Tag: Kingfisher

Iridescence in the gloom; Otter mini-Safari 09/10/16

by on Oct.11, 2016, under Druridge Bay

Sunday’s Otter mini-Safari started at Church Point with an intense rainbow visible away to the east, and variable weather conditions depending on which direction we looked…

I collected Gemma and Jay, then Arthur and Gill and we headed up into Druridge Bay to start our search.  Pink-footed Geese, one of the great harbingers of the coming winter, were grazing in roadside fields, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Coot, Moorhen, Teal, Gadwall, Cormorant, Little Grebe and Great Crested Grebe were all looking just too relaxed, Starlings were starting to assemble ready for the evening’s murmuration and Greylag and Canada Geese filled the air with a cacophony that most would find it hard to describe as pleasant 🙂  Grey Herons and Little Egrets stalked along the water’s edge at dusk as skeins of geese flew to roost, Mallard and Teal scattered nervously from one heavily shaded area close to the bankside but the cause of their distress remained unseen and, in the gloom of fading light, a flash of iridescent blue as a Kingfisher flew by and perched on a rock just upstream from us before plunging into the water and returning to its perch with a small fish.  That was repeated with the bird using a range of rocks, twigs and branches as a perch before it vanished into a bush as two Grey Herons engaged in a noisy dispute and disturbed it’s hunting.

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Passing storms; Druridge Bay 08/09/16

by on Sep.12, 2016, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

As a wildlife guide I’ve become ever so slightly obsessed with the weather, and weather forecasts…

I arrived at Church Point to collect Steve and Christine ahead of a day around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland, and looking inland there seemed to be a lot of low, dense, cloud.  The forecast suggested showers late morning, and a brighter afternoon, so we headed north along the coast with the intention of spending the first hour or so out in the open, before seeking the shelter of the various Druridge Bay hides once the poor weather arrived.  A Kingfisher flew by, whistling, adding a touch of sparkling iridescence to the gloom as the first few raindrops began to add a dimpled pattern to the water’s surface.  Suddenly it was dark, really dark, and the rain intensified as we drove to our next location.  Then the heavens opened while Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Curlew, Cormorant and Grey Heron just got on with whatever they were doing.  House Martins and Swallows strung out in lines along telephone wires must have been seeing the long journey south as an even more attractive prospect 🙂 More Cormorants followed, as did even heavier rainfall, and then the weather started to break – passing through an extraordinary transition where we had bright sunshine, heavy rain and an incredibly intense rainbow low above the horizon as a juvenile Marsh Harrier quartered the nearby reedbeds.  Lunch time overlooking the North Sea produced a beach with plenty of Ringed Plover scuttling around and then, for  the afternoon, glorious sunshine brought out Painted Lady butterflies and dragonflies that weren’t going to hang around to be identified!  Two more juvenile Marsh Harriers obligingly settled amongst clumps of rush before one of them engaged in a fruitless pursuit of an adult Moorhen, during which it flushed lots of Common Snipe.  Our final juvenile Marsh Harrier delivered probably the most impressive spectacle of the day as it disturbed Lapwing and Curlew, forming a dense nervous cloud of birds as it passed by, and at least 17 Little Egrets.  We finished the day with a walk through some mixed woodland in vastly improved weather, although the trees were now bending in the rapidly strengthening breeze.

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Between the storms; Bespoke Otter Photography 31/01/2016

by on Feb.01, 2016, under Druridge Bay, Otter

I collected Gill and Stuart from The Swan, ahead of a day in search of photographable Otters, and the most noticeable thing was the gentle breeze and lack of rain/sleet/hail/snow 🙂  Always a good start…

