Tag: Little Auk

Mud, glorious mud; Lindisfarne Safari 28/11/2014

by on Dec.02, 2014, under Birdwatching, Holy Island, North Sea, Northumberland Coast

The Northumberland coast in the late autumn is a birdwatching destination that I’ll never tire of.  Even in weather that could best be described as inclement, there’s a wealth of wildlife to enjoy.

I collected Mike and Janet from the Dunstanburgh Castle Hotel and we headed north for a day birdwatching around Lindisfarne and the North Northumberland coast.  Starting with a walk around Holy Island village, a harsh chuckling call betrayed the presence of a Fieldfare in a small tree. Two others joined it, before they all departed noisily.  Then more chuckling Fieldfare, and the high seee calls of Redwing, carried through the air from high overhead and we could make out, in the mist, a mixed flock of these thrushes arriving high from the north east and bypassing the island on their way across to the mainland.  A Sparrowhawk raced by, hedge-hopping and swerving out of sight behind The Heugh, as thousands of Pale-bellied Brent Geese flew out onto the exposed mud of the wildfowl refuge area and Shag, Eider and Red-breasted Merganser dived just offshore.  A couple of very obliging Rock Pipits showed the subtle, dusky beauty that can only be appreciated with close views and Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Redshank, Oystercatcher and Grey Plover were reaping the rich bounty of the mud, as Dark-bellied Brent Geese settled in the newly exposed mud of the harbour, and the high whistling calls of drake Teal carried across to us from the Rocket Field, a Little Auk flew along the main street through the village.  Crossing back to the mainland, a Little Egret was stalking through the shallows along the roadside and Curlew and Oystercatcher were so close we could have almost reached out of the car and touched them.  As the falling tide exposed sandbars, Grey Seals were moaning eerily and splashing about in shallow water.  Suddenly, there were thousands of Wigeon and Golden Plover in the air.  They settled but then flushed again so I started a methodical check of every rock that I could see on the mud.  Then I found what I was looking for – a rock that was just too vertical…and the view through our ‘scope revealed the impressive muscular menace of a female Peregrine 🙂  She shuffled around and took off, only to settle on another rock closer to us.  Our attention was drawn to a charm of Goldfinches feeding nearby, and the Peregrine departed while we weren’t looking.

As the weather moved through in waves of varying grot, we watched a group of three Roe Deer grazing in a roadside field, and then headed a bit further down the coast.  Dusk was approaching rapidly as we watched more waders feeding busily as the tide rose, Lapwings flew over like giant bats and thousands of Black-headed and Common Gulls arrived to roost.  Wave after wave of mist and drizzle, wave after wave of birds, wave after wave of  waves 🙂

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Elementary; Bespoke Birdwatching 05/11/2014

by on Nov.13, 2014, under Birdwatching

There are days when it’s calm, still and sunny, but those days are rarely as good as the days when the weather adds its own weight to the whole experience of being in Northumberland.

I collected Alan and Sandra for their second day out with NEWT and we headed north, to explore the exceptional birdwatching that the north Northumberland coast has to offer in the late autumn.  The closer we got to the coast. the grimmer the weather looked, and as we settled ourselves into position by the Holy Island causeway the rain began pattering against the windows of the car.  Using the car as a birdwatching hide can be a very profitable approach in poor weather and I positioned it so that Alan and Sandra’s side of the car was out of the wind and rain.  Flocks of Pale-bellied Brent Geese were shuffling along the edge of the rising water, and we could pick out a few Dark-bellied Brent Geese amongst them too.  The rising tide brought Curlew, Redshank, Bar-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Oystercatcher and Grey Plover towards us in changeable weather – at one point we were in bright sunshine and heavy rain at the same time, while the mudflats away to the north of the causeway were under a perfect double rainbow 🙂  Three Little Auks flew north towards the causeway and conditions improved.  Flocks of Redwing and Fieldfare were typical of poor autumn weather and every bush and tree seemed to hold several Robins Gannets were feeding offshore from Bamburgh, where some impressive waves were battering the shore, Red-throated Divers flew by and we finished the same as 24h earlier with Pink-footed Geese yapping in the darkness.

