Tag: Grey Wagtail

Early Spring; Bespoke Cheviots/Druridge Birdwatching 10/04/17

by on Apr.11, 2017, under Cheviot Valleys, Druridge Bay

I collected Adrian and Ruth from Seahouses for the first of their two days out with us this week; a Cheviots-plus Bespoke tour…

We started at Bamburgh, with Oystercatcher, Redshank and Purple Sandpiper along the edge of the breaking surf, Common Eider, Common Scoter, Red-throated Diver and a lone Puffin surfing the waves just beyond and distant Gannets breaking the horizon above a sea that had been whipped into a mass of whitecaps by a stiff northerly breeze.

Heading inland, it was starting to look cloudier and the forecast deterioration in the weather seemed to be on its way.  You can’t necessarily trust the forecast though, and the spectacular landscape of the Cheviot valleys was bathed in sunlight.  The triumvirate of nervously bobbing riverside dwellers all put in very obliging appearances; Dipper, Grey Wagtail and Common Sandpiper have so much in common, and are always great to watch.  Sand Martins and Swallows, always a sign that things are changing, were hawking insects overhead as a Raven flew by, the eerie cries of Curlew revealed their presence as they displayed high over the valley, Red Grouse chuckled from the surrounding heather, Chiffchaffs were singing their relentlessly onomatopaeic song from every clump of trees and Ruth spotted a stunning male Ring Ouzel hopping around on a fellside that was dripping with Mistle Thrushes and Wheatears.  Lunch was accompanied by 3 Common Buzzards high overhead, tussling and skydiving as partnerships and territories for the breeding season start to take shape.

Continuing along our planned loop for the day brought us to the coast of Druridge Bay and Avocet, Shorelark, Ringed Plover, Kestrel, Sanderling, a raft of at least 9 Red-throated Divers and then, as we headed back to the car at the end of the day, a Short-eared Owl quartering rough fields with deep slow wingbeats 🙂

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Wax(w)ing lyrical about wildlife; Otter Safari 09/11/16

by on Nov.10, 2016, under Druridge Bay

There are a few species that really epitomise winter wildlife-watching, and they include my favourite bird, one of my favourite mammals, and another bird that never fails to excite…

I collected Andy from Whitley Bay (it’s great to have him back from Mull for a few months over the winter!) and we had an interesting chat about plankton sampling and microscopy as we drove up the coast to collect Genine from Newbiggin.  Genine’s last trip with NEWT was a breathtaking pelagic in early September, and now we were out in search of Otters and any other birds and wildlife that we could find around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  I suggested that we started with a quick search for Waxwings, just a few minutes down the road.  As we approached where they’d been seen the previous day, a flock flushed from a rowan tree where they were gorging themselves on berries.  We watched them land in the bare branches of a tall tree nearby and counted at least 120 birds, with another 60 flying around and landing in trees just along the road.  In the cold and damp, we started our search for Otters, and were soon watching one as it fed on small fish.  With hardly a breath of wind, the water was flat calm and we tracked the Otter‘s movement by the trail of bubbles it left each time it submerged before, after around half an hour, it left the water and vanished up the bank and behind a fallen tree.  Curlew, Lapwing, Common Redshank and Oystercatcher were probing the mud along the water’s edge and a flash of electric blue heralded the arrival of a Kingfisher, which played a game of hide and seek with us as Goldfinch and Bullfinch perched in the tops of trees, the disembodied weak winter song of a Robin came from the depths of a hawthorn and two Sparrowhawks tussled in mid-air overhead before one gave up the fight and flew well away.  Long-tailed Duck, Common Scoter, Common Eider, Goldeneye, Wigeon, Mallard, Red-breasted Merganser and Tufted Duck were a nice haul of wildfowl as Little Grebe warily watched the spot where the Otter had vanished and Long-tailed Tits called unseen from nearby bushes.

The approach of dusk brought thousands of Starlings in a swirling murmuration before they dropped into the reedbeds for the night as the high-pitched yapping of Pink-footed Geese and the discordant honking of Greylag Geese betrayed the presence of skein after skein arriving from feeding areas to the south of us.  Squealing Water Rails remained hidden and, as the last rays of daylight filtered through from the western horizon, Whooper Swans arrived.  Big, ghostly and quiet on their approach, as they hit the water they began whooping and their haunting voices accompanied our walk back to the car in the dark.

Proper wintry cold, almost continuous drizzle, stunning wildlife and lovely clients – just a great way to spend a day in mid-November 🙂  We’ll be running Otter Safaris, Druridge Bay Safaris and Lindisfarne Safaris right through the winter, so get in touch, wrap up warm and come and join us for a day searching for Northumberland’s fantastic wildlife!

