Tag: Jackdaw

Waifs, strays and the gloom of dusk; Druridge Bay Safari 26/09/17

by on Sep.27, 2017, under Druridge Bay

I collected Richard and Liz from Whitley Bay and we headed north along the coast for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland

After a few breezy weeks, we’d got something different to contend with; dense, patchy fog all along the coast.  I don’t mind that too much though, it’s usually manageable, and the birdwatching can be exciting when you don’t know what’s lurking in the mist 🙂  Brambling and Tree Sparrow called overhead as we had lunch, and Redshank, Oystercatcher and Ringed Plover were on the beach below us.  A Little Owl, only revealing it’s presence as it flew quickly out of sight, and a much more obliging Little Owl a couple of minutes later were a great find early in the trip.  Teal, Wigeon, Mallard, Gadwall, Tufted Duck and Shoveler were sleeping and feeding and, particularly in the case of one female Mallard, being very vocal as Great Crested Grebes and Cormorants hunted with elegant menace, a Little Grebe demonstrated a remarkable aptitude for catching small fish and Lapwings were battling the breeze before settling to roost with Starlings and the disembodied voices of Curlew carried through the mist.

Given the cold foggy conditions, moths and butterflies were a surprise.  First a dozen or so Nettle-tap Moths, then the first of several Red Admirals and a Speckled Wood.  A Sparrowhawk was pursuing a small bird (possibly a Chaffinch) and passed just a few metres in front of the car windscreen in it’s pursuit and we set about one of the great joys of birdwatching on the Northumberland coast; wandering along a narrow track between Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Elder and Sycamore with the mist curling it’s cold tendrils around us.  Robins were ‘ticking’ from the bushes, and at least three were singing when they would be better of putting their effort into feeding.  Blackcaps were in the Elders and we tracked down our quarry, although it proved elusive before eventually offering confiding views.  First just a brief glimpse of a small warbler as it flitted between bushes, apparently settling in a Sycamore before vanishing again.  Then as we were looking where we thought it had gone it flew out from behind us and over our our heads, giving a remarkably loud ‘tsooeest’ call before diving back into cover.  Then it appeared at the top of a bush and just sat there, offering great views.  Yellow-browed Warbler is one of the real gems of east coast birding in the autumn and this little treasure eventually performed well for all of us.

With the mist making dusk even gloomier than usual, Grey Herons and a Little Egret flew by a noisy roost of ‘chacking’ Jackdaws as Soprano Pipistrelles hunted the leeward edge of a riverside tree and we listened to their calls with our bat detector before heading back towards the bright lights of Whitley Bay 🙂

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Darkness descending; Druridge Bay mini-Safari 20/09/17

by on Sep.21, 2017, under Druridge Bay

I collected Ian and Julie from Hauxley and before we’d set off for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay things got off to a great start with Goldcrests and a Yellow-browed Warbler in the car park 🙂

Next up were two young Roe Deer, trotting along the edge of a field before stopping to watch us, and a Little Owl sitting on the end of the gutter of a cottage.  Waders occupied our attentions for the next hour and a large roosting flock of very vocal Lapwings were accompanied by plenty of Dunlin, a couple of Common Redshank and single Ruff, Curlew and Greenshank, as well as an elusive Common Snipe camouflaged in among reed stubble as Little Egrets squabbled over a prime feeding spot while practically glowing in late afternoon sunlight.  A Barn Owl flew by, carrying a Short-tailed Vole, before vanishing into a barn then reappearing only to be pestered by Jackdaws, Rooks and Carrion Crows.  With light levels falling, Starlings passed by in impressive flocks, but they’d decided to forego a prolonged murmurating display in favour of heading straight to roost in the reedbeds  out of the cold and wind.  With ducks in eclipse plumage it isn’t the best time of year to enjoy watching them but we could still identify Shoveler, Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Gadwall and Pintail in the fading light as Little and Great Crested Grebes alternated between sleeping and diving and Cormorants sat motionless as a Grey Heron flew over with heavy wingbeats.  As the light faded to the point where it was a struggle to see, the squealing of a Water Rail was followed soon after by a brief view of this strange little denizen of the reedbeds as it half-ran, half-flew across a gap in the reeds.

