Tag: House Martin

Waiting for the weather; Druridge Bay Bespoke Birdwatching 13/08/18

by on Aug.15, 2018, under Druridge Bay

With a fairly awful weather forecast for Sunday, we’d rescheduled Linda and Peter’s day with NEWT around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland for Monday, where the forecast suggested it would rain until lunchtime and then improve after that…

Pre-lunch it was indeed lovely weather for ducks and Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Shoveler and Tufted Duck all provided slightly more of an ID challenge than usual with the drakes now in eclipse plumage.  Hundreds of Greylag Geese were roosting as an assortment of waders fed around them; Avocet, Lapwing, Dunlin, elegant Black-tailed Godwit, Ruff, Knot, Curlew, Common Redshank and a Greenshank that heralded it’s arrival with a strident “tyeu tyeu tyeu”.  Water Rails were nervously dashing in and out of the reed edge as Moorhens fed more boldly away from the edge, Coots demonstrated that they have none of the nervousness of their relatives and Sand Martins, House Martins and Swallows enjoyed a feast of flying insects in the warm, humid air..  Lunch overlooking the North Sea brought Gannets and Fulmars soaring effortlessly over the water.  Walking along a narrow hedge-lined track a Sparrowhawk burst through the bushes, carrying a hapless bird as Tree Sparrows delivered a noisy lament for the fallen.

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Feels like autumn ;-) Druridge Bay Safari 19/08/18

by on Jul.21, 2018, under Druridge Bay

Collecting Rosie and Ben for an afternoon and evening around NEWT’s local patch, Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland, the weather looked ever so slightly murky…

Ben was armed with his D500 and 200-500mm lens (I’ve seen several copies of that lens in action now but still not pulled the trigger on purchasing one myself yet…) and we started with a search for a bird he was very keen to see on this trip north.  Patience and persistence paid off, as they so often do, and a juvenile Dipper was quite approachable as it paddled tentatively in very shallow water without taking the plunge into full ‘Dipper mode’.  An impressive flock of Dunlin, resplendent with black bellies, was a very obvious sign that migration is well underway and Curlew, Lapwing, Black-tailed Godwit, Ringed Plover, Redshank and Knot were also in a couple of impressive flocks of waders before we came across a well grown juvenile Great Crested Grebe that was calling incessantly to its parent and only pausing briefly when the adult submerged in search of food.  Grey Herons stalked through the shallows as Sand Martins, House Martins, Swifts and Swallows were joined in their aerial pursuit of insects by a Little Gull and two Barn Owls quartered the reedbeds and rank vegetation.  Another target species for the afternoon put in a cameo appearance as I noticed the tell-tale ‘ring of bright water’ in the shadow of a distant reedbed and we watched an Otter through the ‘scope 🙂

There was an ‘oddest moment of the trip’ award for a 2 year old female Grey Seal who hauled herself out of the sea and started following people up the beach towards the dunes!  A quick exchange of messages with British Divers Marine Life Rescue and we were able to reassure people who were gathering on the beach that the seal was fine and just needed a bit of space to rest before continuing her journey north.  Everyone backed off and watched her from a sensible distance and she rolled over and stretched out in the evening sunshine 🙂

With the sky clearing, and dusk approaching a Little Owl flew from a roadside telegraph pole and our 3rd Barn Owl was over a field below the Moon, Jupiter and Venus, with the two planets both looking impressive through the ‘scope as we headed back towards Newbiggin.

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The sublimity of evening; Bespoke Otter Safari 05/07/18

by on Jul.06, 2018, under Druridge Bay, Otter

I’ve never been great in hot sunny weather so as I collected Mike and Moira, for an afternoon and evening searching for Otters around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland, I was hoping for an increase in cloud cover…

In the heat of the afternoon, Avocets were harassing Grey Herons and Shelduck ducklings were skittering about on the surface of coastal pools as a Roe Deer ghosted through the reeds at the water’s edge and Lapwings squabbled nearby.  A Little Owl glared down from it’s perch between chimney pots as cloud began to roll in and Canada and Greylag Geese were looking alert but there was no sign of the cause of their concern

