Tag: Grey heron

Breezy with a chance of Otters :-) Otter Safari 21/03/18

by on Mar.22, 2018, under Druridge Bay, Otter

Yesterday morning was glorious; blue sky, fluffy white clouds, not much a of a breeze.  By the time I collected Jon and Lesley from Church Point ahead of an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay searching for Otters it was cloudy, cold, breezy and the first few drops of rain had patterned the car windscreen…

The wintry weather that brought travel chaos to much of Britain in February and the first half of March meant that it had been a month since our previous Otter Safari but I was confident that I could find an Otter and prove to Lesley that not having seen one in several attempts wasn’t due to her being a jynx.  As the breeze strengthened we arrived at our first site for the afternoon and a few seconds later we were watching an Otter 🙂  We had nearly an hour of it feeding before it surfaced with a fish that was too big too handle in the water and headed back to the holt to enjoy it’s catch.  By now the rain was coming down heavily and we had lunch in the car, watching a raft of Common Eider out on the calm sea, before exploring more coastal pools.  Wigeon, Teal, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Gadwall, Goldeneye, Shelduck, Greylag Goose, Canada Goose, Pink-footed Goose, Mute Swan and Whooper Swan was a nice contingent of wildfowl as a Grey Heron sat hunched, looking miserable in the cold and wet and a Common Buzzard perched obligingly at the end of a row of trees.  Cormorants were fishing and doing their very best Otter impersonations as we scanned through a wader roost.  Knot, Dunlin, Curlew, Redshank, Lapwing, Black-tailed Godwit and a single Avocet were all studied through the ‘scope before we headed to our final site for the afternoon, passing Kestrels hovering by the roadside on what was now a very stiff, icy cold, breeze.

For over an hour until it was too dark to see clearly we were entertained by a Starling murmuration.  Flock after flock joined the twisting, swirling amorphous mass that repeatedly came so close that we could hear their wingbeats.  A female Sparrowhawk passed through the murmuration a couple of times, causing it to bunch so tightly that it cast a dense shadow on the water below them as Whooper Swans arrived to roost and the light of day faded to the near darkness of dusk.

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Crashing waves; Druridge Bay Safari 01/02/18

by on Feb.02, 2018, under Druridge Bay

Arriving at Church Point to collect Jenny and Peter, and Lynne, it was looking like we’d have a dry, but cold and windy day around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland…

With a stiff breeze, every bit of water we looked at, whether river, pool, pond or roadside flash flood was being whipped up into a series of white-capped peaks.  Bullfinches and Robins were very obliging as we walked through woodland, although Goldcrest remained heard but not seen, and on the nearby river Little Grebe, Cormorant and Goldeneye were all diving in search of food.  Red-breasted Merganser had their spiky crests ruffled comically by the wind and a drake Long-tailed Duck was looking superb – as were all of the Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye, Gadwall and a drake Goosander.  A herd of Whooper Swan were grazing in a coastal field and noisy flocks of Canada and Greylag Geese flew by in skeins scattered on the breeze.  Six Grey Herons had discovered a nice sheltered spot to sit and a Little Egret stalked delicately along the water’s edge.

Our exposed clifftop lunch spot was like a wind tunnel with waves cashing below a flock of Great Black-backed, Black-headed, Common and Herring Gulls hanging in the breeze, accompanied by a beautiful ghostly pale adult Mediterranean Gull which settled on the narrow strip of exposed sand that remained and found itself surrounded by scurrying Sanderling.

The rapidly rising tide of the early afternoon was pushing waders up off the beach and rocks with Curlew, Oystercatcher, Redshank and Dunlin all arriving to roost.  Lapwing were tossed on the breeze and, along with dense twinkling flocks of Golden Plover rising from a nearby field with geese and Starlings, peppered the sky.  The reflections of grey clouds darkened the water as low-angled sunlight illuminated the reeds and the contrast between dark grey and glowing gold was just sublime and as we headed back down the coast towards Newbiggin we paused to admire a flock of noisy yapping Pink-footed Geese.

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Ice, ice baby; Otter mini-Safari 20/01/18

by on Jan.24, 2018, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

I collected Judy and Gary, Jess and Jarrod, and Ben from Whitley Bay, ahead of a few hours around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland for possibly the first time that a NEWT mini-Safari has been a birthday present for a 6-year old.  No ordinary 6-year old though…a 6-year old who wants to be a marine biologist and watches Blue Planet when he should be doing his homework 😉

It was cold, with most footpaths and tracks still covered in either snow or ice, but that did allow us to study some Rabbit tracks and think about how they’re formed.  A thin layer of ice on the river had left Goldeneye, Cormorant and Little Grebe close to the margins or picking their way through the maze of small gaps of clear water and a rabbit was on the bank near the water’s edge.

