Tag: Little Egret
Often, the species that we’re specifically searching for appears and is the highlight of the day. Sometimes, the scenes involving the supporting cast take some beating though…
I arrived at Church Point to collect Rose, Tom and Alison, and we headed up the coast for an afternoon around Druridge Bay searching for Otters. July is one of our favourite times to visit the coast, as wading birds are starting to head south, still in breeding plumage. Black-tailed Godwit, Golden Plover and Dunlin were all lazing at the water’s edge in the increasingly breezy afternoon, and one of our most delicate looking birds provided a lot of entertainment. Avocets are a fairly recent addition to Northumberland’s breeding avifauna, and their delicate appearance belies their feisty nature. As three fluffy Avocet chicks swept their heads from side to side in shallow water, occasionally breaking off to go and tuck themselves under their parent’s wing, the adult Avocets were busy keeping the area clear of other birds. Black-headed Gulls, and even Pied Wagtails were driven off, but the most ferocious assaults were reserved for a flock of Common Snipe. Secretive and usually hidden out of sight, the snipe had ventured away from the shelter of the reedbeds and into shallow water where they were feeding with a sewing machine action, faces in the water and constantly probing the soft mud beneath. The Avocets weren’t having that though, and the snipe were persistently flushed by attack after attack. When we’d first arrived a Spoonbill had been flying above the pond, and it settled and went to sleep. Eventually it woke up and began walking along the edge of the pond before disappearing from view. Then it took off and flew across the water, settling near the Avocets…
The first furious airborne assault on the Spoonbill left it completely unmoved, so the Avocet landed nearby and charged at it, head down and neck stretched forward, menacing with that long, upcurved rapier like bill. The Spoonbill lifted it’s head from the water, opened it’s bill and waved it as if to say “Do you really want me to slap you with this?” :-) Obviously a different approach was required, which involved the Avocet pretending to feed, whilst slowly sidling towards the Spoonbill, ready to launch another attack. That was greeted in the same manner, and when the Avocet tried again, the Spoonbill simply kept it’s head in the water and charged straight at the Avocet, sweeping it’s bill from side to side. Eventually the Avocets gave up the attack, but kept a close eye on the Spoonbill, as another ten Avocets flew over and a Little Egret put in a brief appearance.
As dusk approached we settled into position overlooking another pool. All seemed calm, Marsh Harriers were hunting the reedbeds as daylight faded, and then an Otter appeared, making it’s way across the shadow-dappled water, twisting, turning, diving, pausing at the surface to consume its catch before resuming the hunt :-) A second Otter was hunting in the deep shadow of a reedbed, and the closer one betrayed it’s own presence with the classic ‘ring of bright water’ each time it surfaced. A Barn Owl came as a shock, when it flew through Rose’s binocular view, and a white Rabbit and four Brown Hares were illuminated by the car headlights as we made our way back to Church Point in the rain.
I love all of the different locations that we visit on our tours, but a day around NEWT’s local patch of Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland is always special. Maybe because it’s so close to home, maybe because of the incredible industrial heritage that has gradually been transformed into fantastic wildlife habitat or maybe just because it’s really, really good
I collected Sue from Church Point and we headed north up the coast. A brood of Goosanders were perched on mid-stream rocks as Grey Wagtails flitted back and forth across our field of view, tails wagging vigorously each time they settled before flycatching again just above the water. An insistent squawking made us turn our heads – and there was a brood of Blackbird fledglings, just a few metres away, watching us with curiosity as their parents brought food. Great Crested Grebes, Gadwall and Tufted Duck all had young in attendance too and, as is often the case once we reach July, a lot of our attention was taken by wading birds. 30+ Black-tailed Godwits were sleeping as a Common Sandpiper bobbed around their feet, a group of unusually obliging Common Snipe fed out in the open water, black-bellied Dunlin searched purposefully around the godwits, Redshank stalked along the pool edge and into the longer vegetation and three Wood Sandpipers added a touch of ‘scarce’ to the afternoon. Two Spoonbills spent most of the time, as Spoonbills do, sleeping until a helicopter passing over roused them from their slumber and they did a fly-around before settling back to their previous spot and immediately returning to sleep close to a Little Egret. Juvenile Marsh Harriers were making short flights over reedbeds, Reed Buntings were still singing their simple song with enthusiasm and a pair of Avocets with four chicks launched repeated furious assaults on any other birds that came too close; Shelduck, Little Ringed Plover, Sandwich Tern, Black-headed Gull and even the ‘so cute they surely couldn’t do any harm’ Little Gulls all came in for a hard time as the young Avocets pottered about in the shallows.
