Tag: House Martin

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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Seabird Spectacular; Birdwatching magazine Reader Holiday 25-28/06/17

by on Jun.29, 2017, under Coquet Island, Druridge Bay, Farne Islands

Day 1 25/06/17

After collecting Malcolm, and then John, from Alnmouth railway station we headed to Seahouses and the Bamburgh Castle Inn for the start of a short break concentrating on the seabirds of the Northumberland coast.  Nigel, Janice and Cliff and Lesley had already arrived and at dinner we discussed the plan for the next two days.  I’d brought our Farne Islands day forward from Tuesday to Monday, and moved Coquet Island and Druridge Bay to Tuesday, and had my fingers crossed that it was the right decision…

Day 2 26/06/17

We boarded Glad Tidings IV after breakfast and headed across to Staple Island at the start of an all-day trip to the Farne Islands.  Staple doesn’t have any breeding terns, and has fewer visitors than Inner Farne, so is altogether a much more relaxed experience 🙂  Puffins, Fulmars, Guillemots, Razorbills, Rock Pipits and Lesser Black-backed Gulls were all coming and going as, just north of the island, Gannets were plunging into the sea.  Transferring across to Inner Farne for the afternoon, we made our way past Arctic, Common and Sandwich Terns and up to Lighthouse Point  where, alongside Razorbills, Guillemots, Shags and Kittiwakes, Rock Pipits were carrying food into nests tucked away out of sight in narrow crevices in the cliff face.  At the base of the cliffs the water was so clear that we could watch Guillemot, including a parent joined by a jumpling as we watched, and Razorbill as they swam with slow-motion effort under the water.  Back on the mainland we walked along the edge of the rising tide and watched Little Terns, Dunlin and Ringed Plover as Meadow Pipits song-flighted from the dunes and a maelstrom of Arctic Terns responded to marauding Lesser Black-backed, Great Black-backed and Herring Gulls and a real bonus bird came in the form of a 2cy Glaucous Gull.

Day 3 27/06/17

I woke up to the sound of a stiff breeze and rain, and breathed a sigh of relief that we’d moved our Farne Islands day to Monday.  We headed south along the coast towards Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland and our first stop was to look for 3 Spoonbills which had been reported.  Just before we reached them, Nigel spotted a Cuckoo perched on a tree protector and we quickly found the Spoonbills.  Next stop was for a bird that’s straightforward to find in Northumberland during the winter, but a rare thing indeed in breeding plumage in late June.  The Slavonian Grebe was asleep, tucked up against the wind and rain but soon roused itself from slumber and started feeding.  Sedge and Reed Warblers were playing hide-and-seek with us in reedbeds, Tree Sparrows were feeding on the paths ahead of us and we spent some time watching an entertaining dispute between a Little Gull and a 1st summer Arctic Tern.  The tern seemed to have a case of angry little man syndrome and, as well as persistently harassing the gull, it took umbrage at the presence of Avocet, Moorhen, Oystercatcher, Carrion Crow and ShelduckBlack-tailed Godwits were probing in the shallows, Curlew were in newly-mown fields and the air was filled with Swallows, Sand Martins, House Martins and Swifts.  Soon after lunch the weather deteriorated and as we could hear the sea crashing against the shore is was obvious that our planned sailing around Coquet Island wouldn’t be happening.  There’s always the telescope though, and although distant, we could identify Roseate Terns as Bar-tailed Godwits pottered along the shoreline below us.  As Great Crested Grebes somehow managed to look elegant even in the stiffening breeze and increasingly heavy rain we headed back to Seahouses.

Day 4 28/06/17

After breakfast together, everyone headed their separate ways.  I dropped Malcolm and John back at Alnmouth, and then I was on my way to a physio appointment – really not as much fun as watching Northumberland’s stunning wildlife 🙂

We’ll be adding more holiday dates to our online calendar in the next week, so make sure you book your place early before they’re all gone!

