Day 1. 19/02/17. I arrived at the Bamburgh Castle Inn for the start of our Winter Wonderland holiday, then met up with with Christine, John, Linda and Rosie in the bar and outlined the plan for the next two days while we enjoyed a fantastic meal.
Day 2. 20/02/17. Our first full day was targeting Lindisfarne and the North Northumberland coast. Stopping at Budle Bay on our way north we soon found a Spotted Redshank amongst the Common Redshank, Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler, Mallard, Oystercatcher, Shelduck and Curlew as Pink-footed and Greylag Geese and Lapwing swirled distantly against a leaden grey sky on a stiff breeze and Red-breasted Mergansers looked even more comical than usual with their tufts blown to odd angles. A heavy misty drizzle took hold, yet cleared within minutes, leaving a beautiful azure sky draped in fluffy white cloud. A Kestrel perched obligingly as we stopped along a hedgerow that was heaving with Chaffinches. As the receding tide cleared the Holy Island causeway, waders dropped in to feed along the edge of the recently exposed mud. Knot, Dunlin, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Turnstone and Bar-tailed Godwit were all close to the road and easily observable by using the car as a nice, sheltered, warm hide as Pale-bellied Brent Geese flew over us 🙂 Over on the island we found a mixed flock of Dark-bellied Brent Geese, Curlew and Lapwing. As an unseen threat spooked them and they lifted from the field, it was obvious that the number of birds present was far greater than we thought. Grey Seals were hauled out on the now visible sandbars and we headed back across to the mainland. Lunch overlooking the vast expanse of mud produced more geese and ducks, including Pintail, and a distant Little Stint in amongst a flock of Dunlin and Knot. A Merlin had spooked the Chaffinch flock as we headed back south and a quick stop at Bamburgh produced Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone, Ringed Plover and Eider but nothing on the sea in what the wind had whipped up into a frothing mess of whitecaps. The stiffening breeze was making viewing conditions awkward but the final stop of the afternoon brought Song Thrush, Long-tailed Tit, Greenfinch and Goldcrest before we headed back to Seahouses. Dinner was accompanied by a discussion of the plan for Tuesday, and a target list was quickly developed…
Day 3. 21/02/17. Tuesday saw us heading south towards Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. Our first target for the day was a species that’s scarce and often only offers fleeting views…Willow Tit is a regular visitor to the NEWT garden feeding station but I’d got a different site in mind and we enjoyed prolonged views of at least two of these gorgeous little birds, as well as a detailed discussion about how to separate them from Marsh Tit. Reed Bunting, Common Snipe and Common Buzzard joined the day list as an impressive flock of Lapwing and Golden Plover swirled against the sky as we headed off in search of our next target for the day. This one proved fairly straightforward and we had great views of both male and female Brambling. Little Grebe, Goldeneye and Common and Black-headed Gulls accompanied our lunch stop before we had excellent views of some very obliging Common Snipe, Bar-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Ruff, Tree Sparrow and Little Egret. Shorelark was the one target for the day that eluded us, as we had several flight views of a vocal flock of Twite while Ringed Plover were displaying on the beach, Sanderling were scurrying back and forth and a flock of Common Scoter were offshore with Red-throated Divers and Guillemot just beyond the breaking surf. A handsome male Stonechat flushed from bush to bush ahead of us as we walked along the path and the long-staying Pacific Diver eventually gave great views close to a Slavonian Grebe. There was one target species still remaining on the list for the day though, and I was sure that the last hour of daylight would bring that one for us. Scanning the edges of reedbeds through the telescope revealed a dark shape that hadn’t been there a few minutes earlier during my last scan of the reedbed, and that dark shape stretched and began loping along, still partly obscured by the reeds. Within a minute everyone had located the Otter as it moved quickly around the edge of the pool and then it vanished, only to appear in the water a few minutes later 🙂 We watched as it swam towards us before losing it from sight behind the near vegetation. After a few minutes of calm all of the Mute Swans were suddenly staring towards the bank right in front of us, and the Otter passed by just a few metres away 🙂 A great finish to our final full day in the field.
Day 4. 22/02/17. Departure day dawned dry, bright and with an icily cold breeze as we gathered for breakfast before all heading off our separate ways.
