Tag: Little Egret

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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Wild Goose chase; Bespoke Birdwatching 30/10/2014

by on Nov.03, 2014, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Holy Island, Natural History, Northumberland Coast

Thursday was Pete and Janet’s 6th trip with NEWT, and the dismal, gloomy, drizzly south easterly weather as I drove to Embleton seemed ever so slightly promising :-)

We started around Druridge Bay, checking a small area of woodland close to the coast, and soon encountered one of my favourite passerines, with three Brambling feeding quietly high in the canopy and two more flying over noisily.  Everywhere we went there were Robins and Blackbirds, although little sign of any other migrants other than a large flock of Redwing over Cresswell and a flock of Fieldfare near Beadnell.  Leaping Salmon on the River Coquet provided a lot of entertainment and a Cormorant which had been catching small fish, dived, causing a large Salmon to leap clear of the water.  The fish splashed back down and the Cormorant surfaced, gripping it behind the gills.  As the bird drifted downstream with its catch, we couldn’t believe that it would be able to deal with such a large fish…then it manouvered it so that the fish’s head was pointing down it’s throat and swallowed it whole!

As dusk approached, we were on the coast near Holy IslandLittle Egrets, Grey Plover, Curlew and Redshank were on the mudflats and the high yapping sound of Pink-footed Geese could be heard distantly.  Skein after skein appeared against the dark clouds overhead, settling close to the oncoming tide.  Then more, and more, and more…thousands and thousands of geese, still arriving when it was so dark that they were just a slightly darker speckling against an almost featureless backdrop.  Finally, as we headed back to the car, the ‘teu-it’ call of a Spotted Redshank cut through the gloom as the geese continued to arrive.

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Halcyon Days; Otter Safari 13/10/2014

by on Oct.15, 2014, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

Monday was a day around Druridge Bay and the southeast Northumberland coast, and an extraordinary contrast with Sunday’s summery weather…

I collected Trish and Carol from Dunstan and we headed south along the coast.  Kingfisher is always a spectacular sight, and one flew under a bridge beneath our feet, adding a touch of sparkle to a day that was developing into cold, windy and gloomy.  Ducks are, for the most part, out of eclipse plumage now and Wigeon, Teal, Tufted Duck and Gadwall were all looking resplendent.  Little Grebes were engaged in non-stop fish catching, Curlew flew noisily by and a Little Egret was stalking elegantly along the River Coquet.  We were joined for the latter part of the day by Michael and Fiona and we settled into position to search for Otters.  In such gloomy windy conditions even my eternal optimism was dampened slightly, and although there were occasional panicky moments among the ducks, which included a beautifully elegant Pintail, the enigmatic predator didn’t put in an appearance.  What we did get though was a Starling murmuration so close we could hear the wingbeats, thousands and thousands of Pink-footed Geese flying to roost and flock after flock of Golden Plover and Lapwing appearing out of the gloom of the dusk sky and dropping into nearby fields.  Dusk is still my favourite time of the day, and if you’ve never experienced it surrounded by wildlife you really should give it a go, even the common birds are transformed by numbers and there’s always the chance of a mammal or two :-)

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The Island; Lindisfarne Safari 12/10/2014

by on Oct.15, 2014, under Bamburgh Castle, Birdwatching, Lindisfarne, Northumberland

After a break from work and blogging, and our first proper holiday in quite a while, I got back into the swing of things on Sunday with a visit to probably my favourite mid-October location…

Crossing the causeway to Holy Island is always accompanied by a sense of anticipation, and when I collected Graham and Joan from the Manor House they mentioned that Yellow-browed Warblers had been seen the day before.  Checking the bushes and trees in the Vicar’s Garden didn’t produce any sight or sound of the Siberian speciality, but everywhere was heaving with Robins – presumably recent arrivals from the continent – and Grey Plover, Pale-bellied Brent Goose, Bar-tailed Godwit and Grey Seal could be seen, and heard, by turning through 90 degrees from the trees.  After checking other suitable spots around the village, and finding a couple of Goldcrest, we crossed to the mainland and down to Bamburgh.  Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Curlew, Purple Sandpiper and Knot were around the rocks as Eider and Guillemot rose and fell with the gentle swell of the sea and Gannet and Sandwich Tern plunged into shoals of fish offshore in conditions that wouldn’t have been out of place in mid-June.  We made our way slowly back up the coast, taking in vast flocks of Wigeon over the mudflats and a Weasel that responded obligingly to my imitation of a dying mouse (the sound, rather than a visual imitation!).  Little Egrets and Shelduck were exploiting the food supply on the exposed mud and we crossed back on to the island…only to learn that a White-tailed Eagle had been soaring high inland of us while we were watching the Weasel :-(  We headed down to the causeway, to see if the eagle would make a reappearance, as flocks of Sanderling, Dunlin, Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit, Pale-bellied Brent Goose and Golden Plover concentrated on the rapidly diminishing areas of mud above the rising tide and a Peregrine powered across our field of view before it was time for me to cross back to the mainland and head south.

