Tag: Jackdaw

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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Heron aid

by on Sep.19, 2011, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

Our 3rd Druridge Bay/southeast Northumberland trip in 5 days began with an old friend as our regular Little Owl sat sleepily in the sunshine, only opening an eye to check who we were before nodding off again.  Further north, we watched a flock of 59 Pink-footed Geese as they headed south high overhead.  3 Grey Herons flew south past us, then north over Warkworth before heading south again.  Incredibly. later in the afternoon, the same 3 herons flew south overhead at East Chevington, followed soon after by another 4, and we found another 3 sitting in a recently mown field near Hauxley.  East Chevington also produced a good flock of Lapwing, with several Ruff scattered amongst them, and Cresswell held a flock of Dunlin with a Little Stint.

As sunset approached we settled to the waiting game of quiet observation by a small pool.  Tawny Owls called nearby, a Buzzard was perched obligingly in the open, a Sparrowhawk was hedge-hopping to see what it could scare up for dinner, Jackdaws and Rooks were gathering noisily before going to roost and there was a notable level of panic and a high level of alertness in the assembled ducks.  The cause of the panic didn’t show itself though, and we walked back to the car with Common Pipistrelles flying just above our heads before I returned Tamasin and Daniel to Newbiggin.

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Comfort zone

by on May.03, 2011, under Birdwatching, Cheviot Valleys, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

I’ve been a general naturalist since an early age, but birdwatching has been the thing that has always gripped my imagination.  As a wildlife guide though, is that really enough?  That’s a question that seems to arise occasionally on internet forums.  I decided at an early stage of NEWT that I needed a much broader and deeper knowledge, so I spend a lot of time studying things that once upon a time (I’m ashamed to admit) I would have ignored, or even not noticed.  Every day that I spend with clients, I make an effort to learn from them, whilst imparting my own knowledge, skills and understanding of what we encounter.

On Thursday I led an afternoon of guided birdwatching around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  The blazing sunshine when I collected Karen from Newbiggin made it almost impossible to see anything in the bay but, as each small gull flew by, we checked for the identification features that would provide us with a Mediterranean Gull.  All proved to be Black-headed Gulls, and we headed north up the coast.  As we stood by the River Coquet, discussing how to separate Carrion Crow, Rook and Jackdaw in flight, I saw the tell-tale ghostly wings of a Med Gull as it drifted down towards the water’s edge.  Jet black hood, pristine white wingtips and, as perfect as if it was scripted, sitting next to an adult Black-headed Gull allowing easy comparison.  Some of our favourite birds followed; Marsh Harrier, Nuthatch, Heron and at least 17 Whimbrel.  During the afternoon I learned a feature of Wood Sorrel that will ensure I never misidentify it (again…).  Karen, you were right 🙂

Friday was something very different as we were headed inland to the Cheviots for a day searching for summer visitors.  After a few hours with a spectacular roll-call of the wildlife of the valleys, including Brown Hare, Roe Deer, Whinchat, Tree Pipit, Wheatear, Spotted Flycatcher, Red Grouse, Curlew and Lapwings (with chicks), we followed the track up a steep sided valley in search of a bird that Sue hadn’t seen before (and really wanted to).  As the sky darkened, the wind strengthened and chilled, and the first drops of icy rain began to fall, I spotted 2 distant birds flying down the valley.  I didn’t have any doubt about the identification so, when they eventually settled on the tops of the heather, I aimed the ‘scope in their direction and Sue enjoyed her first views of the ‘Mountain Blackbird’.  Ring Ouzels may often be seen on passage in the spring and autumn, but high in a remote valley, where you think the elements could give you a good working over at any time and the habitat supports so few species, is simply the right place to see them.  Another lesson learned; memorable sightings make you forget about the weather 🙂

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Familiarity breeds content

by on Feb.23, 2011, under Birdwatching, Choppington Woods, Northumberland, Photography, Southeast Northumberland

During the winter, when I’m busy with admin and business development, I do most of my birdwatching close to home.  Studying Jackdaw and Starling roosts involves a short walk, but with a constant level of activity around the feeding station (conveniently placed to be visible from the office window) I can enjoy the hobby that has been with me since early childhood throughout most of the day.

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve had my camera and tripod set up in the kitchen.  Any newcomers to bird photography could do worse than concentrate on the birds in their own garden.  I blogged about our feeding station recently, but I make no apologies for adding a few more images to the blog now 🙂

Brambling, bird photography, Northumberland

Brambling

Goldfinch, bird photography, Northumberland

Goldfinch

 One species I finally managed to get some good images of is a bird that captivated me when I first saw a flock of them, nearly 40 years ago, in my neighbour’s Pear tree.  With their almost non-stop movement, persistent vocalisations and, let’s face it, looks that are so cute it should be illegal Long-tailed Tits are enchanting.  In previous years they’ve been infrequent visitors to our garden but this winter they are here pretty much all day every day.  A lot of our clients have made similar observations and wondered why this change of behaviour has happened.  Long-tailed Titsare insectivorous and it seems that likely that the hard winter weather, coming so early in the winter has had a devastating impact on their natural food source and made them increasingly reliant on artificially provided food.

Long-tailed Tit, bird photography, Northumberland

Long-tailed Tit

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Autumnal February

by on Feb.22, 2011, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

Finishing a mini-safari at dusk combines two of my greatest pleasures; showing our clients the wildlife and landscape of Northumberland, and still being outside as it gets dark.