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Sounds of Spring; Druridge Bay Bespoke Safari 21/05/16

by on May.24, 2016, under Druridge Bay

Ever improving weather tends to make days out with clients slightly more relaxed than those days where we’re contending with the elements – although I personally prefer the more challenging days 😉

I collected Julie and Mike from The Plough Inn, not much more than a stone’s throw from the sea, and we set out for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  The reedbeds were resonating with the song of Sedge Warbler and Reed Bunting as Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler were singing from the trees that had grown above the height of the hedgerows, Great Crested Grebes crossed the water with elegant grace and Mute Swan, Greylag Goose and Canada Goose kept a watchful eye on their fluffy babies.  A hatch of flying insects had attracted the attention of Swallow, Sand Martin, House Martin and Swift as well as an impressive flock of Black-headed Gulls and at least six 1stSummer Little Gulls.  The eerie cries of Curlew carried on the southerly breeze and Lapwing displayed so close that we could hear their wingbeats as well as the nuances of their remarkable calls.  Just as remarkable, if not more so, was a Common Snipe ‘drumming’ impressively as it flew back and forth right in front of us while we were dazzled by a shockingly bright Yellow Wagtail.

With the sun appearing beneath the dark grey cloud layer as it neared the horizon, the landscape was suddenly bathed in extraordinary light.  Intense greens and yellows contrasted with the subtle hues of areas still in shadow as a Barn Owl ghosted by on silent wings, a Grey Wagtail was flycatching from midstream rocks, a Grey Heron stalked the shallows and Mallard and Goosander swam downstream, carried on the rushing bubbling flow where insects trapped in the surface layer fell prey to hungry fish lunging clear of the water and briefly inhabitating an alien world before splashing back down into the watery darkness.

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Springtime in the hills; Bespoke Cheviot Valleys Safari 20/04/16

by on Apr.26, 2016, under Cheviot Valleys

mid-April can be a strange time inland.  Some summer visitors will have arrived, but you can never be quite sure which ones…

I collected Richard and Florence from West Acre House and we headed westwards towards the central massif of Northumberland.  An unexpected, and very pleasant, surprise was bumping into Dean from Cheviot View who was enjoying a walk in the glorious sunshine.  Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Great Crested Grebe, Canada Goose, Greylag Goose and Oystercatcher were all pottering around on old gravel pits as Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Blackcap all sang and fed, a Brown Hare loped through the trees and we headed deeper into the valleys as lunchtime approached, encountering Pheasant after Pheasant, and Red-legged Partridge after Red-legged Partridge, as well as Mistle Thrush and Song Thrush obligingly feeding next to each other and offering an opportunity for comparison as a Dipper bobbed up and down on a mid-stream rock before flying up to it’s concealed nest.  Red Grouse cackled, the trilling buzz of Lesser Redpoll punctuated the air overhead, the eerie cries of Curlew echoed around the valley, the swee-wee-wee-wee-wee of a nervous Common Sandpiper pierced the excited bubbling of the stream and Common Buzzards soared lazily on the warm breeze as the shocking yellow of a Grey Wagtail added a splash of colour to the dappled light of the valley bottom.  Swallow and Sand Martin harvested the bountiful insects overhead and, as we walked back down the valley towards the car, I could hear a simple song from the steeper ground above us.  Focusing my attention on the direction that the sound was coming from brought not one, not two, but three Ring Ouzels 🙂

Certainly felt like the spring…

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A raptor day; Bespoke Kielder Safari 28/03/2016

by on Mar.30, 2016, under Kielder, Otter

I love the Northumberland coast, and my obsession with the North Sea and it’s wildlife is well documented, but I always look forward to the drive west – away from the sea and into forests and remote moorland…

I collected Jeanette and Simon for their second trip with NEWT, following the Otter mini-Safari on Sunday, and we headed across through Alnwick, Rothbury, Thropton, Elsdon and Otterburn.  As we approached the dam at the southern end of Kielder Water I could see a bird ahead of us flying towards the reservoir.  It was flying directly away from us but it’s a fairly distinctive bird from any angle…and the Osprey hovered over the water, plunged, surfaced with a large fish and flew along the dam wall, pursued by an angry mob of Common Gulls as 6 Roe Deer grazed just outside the cover of woodland beside the North Tyne 🙂  With occasional breaks in the cloud, and brief interludes of warm sunshine, it seemed a good time to find a suitable spot to sit and look over the forest…which worked just as planned with Common Buzzard, Sparrowhawk and Goshawk all making it on to the day list as a flock of Redwing called overhead 🙂

The drive from forest to moorland produced excellent views of a Dipper as it submerged in a fast-flowing stream, and then the moors produced another excellent crop of birds.  Ravens, big impressive and noisy flew overhead, pairs of Common Buzzard seemed to be everywhere we looked, Red Grouse played hide-and-seek with us as they emerged from cover only to vanish again within a few seconds and three more raptors made it seven species for the day.  Kestrel is still a regular bird on many of our tours but the other two were real scarcities; a pair of Merlin were calling noisily just behind us as a male Hen Harrier ghosted across the moor below us.  Then he started skydancing 🙂  That would be a treat enough, but the bird that had prompted his display came into view…not the female harrier we’d expected, but a second male!  The two tussled briefly in the air just above the heather before both drifting out of sight.  Wild Goats were remarkably confiding close to the road as we headed back towards lower ground and trees.