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Mini-beasting; Bespoke Otter Safari 02/09/2014

by on Sep.10, 2014, under Uncategorized

It’s remarkable how often a theme seems to develop during a trip; flocks, migration, raptors, birds with similar names – all have happened over the last few years.

I drove up to the Breamish Valley to collect Donna and Andy and we headed towards the coast and Druridge Bay with the plan of spending the afternoon and evening birdwatching, finishing at what has been our most reliable Otter site this year (although a run of five successful trips eneded with our last two Druridge Bay safaris not producing any sightings of this enigmatic predator).  Starting in the hills on a nice afternoon, I thought it would be good to search for Adders, and Andy’s sharp eyes produced the goods, with the smallest Adder that I’ve ever seen :-)

The afternoon continued with the waders we would expect – Ruff, Curlew, Lapwing, Redshank, Oystercatcher, Dunlin, Common Snipe – and one much more scarce, in the shape of two Little Stints.  We had a rear-end view of a Spoonbill heading north and a Little Egret was stalking along the shallows.  It may be a predominantly white bird, but it’s stunning in good light.  Adult and juvenile Mediterranean Gulls were picked out from the roosting Black-headed Gulls and, as dusk approached, we settled into position to watch for Otters.  A juvenile Marsh Harrier was quartering the reedbeds, Starlings were arriving to roost, with some murmuration, a Spoonbill flew in, magnificent in the sunset, then, in the fading rays of daylight, there was an Otter :-)  Clearly a theme was developing, as this was a very small Otter cub.  Eventually light levels reached the point where we decided to call it a day and head back northwest.  The day’s theme continued, with a tiny Rabbit along the roadside, and then the final wildlife experience, on a day with wildlife and clients that reminded me so often why I love my job; a Barn Owl crossing the road ahead of us before perching in the beam of our headlights :-)

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Waders; Druridge Bay Safari 31/08/2014

by on Sep.10, 2014, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland

You wouldn’t think that birds which spend much of their lives face deep in mud would be that fascinating, but July and August is one of my favourite times on the coast, precisely because of those birds :-)

I collected Carole and Gareth from Church Point and we headed a little way up the coast for an afternoon around Druridge BayCommon Snipe, Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Lapwing, Redshank, Oystercatcher and Dunlin were all roosting as four Mediterranean Gulls flew in to join the assembled Black-headed GullsLittle Egrets are becoming a regular sight on our coastal trips and Grey Herons patiently stalk the water’s edge around every pool and river.  Little Grebes were their usual busy selves, popping up to the water surface to consume small fish before diving in search of the next one, and there’s an air of change around the coast at this time of the year.  Those wading birds are a sign that summer is nearing its end and, as time moves on so do the birds.  Perhaps the biggest change though is that, by the time it gets beyond 19:30, light levels are falling, large flocks of geese and Starlings are coming to roost and evenings are decidedly chilly.  As we headed back to the car, there was a real autumnal feel to the evening.

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Angel of Death; Bespoke Coastal Safari 26/08/2014

by on Sep.10, 2014, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

I’ll never tire of watching wildlife.  Whether it’s the birds around the feeding station in our garden, whales and dolphins far from land, grouse on the high moors or hoverflies around wildflowers, I’m fascinated by it all.  There are some species though that are so ethereal and attention-grabbing that I’ve often seen clients literally transfixed watching them.

I collected Steve and Sue from The Swan and we set off north to begin our exploration of the Northumberland coast and its wildlife.  Waders dominated, as they have done for a few weeks now; Ringed Plover, Curlew, Lapwing, Common Snipe, Golden Plover and Dunlin are all birds of the high moorland in the spring, and the coastal strip for most of the rest of the year.  These annual visitors were alongside Ruff and Black-tailed Godwit, which don’t breed in Northumberland (but probably could!) and the ever expanding (northwards, not outwards) Little Egrets. Grey Herons seemed to be everywhere that we looked, and Goosanders were lazing on a midstream rock as Salmon gorged themselves on the plethora of flies forming a thick film on the river’s surface.  Skeins of Canada and Greylag Geese were heading to roost as dusk approached and we searched without success for an Otter, but a nocturnal bird, putting in an appearance in bright early evening sunlight, was the equal of any television documentary.  Sue spotted it first, as it hovered noiselessly over a small reedbed listening for the tell-tale rustle of a small mammal.  It pounced, then rose carrying a mouse and flew back to its hungry brood.  This has been a good year for our Barn Owls, with many pairs having second broods.  Soon it was out again, quartering, hovering and plunging before lifting again with prey.  Eventually we watched as it perched on a fence post.  Beautiful and deadly in one pale ghostly form.