As dusk took hold the Tufted Ducks and Coots were forming an increasingly dense flock…as the water around them froze, leaving an ever-decreasing circle at it’s centre.  Skeins of Pink-footed  Greylag and Canada Geese were all heard before they were seen, as the calls of Mallard, Wigeon and Teal resonated through the cold air and a Grey Heron stalked through the icy shallows.  Time to head back to the warmth of the car, and the bright lights of Whitley Bay 🙂

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Swirling; Otter mini-Safari 30/12/17

by on Dec.31, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

Yesterday’s mini-Safari was rearranged from Friday, when the ice on the roads would have made it a foolhardy exercise to head out.  I collected Jo, Chris, Lauren and Dilly from Church Point and we headed off for a few hours exploring Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland…

At the start of the afternoon there was no breeze, and the water was almost mirror-flat, with the swirls of diving Goldeneye, Little Grebe and Cormorant patterning the surface.  Cormorants that weren’t feeding sat on fallen trees, shoulders hunched and looking thoroughly miserable as a Grey Heron flew from one side of the river to the other and perched briefly before flying away upstream.  As light rain pattered on the calm water a Great Black-backed Gull flew by, always an impressive bird in the right light, and then the clouds parted and blue sky and warm(ish) sunshine marked the start of the sky clearing.  Out on to the coast and a dense flock of Golden Plover were swirling on the rising breeze as Pink-footed Geese rose from a distant field and speckled the sky and a charm of Goldfinches flew over the car before disappearing into rank vegetation next to the road.  Long-tailed Tits were moving between trees and a Sparrowhawk flew so low across the road ahead of us that it only narrowly avoided the car.  Mute Swans, including one scruffy looking youngster, were feeding alongside a group of displaying Red-breasted Mergansers.  At least 10 drakes were vying for the affection of just one female, but she was having none of it and any of the drakes who ventured too close, no matter how impressive his head-bobbing and mohawk-waving, was driven away.  As the Moon rose in the east, providing an impressive sight through the telescope, all of the ducks were getting agitated; Goldeneye, Gadwall, Teal, Wigeon and Mallard all moved purposefully away from one edge of the reeds, then more Mallard appeared from the reeds and flew across the pool and suddenly the distribution of birds on the water, which had been quite even when we first arrived, was very polarised.  Whatever was in the reeds wasn’t revealing itself though, and in a now stiffening cold breeze who could blame it?

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A stream of Starlings; Otter Safari 07/11/17

by on Nov.07, 2017, under Druridge Bay

I collected Karen and Angie, and Nick and Mel, from Newbiggin and we headed off in search of Otters around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.

I quickly changed our plan due to high levels of disturbance at our first site, and as soon we were at our alternative start point there was an Otter 🙂  We watched it for over an hour, with a noisy flock of Long-tailed Tits in the trees nearby, before it did that typical Otter thing of slipping beneath the surface and vanishing.  As we sat having lunch on the clifftop just south of Cresswell village a Fieldfare came low in-off after what must have been an arduous sea crossing against a WNW wind.  Flocks of Redwing and Fieldfare speckled the sky and, as Oystercatcher, Redshank, Curlew, Dunlin and Lapwing came to roost, and Pink-footed Geese dropped into a nearby field, yapping noisily as they descended, a Lesser Black-backed Gull was struggling with a large, dead flatfish.  The struggle ended abruptly as a Grey Heron chased the gull away and tried to swallow the fish itself before leaving it to a Great Black-backed GullLittle Egrets shone brightly white in the gloom of the late afternoon, before a break in the cloud away on the western horizon delivered a sublime sunset that bathed Mallard, Gadwall, Wigeon, Teal, Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Slavonian Grebe and Whooper Swan in jaw-dropping orange light.

As flock after flock after flock of Starlings streamed into a reedbed roost, still arriving when it was almost too dark for us to see, and two Roe Deer bounded along through deep vegetation, the day had one last surprise in store as a Long-eared Owl perched on a fence post in the dunes before attracting the attention of the local Carrion Crows 🙂

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Turning tides; Bespoke Northumberland Coast photography 12/10/17

by on Oct.17, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Holy Island

The Holy Island causeway makes it into the news for too frequently due to overly-optimistic car drivers who think that driving into a tidal estuary is going to turn out well…

I collected Tony from Fenham le Moor and we headed to the causeway to watch as the tide fell and the road was uncovered.  More exciting though was the mud that was revealed, attracting Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, Barnacle Geese, Brent Geese, Pink-footed Geese, Turnstone, Teal, Wigeon, Shelduck and Dunlin 🙂  There’s a lot to see as the tide falls and after an hour on the island we had a wander down the coast.  A Rock Pipit came close to the car but wasn’t too keen on having a camera lens pointed at it.  Grey Heron, Little Egret and Cormorant were proving to be a scourge of small fish and the Red-necked Phalarope at Druridge Pools was performing well among a group of Shoveler, Gadwall and Tufted Duck.

