Tag: Little Egret
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
August is always a stressful month for NEWT. As well as leading our regular safari days, it’s British Birdwatching Fair month, and the week leading up to the Bird Fair is always frantic; checking that we’ve got everything for the stand, mounting a new series of limited edition prints for sale, liaising with all of the other Birdwatching Northumberland partners to make sure that everybody knows exactly which aspects of the project they’re responsible for, and making sure that we’ve got a supply of local beer for the 4pm ‘free bar’ on our stand
Then, after a busy three days, it’s all over and we head north…this year to the thankfully cooler temperatures of Northumberland. From leaving Rutland at 6pm on Sunday to arriving back in Northumberland just after 10pm, the temperature drop was an impressive 14C.
Yesterday was our first post-BirdFair trip, a day of birdwatching around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. I collected Alex from Church Point, and we started with a good scan of the beach. 4 Mediterranean Gulls were close by and a small group of waders contained Oystercatcher, Common Redshank, Sanderling and Ringed Plover. Waders proved to be a theme for the day and we added Common Sandpiper, Spotted Redshank, Lapwing, Ruff, Dunlin, Knot, Curlew Sandpiper, Curlew, Greenshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Turnstone, Wood Sandpiper, Common Snipe, Golden Plover and Avocet to the day list as we made our way around NEWT’s local area. With an impressive supporting cast that included Water Rail, 3 Little Egrets and a Spoonbill it was a great day to be watching the edges of our local ponds, and a real education in just how much inward and outward movement of birds there is from the feeding and roosting wader flocks that grace southeast Northumberland at this time of the year. It was a great day too, to appreciate just how friendly and helpful local birdwatchers are in Northumberland – many thanks to Len and Gill for pointing us in the direction of the Wood Sandpiper, and Gill’s sharp eyes picked out the Spotted Redshank which then vanished without trace soon after being found and appreciated
The autumn regularly produces excellent birdwatching experiences, and our Friday afternoon Lindisfarne mini-safari was no exception.
I collected Pat and Ian from Glororum and we headed north towards Holy Island. With the tide falling, the newly exposed mud provided a veritable banquet for the massed waders and wildfowl. As far as the eye could see the shoreline was lined with Pale-bellied and Dark-bellied Brent Geese, Barnacle Geese were arriving and the mud was a hive of activity with Wigeon, Teal, Bar-tailed Godwits, Curlews, Redshanks, Oystercatchers, Knot, Dunlin and Grey Plover all tucking in. 2 Carrion Crows were administering a warm welcome to a Peregrine, and a Little Egret flew in, landing beside another egret that was stalking around the edges of a pool on the mudflats. As the afternoon wore on, we relocated to Bamburgh, and the rocks there produced excellent views of the waders we’d seen earlier as well as a few Purple Sandpipers.
Then came one of those real experience moments. Despite the strong offshore winds 3 Fieldfares were battling against the headwind, low over the waves. They crossed the beach, flew by us and as they dropped towards the shelter of the coastal fields they were intercepted by 2 Sparrowhawks. The final act of the encounter happened out of sight, but you can’t help thinking that it was a cruel end to a herculean effort.
Being in the right place at the right time is so critical to everything we do; if we’re searching for Otters we need to be there when they rise from their slumber and become active, if Badgers are the target for the trip then arriving the correct length of time before sunset is important, and if we’re visiting Holy Island then timing is a real key to success.
I set off up the A1 with Jo on board, and collected Paul from Bamburgh. The plan for the day was a simple one; spend a few hours birdwatching on Holy Island, then leave as the tide was rising and check sites down the coast towards Bamburgh. From the top of the Heugh, we scanned across the sandflats whilst listening to the ghostly moaning of a group of Grey Seals. An Arctic Skua was harassing the roosting terns and gulls, Curlew and Bar-tailed Godwits were probing along the water’s edge, Grey Plover, many of them still in their incredibly beautiful breeding plumage, seemed to be everywhere that we looked and a Kestrel chased a Peregrine through the dunes around Snook House. Back on the mainland we found a Whimbrel in a group of Curlew, our second Peregrine of the day beat a menacing path along the shoreline and there was a real surprise in the shape of 5 Pale-bellied Brent Geese. Budle Bay produced a Little Egret, a flock of 150+ Grey Plover and a distant feeding frenzy of Gannets that could be seen above the breaking surf. Finally, as the tide begin to crash against the dunes in the shadow of Bamburgh Castle, we watched as a flock of Knot, Turnstone, Oystercatcher, Redshank, Sanderling and Dunlin braved the onrushing waves for longer than the human visitors to the beach
Things weren’t looking too promising as I headed up the A697 to collect Ian and Barbara from their holiday accommodation at The Coach House; rain, mist and fog were all conspiring to reduce visibility. Once we were on our way towards Holy Island things improved though, and our walk on the island was in reasonable weather. Plenty of Curlew and Bar-tailed Godwits were along the water’s edge and little parties of Guillemot and Red-breasted Merganser were spotted on the relatively calm sea. Back on the mainland, things took a turn for the worse and the rain hammered down, making the mudflats seem to be boiling. The numbers of Curlew grew and grew, all demonstrating just how vigorous their feeding technique is. As everything began to disappear into the rain, the eerie calls of Grey Seals came echoing across the mud. Eider, Common Scoter, Puffin, Shag, Cormorant, Guillemot and Razorbill were all on the sea in the shadow of Bamburgh Castle, Turnstones were doing just what their name suggests, 2 Little Egrets were in Budle Bay and 3 Common Buzzards were soaring around as the sun finally began to beat down on the northern edge of the Cheviots as we returned to Crookham at the end of a day of changeable weather, and good birdwatching.