We’ll be adding 2017 and 2018 dates to our holiday page shortly but please do get in touch if you’ve got any questions about what we offer. Our short break holidays have a maximum of 6 participants, and a relaxed pace, and we’re always happy to create something bespoke too 🙂
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 🙂
Day -1 (Friday 04/09/15). A late cancellation left Sandra and Linda as the only guests on the holiday, and with conditions unsuitable for being offshore, we headed to the far north of the county. Fulmars and Gannets were battling into the stiff breeze and Eiders were riding the deep troughs and towering crests of the waves that were pounding the shoreline. Bar-tailed Godwit busied themselves along the water’s edge and the eerie moaning of Grey Seal and haunting cries of Curlew, carried on the rushing wind, enveloped us in the atmosphere of Holy Island in the early autumn. By mid-afternoon, the wind had died down and the sea was calming – had the forecasters got it wrong…
Day 1 (Saturday 05/09/15). 04:00 and I wake up to the sound of a strengthening northerly 🙂 Throughout the day, we were close to the sea and could see the amount of swell close to the shore. Linnets, Goldfinches, Meadow Pipits and Greenfinches were tossed like leaves on the breeze as they ventured from the cover of bushes along the dunes, a stunning male Stonechat looked equally uncomfortable and Lapwing, Redshank, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Dunlin and Black-tailed Godwit were roosting facing into the wind as Grey Herons sat motionless and a Little Egret still radiated elegance as it’s feathers were disarranged by the now rather stiff wind. Always impressive, a male Marsh Harrier flew by before vanishing over a distant ridge, and the day finished with Wigeon, Teal, Gadwall, Mallard, Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit and 30 Little Grebes.
Day 2 (Sunday 06/09/15). No breeze, bright warm sunshine 🙂 An extraordinary contrast to the preceding days, and with close views of Cormorant and Eider as they dived in calm water. The Cormorants spent a lot of time standing with wings spread in heraldic pose, drying them before heading back into the water, always an impressive sight. Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallard, Teal, Tufted Duck, Little Grebe and Mute Swan were swimming lazily around in the afternoon sunshine and a huge flock of gulls, roosting, bathing and following the plough, exploded into the air like a burst eiderdown as a Common Buzzard drifted over. Dinner at the excellent Ashianna in Bedlington ended the holiday after three great days with Sandra and Linda 🙂
Our next holiday is Winter Wonderland in early December, so give us a call on 01670 827465 to find out more and to book your place now 🙂
Starting at Newbiggin we set out south down the coast and soon found ourselves standing on a track with nine Blackbirds ahead of us, along with Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Goldfinches, Linnets and House Sparrows. Little Grebes slept and dived as young Grey Herons stalked along the water’s edge and demonstrated just how inelegant they are in flight – and especially in landing 🙂 A lunchtime stop overlooking the North Sea produced rafts of Eider, Fulmars arcing effortlessly over the waves and a Harbour Porpoise feeding just offshore as Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Turnstone explored the shoreline. The afternoon was dominated by waders; Black-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Lapwing, Ruff, Curlew, Common Sandpiper, Dunlin. Greenshank, Oystercatchers arriving for their high-tide roost stunning in beautiful light against a dark brooding sky and Common Snipe demonstrating their exceptional camouflage in amongst clumps of rush. Stonechats flicked their tails nervously from precarious perches on barbed wire and Goldfinches, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs swarmed in rank vegetation and nearby trees.