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Localised; Bespoke coastal birdwatching 06/06/17

by on Jun.09, 2017, under Druridge Bay

I left the house to head to Newbiggin to collect Andy and Caroline, ahead of an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and south east Northumberland, in weather that was slightly less than pleasant with heavy drizzle covering the windscreen in flowing water every few seconds…

…12 minutes later and I’m Newbiggin, where all the roads and pavements were bone dry and there hadn’t been any rain.  Unfortunately we couldn’t restrict the trip to the one dry corner of the coast so we headed on.  Swallows, Sand Martins, House Martins and Swifts were feeding frantically on a vast hatch of flying insects that were emerging into the warm, damp air.  Little Egrets were standing by the water’s edge, Grey Herons were stalking so slowly that they barely seemed to move and Cormorants were sitting around drying their wings or generally doing nothing.  Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff were flycatching in the leaves of tree canopies and proved difficult to pin down, and Fulmars were soaring along the cliff edge as the drizzle became more persistent.

Just as thought I’d seen a dark shape beyond a group of roosting Cormorants, Caroline asked if there was any chance of seeing an Otter, as she’d seen the same stealthy shape 🙂  We watched as it fed for nearly an hour before vanishing from sight and then we continued on our way.  Mallard, Wigeon, Teal, Gadwall, Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Ringed Plover, Curlew and Lapwing were all feeding on marshy fields and Andy spotted a couple of stunningly bright Yellow Wagtails, standing out against the backdrop of drizzle and general murk.

We were once asked, “what do you do if it’s cold and wet?”.  The answer’s simple; wear warm, waterproof clothing…or get cold and wet 🙂

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You never know what’s around the corner; Cheviot Valleys Safari 01/06/17

by on Jun.02, 2017, under Cheviot Valleys

Always expect the unexpected is a good philosophy to hold when you’re out and about searching for wildlife…

I collected Steph from Kingston Park and we headed north for a morning exploring the Cheviot valleys.  Along the streams and rivers Grey Wagtail, Pied Wagtail and Dipper were all sitting on rocks or flycatching, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff were singing and House Martins were gathering mud for their nests as Swallows perched on wires just above our heads and a Rabbit sat, unconcerned, in the cooling shade of an Oak. With temperatures pushing into the 20’s it was always going to be a good day for insects; Wall Brown, Speckled Wood and Red Admiral butterflies were all very flightly in the warm sunshine, Common Blue and Blue-tailed Damselflies added a flash of colour to all of the verges and Green Tiger Beetles were basking on small rocks.  A yaffling Green Woodpecker seemed to be mocking us from it’s hidden position before it flew from cover and Steph finally caught up with her bogey bird 🙂  A Cuckoo was calling fom the canopy as a Great Spotted Woodpecker made it’s way from fence post to fallen tree to fence post to tree trunk before finally vanishing deep into the trees and a Spotted Flycatcher was sallying from a high exposed branch.  Oystercatchers called noisily, the eerie cries of Curlew drifted across the fells and Red-legged Partridge and Pheasant wandered across the roads everywhere we went.

Driving down a single track road we came around a bend and Steph spotted a bird in the road ahead of us.  Hunched over, and picking at a carcass, my first thought was Common Buzzard…and then it sat upright before taking off, attempting to carry the dead Rabbit it had been picking at.  Incredibly numerous in some areas, but still very very scarce in Northumberland; we’ve seen Red Kites on NEWT safaris before, but this was the first one we’ve found on a trip within our home county 🙂

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Lazy days; Otter Safari 25/05/17

by on May.26, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

I’m meticulous about checking the car before a day out with NEWT’s clients.  Oil, air, water, screen wash, tyre pressures.. All checked and adjusted as necessary, at least one hour before I set off from the office.  I went through that routine yesterday, before heading to Newbiggin to collect Carl and Joanne for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.

All was fine…until I was less than 100m from our drive and the car suffered a puncture 🙁  Luckily the fantastic Stakeford Tyre Services is between our house and Newbiggin and the car was soon sporting a new tyre and we were underway…only to be hit from behind by another car just a couple of minutes after we’d left Newbiggin 🙁  I couldn’t see any damage to the back of our car so we headed on.  Orange-tip and Green-veined White butterflies were busy in the warm sunshine, Mallard and Shelduck were shepherding ducklings, Sand Martin, House Martin, Swallow and Swift were harvesting a dense hatch of flying insects and Sedge Warbler, Blackcap, Reed Warbler and Whitethroat were singing from hidden perches.