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Whalefest (2)

by on Nov.09, 2011, under North Sea, Northumberland

After spending the weekend exhibiting at Whalefest we were left with more than a few thoughts, ideas, and plans for the future;

Brighton is a long way from home 🙂  The drive back on Sunday evening was easier than the drive there on Friday afternoon, but didn’t seem that far!

There are a lot of charities/volunteer-led organisations in the marine sector and NEWT are proud to be involved in research projects and other activities with several of them.  The Northeast Cetacean Project is about to enter an important expansion phase, and will become a major driving force for marine conservation in the North Sea.  It was heartening to hear about all of the research and community engagement stuff that’s either going on or is in the pipeline for the near future as well.  One burning question though, is why was one marine conservation organisation giving away helium-filled balloons?

There was only one way to follow Whalefest, so Martin spent Tuesday on the PV St Oswald.  Conditions weren’t exactly conducive to cetacean surveying; 5-6′ of swell, plenty of whitecaps, and misty drizzle, made it more of a physical challenge than usual, so it became more of a ‘pleasure’ cruise 😉  There were a couple of avian highlights, though.  A small group of Little Auks flew by and the tricoloured upperparts of a juvenile Sabine’s Gull shone out in the gloom as it passed close by the bow.

It’s good to be home 🙂

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Winter birdwatching around the Farnes

by on Dec.12, 2010, under Birdwatching, Farne Islands, Holy Island, Northumberland

After postponing our Seal and Seaduck Special last Saturday (sea conditions were ideal, but it would have been really irresponsible to encourage anyone to drive on Northumberland’s roads at the time) we arrived at Seahouses Harbour yesterday morning ready for our final boat trip of the year.

Everyone was well wrapped-up and we were soon boarding Glad Tidings VI.  As we sailed out of the harbour a veritable battery of long lenses was produced in readiness for the anticipated wildlife.  With a skipper and crewman with excellent eyesight and wildlife-spotting skills, 2 NEWT guides, and clients with sharp eyes as well, the boat was soon being manouvered to offer the best possible opportunities to view or photograph the wildlife.  After 13 years of organising offshore wildlife trips we know the importance of the skipper to the success (or otherwise…) of the trip and, with Craig and William, we were in excellent hands.

The first half of the trip concentrated on the Farne Islands themselves.  A lot of the Grey Seals had well-grown pups, quite a few of the adults were moulting and there were a couple of cow seals still heavily pregnant.

Grey Seal, Offshore wildlife photography, Northumberland, 11/12/2010

Grey Seal

Grey Seal, offshore wildlife photography, Northumberland 11/12/2010

Grey Seal and the Longstone Lighthouse

Grey Seal, offshore wildlife photography, Northumberland 11/12/2010

Grey Seals

Grey Seal, offshore wildlife photography, Northumberland 11/12/2010

Grey Seals

Shags were sitting around on the islands, Little Auks were bobbing about like corks in the increasing swell, and we had a brief view of a Black Guillemot as it flew from Gun Rock towards Inner Farne.  Heading north we enjoyed the sunny (but cold) weather and scoured the sea just south of Holy Island.  Plenty of Eider were sitting around, along with a pair of Scaup and several Red-breasted Mergansers but a Slavonian Grebe near Guile Point proved elusive.  Red-throated and Great Northern Divers were seen but in much smaller numbers than we would normally expect.  The journey back down the coast featured one of our favourite birds; Long-tailed Ducks were sitting around in groups of 10-15 and offering some excellent photo opportunities.

Long-tailed Ducks on an offshore birdwatching trip, Northumberland 11/12/2010

Long-tailed Ducks

30 or 40 Common Scoters proved a bit more skittish and didn’t come near the boat.  2 Gannets were a bit of a surprise before we returned to the harbour.