See you at the Bird Fair next year 🙂
Even after 40+ years birdwatching, there are times when I’m not sure whether the thing that excites me the most is a lone rarity, a life or death interaction involving one of the predators we encounter, or an impressive flock of something common…
I collected David and Dot from Gosforth and we made our way across to the coast for a day of mid-November birdwatching. This proved to be a day of flocks; Pink-footed Geese rose then dropped in nearby fields, peppering the sky and cutting through the autumn air with their yapping calls. Mini-murmurations of Starlings twisted, turned, bunched and swirled, demonstrating that they don’t just reserve that spectacle for the fading light of evening. Common Snipe were sitting in the vegetation close to the water’s edge, extraordinarily well camouflaged when asleep and only really betraying their presence once they woke up and started probing in the soft mud of the shallows. Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Redshank, Curlew and Eider are almost a given on the coast in the winter, a lone Sanderling hurried back and forth in a flock of Ringed Plover and Teal, Wigeon and Goldeneye are eyecatching whether in flocks or alone. Elegant Pintail glided by and Stonechats flicked their tails nervously perched in the tops of bushes in the dunes along the coast. One isolated tree brought a memorable spectacle, with a charm of Goldfinches, and a lone Greenfinch. For a couple of years now, a lot of our clients have reported increasing numbers of Goldfinch, and a tremendous decrease in Greenfinch. No matter how numerous Goldfinch become, it’s hard to imagine that we could ever become blase about them; strikingly patterned, with their red face, black and white head and yellow wing flashes, and with liquid, twittering songs and calls, they really are quite charming 🙂
After a remarkably mild winter, Wednesday brought some weather with a bit of bite, the sort of day where you really need the wildlife to be performing at it’s best to take your mind off the conditions…
I collected Katherine and Brenda from Church Point for an afternoon/evening Otter Safari, and we headed north up the coast through Druridge Bay. Our first stop was looking very promising; Goosanders, Grey Herons, Avocets, Wigeon, Teal, Pintail, Mallard, Curlew, Lapwing, Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Common Snipe, Turnstone…and a noticeable lack of birds in one corner of the pond 🙂 Always the first sign we look for when searching for Otters, so I was confident that there was one moving around close by. It was looking so promising that I thought we should stay put and have lunch where we were. I went back to the car to fetch our soup and sandwiches and when I got back to the hide, less than 5mins later, I was greeted with “You’re not going to believe it, but there’s an Otter just over there.” Sure enough, Brenda’s directions had me looking in exactly the spot where it next surfaced 🙂 After a few minutes it went out of sight, before reappearing 30mins later, spreading panic amongst the ducks that were roosting at the water’s edge. Then, as mysteriously as it first appeared, it dived and didn’t resurface where it could be seen.
We headed on up the coast in conditions that were becoming less entertaining, with a brutal southeasterly wind that seemed to drive the cold and damp through every layer of clothing that could be mustered. Noisy Black-headed Gulls were dive-bombing Canada Geese, Little Grebes were just being their cute selves, Sand Martins swirled back and forth over the River Aln, Coot and Moorhen busied themselves around the reedbeds and Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Blackbird, Mistle Thrush, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove and Wren were all singing.
Probably a more wintry day than any day out we had during the winter, enriched by the sleek, sinuous menace of the Otter 🙂
Some wildlife experiences are so special that on their own they can make an entire trip memorable. Having two happening at the same time is just distracting…
I collected Rebecca and Gill from Church Point, for an afternoon around Druridge Bay that had only been finalised earlier on Sunday morning. Northumberland hit us with its own peculiar brand of ‘four seasons in one hour’ as we set out, including a shower of hail/snow. Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Coal Tits, Great Tits, Blue Tits, Woodpigeons, Tree Sparrows and Reed Buntings were clustered around feeding stations – always a good spot to practice your wildlife photography – and we popped along to Amble Harbour to catch up with some nicely photogenic Common Eider. Equally entertaining, as always, was Dave Gray 🙂
As sunset approached we headed for the final destination that I’d planned for the afternoon. A small flock of Starlings was just the warm-up act for the finale to our trip. Soon, a larger group could be seen gathering away to the south and they began to head northwards towards our vantage point. Group after group joined the murmuration and suddenly they split as a male Marsh Harrier flew in, followed quickly by a female. Drifting in unison they kept rolling in mid-air to touch talons, as the murmuration carried on just a few metres above them. As the sun dipped below the impressive ridge of Simonside away to the west, the murmuration did just what Rebecca was hoping for and passed right over the last glow of the setting sun 🙂 As we returned to Newbiggin a flock of Whooper Swans flew north overhead, calling as they faded into the gloom of the coming darkness.
