Tag: Little Egret

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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Twitching; Druridge Bay 29/07/2014

by on Aug.05, 2014, under Birdwatching, Northumberland

I collected Stephen from home in North Shields and we headed north to Druridge Bay for an afternoon and evening of birdwatching.  Late July can produce some very good birds, and this was to be no exception…

Mediterranean Gull is a bit of a southeast Northumberland speciality, and the ghostly white adult drifting across the field of view of Stephen’s new binoculars was a lifer for him.  The rest of the afternoon was dominated by waders, with flocks of Curlew, Redshank, Oystercatcher, Lapwing and Black-tailed Godwit all flushing in alarm at an unseen (at least by us) menace.  The banks of the River Aln produced Curlew, Whimbrel, Greenshank, Spotted Redshank and four Little Egrets.  We bumped into a few of NEWT’s other clients during the afternoon and, when Len and Gill calmly mentioned that there was Stilt Sandpiper at Cresswell, we restructured the afternoon :-)  Arriving at Cresswell, the news wasn’t good; the bird had apparently disappeared into long grass on the edge of the pool four hours earlier and hadn’t reappeared.  Knot, Dunlin, Common Snipe, Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Curlew, Lapwing, Golden Plover and Avocet are all very nice birds, but they’re no Stilt Sandpiper.  We decided to head down the coast and have something to eat while scanning the sea.  As we left Cresswell, Gill said that they’d ‘phone me if the bird reappeared so I took my mobile off silent although, with a four and a half gap since the last sighting, I wasn’t overly optimistic.  Ten minutes later, I’d just poured the soup and we were enjoying our picnic when my ‘phone rang.  I didn’t manage to get it out of my pocket in time to answer it, but it soon rang again and this time it was a call from Ipin “Martin, it’s back”.

Stephen had his second lifer of the afternoon, and late July was doing what it does really well – excellent waders :-)

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Edgy; Otter Safari 23/07/2014

by on Jul.28, 2014, under Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Otter

Last Wednesday was a bespoke ‘truncated’ Otter Safari, booked as a retirement present for Joe.  I collected Joe, Ann, Jess and Jack from Newton by the Sea and we made our way south to Druridge Bay.  We had our picnic, overlooking the North Sea, enjoyed the graceful elegance of Avocet and Little Egret and then settled into position at one of our regular Otter sites…

Otters may be relatively common and widespread in Northumberland, certainly when you compare our county to other areas of England, but they can still prove frustrating.  Many times we’ve watched all of the assembled wildlife behaving as if there’s an Otter present…without our quarry putting in an appearance.  A strip of Amphibious Bistort seemed as good a place as any to start scanning; it should hold small fish and invertebrates, attracting larger animals that prey on them.  Sure enough, scanning along the edge I came across the familiar ‘Loch Ness Monster’ shape of an Otter resting at the surface :-)  We watched as it twisted, turned, dived and fed for nearly an hour, with Mute Swans, Tufted Ducks and Mallards watching warily and a Black-headed Gull swooping down each time the Otter surfaced.  Eventually it went out of sight, but not before Jess took photos of it through the telescope…using a small compact camera :-)  The journey back to Newton included not one, not two, but three Barn Owls.   The middle of the summer may often be regarded as not the best wildlife-watching season that we have, but it produces the goods year after year :-)

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“That’s not a bill. That’s a bill”; Otter Safari 12/07/2014

by on Jul.15, 2014, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Otter

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.

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Marshland magic; Druridge Bay 04/07/2014

by on Jul.08, 2014, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Natural History, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

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 :-)

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