Tag: Hen Harrier

A raptor day :-) Kielder Safari 20/04/17

by on Apr.21, 2017, under Kielder

I collected Luke and Louise from alnwick, then Alison and Neil from Kingston Park and we headed west at the start of a day searching for raptors around Kielder and the Scottish Borders…

We stopped at the southern end of Kielder Water and the ‘chip chip’ calls of Common Crossbill drew our attention to these impressive bulky finches as they passed overhead.  With Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Chaffinch and Blackbird singing all around us we were soon watching Common Buzzards in every direction as Raven and Carrion Crow flew by.  Then Luke spotted a large raptor circling in front of the trees…and there was a Goshawk 🙂  We watched as it soared higher and higher until it was just a tiny speck, even through binoculars, against the clouds. Kestrel and Sparrowhawk on the drive to and from Kielder added to the raptor total for the day and we crossed the border into Scotland for the afternoon.

Our picnic spot brought more raptors; first more Common Buzzards, then the shrill alarm calls of a Merlin drew our attention to a pair of displaying Peregrines as Ravens flew along the ridges above us, Wild Goats foraged amongst the scattered trees on the valley sides, and even more Buzzards rose on the stiff breeze.  Out on the open moorland Luke was quick off the draw again, this time with a stunning male Hen Harrier.  As he gave directions to the bird, it was clear that the rest of us were watching a second male harrier as it quartered the skyline. A flash of blue was a male Merlin racing across the fells, a Red Grouse flushed from the roadside puddle where it was having a droink as we passed,  and the air seemed to be filled with Emperor Moths 🙂  A low-flying Common Buzzard passed just over the car as we headed back into Northumberland and finished the day with Common Sandpiper and a fly-by Mandarin.

Quantity on a Kielder Safari isn’t the game we play, but the day list is usually dripping with quality 🙂

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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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Raptor Day; Kielder Safari 23/04/2015

by on Apr.29, 2015, under Kielder

There’s a lot of very impressive wildlife in and around Kielder, particularly if you extend your visit across the border into Scotland, and we always hope for bright clear weather with a bit of warmth and a breeze…

I collected Brian from Bellingham and we headed up the valley in just the sort of weather conditions that I was hoping for 🙂  Our day followed the typical pattern of one of our Kielder Safaris; some time in Kielder, some time over the border into the hills and moors of southwest Scotland, some more time back in Kielder.  With the descending silvery cadence of Willow Warbler dripping from what seemed like every tree, the swee-wee-wee-wee-wee of Common Sandpiper around the water’s edge and Siskin, Chaffinch and Goldcrest all singing enthusiastically, the aural backdrop to the day was a canvas on which the raptors danced.  Common Buzzards soared and mewed as Wild Goats trotted along a narrow valley with Hen Harriers, ringtail females and ghostly pale males, patrolling the fells above, Sparrowhawk soared just over a small plantation and then, the big three;  Osprey, the stunning ‘fish eagle’ hovering over the water before plunging, unsuccessfully, in search of fish, Goshawk, the ‘phantom of the forest’ rising from a nesting plantation that we’ve been watching for a few years now before soaring up on a thermal to take station high over his mate and their nest and, the most surprising find of the day, dwarfing the Common Buzzards it was sharing a thermal with, a Golden Eagle casting it’s majestic shadow over the hills.  One day it may be a common sight, but it still won’t lose the magic of a chance encounter 🙂

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Dreich; Kielder Safari 17/03/2015

by on Apr.01, 2015, under Kielder

Dull, overcast, drizzly, misty, cold, miserable…the sort of day that makes Kielder a place where you really have to work for your wildlife sightings.

I collected David from Byrness and we headed into the border forests.  After his coastal holiday with us in 2013, and a Farne Deeps pelagic trip in September last year, I was looking forward to meeting up with him again.  One look at the weather told me this wasn’t likely to be a good Goshawk day, but it’s always worth trying 🙂  The ‘phantom of the forest’ did remain elusive, but another Kielder speciality put in an appearance with a flock of 15 Common Crossbill chipping away noisily around the forest drive.  A Roe Deer crossed the track ahead of us, and we headed across the border.  A tumbling Raven was demonstrating its prowess, Red Grouse popped up and down in the heather and, probably the highlight of the day, a pair of Hen Harriers soared over the moor; the female unobtrusive and low over the heather, her mate an enigmatic ghostly grey against the dark background.  Common Buzzards circled against the sky and, above one of our favourite Goshawk sites, a Peregrine soared over a clearing between plantations, all muscular menace and effortless grace.