A great day with a lovely client (we don’t have any other type!) and even the added bonus of bumping into my favourite double act, Gavin and Syd
I collected John, Graham, Andy, Sue, Sue and Lesley from their cottage in Shilbottle and we set off inland towards the imposing landscape of the Cheviot massif. As we got out of the car and donned waterproofs we had the first rain shower of the day, but it quickly passed and the path began gaining in altitude as Oystercatchers perched on fence posts, swallows and martins hawked back and forth through air buzzing with insects in the warm, humid conditions and Willow Warblers and Chaffinches competed with their congeners in a singing contest. The plaintive cries of Curlew echoed around the steep valley sides, the high calls of Siskin and the buzzy rattle of Lesser Redpoll came from overhead and one of the archetypal valley birds put in an appearance as we found a succession of adult and juvenile Dippers. A lone Common Buzzard hovered high over the moors in search of prey and a Peregrine repeatedly rose above the skyline before dropping back down in a prolonged attack on an unfortunate, and unseen, victim.
Lunch overlooking the sea was accompanied by Fulmars gliding gracefully back and forth on stiff wings, before we switched our attention to waders, wildfowl and waterbirds. Little Egrets and Grey Herons were stalking menacingly along shallow pool edges, at least 50 Black-tailed Godwits were roosting, and a small group of Little Gulls looked diminutive alongside Black-headed Gulls (which aren’t all that big themselves!). Reed Buntings were singing their rather repetitive song, Sedge and Reed Warblers flew by before vanishing into the depths of the reedbeds and we enjoyed the sight of delicate and dainty, yet incredibly feisty, Avocets. Great Crested Grebes were feeding their stripy offspring, Arctic, Common and Sandwich Terns perched obligingly, allowing easy comparison, and the afternoon brought an unexpected surprise in the shape of no less than six Spoonbills. They did little more exciting than occasionally wake up and preen for a short while before nodding off again, but the sight of six of these impressive birds together wrapped up the day nicely
I love watching wildlife, always have done since I was very young and I love watching wildlife with our clients. Sometimes though, people are just as interesting…
I collected Richard and Jan from their b&b in Chatton and we headed down through the centre of Northumberland in search of the Red Squirrel. Our first stop was one of our regular sites for squirrels, but didn’t produce the goods this time. Next was what a friend described as the best ‘guaranteed’ site for Red Squirrel in Northumberland…no joy here either, although it looked perfect. We weren’t the only people in the hide – a couple came in and he set up his camera while his wife tried to keep their dog quiet. Then she dropped his tripod on the hide floor. Unfortunate, and could happen to anyone, but likely to reduce the chance of seeing a squirrel. Then it happened again, careless, but still not helping the cause of wildife watching. Her husband didn’t even flinch as the tripod crashed to the floor and, when it happened for a third time, we were all wondereing if it was his wife’s way of trying to get his attention. If it was she was failing spectacularly At that point we gave up and headed across towards the coast, where I’d planned to have our lunch stop at another site that has worked well for us on previous Red Squirrel trips. Sure enough, as soup and sandwiches were consumed, a squirrel came down from the canopy in search of it’s lunch :-) It made off with a peanut and was soon back for more.
After achieving our main aim for the day we spent the rest of the afternoon around Druridge Bay. Avocet, Spoonbill, Little Egret, Bearded Tit, Black-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover, Great Crested Grebe and much more made for an excellent afternoon birdwatching. following on from a morning of squirrelwatching and peoplewatching
As I met up with David for breakfast at The Swan on Wednesday morning, ahead of two days on the Northumberland coast, we’d already switched our itinerary round. The plan to visit Holy Island on Thursday looked as though it might be slightly impacted by the weather, so we switched Druridge Bay to that day instead.
The drive north on the A1 was in glorious weather, with Common Buzzards soaring low over plantations in the chill of the early morning and we were soon on Holy Island in a stiffening breeze, carefully stalking towards a flock of Dark-bellied Brent Geese that posed for David’s camera. Bar-tailed Godwits, and a lone Black-tailed Godwit were probing the exposed mud of the harbour at low tide and Wigeon and Teal were on the Rocket Pool. A Common Kestrel was hovering nearby and, as the tide turned, we headed to the causeway to see what would be pushed towards us by the advancing water. Redshank, Curlew, Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwit, Shelduck and a Little Egret all fed along the swelling channels
and then a mass of Pale-bellied Brent Geese flew in from the south. As the water began to lap at the edge of the causeway we drove back on to the mainland, and headed to a quiet stretch of shoreline where I knew David could use the cover of a hedgerow to approach a flock of Pale-bellied Brents whilst avoiding detection.