Last Wednesday was a trip I’d been looking forward to for some time. Janice and David have visited Northumberland annually for many years and it was David’s 50th birthday so Janice had arranged an afternoon out for him 🙂
Arriving at Cresswell, I was impressed by the naked-eye view of a Red-throated Diver from the window of the cottage, and we were soon on our way up the coast, for an afternoon’s birdwatching concentrating on locations where there is a better than average chance of seeing an Otter. David is a keen reader of some of our local birdwatching blogs and it wasn’t long before we bumped into a familiar name as we enjoyed East Chevington’s quartet of grebes – Little, Great Crested, Slavonian and Red-necked – in the company of Alan Gilbertson, who showed us an image he’d taken of Bean Geese at Hauxley. Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Long-tailed Duck, Tufted Duck, Teal, Wigeon, Mallard and Gadwall were all stunning in the beautiful afternoon light and we continued on our way. The closure of one of the footpaths at Hauxley was going to make viewing the geese slightly tricky, as we’d have to be looking into the sun. We managed to find one spot that gave us a good view of the birds and, after we’d sifted through plenty of Greylag, Canada and Pink-footed Geese, which were obligingly on the pool rather than on a distant field, I spotted the brown wings and orange legs of a Tundra Bean Goose, which was asleep but woke to allow excellent comparison with the Pinkfeet.
On to a delightful spot that we’ve been checking recently for Otter, and the songs of Wren, Greenfinch and Goldfinch filled the air, as well as the persistent ‘rain song’ of a male Chaffinch, a Dipper came along the river, calling, and secreted itself away from view under the bridge we were standing on, a Grey Wagtail flew over calling, a Common Buzzard glided low over the trees and a flock of Curlew rose noisily from nearby fields. The Chaffinch and his mate were busy helping themselves to flies that were trapped in spider webs, and a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers really looked at their best in the sublime low sunlight.
Our final port of call was Cresswell Pond, which was bathed in warm orange sunlight with the tops of the reeds appearing to be aflame as the sun sank closer and closer to the horizon. Common Snipe were roosting at the water’s edge and a Starling murmuration twisted and turned above the skyline to the north as the light faded and I returned David back to the cottage. Incredibly, five hours had quite simply flown past as we enjoyed an afternoon birdwatching and chatting about wind farms, raptor persecution, marine conservation and Scottish independence. Do you know, you can easily tie all of those topics together 🙂
Last week’s Kielder Safari was at the back end of that period of wintry weather that seemed to have been around for quite some time, and the snow provided one of the highlights of the day.
I collected Lucy, Mark and ‘the Mums’, Pat and Alison, from their holiday cottage in Falstone and we set out to explore the border forests. Coal Tits, Great Tits, Blue Tits, Greenfinches and Chaffinches…and Chaffinches…and Chaffinches were seen in the forested areas and there seemed to be a small movement of Blackbirds, with four males in quick succession heading west along one steep sided valley.
Dipper was on the target list for the day, and a stop at one of our favourite spots just south of the Scottish border produced not one, but two birds; dipping, swimming, flying, calling – a whole range of Dipper behaviour 🙂 Another riverside stop at a ‘staked out’ spot produced views of a gaudy drake Mandarin, looking so odd in the cold and gloom of the mid afternoon as he made his way along the edge of the water.
Wild Goats feature in most, if not all, of our Kielder trips and we had them on open moorland as well as a small group in amongst the trees along a forest track. Also out on the open moors, Red Grouse took a little bit of effort to find (as they often do in strong cold winds), and a Common Buzzard caused momentary panic as it looked particularly narrow-winged and pale.
As the afternoon wore on, and the skies were suddenly blue and the landscape bathed in sunlight, it was a great contrast to the start of the day. Just a few hours earlier we were standing on the edge of a steep forested valley, looking across to one of our most reliable sites for Goshawk, watching as a succession of snow storms moved along the valley, driven by the strong easterly wind, and the very edge of the snow just peppered our position. ‘The Mums’ retreated to the car (and who could blame them?) the Goshawks and Red Squirrels stayed in the shelter of trees (and who could blame them?) and comparisons were drawn with New Zealand, Canada, and the possibility of four seasons in one day. The forest and Kielder Water may be a man-made landscape, but it has the feel of a remote wilderness area, and some excellent wildlife too 🙂
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 🙂