As daylight turned to dusk there was little sign of the Sun and that improved visibility substantially 🙂  Swallows, Swifts, House Martins and Sand Martins were plundering the rich feast of flying insects and a spectacular dense flock of 39 Black-tailed Godwits twisted and turned in the air in front of us as the distinctive call of Whimbrel failed to betray their location.  Water Rails were running nervously in and out of the reeds as another Roe Deer appeared, trotting through the shallow edge of the pool, and Tufted Ducks gathered their ducklings into tight groups as Cormorants took off, Mute Swans began staring at the reeds and a Little Grebe suddenly froze in position.  Then an Otter appeared just in front of us 🙂  We watched it for 45 minutes, including a remarkable tableau of hunting Otter beneath murmuration of Starlings with a Barn Owl quartering the reeds just a few metres away from us, before it vanished into the gloom of dusk and a distant reedbed.

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In the summertime…Druridge Bay bespoke birdwatching 26/06/18

by on Jun.27, 2018, under Druridge Bay

Yesterday was Sue’s 8th day out with NEWT and after I collected her from Old Swarland we headed south east towards NEWT’s local patch, Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland

We’re now starting our Druridge Bay trips with a riparian woodland walk, and Nuthatches were feeding noisy fledglings in the branches overhead, Blue, Great and Coal Tits were all busily gathering mouthfuls of insects, a Common Buzzard was soaring just above the treetops in the bright sunshine and Bullfinches betrayed their presence by calling and drawing attention to themselves.

Avocets proved to be the star of the show again but a good selection of other waders included Ringed Plover, Black-tailed Godwit, a very white Ruff, Dunlin, Curlew, Lapwing and a Wood Sandpiper delicately picking its way along the edge of a muddy puddle as Brown Hares loped along at the other side of the marsh.  Speckled Wood, Common Blue and Small Skipper butterflies and a selection of dazzling damselflies added invertebrate interest to the afternoon but they were outshone by a micro-moth.  Nemophora degeerella isn’t exactly a name that trips off the tongue, but it’s a strikingly marked little moth and, in the case of the male, has what look to be unfeasibly long antennae.  Shelduck ducklings were wandering off and ignoring their parents and Great Crested Grebes demonstrated remarkable prowess, surfacing with fish after every dive, only to be pestered by Black-headed Gulls looking for an easy meal.  Strikingly yellow and seasonally appropriate, both Yellow Wagtail and Yellowhammer flew by and Reed Bunting as well as as Sedge and Reed Warblers sang from nearby reed beds as Swifts, Swallows and both House and Sand Martins carved their way through the dense clouds of flying insects in the afternoon heat haze.

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One plus one makes three; Cheviot Valleys Safari 07/06/18

by on Jun.13, 2018, under Birdwatching, Cheviot Valleys

Having arranged all of our clients for last Thursday’s Cheviot Valleys safari to meeting at the same location I arrived in Powburn and collected Vicky, Dave and Babs, Diane and Ruth before heading along a grassy verge buzzing with bees and hoverflies and bejewelled with Common Blue Damselflies and Red and Black FroghoppersRuth proved to have the sharpest eyes and found the first of two Adders that she spotted before everyone else (as well as a third that was sadly dead in the middle of the track) as Blackcaps, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs sang from hidden perches in dense foliage.

It wouldn’t be a June Cheviot Valleys trip without the riparian triumvirate of Dipper, Common Sandpiper and Grey Wagtail and all three duly put in an appearance as Swallows gathered insects, House Martins gathered mud for nest-building and the eerie cries of Curlew rolled down the fells.  Red Grouse were chuckling from the heather clad hillsides and one or two were uncharacteristically obliging and out in the open as Wheatears flitted between stones on the ground, the prominent ears of a Brown Hare betrayed it’s location, Whinchat demonstrated just how beautiful they are and Ring Ouzel flew by but didn’t settle where we could see them as Green Tiger Beetles suddenly appeared as they flew and the calls of Cuckoos echoed across the valley.