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Planning; Bespoke Otter Safari 03/02/17

by on Feb.04, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Northumberland Coast, Otter, Red Squirrel

In glorious sunshine I arrived in Longframlington to collect Lisa and Lucy ahead of a day searching for Otters, Red Squirrels and Kingfishers around Druridge Bay and the Northumberland coast.  I was greeted by Ridley, Lisa’s cockerpoo, and it was quickly decided that he would be joining us on the trip 🙂

Our first Otter site had an obvious area of water that the Mallard, Teal, Gadwall, Tufted Duck and Little Grebe were all avoiding, and Greylag Geese left in a bit of a hurry, but no sign of the sinuous predator we were searching for.  A change to our usual picnic spot brought a brief glimpse of a female Merlin as she chased Lapwing and Wigeon, and then a Bittern flew between reedbeds.  Red Squirrels were next on our planned route for the day and I had 20mins dog-sitting while Lisa and Lucy checked the edge of the trees that I suggested.  Sure enough, they returned with photographs of Red Squirrel and we were on our way to the next Otter site 🙂  Through binoculars I could see dark shapes twisting and turning at the water’s surface and, with the additional magnification of our telescope, those shapes resolved into two Otter cubs in a play-fight 🙂  We went along to where they were, but by that time they were out of the water and running around on boulders and through the dense undergrowth before quickly vanishing.

We headed to our final Otter site to finish the day, and the weather was starting to deteriorate.  As the breeze whistled in our ears, the temperature dropped so our breath was condensing into lingering clouds, a cold damp mist took hold over the water and Red-breasted Merganser and Goldeneye were displaying, Starling arrived to roost, foregoing the elegant ballet of the murmuration in favour of quickly finding shelter, the eerie cries of Curlew echoed across the pool and Lapwing formed a tight panicked flock as a Sparrowhawk flew low over the reeds, a Bittern flew by in the gloom and Little Grebe scattered as an Otter swam across in front of us, tucked in to the reed edge and sheltered from the breeze 🙂

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Mud, glorious mud; Bespoke Wader ID Workshop 03/11/16

by on Nov.07, 2016, under Lindisfarne

Thursday was a trip I’d been looking forward to for several months…Sue’s 5th trip with NEWT was a day searching for and identifying wading birds.  Some, like the Curlew with it’s eerie cry and long downcurved beak are straightforward, but others can be a bit trickier…

A field full of Oystercatcher and Lapwing close to the coast started the trip, and 30+ Whooper Swan in the same fields were a nice find.  Down on to the Aln Estuary anad more Oystercatcher and Lapwing, along with Redshank, Curlew and a lone Woodcock which dived into cover after a presumably challenging journey across the North Sea.  Vast flocks of Woodpigeon, Jackdaw, Rook and Pink-footed Goose darkened the sky close to the horizon and we headed up the coast.  Smaller waders were soon in our sights, with Dunlin alongside Sanderling and Ringed Plover while Turnstone were busy turning stones, kelp and anything else that they thought might conceal something to eat and the plaintive calls of Grey Plover carried across the beach on the strengthening breeze.  Along the shoreline Redshank were probing the mud alongside Bar-tailed Godwit and a lone Pink-footed Goose flew northwards, calling constantly.  A stream of Blackbirds heading westwards marked an obvious arrival of migrants and a second Woodcock flew ‘in-off’ as we had lunch.  Knot alongside Dunlin allowed a nice comparison of two species that can be tricky at a distance and vast flocks of Golden Plover and Bar-tailed Godwit resembled Starling murmurations as they wheeled and turned distantly between Holy Island and the mainland.  Just offshore from the mud where the waders were feasting Common Eider and Red-throated Diver were riding the swell, a Great Northern Diver flew north, flotillas of Shag were diving, flocks of Wigeon, Teal and Pale-bellied Brent Goose were disturbed by the rising tide and, as light levels began dropping, Sue spotted two Little Egrets as they left the mud and headed towards a nighttime roost.

Before the end of the day, Sue had already booked her next trip with us – Kielder next March.  There’ll be fewer waders, and less mud 🙂

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Welcome home to Northumberland; Bespoke Coast Safari 28/04/16

by on May.03, 2016, under Druridge Bay, Otter

As I arrived at Church Point to collect Tom and Sue, the weather was slightly breezy but dry.  The forecast suggested that it might be showery later during the afternoon and promised a bit of a contrast with Tom and Sue’s home country of Australia. Tom’s a Northumbrian so I was really looking forward to showing him parts of the coast that he wasn’t familiar with, hopefully with the weather showcasing Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland at its best…

Cormorants air-dried their wings in the stiffening breeze and a Coot took umbrage at a Moorhen that was doing nothing more sinister than just wandering along the water’s edge, Woodpigeons, Jackdaws, Greylag Geese and Canada Geese speckled the dark grey sky.  A typically nervous Great Spotted Woodpecker watched us warily from behind a tree trunk, Tree Sparrows were chipping in the hedgerows, a Magpie was going back and forth presumably from it’s nest, Robins flicked across paths just ahead of us, Curlew, Redshank and Oystercatcher probed in the mud in conditions that were starting to resemble the winter and a Little Egret was a shockingly bright bundle of white feathers in an ever darkening vista of Northumberland’s coastal wildlife as Avocets, delicate visions in black and white, swept their heads from side to side through shallow water in seach of food.