Using the car as a photographic hide (something of a theme for the holiday!) we got very close views of a flock of Wigeon,
and then we settled in the iconic shadow of Bamburgh Castle and scanned the sea in temperatures that were now bone-chilling :-) Purple Sandpipers, Turnstones, Oystercatchers and Redshank were roosting just above the water line and beyond the rafts of Eider were flocks of Common Scoter, with one large group of females looking stunningly orange in the beautiful late afternoon sunlight. Long-tailed Ducks played hide and seek, utilising their propensity for diving, and the developing swell, to keep me on my toes as I located a group with the ‘scope so that David could see them. Scanning the scoter flocks paid dividends as a female Velvet Scoter rose up and over one advancing wave crest, Red-throated Divers cruised along in their eternal search for fish and a last scan before we headed back down the coast produced a Slavonian Grebe. As it turned dark, the clear sky afforded excellent ‘scope views of the crescent Venus, and the thinnest sliver of crescent Moon. So soon after New Moon would be a spring tide, and the one forecast for the following day was predicted to be a big one…
Did you hear the one about the Leeds fan, the Liverpool fan and the Hull City fan who had a day out birding in Northumberland?…
I collected Andy and Sue from their hotel in Bamburgh and we headed south for a day around Druridge Bay and the southeast Northumberland coast. In glorious early morning sunlight, a very obliging Common Buzzard was perched on a hedge by the road and we were soon admiring the first of several species of duck that we were to encounter during the day with two pairs of Eider on the River Coquet. Sue spotted two Roe Deer as Redshank and Curlew were pottering along the water’s edge, Turnstone were engaged in using their heads to turn over large heaps of seaweed and a Little Egret flew upstream. Sanderling were skittering back and forth along the gently breaking surf and Bar-tailed Godwits and Ringed Plover were on the beach as ghostly white Mediterranean Gulls soared overhead.
Ducks proved to be a theme for the day, as did large numbers of Curlew, with Gadwall, Mallard, Red-breasted Merganser, Tufted Duck, Scaup, Teal, Wigeon and, probably the most stunning of all, two Long-tailed Ducks at Druridge Pools. A Black-necked Grebe was a picture of elegance in black and white, and small skeins of Pink-footed Geese were heading south. Starlings were massing as dusk approached and we headed back towards Bamburgh as darkness decended.
Along with my passion for seabirds and raptors, there’s another group of birds that always set my pulse racing. With an endearing habit of poking their faces into gooey mud in search of food, waders are always exciting :-) Large flocks of Knot, Dunlin and Golden Plover are a spectacular sight during the winter months, rivalling the huge murmurations of Starlings that attract so much attention, but there’s one time of year when I think waders are particularly good…
I collected Jamie and Louise from Alnwick and we headed southeast towards Druridge Bay. Marsh Harriers, Little Egrets and a steady northward flow of Gannets were all good, but a mixed flock of waders was the sort of spectacle that late July can produce. ~200 Knot, 150 Dunlin, 12 Turnstone and a Sanderling would be a good mixed flock at any time of the year, particularly at a fairly short distance. This isn’t just any time of the year though, this is the time when adult waders, still in breeding plumage, are heading down our coastline on migration; Red Knot being properly red, with a stunning silvery wash to their upperparts, Dunlin with solidly black bellies, Turnstone with rich mahogany upperparts, white heads and striking face patterns and a lone Sanderling - not the stark black-and-white of the birds we see dodging the onrushing tideline during the winter, but with the brick red/orange face and throat that can make you look twice before you’re sure what you’re looking at. Who said that July can be a dull month…
As I collected Carol and Howard from their holiday accommodation in Alnwick, the bright afternoon sunshine was going to make viewing conditions difficult for the first few hours. The plan for the afternoon and evening was the one that has worked so well for us in mid-July previously; birdwatching around Druridge Bay, a quick scan of the sea while we have our picnic stop, then settle down to enjoy the wildlife that makes its appearance as daylight fades.