Even the days that don’t look promising still hold excellent wildlife 🙂

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The Chase; Kielder Safari 14/10/2014

by on Oct.15, 2014, under Birdwatching, Kielder, Northumberland

We’ve always tended to stick to the coast during the autumn and winter, but our Dark Skies experiences are attracting a lot of interest, particularly with clients who’d like to combine a wildlife tour with stargazing.  Of course, the stargazing is rather weather dependent…

I collected Lorraine, Steve, Debbie and Gary from their holiday cottage in Longframlington and we headed west, along the Coquet Valley, nestled between the Cheviot Hills and Simonside and across into Kielder.  The border forests aren’t blessed with quantity of wildife at this time of the year, but there’s no doubting the quality 🙂  Red Squirrels were the main target species for the trip, which Lorraine had booked as a wedding anniversary surprise for Debbie and Gary, and they didn’t disappoint, with two animals engaged in a furious chase around the trees as they struggled for dominance over a feeder.  One quickly prevailed and began hoarding nuts, coming so close that you could almost reach out and touch it.  Ravens were soaring over the road, and the one bird that was present in good numbers, as expected, was Chaffinch.  We crossed over the border into Scotland, enjoying close views of Common Buzzards as they held position in the breeze above a ridge, a Kestrel perched on a telegraph pole and Stonechats in roadside vegetation.  A covey of Red Grouse burst from the heather, then another, and then the source of their distress drifted by – a ringtail Hen Harrier 🙂  The harrier quartered back and forth over the moor for a few minutes before dropping out of sight and we made our way onward over the desolate moorland road.

As daylight faded and roosting Cormorants squabbled noisily, a Roe Deer was grazing quietly by the water’s edge.  It came right down to the water to drink and then we could hear the splashing of ducks frantically trying to take off from the reeds.  Had the deer disturbed them? No, by the edge of the reeds an Otter made its way menacingly along from where the ducks had flushed…and then got out of the water, spooking the deer and chasing it a few metres up the bank 🙂  It would have had to be an optimistic Otter to try and predate a Roe Deer, so they may well have just startled each other.

We made our way back across Northumberland, hoping for a break in the weather and a starry sky but it wasn’t to be and the first drops of rain peppered the windscreen as we reached Longframlington.  Then I just had a short journey home to a delicious birthday dinner 🙂

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Pyramids; mini-Safari 22/06/2014

by on Jun.25, 2014, under Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

You’ll probably be familiar with the concept of ‘pyramid of numbers’, but there’s a loop in that pyramid and I spend a lot of my time  on the wrong end of it…

I collected Boyd and Louise from Newton and we headed south along the Northumberland coast to search around our favourite Otter sites.  Ducks were staring intently at one reedbed (where we suspect an Otter has been resting regularly over the last few weeks) as clouds of midges (extremely numerous) were predated by Swallows, House Martins and Sand Martins (not so numerous).  A thick carpet of insects (extremely numerous) trapped in the surface of a river were greedily gobbled up by shoals of small fish (not so numerous).  With the setting sun illuminating it from behind like an avenging angel, a Barn Owl (scarce) plunged repeatedly into the rank vegetation before emerging with a small mammal (not at all scarce).  Example after example that typify the pyramid of numbers…

…but, of course, there’s that loop I mentioned before.  Midges (numerous almost beyond measure) munching away merrily on me (really not numerous) 🙁  I don’t know what attraction I hold for these tiny menaces, but there clearly is one.  I’ve been bitten in March, well before any self-respecting midge should be on the wing, and my latest bite in any year was on November 4th.  I sat on a heather covered hillside one day, watching a Hen Harrier nest, attracting a veritable plague of Horseflies in the process, and on a camping trip in 2006, Sarah erected our tent while I, and these are Sarah’s words rather than mine “rolled around on the grass, crying like a little girl”.  A few years ago, during the Q&A session at the end of a talk I’d given, we were asked the question “How do you avoid being bitten by insects”.  Without a moment’s hesitation, Sarah provided the answer “I stand next to Martin” 🙂

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Moorland magic; Bespoke birdwatching 16/06/2014

by on Jun.18, 2014, under Cheviot Valleys, Hen Harrier, Kielder, Northumberland

Heading up the coast to Embleton to collect Pete and Janet for their fourth day out with NEWT (plus a couple of days with their local natural history society on a Northumberland  visit in 2009), I had a mixture of anticipation and trepidation.  It’s always a pleasure to have them on a tour, but this time we were heading to an area that I know quite well myself, but haven’t covered in any great depth with clients…

