Tag: Little Gull

Battling the breeze; Otter Safari 02/06/2015

by on Jun.04, 2015, under Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Otter, Southeast Northumberland

Tuesday saw Pete and Jan taking their 7th trip with NEWT, and as I got out of the car in Embleton to collect them it was ever so slightly breezy…

When every bit of water you look at is whipped up into a froth by the wind, with dainty Little Gulls hanging in the wind and delicately dip-feeding, searching for Otters becomes particularly challenging and, despite Tufted Ducks and Great Crested Grebes staring intently at reedbeds, that we’ve seen Otters appear from in recent weeks, there was no sign of our target species for the afternoon.  A really stiff breeze will frequently lead to reduced sightings of all wildlife, but the afternoon produced some impressive sightings…as we watched at least 10 adult Avocets, and four chicks, at Cresswell, alongside a summer-plumaged Sanderling, two huge birds appeared low over the dunes, battling into the wind.  I gave my head a shake and looked through my binoculars again…and there were two Common Cranes 🙂  They slowly crossed the pond, lifted as a flock of Canada Geese took off beneath them, and were blown back towards the sea!  Undeterred they continued their progress westwards, landed for a few minutes and then continued.  I’d alerted a few local birdwatchers to their presence, including Ipin as they were heading towards his house…and he soon had them as an impressive garden tick 🙂

I couldn’t imagine how the evening could get better…and then as dusk approached, I was scanning through binoculars and noticed a small bird that I couldn’t immediately identify.  A quick switch to viewing through the ‘scope, and there was one of my favourite birds twirling on the water’s surface and darting at flies.  Common Cranes may be huge and impressive, but Red-necked Phalarope is simply a breathtaking avian jewel 🙂

As we headed back to the car, the breeze had decreased in strength, but had also turned from quite warm to bone-chilling.  A Barn Owl flew silently from a fence post, and the journey back to Embleton produced another one sitting on a post just a few metres away from us.

And with that wind, I’d been worried we wouldn’t see anything…

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Spring arrivals; Druridge Bay Safari 30/04/2015

by on May.05, 2015, under Druridge Bay

It’s been a cold windy spring, and a few of our summer visitors seemed a bit tardy; we found our first Sand Martin and Chiffchaff later than we would have expected, but the day has been coming when things would start to happen…

I collected Jan and Peter from Church Point and we set out to spend the day exploring Druridge Bay.  It was, unsurprisingly, cold and very windy again but that didn’t impact on our day birdwatching.  Skylarks soared and sang, Marsh Harriers drifted over reedbeds and fields close to the coast and an impressive range of waders performed obligingly; Oystercatcher, Curlew, Ringed Plover, Avocet, Turnstone, Dunlin, Sanderling and Black-tailed Godwit – the latter three species resplendent in breeding plumage – demonstrated why this is such a popular group of species with birdwatchers.  The godwit in particular stood out; clothed in chestnut and a vision of elegance to rival the Little Egret that was stalking along the water’s edge nearby.  Moorhen and Coot crept furtively along the edge of reedbeds, Stonechat and Meadow Pipit flicked their tails nervously at the tops of bushes in the dunes and an eye-catching fly-catching adult Little Gull was easily picked out from amongst Black-headed Gulls.  Seawatching over lunchtime is a regular feature of our Druridge Bay trips and Eider, Gannet, Manx Shearwater and Common Guillemot could all be seen offshore as Fulmars soared and arced along the clifftops a few metres way from us. Wheatears and a Whinchat flitted from tussock to tussock, strikingly beautiful as they always are at this time of the year, and then a sign that the summer is nearly here; hundreds of Sand Martins were flycatching above every pool on the coast as a group of six House Martins flew in, battling against the strengthening breeze with the imperative to head north driving them on.  Then, a Swift, and another, then six more.  Eight of these scythe-winged masters of the air flew by us, rocking from side-to-side into the wind as they headed to join the feast above the water.