Great Crested Grebes comported themselves with their usual elegance as more Cormorants stood hunched in the wind and then, as Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler must have been wondering if they were in the right place at the right time of year, the heavens unleashed hail, sleet and snow from an apocalyptic sky and a Water Rail scurried mouse-like between reedbeds as two Otter cubs appeared just beyond the grebes 🙂  Their first appearance was fleeting, just a few seconds before they vanished from sight behind a reedbed.  Then they were back, and porpoising side by side, back and forth, before once again heading into the shelter of the reeds.

As Fulmars soared along the clifftops and Gannets rode the uplift just above the waves offshore, we ended the day with the clouds overhead breaking to reveal blue sky and sunshine in a remarkable area of glorious weather that was surrounded in every direction by leaden grey clouds and storms.  Atmospheric wildlife watching…

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Here come the Scandinavians; Druridge Bay Birdwatching 26/10/2015

by on Oct.28, 2015, under Druridge Bay

October, mist, drizzle, winds off the sea…

I collected Bernard from Newbiggin and we headed north to begin a day birdwatching around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  A very obliging Dipper was singing from a mid-stream rock, before it started feeding.  If you’ve never seen a Dipper feeding, put it on your list of things that you really need to see!  As Common Redshank and Curlew probed in gooey estuarine mud, we could see a wave of panic spreading towards us from the north.  First, the air was filled with Greylag and Pink-footed Geese, Woodpigeon, Rook, Carrion Crow and Jackdaw. Then Wigeon, Mallard, Canada Geese and Curlew took flight and 20 Black-tailed Godwit passed overhead.  A few minutes later the cause of all the consternation put in an appearance – a female Sparrowhawk, menacing and muscular as she followed the coast southwards.  Then a sight, and sound, that always warms my heart as 20 Redwing and 6 Fieldfare, winter visitors from Scandinavia, flew over.  More waders and wildfowl featured during the afternoon; Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Gadwall, Little Grebe, Common Snipe, Dunlin, Lapwing and Golden Plover resplendent in low autumn sunlight.  A Water Rail wandered out of the reeds and our final new bird for the day was an elegant female Pintail, as the calls of Redwing and Fieldfare continued to cut through the afternoon air.

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Battling the elements; Otter Safari 06/11/2014

by on Nov.14, 2014, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Otter

Last Thursday was Sue’s second Otter Safari with us this year, after an unsuccessful search in early July…a trip that was followed by five consecutive successful Otter Safaris for other clients!  I was really looking forward to this trip – Sue is great company and pleasure to be out birdwatching with – but the added pressure of already having one Otter Safari not produce our target species had me planning, re-planning and then planning some more…

I’d got two sites lined up that I was confident would produce Otter sightings, but the one spanner in the works was the weather forecast.  If it was accurate (and, as it turned out, it was) we’d got three hours of good weather, and four of poor, ahead of us.  As I drove to Church Point, I was mulling over the options for the two sites, and decided to go with the one that’s been our most reliable this year during the good weather, and then head to the other one towards dusk.  Then I thought about it again – would the reliable site, where I can usually predict to within a few metres where the Otter will first put in an appearance,  be better in the poor weather just before dark?  I decided to trust to my first instinct and we were soon watching over the water as the wind strengthened and the first drops of rain were carried towards us on the breeze.  As Goldeneye and Cormorant dived in the ruffled water I noticed a dark shape in the corner of my field of vision.  It might have been nothing, but I held my concentration on that spot and just over a minute later an Otter cub surfaced in front of us 🙂  Twisting, turning, porpoising, diving and feeding, it kept us entertained for 90 minutes before slipping out of sight as the next wave of raindrops stung our faces on the now howling wind.