A nice easy-paced day with plenty of birds in front of the camera and, it almost goes without saying now, a client who it was a pleasure to spend the day with 🙂

Our Holy island and Northumberland coast bespoke photography tour brought lots of birds in reach of our cameras

Our Holy island and Northumberland coast bespoke photography tour brought lots of birds in reach of our cameras

Our Holy island and Northumberland coast bespoke photography tour brought lots of birds in reach of our cameras

Our Holy island and Northumberland coast bespoke photography tour brought lots of birds in reach of our cameras

Our Holy island and Northumberland coast bespoke photography tour brought lots of birds in reach of our cameras

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Autumn’s treasures; Otter Safari 10/10/17

by on Oct.11, 2017, under Druridge Bay

Sometimes it can be late in a trip before we find our target species., then there are the times when it’s almost embarrassingly quick and easy…

I collected Phil and Glynis from Amble and we headed down the coast for an afternoon and evening searching for Otters around Druridge Bay.  I’d found an Otter at dusk on Tuesday so I knew where we’d be finishing the tour.  On a hunch I thought that might be a good place to have the first hour of the tour too…and when we arrived there was a lot of panic among the Lapwings and a small group of Black-headed Gulls, with a single Common Gull, were circling above one spot.  I concentrated on the water below the gulls, and there was an Otter!  We watched it for around 40 minutes before it vanished into the reeds leaving us with Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Pintail, Tufted Duck, Gadwall and Shoveler to watch.  Next stop was Druridge Pools for an elusive Barred Warbler.  There was a small crowd there already searching for it and, after an obliging Garden Warbler fooled a few people, it eventually came out into the open as a Redwing, surely one of the most beautiful thrushes we have, was sitting on a bare branch on the other side of a field.  Next up was another scarce migrant, possibly the most delightful little wader to have ever graced the world’s avifauna.  The Red-necked Phalarope was twirling in the shallow water, darting at small insects on the surface as the evocative cries of Curlew drifted across the marsh.  A flock of 14 Whooper Swans passed by, seemingly unhappy with the lead swan’s choice of direction before they eventually settled on heading south where they were spotted by Sarah 🙂  Hedgerows were filled with the calls of Tree Sparrow and Goldcrest, and at least three Chiffchaffs darted in and out of the canopy, leading us a merry dance as we checked to see if there was anything exciting traveling with them, as Grey Heron and Little Egret stalked small fish.

Our picnic stop produced a nice roosting flock of Oystercatcher, Redshank, Curlew and Turnstone accompanied on the edge of the rocks and breaking surf by a Kingfisher 🙂  As dusk descended a Brown Hare crossed the track in front of us, a juvenile Marsh Harrier drifted by, causing Starlings to lift in rippling waves from their reedbed roost, Mute Swans seemed to glow in the dying embers of daylight, a Barn Owl ghosted over the reeds before plunging into rough grass and reappearing a few minutes later and then, when it was just about too dark to see, Lapwings flew from their daytime roost towards feeding areas, wingbeats thrumming in the still air of a chilly autumn evening 🙂

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Autumn arrivals; Otter Safari 04/10/17

by on Oct.06, 2017, under Druridge Bay

There’s something special about birds with ‘Little’ in their name, unsurprisingly quite little and I can’t think of a single one that isn’t a delight to watch…

I collected Calvin from Church Point ahead of an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland searching for Otters, and the first spots of drizzle were in the air on a stiff westerly breeze.  We could soon hear the distinctive yapping calls of Pink-footed Geese high overhead, and there was an almost continuous passage of these winter visitors from the north for around 7 hours no matter where we were on the coast.  A party of Whooper Swans dropped in, bathing and calling before probably continuing south (we came across what looked to be the same birds a few miles further down the coast later in the afternoon) as a juvenile Marsh Harrier quartered the reedbeds, hanging in the breeze.  A very obliging Little Owl was preening itself on top of a stone wall, Goosanders sailed menacingly out from bankside vegetation, four Little Grebes were plundering a shoal of small fish and the passage of geese continued.  A nice wader roost included Curlew, Lapwing, Redshank, Dunlin and three really smart looking Little Stints before another juvenile Marsh Harrier drifted by, scattering them all and revealing the presence of two Curlew Sandpipers which quickly vanished away to the north in light drizzle.  The most surprising bird of the afternoon was a Green Woodpecker that flew across the track at Druridge Pools – checking with Ipin, it turns out that there are only two previous records for the site!