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Yes, this really is southeast Northumberland ;-) Otter Safari 18/05/18

by on May.19, 2018, under Druridge Bay, Otter

In warm but breezy weather I collected Baird and Margaret, and then Jacqui, Paul, Chris and Louise ahead of an afternoon and evening around southeast Northumberland and Druridge Bay searching for Otters

Starting with a woodland walk we could hear Blackbird, Blackcap, Robin, Wren, Woodpigeon, Chiffchaff and Chaffinch all singing but the only movement in the rocky streams was gurgling water. Black-headed Gulls were swarming over the wider rivers, mopping up an obviously substantial hatch of flying insects, and Cormorants were doing their best to impersonate Otters.  Our picnic stop overlooking the North Sea brought a fantastic wildlife experience; with everyone else enjoying soup, sandwich and carrot cake I was scanning the sea.  Common Eider, Guillemot and Razorbill were all rafting as Gannets headed north and then I spotted the concentrated activity of a flock of gulls.  Focusing on the sea below them I soon spotted a couple of dorsal fins breaking the surface…and we had nearly an hour with 9 Bottlenose Dolphins porpoising, breaching, feeding and generally being very entertaining right in front of us 🙂  Tufted Duck, Mallard, Shoveler, Gadwall and Great Crested Grebe all looked stunning in low angled sunlight as Lapwings displayed with their bizarre other-worldly calls and, as the Sun sank towards the northwest a Barn Owl flew across the road ahead of us.

Under a beautiful waxing crescent Moon alongside Venus in the west, and Arcturus and Jupiter visible in the twilight to the southeast, with the giant planet stunning through our telescope, the Swallows, Swifts, House Martins and Sand Martins were replaced overhead by Noctule and pipistrelle bats as dozens and dozens of Black-headed Gulls continued feasting on flying insects and a Roe Deer was in the reeds opposite us.  Tufted Ducks, Mallards, Canada Geese and Greylag Geese were looking agitated and one flock of gulls seemed to be whirling in a dense tight circle over a narrow bay in the reeds before gradually drifting along still following the reed edge…and the Otter that was stealthily making it’s way around the pool 🙂  We watched it for a few minutes before it surfaced right in front of an adult Mute Swan and decided it was time to beat a hasty retreat into the reeds.

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Stalking; Otter Safari 29/08/17

by on Aug.30, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

I collected Julie, Thomas, Steven and Mandy ahead of an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland searching for our favourite predator

At this time of the year it’s fair to say that ducks aren’t really at their best and Mallard, Teal, Gadwall, Tufted Duck and Shoveler were all easier to separate based on size and shape than one plumage detail.  Little Grebe numbers seem to be higher and higher each time we’re out and about and the only thing separating Great Crested Grebe chicks from their parents now is the stripy face 🙂  Lapwings flushed in panic but the cause of their consternation remained unseen, as it so often does with Lapwings which seem to be really jittery all the time, and Starlings swirled on the breeze as Sand Martins, House Martins, Swallows and three Swifts were hoovering up flying insects ahead of the long journey south.  A Kestrel hovered over the dunes before dropping to the ground then quickly ascending again, empty-taloned. Regularly spaced along each water’s edge, Grey Herons were standing motionless as Little Egrets darted busily back and forth before heading to roost in riverside trees.  As dusk approached, Mute Swans drifted away from the water’s edge and that’s always a trigger to look at where they’re moving away from, but we couldn’t see anything along the bank in the rapidly deepening gloom as Canada Geese called noisily as they flew in to roost and a Long-eared Owl ghosted along the scrub just in front of us and the journey back saw a Barn Owl fly across the road in front of the car.

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Persistence; Otter mini-Safari 22/08/17

by on Aug.23, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

Warm and foggy is a slightly ethereal combination of weather conditions, but that was just what we had when I collected Mark and Rachel and Phil and Katrina and Debbie and Neil from Church Point, ready for an evening searching for Otters around Druridge Bay and Southeast Northumberland

We may still be in August but there was a definite feeling of change; Sand Martins. House Martins and Swallows were nowhere to be found, Goldfinches were gathering in impressive flocks and a Starling murmuration began to hint at the spectacle that we’ll be enjoying in a couple of months from now.  Grey Herons were stalking along the edge of reedbeds, and moving each other on from the prime feeding spots, Mallard, Teal and Shoveler scattered in alarm a couple of times but we couldn’t see what was making them so edgy and a distant Cormorant had me thinking ‘Otter!’ for a few seconds before it lifted it’s head high after one feeding dive as Little Grebe and Great Crested Grebe caught tiny fish after tiny fish.