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Sealed; Bespoke North Northumberland Coast Safari 22/08/2014

by on Aug.25, 2014, under Bamburgh Castle, Birdwatching, Farne Islands, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

After some poor sea conditions recently, things looked more promising for Friday’s trip; a seal cruise around the Farne Islands, followed by a few hours of birdwatching along the North Northumberland coast.  A change is as good as a rest, and the North Northumberland coast is quite a change from the sand dunes and coastal pools of Druridge Bay :-)

I collected Anne-Marie, Dave, Melanie and Mike from the Queen’s Head in Berwick and we drove to Seahouses for our sailing on Glad Tidings V, which thankfully was fairly smooth, and featured plenty of wildlife.  Gannets were soaring by, Kittiwakes were still on their cliff-edge nest sites in good numbers as Fulmars arced over them, Grey Seals were hauled out on rocks and bobbing around in the water, two Common Guillemots were still sitting on the rocks, Cormorants and Shags were drying their wings in the stiff breeze, Sandwich Terns called as they flew back to the islands and, unexpectedly, five Puffins were seen with beakfuls of fish.  Photographing Puffins in flight can be a challenge on land, with lots of birds to choose from, and a bird appearing unexpectedly at sea is an even harder proposition but Anne-Marie and Melanie responded with lightning fast reflexes to capture these late breeding birds.

Back on dry land we had our lunch in the impressive shadow of Bamburgh Castle, as Eiders bobbed around just beyond the breaking surf, and then we explored the coast as the tide fell.  Little Egrets have become a frequent feature of our coastal trips, and two birds flew by at quite close range.  Dozens of Grey Seals could be seen ‘bottling’ at high tide and then, as the water receded, exposing patches of mud, we started encountering waders.  Redshank, Ringed Plover, Curlew, Lapwing, Dunlin  and Oystercatcher were joined by Knot, Ruff and Greenshank as more Little Egrets, and a flock of Teal, flew by.

Heading back to Berwick we could see poor weather to the north and to the east, and I got caught in some heavy rain as I drove south on the way home, but we’d had a day where the only water that landed on us was the spray from the bow of the boat :-)

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Wading through coastal flocks; Druridge Bay mini-Safari 21/08/2014

by on Aug.25, 2014, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland

Changeable, that’s the thing I love about Northumberland’s weather.  Thursday’s mini-Safari in managed to feature bright sunshine, strong winds and torrential rain – all in just a few hours.

I collected Diana and Aveen from Alnmouth and we headed down the coast towards Druridge Bay.  Starting with a brief seawatch, we found Eider and Common Scoter on the sea, and Redshank, Oystercatcher and Turnstone on the rocks just above the crashing waves.  Curlew, Avocet, Dunlin, Knot, Ruff, Lapwing and Redshank were roosting at Cresswell, and flushing frequently although we couldn’t see the cause of their concern.  A Little Egret added a touch of grace and elegance, Little Grebes swam amongst Tufted Ducks and Mallard and at one point we had no less than five Kestrels in the air at the same time.  Two lovely clients, and the Northumberland coast delivering the sort of birdwatching experiences that it does so well :-)

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The magic of dusk; Otter Safari 20/08/2014

by on Aug.25, 2014, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland

After four consecutive successful Otter Safaris since mid-July, I was fairly sure that dusk would be the best time to search for them, and the afternoon could be spent enjoying some excellent birdwatching with the added possibility of stumbling across an Otter in broad daylight…

I arrived in Craster to collect Dave and Naomi and we headed south towards Druridge Bay.  We started with Grey Wagtails bobbing up and down on mid-stream rocks, as Salmon hungrily seized flies from the water’s surface, and then moved on to large roosting flocks of Sandwich Tern, Black-headed Gull, Curlew, Oystercatcher and Lapwing with two Little Egrets standing sentinel-like on an elevated bank above the roost.  Knot, Dunlin, Ruff, Wood Sandpiper, Redshank, Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Common Snipe and Black-tailed Godwit added to the wader haul for the afternoon and real surprise came in the shape of a Kingfisher over Cresswell Pond.  Ghostly white Mediterranean Gulls drifted over Newbiggin and, as dusk approached, Naomi started spotting mammals.  First a Roebuck, prancing, leaping and sparring with tall plant stems like a boxer with a punchbag.  Then, the big one; an Otter :-)  Swimming towards us, we followed it’s dives by the trail of bubbles on the water’s surface, before  it eventually disappeared below the edge of the reedbed that we were looking over, with just the tell-tale ‘ring of bright water’ as it surfaced.  After a few minutes without any sign, the Otter, or a second one, reappeared.  As we each gave directions to where the Otter was, it quickly became apparent that we weren’t all watching the same animal.  Then there were two together to our left, and a third away to our right :-)  At least three Otters, including the smallest cub that I’ve ever seen, and we eventually left, when the light levels had fallen so low that binoculars were all but a hindrance.  As we walked back to the car a Barn Owl passed by, carrying prey, as skeins of Canada and Greylag Geese flew noisily south.

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