After a morning of Treecreepers, Moorhen, Little Grebe, Long-tailed Tits, mirror-calm water, two separate incidents where Mallards, Mute Swans and Black-headed Gulls all gave an indication that they’d spotted a predator and lots of entertaining discussion about the ethics of wildlife photography (and the brilliance of the Nikon D810) we had lunch overlooking the remarkably calm North Sea, with a flock of Eider offshore and Fulmars arcing along the cliff tops.  I’d seen two Otter cubs on Thursday, when I was getting in some recce work before the arrival of Storm Gertrude, so I’d already decided where we’d be spending the afternoon.  Goldeneye and Little Grebe were sitting quietly on the water, a lone Little Egret was stalking through the shallows and Cormorants, those briefly convincing Otter lookalikes, were busy eating their way through plenty of small fish.  Then, the change in behaviour I was looking for; Redshank scattered and Cormorants took off as if they’d rather be anywhere other than where they’d been feeding.  Looking like a rock moving slowly through the shallow water the adult Otter was hunting, head and tail submerged and it’s impressive muscular torso above the water line 🙂  Then, much closer to us, an Otter cub diving persistently, crunching it’s prey each time it surfaced.  Closer and closer, until it obligingly got out of the water in front of us.  A second cub was slightly more distant, and we’d got three separate Otters in view as a Kingfisher treated us to repeated fly-bys on what seemed to be a regular feeding circuit.

As Black-headed and Herring Gulls passed overhead in the rapidly deepening gloom of dusk and a strengthening cold breeze brought persistent drizzle we headed back to the car after nearly three hours with the Otters. You just don’t notice the cold and wet when you’re enjoying yourself 🙂

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Targets; Prestige Otter safari 26/11/2015

by on Nov.27, 2015, under Druridge Bay, Otter

Thursday was a trip I’d been looking forward to for a long time; Stephen and Helen had been out with us on a Kielder safari back in 2009, and our targets for the latest trip were Kingfisher and Otter.  A slight change of plan saw Stephen taking the trip with Ruth, rather than with her daughter, and we headed coastwards from Shilbottle.  With two very active Otter sites just a day earlier, I decided that we’d switch Wednesday afternoon’s site to the morning, as that would leave us with a very reliable back-up site if needed…

Goosander and Red-breasted Merganser were feeding incessantly, and a Cormorant was drying it’s wings in that fantastic heraldic pose.  I continued scanning and when Stephen said “Martin, on that triangular rock over there, there’s something Otter shaped…” I turned around to see that the Cormorant had gone…and had been replaced by three Otters 🙂  These were the two cubs from Wednesday afternoon again, and their mum!  As Little Egrets disputed prime feeding spots, Curlew and Redshank kept a wary eye on the Otters but continued probing the gooey mud just a few metres away from them.  You almost couldn’t make it up, but our other target for the day turned up and perched on a stick just in front of us while we were watching the Otters!  With a flash of electric blue the Kingfisher was soon on it’s way again, as a Sparrowhawk cruised along the tree tops nearby.

The afternoon brought thousands of yapping Pink-footed Geese, as flocks of Starling and Lapwing took to the air, then as dusk approached, a Dipper raced along a river below our feet and a Barn Owl ghosted by; a quality end to a quality day 🙂

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Five star Otter watching; Otter Safari 25/11/2015

by on Nov.27, 2015, under Druridge Bay, Otter

I collected Eve from The Swan and we headed towards the coast for a day searching for Otters around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  I’d seen two Otter cubs on Monday afternoon and Tuesday afternoon, while I was out searching for berries to make Sea Buckthorn vodka, so I’d already got the plan for the afternoon firmly sorted…

Having the morning to play with, we headed off in the direction of another recent Otter sighting.  Hardly any birds on the water, and ducks, geese and swans all along the bank, is a promising sign and, soon after a Common Buzzard glided past us on the cool breeze, I spotted the tell-tale dark shape rolling and diving.  The Otter soon resurfaced, alongside a second, and then a third 🙂  We watched them for 45mins, before they did the very typical Otter trick of diving and then vanishing.  Ten minutes later and the birds were all back on the water, apparently unconcerned, so we knew it was time to move on.  As we’re approaching the winter, the ducks are in fantastic condition; Wigeon, Teal, Goldeneye, Mallard, Gadwall and Tufted Duck are all stunning birds once they’re out of eclipse plumage and a real wildfowl highlight was four Bean Geese flying northeast.

As the afternoon turned dull and dark, with a spectacular sky at sunset, Little Egrets were stalking through the shallows, a Kingfisher gave tantalisingly brief views and there were the two Otter cubs 🙂  Playing and feeding around a semi-submerged tree close to the water’s edge we had another 45 mins of Otter action before they slipped out of sight and into the darkness of the late afternoon.