Little Egrets were the highlight of the first section of the afternoon, but what came next was so astonishing that I was lost for words…
As we arrived at our picnic spot, overlooking the North Sea, I was amazed to see that the sea was absolutely mirror-calm; not a ripple or wave as far as the eye could see. We’d only just started our soup and sandwiches when the mirror was shattered…by a White-beaked Dolphin :-) Many of our encounters with dolphins are small groups of animals that are travelling from one spot to another. Not this time though, as another three appeared next to the first one and they spent nearly an hour in the one small area, along with another eight animals in three small groups. We watched them breaching, and circling in one tight area, presumably over a food source. The most remarkable thing though, was that the sea was so flat that we could see the tell-tale fluke prints when they were just beneath the surface. As the groups moved a little way, we knew exactly where they were going to surface next. Now, watching dolphins in Northumberland waters is “something really special” ((c) Joanne, one of our regular North Sea pelagic clients) and the only way to top it is…to watch a Minke Whale surfacing just beyond the dolphins at the same time! Awesome
Sometimes I think that I’m lucky, sometimes I’m quite sure that I’m lucky, and sometimes I have absolutely no doubt…
As the heat of the day began to cool, with increasing cloud cover, it was time to head out and collect the five clients for our Otter mini-Safari. I picked Gabrielle and Michael up from Morpeth and then drove across to Church Point, where Andy had already met up with David and Rhian.
Before we’d even got everyone in the car, there was chance for an ID session with a bird that everyone was aware of, but wasn’t quite sure how to identify; a very obliging adult Mediterranean Gull flew by, perched on a lamp post, flew by again, was joined by a 1st summer bird and then drifted off out over Newbiggin bay.
As the evening passed we had some excellent birdwatching encounters; three Little Egrets were very welcome, Grey Herons were sitting around just about everywhere that we visited, two summer-plumaged Red Knot flew by, Little Gulls were deftly picking flies from the calm water’s surface as Sandwich and Common Terns took a slightly more forthright approach to the acquisition of food, two juvenile Marsh Harriers were testing out their wings low over a reedbed and an adult male, began quartering the sand dunes, Eiders swam close to us and Curlews, Lapwings and Oystercatchers were all roosting peacefully.
Then, at the site that I’d thought would be the best place to complete our trip, David said the words that everyone was waiting to hear “I’m sure I’ve just seen an Otter“. Making it’s way quickly along the edge of the pool, it took a few minutes before everyone had seen it. Then it just got better – first we could track it’s progress by the expanding ring of Mallards, Gadwall and Tufted Ducks around it’s exact location, then by the ring of bright water each time it surfaced in the shadow of the reeds, before we suddenly had a stampede of ducks hurrying past just a few metres away from us. Sure enough, the Otter was now making it’s way along the edge of the pool on the side where we were sitting, passing closely enough that binoculars weren’t necessary :-) As it overshot the ducks, the stampede reversed direction and the Otter made it’s way into the darkness of the reeds.
With a request for Barn Owl from the back of the car, I knew which route we’d take back down the coast. Sure enough, perched on a roadside wire, the ‘White Owl‘ might have well been waiting for us, before flying parallel to the road over the fields and into the night
As I collected Claire and her mum from Alnwick for an afternoon around Druridge Bay and set off on an exploration of Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland, they mentioned that they were going to watch the Wimbledon Men’s singles final on iPlayer once we finished for the day, so it was important to avoid finding out the score. I’d done something similar myself back in 2009, on the final day of the Premier League season – including extending a safari day and not switching the radio on once I’d dropped my clients off. The outcome on that occasion was that I indirectly learned the fate of Hull City, the team I’ve supported since I was very young, when I drove through Amble and the beer garden at the Wellwood was filled with Newcastle United supporters with their heads in their hands…
Birdwatching in the stunning weather produced two Little Egrets, a species I haven’t seen for a few months, and 24 Black-tailed Godwits – that most elegant of waders. Canada and Greylag Geese were on edge, but whatever was agitating them remained hidden deep in the reeds. The godwits were eventually disturbed by a complete idiot who seemed to think that flying low over a nature reserve in a paramotor is an ok thing to do. Now, I know it can’t be easy when you’re hanging under a parachute with a desk fan strapped to your back but it’s incredibly irresponsible to disturb wildlife in a nature reserve in that way. You may think you’re some sort of modern day James Bond, or Milk Tray man, but you aren’t – you’re like a parody of the Wacky Races. There, I feel much better now
As we continued down the coast we had a near miss with the tennis score. I was getting our telescope out of the boot, and the ladies were still at the front of the car, when someone parked just behind us told his family the latest score as they walked up from the beach. Little Gulls, Redshanks, Curlews, Lapwings and a Greenshank were all lazing in the baking heat of the mid-afternoon, and both male and female Marsh Harriers drifted menacingly over the reedbeds.
Heading back towards Alnwick, surely we’d avoided hearing the outcome of the tennis? As we drove through Warkworth, it was fortunate that I was the only one to notice that one of the pubs had the score written on it’s blackboard standing on the pavement