I met up with Alastair, Roz, Keith and Marian mid-afternoon last Thursday for a few hours of wildlife and birdwatching around Druridge Bay and Southeast Northumberland.  As I got out of our Landrover in the car park at Church Point, it occurred to me that it was so cold and misty that I’d be really quite excited if it was mid-October 🙂  Even so, in mid-February a mini-safari finishing at dusk is still exciting.

Beside the River Coquet, a wave of panic rippled through the Jackdaws and Woodpigeons.  No sign of any cause though.  Then another wave of panic and a Sparrowhawk raced by, narrowly missing a Black-headed Gull perched on a fence post.  A group of Roe Deer were spotted by Marian, walking along a ridge opposite us and vanishing behind the bushes before reappearing and then vanishing again.  At least 28 Goldeneye were displaying on the river, the comical contortions of the drakes providing good entertainment.  Almost as good as the entertainment provided by the sense of humour of all 4 clients 🙂

A flock of 25 Goldfinches was well appreciated, as were all of the tiny lambs in the fields nearby and no fewer than 9 Grey Herons all sitting around one small pool.  A pair of Pintail were dabbling, as dabbling ducks do, and Alastair’s sharp eyes provided a Barn Owl for the list as it ghosted it’s way through the sky above the flooded meadows.

Dusk beside a pool with a wader roost is almost indescribable; Lapwing, Curlew and Dunlin all huddled close together is quite a sight but the thing that takes almost everybody by surprise is the noise.  The level of vocalisation between the birds is extraordinary, and then the Lapwings fall silent as they begin to fly off to feeding areas.  Then, as the light faded to a level where binoculars, and even our eyes, weren’t really sufficient anymore, the trumpeting of 24 Whooper Swans coming to roost rounded the day off.

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White is the new Black

by on Sep.17, 2010, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Lindisfarne, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast, Southeast Northumberland

We had back-to back birdwatching trips earlier this week, covering two of our favourite areas.

On Tuesday afternoon I collected Keith and Jen from home in Monkseaton and we headed northwards up the Northumberland coast.  Our destination was the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, one of the birding hot-spots of the entire country.  The strong winds were the only downside to the afternoon, but the birdwatching was good.  After checking out a large group of Grey Seals we covered the area around the harbour and the Rocket Field.  Bar-tailed Godwits, Common Redshank and lots of Ringed Plover were along the shoreline and a delightful charm of Goldfinches were around the Heugh.  A distant group of Lapwings, Starlings and Golden Plover took to the air and the cause of their alarm was glimpsed briefly, although too briefly and too distant to make a positive ID.  Holy Island birdwatching stalwart Ian Kerr put us on to a Little Stint and, as we headed back through the village, groups of Golden Plover passed overhead.  Re-tracing our route back down the coast and checking the Budle Bay on the rising tide, we were just discussing the indications of the presence of predators when a huge number of birds lifted from the mud.  As well as the gulls and waders, Jackdaws, Rooks and Woodpigeons joined the throng as they came out of adjacent fields and trees.  This time the culprit was seen and identified; a Peregrine, that most majestic of raptors and one of the highlights of any birdwatching day on the Northumberland coast in the autumn and winter.  A quick seawatch produced Sandwich Terns feeding, and Gannets soaring effortlessly on the breeze.

Wednesday was a full day out around Druridge Bay and Southeast Northumberland.  I collected Jayne and Andrew from Seahouses, and then Hilary and John from Alnmouth, before beginning our tour of some of the best birdwatching spots in our local area.  While we were watching Lapwings, Redshanks, Greenshanks, Ruff, Herons and Cormorants on the River Wansbeck I could hear a rough ‘sreee’ call from high overhead.  The strong breeze meant that it wasn’t straightforward to locate the bird, but eventually I picked it out.  It was an unfamiliar call, but a familiar species; a juvenile Common Cuckoo.  The walk back along the river produced a nice flock of Long-tailed Tits.  After lunch we stopped off at Cresswell Pond.  Hilary and John mentioned that they’d visited Cresswell once before – when they noticed a large group of birders and stopped, managing to see a Buff-breasted Sandpiper.

Northumberland birdwatching following the floods of September 2008

Buff-breasted Sandpiper and Ruff, Cresswell Pond, Northumberland 12/09/2008

With luck like that, we joked about what this visit could produce...

When we arrived at the hide, Jaybee mentioned that he’d had a juvenile Sandwich Tern.  I scanned the pond but couldn’t see the tern anywhere and we settled to enjoying the quite remarkable views of Common Snipe that were available.  After checking through the assembled ducks, gulls and waders I scanned across the pond again and spotted a tern dip-feeding near the causeway.  The bird’s behaviour, combined with it’s very dark back, white rump and silver-grey wings caused me to get rather excited.  White-winged Black Tern is a very special bird, and a personal highlight as it’s the third Chlidonias tern that I’ve found in Northumberland.  Whiskered Tern is very rare and Black Tern is always a nice bird to see but White-winged Black Tern is such a beautiful species.  Jaybee kindly sent me some images to use 🙂

White-winged Black Tern, a Northumberland birdwatching highlight 15/09/2010

White-winged Black Tern, Cresswell Pond, Northumberland 15/09/2010

Highlight of a day birdwatching on the Northumberland coast 15/09/2010

White-winged Black Tern, Cresswell Pond, Northumberland 15/09/2010

White-winged Black Tern, Northumberland, Birdwatching

White-winged Black Tern, Cresswell Pond, Northumberland 15/09/2010

As other birders began to arrive to enjoy the fruit of our good fortune we continued up the coast.  Eiders and a Goosander, as well as some very obliging Grey Herons, were seen as we stopped by the River Coquet.  A superb couple of day’s birdwatching, a beautiful rarity and clients who were excellent company.

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