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Northerlies; Otter Safari 21/11/2015

by on Nov.23, 2015, under Druridge Bay, Otter

Approaching Scots Gap, to collect Teresa, Lisa, Scott and Brett for an Otter Safari around Druridge Bay, the overnight snow made the road ‘interesting’ in places.  The icy fingers of the northerly wind probed and poked at exposed skin and we headed down towards the coast…

Just a few miles along the road we came across a big flock of Fieldfare and Redwing, those beautiful Scandinavian thrushes, and ahead of us we could see snow falling on the coast.  Incredibly, apart from a light flurry of snow at Druridge Pools, it stayed away for the rest of the day.  Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Goldeneye, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Goosander, Red-breasted Merganser, Coot and Little Grebe were all braving the choppy water, as Redshank, Oystercatcher and Curlew all probed the gooey mud along the water’s edge as the biting wind dug deeper and we resembled the images of early antarctic expeditions.  Out of the wind, the low single figure temperatures didn’t feel so bad, and…was that something diving close to the reflection of the sun?  Choppy water and dazzling reflected sunlight aren’t a great combination, but a dark shape surfaced – and there was our first Otter for the day 🙂  It dived and resurfaced, this time with another young Otter alongside it, and we watched them on and off for an hour before they disappeared in the direction of the setting sun.  A Kingfisher, iridescent blue in the gloom of a waterside bush, and Little Egrets, seemingly luminous against the dark mud, caught tiny fish as we headed back inland under a stunning starry sky.

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More wildlife in the mist; Otter Safari 04/11/2015

by on Nov.06, 2015, under Druridge Bay, Otter

Heading to Bamburgh to collect Michelle and Pam, I was feeling optimistic that the mist was going to lift and we’d have good weather…

As it turned out, the mist came and went throughout the day – but the wildlife was the usual high quality that the Northumberland coast delivers throughout the year.  A singing Dipper broke off from proclaiming his territory in order to dive into the river as another Dipper bobbed up and down on a nearby rock.  Otter site ‘B’ looked promising as we arrived – Little Grebe, Gadwall, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Teal and Wigeon were all clustered on one edge of the water so I scanned the large area of bird-free open water…and there was an Otter 🙂  After entertaining us for 45 minutes it vanished into the reeds and we continued along the coast.  Whooper Swans called in the mist and Gannets were plunging into the sea as we made our way to Site ‘A’…where an Otter cub was sitting on a rock 🙂  It was soon in the water feeding within 30m of us, as Little Egrets and a Kingfisher added a surreal luminance to the misty afternoon, then it seemed to realise it’s mum and sibling weren’t around and decided to go in search of them.  Initially that involved getting out of the water and persistently calling – while running straight towards us!  Soon it was back in the water and we followed it’s progress by the bright water of it’s wake as it disappeared into the mist and murk of the late afternoon.

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Dread; Otter Safari 15/10/2015

by on Oct.16, 2015, under Druridge Bay, Otter

The great thing or the worst thing (depending on your point of view…) with watching wildlife is the sheer unpredictability of it.  There’s always something to watch though, and if you watch for long enough it just gets even less predictable…

I collected Neil and Julia from Newbiggin and we headed towards Druridge Bay for an afternoon and evening searching for Otters.  Anybody who reads our blog regularly will know that Northumberland is a great place to look for Otters, but it usually involves some effort and patience.  45mins into the afternoon and Black-headed and Common Gulls rose in a ‘dread’ then started circling.  The only logical place to look was directly under them…and there was an Otter 🙂  We watched it for nearly an hour, until it eventually caught a huge Eel and vanished into the reeds.  During that hour there was a mass exodus of Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Shoveler, Little Grebe and Gadwall from one reedbed…and a Fox peered out from the reeds before coming out into the open.

The rest of the afternoon was a study of fascinating wildlife; Dippers were fighting with the victor eventually bursting into song, although not before it had been seen off itself by a Kingfisher, Hawthorns were dripping with Goldcrest, a Hebe bush was a mass of Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell and Red Admiral Butterflies and Buff-tailed Bumblebees, a second Kingfisher flew by before perching obligingly on a fence post, Grey Herons were stalking patiently in shallow water, a Little Egret perched high in a tree, a Little Owl fixed us with a withering stare and the afternooon headed towards sunset.  In beautiful orange light from the setting sun, Lapwing, Golden Plover, Curlew, Black-tailed Godwit, Turnstone, Redshank and Oystercatcher roosted as Dunlin busied themselves along the water’s edge, Snipe probed in the mud next to a reedbed and a Water Rail emerged from the gloom of the reeds into the gloom of dusk before slipping back out of sight.