I love those days when we concentrate on looking for a single species, but a day birdwatching with clients and just enjoying, and marvelling, at everything that comes along is pretty much as good as it gets for a birdwatching guide 🙂 As Jan and Peter headed across to Bellingham, and I took the shorter journey back to the office, I was wondering if perhaps the summer weather was on the way…

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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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Putting the bite on; Bespoke safari 20/06/2014

by on Jun.25, 2014, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

Some wildlife is popular with everyone, some isn’t popular with many people at all, and some, despite the best efforts of Springwatch/Autumnwatch/Winterwatch…

I met up with Niel and Nicky at Church Point, and we set out on an exploration of Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  Despite several incidents involving agitated ducks, indicating that they were worried about something in the reeds, we didn’t manage a sighting of any Otters.  The typical quality birdwatching of the Northumberland coast in late June was still in evidence, with at least 5 Avocets and 11 Little Gulls among the throng.  A tiny Tufted Duck travelled back and forth across the water, in what appeared to be an unsuccessful search for it’s parents then, as the sun dropped towards the horizon, we headed to our regular Badger site.

Intriguingly, no Badgers appeared – which is unusual at a site where we have a 95% success rate – but, as at least three Tawny Owls began penetrating the gloom with their eerie calls, the sharp alarms of Blackbird, Robin and Song Thrush heralded the arrival of another mammal that inhabits the darker parts of the day.  Bloodthirsty killer of farmyard chickens, attempted abductor of babes from cribs in the south of England…whichever way you look at it the Red Fox gets a bad press…which sadly glosses over just what wonderful animals they are.  Sleek, beautiful, playful…we watched as three adults trotted across the clearing in front of us.  As Niel photographed one peering from the undergrowth (oh, for a Nikon D4!), I lifted my binoculars and realised that there were three small cubs chasing around too 🙂  Two of the adults, and the three cubs, disappeared along a track up the hill, and then the adults came out into the clearing again, presumably having tucked the kids up safely in bed.  Pipistrelle bats were flitting across our field of view as we conceded that our vision could no longer penetrate the enveloping dark.

Love them or hate them, there’s no denying that foxes have a real magic…a bit like Luis Suarez 🙂

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Six of the best; Cheviot Valleys and Druridge Bay 09/06/2014

by on Jun.13, 2014, under Birdwatching, Cheviot Valleys, Druridge Bay, Northumberland

Monday’s trip was a birdwatching tour of two of Northumberland’s excellent locations; the Cheviot Valleys in the morning, and Druridge Bay in the afternoon.

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 waterbirdsLittle 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, AvocetsGreat 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 🙂

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Zzzzzzzzzz; Badger mini-safari 31/05/2014

by on Jun.02, 2014, under Badger, Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Red Fox

After dropping John, David and Sheila back in Alnwick after their bespoke photography trip to the Farne Islands, I met up with Sarah to have something to eat and then I was on my way to Alnmouth to collect Zoe, Richard, Ella, Luke and Charlie.  This was their second trip with NEWT, following an evening mini-safari in late May last year.

One of the species from last year’s trip put in an impressive appearance again, as we watched a Barn Owl hunting along one edge of a pool, while an Avocet fed at the other side, Reed Buntings seemed to be everywhere we looked and a small group of Little Gulls looked tiny alongside nearby Black-headed Gulls.  Soon, light levels had faded to the point where it was time to head off in search of our main quarry for the evening.  Positioning ourselves in a spot that looks over an area where Badgers are regularly seen, we sat quietly.  Almost immediately myself and Ella noticed something black-and-white moving in the vegetation opposite us.. That turned out to be a false alarm though as it revealed itself to be a Magpie 🙂  Things were quiet, although distantly I could hear the alarm calls of Blackbirds, Robins andWrens.  Then another gentle sound just on the edge of hearing; ZZZZzzzzZZZZzzzzZZZZzzzz.  It was warm and humid so it wouldn’t be a great surprise to encounter lots of insects…although these Z’s were coming from Luke and Charlie!  That’s how relaxing it is to just sit and watch for wildlife…