Our picnic spot was beside a rock pool, with the warm sunshine, flat calm blue sea and lack of people on the beach giving it almost an ‘island feel’ as a dense flock of Herrring Gull and Gannet wheeled around offshore.  Then all of the birds started circling with intent…and below them were 4 Bottlenose Dolphins 🙂  After the dolphins moved around the headland and out of sight we continued on our way.  It’s May but the evening light is still sublime, and the sunshine picked out Mute Swans and Grey Heron against the subtle hues of everything else around as the peace and quiet was disturbed briefly by an altercation between a Coot and a Moorhen.  Towards dusk a Roe Deer was in a distant field and as we headed back towards Newbiggin a Barn Owl flew across the road ahead of us 🙂

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A swift return; Druridge Bay birdwatching mini-safari 23/05/17

by on May.25, 2017, under Druridge Bay

I arrived at Newbiggin to collect Brendan for a mini-Safari around Druridge Bay, in weather that was little short of glorious…

Brendan lives just a few miles from the village where Sarah’s parents still live; an area that’s historically similar to southeast Northumberland – although we’ve got the North Sea, beaches etc. 🙂  Our first stop was a search for waders, and Oystercatcher, Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Lapwing, Redshank, Ringed Plover and Little Ringed Plover were all pottering around on the mud and we concentrated on the differences between the two plovers and the subtle distinctions that allow them to be identified at some distance.  We were discussing the difficulties of identifying birds by their songs and calls, and the loss of high-pitch hearing with age, when one of those high-pitched birds started calling from the trees above us – Goldcrests are great at hiding but they persistently give themselves away by being so vocal.  Avocets, including one bird with a single chick, were lazing in the sunshine and occasionally calling in agitation when anything they didn’t like the look of flew over.  Grey Herons and a Little Egret stalked through the edges of the calm water and Skylarks and Meadow Pipits displayed overhead as a Lapwing returned to her nest right in front of us.  More songs from hidden birds enhanced the discussion about ID by sound; Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler and Common Whitethroat were all delivering their serenades from deep cover.  Gadwall, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Shoveler, Moorhen, Coot and Great Crested Grebe were all on the water as Sand Martin, House Martin and Swallow gathered flying insects, an underwhelming Starling murmuration passed by and 2 Common Swifts flew over – a real sign that the summer’s here…

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Chorus of the valleys; Bespoke Cheviot Valleys Safari 12/05/17

by on May.16, 2017, under Cheviot Valleys

I collected John and Kate from Church Point at 06:00 and we headed westwards towards the Cheviot massif…

Stepping out of the car in a cold breeze, the density of bird song was like a wall of sound.  Willow Warbler, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Robin, Chaffinch, Chiffchaff and Blackcap were all belting out their best tunes, while Oystercatcher, Greylag Goose and Canada Goose provided an accompaniment that was akin to a 3 year old banging a pan with a spoon.  The complex songs of Sedge Warbler and Skylark added to the aural backdrop and the buzzing trill of Lesser Redpoll overhead added an occasional background note.  Brown Hares were running along tractor tyre tracks through long crops and a young Roe Deer seeemd more puzzled than scared by the car.  Common Pheasant and Red-legged Partridge were a reminder of the main managed purpose of the valleys, while on the higher slopes Red Grouse were chuckling, Curlew were displaying and a Common Snipe was singing from the top of an isolated hawthorn as the valley bottom delivered the riparian triumvirate of Dipper, Common Sandpiper and Grey WagtailHouse Martins were gathering mud to add to their nests, Swallows were hawking insects as the air warmed slightly, Treecreeper and Tree Pipit were both, unsurprisingly, in trees, a Green Woodpecker was yaffling but didn’t show itself and a Cuckoo was singing persistently from a vantage point high in a bare tree.  As far as we could tell, he was singing constantly for at least 3 hours then, as we had lunch, a second Cuckoo flew over the hillside, pursued by a crowd of Meadow Pipits, and the singer flew from his perch to chase the interloper away down the valley.

I’m an evening person, but really enjoy early starts for our inland locations 🙂

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