We headed inland, skirting the edge of the Cheviot massif, passing through Kielder and across into the Scottish borders in ever-improving weather 🙂  Common Buzzards were soaring against the blue sky, Skylarks were singing as they ascended heavenwards, Meadow Pipits parachuted down at the end of their display flights, Red Grouse popped their heads up above the heather, Grey Wagtails were flitting from rock to rock in the shallow streams, Whinchat were carrying food back to their nests, recently fledged Wheatears scolded us as we disturbed their afternoon nap, Wild Goats grazed steadily on the hillsides high above the valley bottom and then, in the warmth of the mid-afternoon, came one of those moments you dream of (well, I do – other naturalists may have other dreams!)…

Floating across the hillside on agile wings, passing over a Cuckoo perched on a small sapling, carrying food back to his mate and their hungry brood, the male Hen Harrier drifted by before depositing the prey at the nest.  He quickly found more food for himself and settled on a prominent rock in the heather.  As we watched him through the ‘scope, a familiar chattering call rattled down the fell.  Something had disturbed the female harrier, and she had left the nest and was soaring above it.  Then, the likely source of her displeasure appeared.  Racing on swept back wings, a Merlin flew straight at the harrier.  She twisted and turned to avoid the assault by the smallest of our falcons, and flew towards the ground.  The Merlin wasn’t going to give up though, and the dogfight continued; the otherwise elegant harrier looking cumbersome as the annoying gadfly buzzed around her.  Eventually the smaller bird broke off and settled in a nearby tree, as the male harrier left his perch and soared high over our heads against the blue sky.  When I look back in years to come, this really will be an experience that’s fixed firmly in my memory 🙂

 

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Kettling; Kielder Safari 23/04/2014

by on Apr.25, 2014, under Birdwatching, Kielder, Northumberland

The alarm went off at 06:00 on Wednesday, and my heart sank as I looked out of the window…heavy mist, not ideal for any of our tours, but particularly not good for a day in Kielder.  I drove to Kingston Park to collect Steph and we headed west in much more promising conditions; low cloud in some valleys, but some sunshine too.  We collected Paul and Trish from Wark, and then Ivan from Tower Knowe and headed into the forest.  It was a bit cool and misty for any raptors to be up and about, but two Common Crossbill flew by and the air around us was filled with the descending silvery cadence of Willow Warblers as Woodpigeons, Stock Doves and Carrion Crows caused a brief quickening of the heart rate as they flew between plantations.

A walk to the Bakethin reserve produced lots of Siskin, and Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Teal, Oystercatcher, Cormorant and Common Sandpiper were around the water’s edge.  As we got back to the car park, which provided good views of Treecreepers, Paul spotted a raptor high overhead, and binoculars resolved it into the impressive shape of an Osprey.

Over the border into Scotland we were soon encountering Common Buzzards, lots of them, and a remarkable number of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits.  We reached our picnic spot and, as soup, sandwiches and carrot cake were consumed, raptors began to appear above the skyline.  First Common Buzzards, then a female Hen Harrier, followed soon after by a skydancing grey male 🙂  Then more Common Buzzards, and more Common Buzzards At one point we had between four and six birds behind us, while higher up the valley at least ten were kettling in one thermal along with a Peregrine 🙂  Absolute heaven for any birdwatcher who enjoys raptors…and who doesn’t?  Along the stream Reed Buntings were pretending to be Dippers, but we did eventually find the genuine article, which obligingly bobbed up and down on a rock before diving into the fast flowing water, and Wheatears were perched on old stone walls.  On the hillsides high above the valley bottom, Wild Goats were grazing as we enjoyed close views of Common Buzzards both perched and flying, and Red Grouse were found as we crossed the moors back towards England.

We finished the trip with an uncountable number of Chaffinches and a real Northumberland speciality as a Red Squirrel ran around on the ground before deciding to hang upside down on a peanut cage, and it was time to reverse the route and drop everyone off.