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Every cloud…; Otter Safari 30/09/2015

by on Oct.01, 2015, under Druridge Bay, Otter

The unpredictability of wildlife is part of the attraction.  You never know what you’ll see, whether the species you’re searching for will put in an appearance or something completely unexpected will show up.  I’d collected Judith and Robin from their holiday cottage in Embleton and we were in and around Druridge Bay for the afternoon.  It started well with a spectacular splash of colour as Judith spotted a Kingfisher while Common Redshank, Spotted Redshank and Curlew probed the gooey estuarine mud.  Gadwall, Mallard, Little Grebe, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Snipe, Dunlin and Greenshank all looked stunning in quite beautiful light and we settled into position overlooking one of our regular Otter spots, unaware of just how extraordinary the evening was going to be…

Mirror-calm water, roosting Lapwing and Teal, an ever growing murmuration of Starlings and noisy Greylag Geese arriving to roost would be the ideal backdrop for an Otter.  Suddenly, unexpectedly, the murmuration plunged towards the reeds and birds funneled out of the swirling twisting mass down into the safety of the roost.  Starlings continued to arrive; ones, twos and groups of up to 50 had missed the display so just headed straight into the reeds.  Then the sussurating buzz stilled, and the birds left the reedbed en masse, joined in the air by Lapwings, as a Sparrowhawk flew low over their heads.  As they dropped back to the reeds, the far corner of the pool was shrouded in mist and the chilly tendrils of a sea fret were creeping over the dunes.  Soon the mist had enveloped everything around us, although it was barely reaching above head height.  The pinks and yellows of a 360 degree sunset added another touch of extraordinary to proceedings as the gloom was split by a noise not dissimilar to a car engine starting.  That was the Starlings again, leaving the reeds and suddenly bursting up out of the mist in front of us, a twisting writhing mass of birds trying to escape yet another fly-through by a Sparrowhawk.  Again they returned to the reeds, as a Barn Owl flew by above the mist, silhouetted against the sunset, and skein after skein of yapping Pink-footed Geese arrived for the night, dropping from the deep blue sky into the mist above the water.  After two unwelcome visits from the Sparrowhawk, the Starlings moved under cover of the mist into the reeds right in front of us,  For nearly five minutes, birds were streaming into their new roost site, as the whistles of Wigeon pierced the gloom and Teal and Lapwing departed for the night.

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Timing; Northumberland Coast 17/09/2015

by on Sep.23, 2015, under Bamburgh Castle, Druridge Bay, Northumberland Coast

Seasonality in wildlife watching is an important consideration, but ‘micro-timing’ shouldn’t be overlooked.  There’s a time of day when we rarely meet anyone else on our tours, and I don’t entirely understand why…

Thursday was Day Five for Clare and Peter, and I collected them from The Swan before heading north to start our day on the coast.  The rising tide brought Turnstone, Redshank, Curlew, Purple Sandpiper and Ringed Plover towards us as Common Eider drifted on the swell and innumerable Gannets circled above what must have been a huge shoal of fish.  Bar-tailed Godwits, probing in the sand, were moved towards the pebbly shore by the inexorable tide until eventually they abandoned feeding and roosted on a rocky outcrop alongside Curlew.  In the rising tidal reaches of a river, a Dipper entertained us by diving headlong into the water, a female Goosander sailed serenely into view before diving and re-emerging back under the riverside vegetation, Grey Wagtails added a stunning splash of colour and a Kingfisher raced by.

As dusk approached a Starling murmuration was passed by a Marsh Harrier and a noisy roost of geese included Canada, Greylag, Pink-footed and – my favourite wildfowl escapees – Bar-headed Geese.  A lone Ruff remained when the roosting Lapwings took flight, but was then joined by a Redshank.  Dusk is, by some considerable margin, my favourite time of the day – regardless of habitat type – and it was a great finish to a great week guiding Clare and Peter around Northumberland’s well known, and some less well known, birdwatching hotspots 🙂  We hope they’ll be back soon to explore more!

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