As dusk approached the forecast drizzle arrived and, as geese continued to pass high overhead, Grey Herons and Little Egrets flew to roost in the gloom.

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Waifs, strays and the gloom of dusk; Druridge Bay Safari 26/09/17

by on Sep.27, 2017, under Druridge Bay

I collected Richard and Liz from Whitley Bay and we headed north along the coast for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland

After a few breezy weeks, we’d got something different to contend with; dense, patchy fog all along the coast.  I don’t mind that too much though, it’s usually manageable, and the birdwatching can be exciting when you don’t know what’s lurking in the mist 🙂  Brambling and Tree Sparrow called overhead as we had lunch, and Redshank, Oystercatcher and Ringed Plover were on the beach below us.  A Little Owl, only revealing it’s presence as it flew quickly out of sight, and a much more obliging Little Owl a couple of minutes later were a great find early in the trip.  Teal, Wigeon, Mallard, Gadwall, Tufted Duck and Shoveler were sleeping and feeding and, particularly in the case of one female Mallard, being very vocal as Great Crested Grebes and Cormorants hunted with elegant menace, a Little Grebe demonstrated a remarkable aptitude for catching small fish and Lapwings were battling the breeze before settling to roost with Starlings and the disembodied voices of Curlew carried through the mist.

Given the cold foggy conditions, moths and butterflies were a surprise.  First a dozen or so Nettle-tap Moths, then the first of several Red Admirals and a Speckled Wood.  A Sparrowhawk was pursuing a small bird (possibly a Chaffinch) and passed just a few metres in front of the car windscreen in it’s pursuit and we set about one of the great joys of birdwatching on the Northumberland coast; wandering along a narrow track between Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Elder and Sycamore with the mist curling it’s cold tendrils around us.  Robins were ‘ticking’ from the bushes, and at least three were singing when they would be better of putting their effort into feeding.  Blackcaps were in the Elders and we tracked down our quarry, although it proved elusive before eventually offering confiding views.  First just a brief glimpse of a small warbler as it flitted between bushes, apparently settling in a Sycamore before vanishing again.  Then as we were looking where we thought it had gone it flew out from behind us and over our our heads, giving a remarkably loud ‘tsooeest’ call before diving back into cover.  Then it appeared at the top of a bush and just sat there, offering great views.  Yellow-browed Warbler is one of the real gems of east coast birding in the autumn and this little treasure eventually performed well for all of us.

With the mist making dusk even gloomier than usual, Grey Herons and a Little Egret flew by a noisy roost of ‘chacking’ Jackdaws as Soprano Pipistrelles hunted the leeward edge of a riverside tree and we listened to their calls with our bat detector before heading back towards the bright lights of Whitley Bay 🙂

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Darkness descending; Druridge Bay mini-Safari 20/09/17

by on Sep.21, 2017, under Druridge Bay

I collected Ian and Julie from Hauxley and before we’d set off for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay things got off to a great start with Goldcrests and a Yellow-browed Warbler in the car park 🙂

Next up were two young Roe Deer, trotting along the edge of a field before stopping to watch us, and a Little Owl sitting on the end of the gutter of a cottage.  Waders occupied our attentions for the next hour and a large roosting flock of very vocal Lapwings were accompanied by plenty of Dunlin, a couple of Common Redshank and single Ruff, Curlew and Greenshank, as well as an elusive Common Snipe camouflaged in among reed stubble as Little Egrets squabbled over a prime feeding spot while practically glowing in late afternoon sunlight.  A Barn Owl flew by, carrying a Short-tailed Vole, before vanishing into a barn then reappearing only to be pestered by Jackdaws, Rooks and Carrion Crows.  With light levels falling, Starlings passed by in impressive flocks, but they’d decided to forego a prolonged murmurating display in favour of heading straight to roost in the reedbeds  out of the cold and wind.  With ducks in eclipse plumage it isn’t the best time of year to enjoy watching them but we could still identify Shoveler, Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Gadwall and Pintail in the fading light as Little and Great Crested Grebes alternated between sleeping and diving and Cormorants sat motionless as a Grey Heron flew over with heavy wingbeats.  As the light faded to the point where it was a struggle to see, the squealing of a Water Rail was followed soon after by a brief view of this strange little denizen of the reedbeds as it half-ran, half-flew across a gap in the reeds.

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