Tag: Hen Harrier

A wet day in the borders; Kielder Safari 17/04/18

by on Apr.18, 2018, under Kielder

I collected Gordon and Mandy from The Battlesteads for their 5th day out with NEWT and we headed towards Kielder.  The forecast suggested occasional showers, so I was hopeful that the breaks in the rain would encourage raptors to be up and about…

6 hours later the rain eventually stopped 🙂  We’d had views of Dipper and Grey Wagtail along a shallow fast-flowing rocky stream as Sand Martins vanished into nest holes in the steep riverbank.  A Common Buzzard seemed unperturbed by the rain and patience and persistence finally paid off when Gordon spotted a male Hen Harrier quartering a skyline ridge as Wild Goats grazed below.  We moved along the road and another male Hen Harrier flew across the road ahead of us and was joined by a ringtail.  As they worked they way along the ridge, more buzzards could be seen distantly and blue sky, fluffy white clouds and warm sunshine replaced the rain as Chaffinches and Robins sang from the trees close to the border, Siskins gave their high pitched calls as they flew over and Common Crossbills flew through without being obliging enough to settle where we could see them and more buzzards rose on thermals in the afternoon sunshine.

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Another raptor day :-) Kielder Safari 05/04/18

by on Apr.06, 2018, under Hen Harrier, Kielder

When we’ve got a day in and around Kielder and the Scottish Borders ahead of us what I’m hoping for is blue sky, not too much cloud and a nice breeze…exactly what we’d got as I collected Ian and Ian from Newbiggin, Joan and Jerry from Hexham and Duncan and Laura from Bellingham…

As Chaffinches belted out their song from the treetops, Coal Tits sang, a Green Woodpecker yaffled and a small flock of Common Crossbills plundered the cones of a Larch tree nearby a male Goshawk flew along the treeline opposite our watch point.  Common Buzzards began displaying as 2 more Goshawks put in a brief appearance and a Sparrowhawk provided a nice comparison with it’s much larger, and really rather different relative.  A very obliging Goldcrest was just a few metres away from us as Ian spotted an Osprey which spent a couple of minutes hovering over the water before deciding there wasn’t anything worth pursuing.

The afternoon managed to equal, if not surpass, the morning’s raptor watching.  Shaggy Wild Goats grazed close to the road, Skylark and Meadow Pipit flew across the narrow road ahead of us as we crossed the moors, more Common Buzzards, including 8 in the air at the same time along one ridge, Merlins angrily buzzing Common Buzzards and Ravens and then, just about the best raptor-watching experience there is…as Red Grouse cackled from the heather nearby a male Hen Harrier drifted along the skyline before rising and falling on deep deliberate wingbeats.  Then a female rose from the heather and mirrored his skydancing display.  The exuberant glorious synchronised dance of the grey male and ringtail was repeated every few minutes before they both raced angrily across the fell to see off a Common Buzzard that had drifted just too close for their liking, and we headed from the hills down through Kielder and back to civilisation 🙂

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A raptor day :-) Bespoke Kielder Safari 20/03/18

by on Mar.21, 2018, under Uncategorized

I collected Sue from Old Swarland for her 7th trip with NEWT and we headed west towards Kielder as the clouds started to break and the blue sky, excellent visibility and light breeze suggested it would be a good day for raptors…

A Goosander flew along the course of tiny stream before our first raptor, a male Merlin cloaked in beautiful blue, dashed low over the road ahead of us as we crossed the moors.  Common Buzzards were either perched or soaring almost everywhere we went during the day and a Sparrowhawk flew by, pursued by an angry mob of passerines.  Carrion Crows breaking the skyline provided their usual share of false alarms before a tight group of three crows betrayed the presence of the ‘Phantom of the Forest’.  Menacing, muscular and purposeful, the Goshawk flew just above the tree tops, apparently unfazed by the yelling crows in hot pursuit.  Kestrel made it raptor #5 for the day as Raven, the honorary raptor, tumbled distantly before another male Merlin, this time perched on a rock, held our attention as Wild Goats grazed nearby and then Sue spotted a male Hen Harrier drifting along a heather-clad ridge above us.  The journey home produced raptor #7 as a Peregrine kept pace with us as it flew along a ridge before perching on a dry stone wall.

Definitely a good raptor day 🙂

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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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