Back down in the forest and a female Common Crossbill was a nice find as the high-pitched songs of Goldcrest and Treecreeper pierced the air, Goldeneye displayed out on the water as a drake Mandarin sat quietly behind the bankside vegetation and Grey Wagtails bobbed along the muddy edge.  Another wildlife-filled day out with clients who were great company 🙂

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Timing; Northumberland Coast 17/09/2015

by on Sep.23, 2015, under Bamburgh Castle, Druridge Bay, Northumberland Coast

Seasonality in wildlife watching is an important consideration, but ‘micro-timing’ shouldn’t be overlooked.  There’s a time of day when we rarely meet anyone else on our tours, and I don’t entirely understand why…

Thursday was Day Five for Clare and Peter, and I collected them from The Swan before heading north to start our day on the coast.  The rising tide brought Turnstone, Redshank, Curlew, Purple Sandpiper and Ringed Plover towards us as Common Eider drifted on the swell and innumerable Gannets circled above what must have been a huge shoal of fish.  Bar-tailed Godwits, probing in the sand, were moved towards the pebbly shore by the inexorable tide until eventually they abandoned feeding and roosted on a rocky outcrop alongside Curlew.  In the rising tidal reaches of a river, a Dipper entertained us by diving headlong into the water, a female Goosander sailed serenely into view before diving and re-emerging back under the riverside vegetation, Grey Wagtails added a stunning splash of colour and a Kingfisher raced by.

As dusk approached a Starling murmuration was passed by a Marsh Harrier and a noisy roost of geese included Canada, Greylag, Pink-footed and – my favourite wildfowl escapees – Bar-headed Geese.  A lone Ruff remained when the roosting Lapwings took flight, but was then joined by a Redshank.  Dusk is, by some considerable margin, my favourite time of the day – regardless of habitat type – and it was a great finish to a great week guiding Clare and Peter around Northumberland’s well known, and some less well known, birdwatching hotspots 🙂  We hope they’ll be back soon to explore more!

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A hailstorm of quality; Cheviots Prestige Tour 19/05/2015

by on May.22, 2015, under Cheviot Valleys

As I arrived at Spindrift to collect David and Margaret for their second trip with NEWT, following a day in the North Pennines in 2013, I was thinking about how to structure the rest of the day.  The weather forecast suggested that there would be heavy showers by early afternoon, so I thought it would make sense to do a longer walk before then, and check sites that we could park near as the afternoon wore on and the weather deteriorated…

One of the main target species for our trips into the Cheviot Valleys is Ring Ouzel, so hearing a male in full song as you get out of the car is always a good start 🙂  He was singing from a dry stone wall, as his mate hopped around on the grass below and a second pair of ouzels flew over calling.  A pair of Whinchats were on a heather covered hillside where a Red Grouse was sunning herself, as Grey Wagtails and Dippers bobbed up and down on midstream rocks, the buzzing song of a Common Redpoll revealed the presence of this attractive finch overhead and a Tree Pipit parachuted down from the sky.  A few spots of rain soon cleared to give much brighter conditions and Common Buzzards soared and lazily hovered over the valley tops as a Cuckoo called persistently but remained hidden from view.  Then the sky started to darken and a few drops of rain quickly turned into a heavy hailstorm with rumbling thunder adding to the extraordinary atmospheric conditions.  The hailstorm moved away down the valley and we made our way back to the car, stopping to admire a male Ring Ouzel feeding only 30m away from us, in a field rendered white with hail.  Common Sandpipers bobbed along the stream edge and more Common Buzzards soared against the steep sides of the valley.

There were two species that David and Margaret were both very keen to see during the day, and I thought I knew just the place for them.  So, in mid-afternoon we found ourselves in a beautiful, atmospheric area of woodland…marvelling at the beauty of a pair of Common Redstarts and watching a mating pair of Pied Flycatchers, with all four birds in the same tree at one point 🙂  As we headed back to Seahouses, we could see some impressive storms in every direction, so I suspected I might have a challenging drive back home at the end of the day…

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“I really love otters”; Bespoke Otter Safari 10-11/04/2015

by on Apr.14, 2015, under Druridge Bay, Farne Islands, Southeast Northumberland

Friday and Saturday saw a two day bespoke safari for Fran and Georgia, arranged by their mum back in early December.