Our final site for the evening brought more panicked birds, with an impressive flock of Black-headed, Common, Herring, Lesser Black-backed and Great Black-Backed Gulls all taking to the wing as Canada Geese alarmed noisily below a tree speckled with the bright dots of roosting Little Egrets.  I was here two weeks ago, unsuccessfully, but this time I was sure we’d find an Otter.  In the gloom I scanned through a distant group of Mute Swans with my binoculars.  Tufted Duck and Little Grebe were sleeping next to them, but what was much more interesting was a low dark shape in the water that was there…and then wasn’t.  Switching to the higher magnification, but duller view, of the telescope revealed an Otter in full-on feeding mode 🙂  Dive after dive after dive, in a fairly small area of water, enabled everyone to see it through binoculars or the ‘scope before we headed back through the darkening twilight with the disembodied calls of Canada Geese, Redshank and Curlew accompanying us and pipistrelles flitting by just above our heads.

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Owling; Otter Safari 17/07/17

by on Jul.19, 2017, under Druridge Bay

I collected Una and then Verna from Church Point and we set off for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and South East Northumberland searching our favourite Otter spots

The heat of the afternoon was tempered by a gentle breeze as we came across 8 Little Egrets and a Kingfisher put in a brief but brilliant appearance with flash of dazzling azure as it landed on a rock in front of us before flying across the river and reappearing a few minutes later.  More azure blue flashed towards the extremity of Blue-tailed Damselflies and a Red Admiral took a real liking to Verna, flying around for a few seconds before settling on her arm 🙂  As the evening progressed the light suddenly switched from dazzling and contrasty to sublimely beautiful.  A small Starling murmuration hinted at the spectacle we’ll be enjoying by the winter, 2 Roe Deer were in deep vegetation, a Kestrel was flitting from tree to tree along the roadside ahead of the car and a Barn Owl flew over the reeds carrying a Short-tailed Field Vole as Common Swift, Barn Swallow, House Martin and Sand Martin plundered the dense clouds of insects rising above the ethereal mist drifting over the water.

As the light faded and we headed back a Brown Hare loped along the road ahead of us, pausing on the track into a field and I suggested that owls should be on the target list for the next 10-15 minutes of the drive.  Two separate telegraph poles were adorned with Little Owls, with the tiny predators giving us their very best withering stare, before a third Little Owl flew alongside the car briefly and a Barn Owl drifted across the road ahead of us 🙂

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Localised weather systems; Cheviot Valleys group birdwatching 11/07/17

by on Jul.13, 2017, under Cheviot Valleys

Watching the weather forecast on the breakfast news, I was confident that any rain we encountered on our day in the Cheviot Valleys would be quickly passing showers…

As I collected Mike and the other 12 members of his group from Belford there was a steady drizzle, and I was questioning the forecast already 😉 Heading into the hills we were soon watching Pheasant, Red-legged Partridge and a Brown Hare that loped across the road in front of us before heading up a rough track and out of sight.  The air was damp and warm; perfect conditions for midges and the Sand Martins, House Martins and Swallows that were busy hoovering them up.  Lesser Redpoll were trilling overhead, the high-pitched calls of Siskin pierced the damp air and a female Red Grouse was leading her chicks through the heather as we headed along the path to higher ground.  You should be careful what you wish for, and I’d just mentioned that a slightly stiffer breeze would suppress the degree of annoyance that the midges tend to bring, when the breeze did start to pick up a bit.  Eventually the stiff easterly was driving rain into the valley and the forecast was looking like a wild guess at what the weather was actually going to do.  I suggested that we retreat to the lower reaches of the valley and see what the weather was like down there.  It was better, much better in fact and our second walk of the day, following a lunch stop that was accompanied by a very obliging Yellowhammer, brought Common Buzzard, Common Sandpiper, Grey Wagtail, Curlew, a family of Whinchat and, after a lot of effort, the two target species for the afternoon – Dipper and Ring Ouzel – as a young Roe Deer watched us from the other side of the valley.  Just a few miles back along the road on our return journey to Belford the roads were dry, bone dry and it seemed that we’d been enjoying a remarkable bit of micro-climate 🙂

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