Out of the corner of my eye I caught some movement away along the track.. Had I imagined it?  Maybe it was a dog walker having an evening stroll?  No more movement…and then a Red Fox trotted across the clearing in front of us.  A second fox followed soon after, and then a Badger, big and ghostly pale, as an attempt was made to wake the boys without making too much noise 🙂  Another fox, this time a cub, sat watching us for a few minutes, and Luke spotted that there was a Badger in the undergrowth just beyond it.  More fox sightings followed, and then a final Badger, as the light reached a point where even the sharpest of eyes would struggle to penetrate the gloom.  The drive back to Alnmouth had one last good mammal for us, as a Brown Hare loped along the road a few metres ahead of the car 🙂

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Winter Wonderland Day Two 05/12/2013

by on Dec.09, 2013, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Photography, Southeast Northumberland

04:30, and I wake to what sounds like a train crashing through our garden.  It isn’t though, instead it’s the howling gales that had been forecast.  Meeting up with David for breakfast at The Swan, I’m glad that we switched our day in Druridge Bay and Southeast Northumberland to today.  Lindisfarne in howling gales and torrential rain would be close to unbearable, Druridge Bay would be much closer to manageable…

Starting with a seawatch as the rain lashed against the rear window of the car, Eider and a single Common Scoter were just offshore as Sanderling scurried around the piles of seaweed on the shore, a ghostly white adult Mediterranean Gull struggled past against the wind and two Dark-bellied Brent Geese flew north low over the waves.  Then the weather cleared and we were suddenly in beautiful sunshine and blue skies with a light breeze…before the wind strengthened again, the sky turned black and a squally shower had the entire surface of the pool at Hauxley looking like it was boiling.  Goldeneye, Long-tailed Duck, Tufted Duck, Scaup and Little Grebe

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all faced the elements…then it turned nice again and a Peregrine flew through, scattering Wigeon and Teal but paying them no heed 🙂  A line of Black-headed Gulls dip-feeding into the breeze at East Chevington contained a surprise in the dainty form of a Little Gull, then it started to rain again.  Sitting by the River Coquet eating lunch, we watched Eider and Red-breasted Merganser, as well as Lapwing, Turnstone, Curlew and Redshank…as the first of the afternoon’s hailstorms began.  Another break in the weather brought David an excellent photo opportunity with a flock of Eider

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before hailstones the size of peas led to a hasty retreat back to the shelter of the car 🙂 Soon the hail was replaced by snow, before another break in the weather brought some simply sublime late afternoon light.

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and a flock of Lapwings were tossed about in the air like pieces of black and white paper.

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With the howling northwesterly winds, the water at Cresswell was being driven towards the channel under the road and between the dunes.  A Black-necked Grebe swam by and then, subtly, and with the inevitability of the tide, water started flowing the other way and a boundary between wind-driven pond and incoming tidal surge developed in front of us.  After a Starling murmuration just up the coast,

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we followed the road back down through Druridge and discovered the tide had overwhelmed the culvert and was still coming in, but now straight over the road in front of us.  Watching the car in front safely traverse the water, we made our way across and headed back to The Swan at the end of an extraordinary day.  David was a pleasure to guide on this holiday, and he kindly sent us the images that illustrate the two blog posts 🙂

We’re taking bookings now for our 2014 holidays, so please get in touch for more details or to book.  We’ve got a range of holidays, each designed to showcase the best of Northumberland, the North Pennines and the Scottish Borders at the best times of the year.