I collected the girls from The Swan and we headed towards Druridge Bay.  We weren’t too far along the road when Georgia asked if we’d seen any Otters recently.  I told them about Thursday’s sightings, and there was an obvious raising of excitement levels in the car…and, with typical wildlife unpredictability, we managed to get right through Friday without an Otter sighting 🙁  Dippers zipping back and forth along the River Blyth were entertaining, a drake Garganey on the Wansbeck was stunning, Little Egrets and Avocets were elegant, but of the sinuous stealthy predator there was no sign.  We returned to The Swan and I started revising our plans for Saturday…

Saturday 05:00 and I stumble sleepily to the bathroom.  There’s one thing I really don’t want to hear, and that’s a howling gale.  This wasn’t looking promising; our plan for the day was a Seal Cruise around the Farne Islands, and then more time searching for Otters, and neither of those would be helped by the hoolie that I could hear whistling through the trees in our garden.  We arrived in Seahouses for our sailing on Glad Tidings V, and the sea was looking ever so slightly lumpy.  We did manage to sail though, and were rewarded with Cormorant, Shag, Guillemot, Eider, Kittiwake and the two stars of the morning – Puffin and Grey Seal.  Back on dry land we resumed the search for Otters, and the wind strengthened so that we could hear an eerie whistling around trees, bridges and us!  With a wind chill factor taking temperatures down to bone-chilling, and a hail storm pinging ice off our heads, we were having to suffer for our wildlife…and still no Otters.  Sarah was out and about checking other locations and sending regular texts to let me know where she’d checked.  Our final backup plan was an 06:00 start on Sunday, but I don’t think anyone was really too keen on that idea.

18:30 and the wind shifted from west to southwest and weakened slightly, the sun came out and I started to feel more optimistic.  I had one decision left to make though, and that was which of our two options for sunset to go for…

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More mustelid mania; Otter mini-Safari 09/04/2015

by on Apr.10, 2015, under Druridge Bay, Otter, Southeast Northumberland

I’d arrived at Church Point, to collect Ian, Rosie, Ali, Vicky, Suzie and Aravind, and then had a voicemail on my mobile.  One of their cars had a problem, so they’d taken it to CarBar.  A quick change of plan and I collected them from Morpeth instead, and we headed towards the southeast Northumberland coast in search of OttersGoldeneye were displaying, Redshank and Curlew were probing the gooey mud and a Little Egret caught a fish and then dropped it and just stared at the water without refinding it’s prey.  Rosie had just asked where Otters were most likely to be seen on the stretch of water we were looking at, I turned to indicate the general area that I thought would be most productive…and there was an Otter 🙂  We watched it for a few minutes as it fed, and I was fairly sure it was one of the young female Otters we’d watched regularly since December.

Each time the Otter dived we could follow it’s movements by the trail of bubbles on the water’s surface but it soon vanished from view, as they often do, and everyone’s attention remained focused on the water.  Then another Otter popped up.  This one was a bit of surprise though; a very small cub that isn’t any of the four animals we’ve been watching over the last few months.  It surfaced like a spyhopping dolphin before sliding back beneath the waves then an adult surfaced just beyond the cub, and we’d seen three different Otters 🙂  Rosie then spotted another mustelid, and the Weasel engaged in a game of peek-a-boo from a stone wall before running along the bank.

Sometimes, when the day seems to be going wrong…

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Under a darkening sky; Northumberland Coast 27/10/2014

by on Oct.28, 2014, under Birdwatching, Dark Skies, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

Yesterday was a safari day on the Northumberland coast, with a plan to enjoy the birdwatching around our regular Otter sites and then a stargazing session in Druridge Bay.

I collected John and Pam from home in Cullercoats and we drove up the coast.  As we ate our picnic lunch in the shadow of Bamburgh Castle, we could see Gannets diving offshore, beyond the rafts of Common Eider that were surfing the gentle swell.  Kestrels were seen throughout the afternoon and a real ‘from the car’ bonus came in the shape of three Roe Deer.  As so often happens as we approach the winter, wildfowl dominated the birdwatching.  As well as the Eiders, with males resplendent in their breeding finery, Teal, Mallard and Goldeneye looked at their best.  As a Grey Wagtail perched on a mid-stream rock, and fish swirled and leapt from the water, a male Kingfisher perched on a branch overhanging the river, flocks of geese peppered the sky wherever we were, and a flock of Greylag Geese began to flush as the search and rescue helicopter passed noisily overhead.  Whooper Swans looked as stunning as ever, flocks of Lapwing and Golden Plover swirled in the stiff breeze  and, as dusk approached, Pink-footed Geese began arriving to roost.  Flock after flock of Pink-feet appeared out of the gloom, announcing their imminent arrival with their yapping calls, eventually in near darkness when they were just a black speckling against the dark grey brooding clouds.

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