We retreated to the car and sat eating lunch overlooking the North Sea, as a distant speck heading towards us over the waves revealed itself to be a Blackbird that paused for a few minutes on the cliff face before continuing its migration inland.  Then a Wheatear came ‘in-off’, and soon after that three Redwings arrived, following what must have been an arduous sea crossing, as the rain intensified.  As dusk approached, and the rain somehow became even heavier, we watched flocks of Teal and Wigeon, Common Snipe and Dunlin probing in soft mud, Curlew appearing as if from out of nowhere, Starlings and Jackdaws heading to roost, and Blackbirds, Robins, Fieldfare and more Blackbirds, and more Blackbirds 🙂

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Along the frontier

by on Apr.04, 2013, under North Pennines, Northumberland

After our Holy Island trip I had 2 days of Outdoor First Aid training, to renew my OFA certificate for another 3 years.  The course was delivered by Dave Jones at Inspirational Training and was a lot of fun – even the outdoor casualty scenarios on the second day in a brutally cold, howling easterly wind!  A very pleasant surprise was finding myself on the same training course as one of my former pupils, Tom Hopper.

What came next was something of a departure from my routine work, as I guided a TV research team along Hadrian’s Wall for five days.  After visiting numerous archaeological sites, museums, cafes, castles and pubs during the week there was one highlight that stood out above all others;  The team were looking around the Housesteads Roman Fort while I sat in the car, re-arranging our activities for the following day.  I was just starting to think that they’d been gone for quite a while when my mobile started ringing; “Martin, it’s Nic.  We’re walking to Steel Rigg.”  I drove to Steel Rigg, made sure I was well wrapped up and started walking towards Housesteads to meet up with them on the path above Sycamore Gap.  With several inches of snow beside the path, a bitingly-cold easterly wind and frequent snow showers, it was a glorious afternoon to be walking along the Roman Wall with outstanding views over the North Pennines, Jackdaws tossed in the wind like black leaves, Curlews wandering aimlessly on snow-covered meadows and faint snatches of Meadow Pipit song carried on the breeze.  whatever the weather, Northumberland’s still outstanding 🙂

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Big Garden Birdwatch 2013

by on Jan.31, 2013, under Birdwatching, Choppington Woods, Family and friends, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

Last weekend was the Big Garden Birdwatch and we followed tradition by sitting in our kitchen with a mug of coffee, and a bacon and tomato sandwich, having topped up all of the feeders the evening before.  An hour later, we’d racked up a list of 21 species; Blackbird 3, Jackdaw 2, Collared Dove 2, Robin 3, Chaffinch 20, Great Tit 3, Coal Tit 3, Magpie 1, Blue Tit 2, Dunnock 1, Goldfinch 8, Jay 1, Bullfinch 1, House Sparrow 1, Greenfinch 1, Woodpigeon 2, Redwing 1, Tree Sparrow 1, Song Thrush 1, Sparrowhawk 1, Brambling 2. Quite a successful hour, although most species weren’t present in the numbers we would have expected and, as usual, several species that had been visiting the garden in recent days (Marsh Tit, Willow Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Siskin, Great Spotted Woodpecker) failed to appear during the 1 hour of the survey.  Easy birding, and part of a huge national survey.  If you didn’t do it this year, give it a go in 2014 🙂

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Enchanted evening

by on Nov.23, 2012, under Birdwatching, Choppington Woods, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

As the air cools, a pall of pale ghostly mist hangs just above the ground in a wildflower meadow dropping away ahead of me.  I’m on a woodland edge, standing on a soft cushion of fallen larch and pine needles.  Standing still and blending in, the mist wraps me in its cooling blanket as a flock of Goldcrests move through the trees just behind my vantage point.  Overhead Redwings, Rooks and Jackdaws head to roost as a Carrion Crow caws defiantly from the top of a tall larch and Wood Pigeons flutter up and down at tree-top height.  The incessant screeching of Jays and chatter of Blackbirds betrays the presence of a Tawny Owl; stirring in preparation for its nocturnal foray, it soon tires of the harassment and heads deeper into the wood.  A Woodcock appears at the same point where I emerged from the trees just a few minutes ago, having followed my route alongside the gurgling stream.  Away over the fields I can see a Barn Owl, hunting close to the site where it raised this year’s young hoolets, and Roe Deer nervously make their way out into the open.  As the light fades and I head for home, it’s hard to believe that I’m on the edge of the most densely populated area of Northumberland and walking through a mixed woodland where there were once three coal mines, including one of the first deep-shaft mines anywhere in the world.  For now though, it’s just me and the wildlife…

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