Although the wildlife was very obliging perhaps the best thing about the day was the truly beautiful lighting conditions, a real bonus for wildlife photography and something that all of the photographers on board commented on.  We can’t control the light, or the weather, but we keep taking clients to the right places at the right time…

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A flying birdwatching trip to Holland

by on Oct.02, 2010, under Birdwatching, North Sea, Northumberland

On Wednesday afternoon we set off from Royal Quays, out into the North Sea, onboard the MV King of Scandinavia as guests of DFDS.  The weather forecast was for it to be wet, although we did manage a couple of hours birdwatching from the observation lounge before the driving rain obliterated the view.  Gannets were diving into the increasingly heavy swell, a stunning  Pomarine Skua arced across the bow of the ship and a single Puffin was tagging along with six Little Auks.

Arriving in IJmuiden the next morning, it was still raining 🙁  We were collected from the ferry terminal by Lin, a local guide who we had been introduced to by the ORCA wildlife officers from the ferry.  As we headed north Egyptian Geese were around the grass verges near the port, Cormorants  were perched atop most of the lampposts, Common Buzzards were on roadside fences and we saw one lingering Spoonbill.  Our destination was the reserve of Zwanenwater, where Lin is a volunteer.  As we walked through the reserve the high pitched ‘seep’ of Redwings was a constant backdrop, Song Thrushes were flushing from every patch of cover, every bush seemed to hold several Robins and a Common Redstart flicked up from the path in front of us.  We were then taken on a tour of the off-limits areas of the reserve by Fred, another of the volunteers.

Stonechats were seen along the track and there was an impressive spread of Grass of Parnassus.

Stonechat, Birdwatching

Stonechat, Zwanenwater, Noord-Holland 30/09/2010

Grass of Parnassus

Grass of Parnassus, Zwanenwater, Noord-Holland 30/09/2010

Despite the rain we managed an impressive haul of raptors; Common Buzzard, Marsh Harrier, Hen Harrier, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and Osprey were all seen well but, most impressive of all, the real highlight for both of us was the views we had of Northern Goshawk.  The birds quartering the dunes in search of rabbits and small birds came as a bit of a surprise, but not as much as the two birds that were perched on dead trees overhanging the lake.  Fred explained that they sit there and watch the ducks, before swooping down and taking them off the water.  We didn’t see that, but we did manage some distant images of one of the birds.

Northern Goshawk, birdwatching

Northern Goshawk, Zwanenwater, Noord-Holland 30/09/2010

All too soon we were on the ferry again and heading back to Northumberland, making plans to return to Holland in the spring.

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Variety is the spice of life

by on Mar.09, 2010, under Birdwatching, Lindisfarne, Northumberland, Surveys

On Saturday we led a wildlife walk on Holy Island.  Grim, murky drizzle on the way north looked less than promising but, as we approached Beal, the weather improved and stayed fine throughout the walk.  Possibly the highlight of the day was all of the birds on the Rocket field flushing as two Peregrines flew menacingly above the pools.  The journey home produced our rarest sighting of the day, at least in a Northumberland context, when we watched 3 Bewick’s Swans in a field south of Alnmouth.

Sunday really was a case of something completely different, as I headed out to the Farne Deeps for the latest Northeast Cetacean Project survey.  The project, which is been run by Northern Experience and Marinelife with our funding partners; Natural England and the Northumberland and Tyneside Bird Club, has several strands, with the surveys backed up by postcards that we’re distributing to local charter boats and marinas so they can submit their sightings, an analysis of all the records and reports we can find for the last 7 years and, coming soon, a website that will allow online submission of whale and dolphin sightings off Northumberland.  Meanwhile, back on the boat…my survey team on Sunday was made up of Alan Tilmouth and Ross Ahmed who were part of the team on our surveys back in December, Tim Sexton who was on our blizzard-hit survey two weeks ago and Dan ‘Punkbirder‘ Brown.  Highlights were a Common Dolphin and a small group of Little Auks.

Yesterday saw the Landy having it’s 6-monthly safety test.  Unsurprisingly, with the work put in by Sandy to keep the mechanical bits working smoothly, and the electrical work that Darren has done to ensure that when you flick a switch what happens is what should happen, it passed again.  Peace of mind for our clients, and the NEWT Landy will keep rolling around Northumberland, delivering them  to top-quality birdwatching and wildlife experiences.

Now it’s Tuesday and I’ve got 50 miles of offshore survey ahead of me.  Bring it on!

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