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More five star birdwatching; Northumberland coast 24/02/14

by on Feb.25, 2014, under Birdwatching, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

Yesterday continued to lay to rest the myth that February is a quiet month…

Starting in the north of the county, overlooking the iconic landscape of Holy Island, brought the expected waders and wildfowl, and three lifers for Paul and Katie, who were back for another day out with us, following a trip in 2009; Common Scoter, Long-tailed Duck and Twite. A Peregrine muscled its way menacingly through the air above a flock of Dunlin, Grey Seals were ‘bottling’ at high tide and Bar-tailed Godwits, Redshank and Curlew were probing the soft exposed mud as the tide began to drop.  Eider, Shelduck, Red-throated Divers, Wigeon and Teal were all at or near the water’s edge and the songs of Skylark and Yellowhammer reverberated in the warm sunshine.  Perhaps the highlight of the morning was a bird that is always breathtaking; sailing elegantly into the stiff breeze, a male Hen Harrier was tracking along a hedgerow heading inland 🙂

The afternoon brought Paul and Katie’s fourth lifer of the day, a Red-necked Grebe, with Little, Great Crested and Slavonian Grebes all close by for comparison.  Two Avocets were rather unseasonal, a pair of Pintail exuded elegance, drake Goldeneye looked very smart in their contrasty breeding plumage, Red-breasted Mergansers looked quite, well, comical as they always do and two Brown Hares were sitting motionless in a nearby field.  With 30 minutes until sunset a small flock of Starlings flying in from the north led to me suggesting that we go and see where they’d gone, and to check if there was going to a significant murmuration…

What followed was, quite simply, one of the most remarkable things I’ve ever witnessed.  Initially the Starlings were about a mile south of where I expected them to roost, and there were a lot of them.  Soon two other large flocks merged with them and they moved slowly north, eventually passing directly overhead with the sound of wingbeats like a gentle breeze rustling through a forest.  The murmuration drifted away to the south again, then back north.  Almost an hour had passed when the activity levels within the flock were ramped up.  Twisting and turning with more urgency, the density of birds in different parts of our view coalesced to form writhing shapes from the previously uniform oval.  With light levels fading, the birds vanished from sight, only to betray their presence in a series of shapes that resembled a slug, then a snail, then a car.  We soon lost them in the gloom again, only for the finale to the evenings proceedings to take us all by surprise as the flock compacted over the reedbed where they were going to roost, forming a dense arrowhead as they funneled into the reeds.  With the first birds down in the reedbed, the rest of the flock wheeled slightly higher, then repeated the maneuver, a second arrowhead driving into the reeds.  A third, then a fourth, cohort entered the roost and all was quiet.  Fade to black…

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Beyond belief

by on May.30, 2012, under Birdwatching, Hen Harrier, North Pennines, Northumberland

Earlier this year I blogged about a North Pennines trip on which we found a pair of Hen Harriers, a species that is very close to the hearts of both owners of NEWT as we spent a lot of time monitoring a nest site in North Tynedale from 2006-2008 (and since then, even though there hasn’t been a subsequent successful nesting attempt at the site).  During the three years where we had successful nesting attempts, that one site and the surrounding area had an adult female shot, an incubating adult female ‘abandoned’ a nest overnight, a nest was robbed, unleashed dogs were allowed to run straight through a nest site, a number of empty nests were located.  And that’s just the persecution/disturbance that we know about.

The sighting in the North Pennines was astonishing, as the area where the birds were is a heartland of illegal raptor persecution.  First the female, and then the ghostly, sublimely beautiful, male dropped down into the heather close to a small burn.  After a brief discussion with our clients on the day, a ‘phone call was made to alert a local raptor worker, with vast experience of monitoring harrier nests.  He was astonished too, and couldn’t remember how long it was since a potential breeding pair had been recorded in that area.  24hrs later there was no sign of either bird at the site, and the breeding attempt had presumably gone the same way as so many others.  Now we’re in a position where there is only one nesting pair in England, and the main contributory factor in that is illegal persecution.

Yet, with illegal persecution still rife and affecting many birds of prey, DEFRA commissioned, and has now thankfully scrapped, a study into the effect of Common Buzzard predation on Common Pheasant populations.  Methods proposed included destroying nests and capturing Common Buzzards and taking them into captivity for falconry.  That’s right, £375,000 of taxpayer’s money was going to be spent deliberately suppressing the population of a native species, that is still recovering after centuries of persecution, in order to protect a non-native, artificially reared and introduced gamebird.  You couldn’t make it up, it’s so far-fetched and ridiculous.  This would have just been the thin end of a very big wedge though.  Sparrowhawks next? then Peregrines and all of our rarer raptors?

What’s really needed is the full force of the law to be brought to bear on those individuals, and estates, that persist in the barbaric, outdated, illegal practice of raptor persecution.  Perhaps DEFRA could fund a study into what happens if raptor populations are left unhindered?

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