months now, might just produce the goods. As we arrived I pointed out the location of a holt and suggested that the area around that was a good place to check. Within a minute, Anthea had found 2 Otters, and we watched them for 75 mins as they fed, played, paddled along the surface, dodged in and out of the reeds and eventually vanished, probably to have an afternoon nap after their marathon feeding session. A bit more birdwatching further up the coast produced excellent views of Common and Sandwich Terns and then it was time to return Liz & James and Kate & Take (pronounced Tarka – the most appropriate name for any participant in a NEWT trip so far) to their respective holiday locations and start the second trip of the day with Andy and Anthea.
Anthea is an Australian with a fascination for British wildlife and the day out was part of a target list that she has for a 3 month trip around Britain and Europe. Red Squirrel was next on the list and patience and persistence paid off as we settled ourselves close to a feeding area and eventually had excellent views of at least 3 squirrels, and some very close Jays, Great Spotted Woodpeckers and a Nuthatch.
With such a long day, sustenance came in the form of a meal at The Swan before we were on our way again. Myriads of Rabbits were along the roads and we made our way along the heavily wooded valley of a small stream and got into position opposite a Badger sett. A Red Fox walked along the hillside before vanishing into the undergrowth and causing consternation in all of the birds that were settling to roost. It re-appeared just up the track from where were sitting and ran up the hill behind us, then a 2nd Fox crossed the hillside. Soon we were treated to the sight of not one, not two, but three Badgers crossing a clearing. As the light levels in the wood dropped to unmanageable we relocated to a feeding area that’s popular with Badgers and Foxes where we watched another Fox as it stalked along an edge, apparently invisible to the Rabbits that were sitting on the grass. As we walked back to the Land Rover we added mammals #7 and #8 to the day list; Common Pipistrelle and Daubenton’s Bat. A long day, but a really, really excellent one
As the damp, dreary weather of yesterday was giving way to brighter conditions I found myself heading up the coast to collect clients from Craster. Our targets for the evening were Red Squirrel, Otter and Badger; in that order of priority, so an evening safari in Southeast Northumberland had been planned to try and encompass all three species. A walk along the River Blyth produced what could well be a ‘must see’ for natural history enthusiasts over the coming years. Scampering along branches and leaping through the canopy, our first target entertained as it made it’s way through the trees – causing agitation in two Great Spotted Woodpeckers which had been feeding quietly before the squirrel’s appearance. A Jay allowed us an unusually close approach before it vanished into the trees and Dippers were zipping back and forth along the river as we returned to the Land Rover, and we set out to search for Otters. It wasn’t to be, although some compensation came in the shape of a Barn Owl, drifting along the dunes and then catching a vole before revealing the location of it’s nest by taking the food back to the waiting mouths. That’s the great thing about running birdwatching and wildlife tours; it may be unpredictable, but there’s always something to enjoy and appreciate.
With heavy drizzle hampering visibility, we made our way to a site where Badgers would hopefully be out and about. Sure enough, James spotted one as soon as we arrived, and a second movement on the hillside was probably another one, although it slipped out of sight in the undergrowth soon after being spotted.
Finding 2 out of 3 elusive mammals that we were looking for was a good success rate and, with some new sites for Otters that we’ve been monitoring, our bespoke ‘multi-mammal’ trips are sure to prove popular this summer.