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Eye to eye with the predator; Bespoke Photography 21/10/2013

by on Oct.31, 2013, under Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast, Photography, Southeast Northumberland

The chilly morning air was biting as I arrived in Seahouses to collect Peter, Caroline and Aidan.  With camera gear loaded into the back of the car we headed down the Northumberland coast with two species in particular on our target list for the day – one relatively easy, one slightly less so…

I’d planned the morning to take in a couple of sites for Red Squirrel, and the early afternoon to stake out a regular Otter spot.  So, Red Squirrel is the relatively easy species out of those two…but the first rule of wildlife photography should be ‘wildlife doesn’t perform to order’ and both sites we visited, which have healthy populations of Red Squirrel, didn’t produce any sightings.  That’s often the case though when it’s damp, cool and breezy, so we headed on in search of our second target for the day.  After a brief stake out of a handsome male Stonechat we made our way to the edge of a pond, and were told by another birdwatcher who was there that he’d seen an Otter just 15mins earlier, and it had headed across the pond.  I looked across in the direction he thought it had gone…and the entire bank was lined with ducks and geese.  A good sign; the Otter had obviously spooked them out of the water but it must be still somewhere in the pond, as all of the birds were staring intently.  I couldn’t see any disturbance in the water in that direction though and I was just remarking that I thought the Otter could still be nearby, when it surfaced in front of us 🙂  For the next couple of hours we were treated to regular feeding sorties as the sinuous mustelid caught fish after fish, including at least one large FlounderCormorants and Grey Herons were fishing too, a Water Rail put in a couple of typically fleeting appearances, Common Snipe were prodding, probing and miraculously vanishing in short vegetation, Lapwing, Curlew and Redshank were roosting, calling and occasionally flushing, Mallard and Teal kept standing to attention every time the Otter was close by, a murmuration of Starlings away to the north disbanded into smaller flocks that flew straight over our heads and seven Little Gulls danced their dainty flight back and forth over the pond.  Perhaps the moment of the day though, was when the Otter appeared around the edge of a reedbed and started straight into Aidan’s camera lens.  The second rule of wildlife photography should be ‘…and sometimes it does’ 🙂

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Never mind the Balearics…

by on Oct.12, 2013, under Birdwatching, North Sea

…here’s the Bonxies.

Watching the weather forecast during the week, and having a day on Holy Island on Thursday with Malcolm (trip report to come soon!), convinced me that there was somewhere I needed to be at dawn on Friday.  Arriving at Church Point in the half-light there were a few cars already parked, and a wander along to the point with Mike H found the owners of those cars already intently scanning the angry-looking sea.  Andy McL, Tim C., Eric B., David D. and Jimmy S. were all clustered around the ‘seawatching hut’.

It would be good to be able to report that I’m thoroughly domesticated and house-trained and, after the few hours I’d planned to spend seawatching, I went home, via the supermarket to do the grocery shopping, and did all of the housework.  However, back in what Sarah refers to as ‘the world according to Martin’ that couple of hours to see if there was any movement of seabirds turned into a plan to stay until 12:00…then mid-afternoon…and finally, as the light faded to the point where you could hallucinate the sort of sightings that Ellington’s second best birdwatcher * was enjoying a few miles to the north of us, I gave up just after 18:00.  11 hours on Church Point, but a not-too-shabby day list;

Black Guillemot 1

Great Crested Grebe 1

Pale-bellied Brent Goose 20

Dark-bellied Brent Goose 2

Long-tailed Duck 4

Goldeneye 9

Velvet Scoter 15

Shoveler 24

Red-throated Diver 24

Black-throated Diver 3

Great Northern Diver 7

Manx Shearwater 53

Sooty Shearwater 62

Balearic Shearwater 2

Great Skua 261

Pomarine Skua 3

Long-tailed Skua 3

Arctic Skua 8

Red-breasted Merganser 7

Little Gull 3

Arctic Tern 1

‘blue’ Fulmar 12

Short-eared Owl 1

*Ellington’s best birdwatcher is, and it really goes without saying, Iain’s better half, Janet 🙂

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Northumberland coast birdwatching and Otter-spotting 16/07/13

by on Jul.17, 2013, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

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 🙂

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