Tag: Little Owl

Autumn arrivals; Otter Safari 04/10/17

by on Oct.06, 2017, under Druridge Bay

There’s something special about birds with ‘Little’ in their name, unsurprisingly quite little and I can’t think of a single one that isn’t a delight to watch…

I collected Calvin from Church Point ahead of an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland searching for Otters, and the first spots of drizzle were in the air on a stiff westerly breeze.  We could soon hear the distinctive yapping calls of Pink-footed Geese high overhead, and there was an almost continuous passage of these winter visitors from the north for around 7 hours no matter where we were on the coast.  A party of Whooper Swans dropped in, bathing and calling before probably continuing south (we came across what looked to be the same birds a few miles further down the coast later in the afternoon) as a juvenile Marsh Harrier quartered the reedbeds, hanging in the breeze.  A very obliging Little Owl was preening itself on top of a stone wall, Goosanders sailed menacingly out from bankside vegetation, four Little Grebes were plundering a shoal of small fish and the passage of geese continued.  A nice wader roost included Curlew, Lapwing, Redshank, Dunlin and three really smart looking Little Stints before another juvenile Marsh Harrier drifted by, scattering them all and revealing the presence of two Curlew Sandpipers which quickly vanished away to the north in light drizzle.  The most surprising bird of the afternoon was a Green Woodpecker that flew across the track at Druridge Pools – checking with Ipin, it turns out that there are only two previous records for the site!

As dusk approached the forecast drizzle arrived and, as geese continued to pass high overhead, Grey Herons and Little Egrets flew to roost in the gloom.

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Waifs, strays and the gloom of dusk; Druridge Bay Safari 26/09/17

by on Sep.27, 2017, under Druridge Bay

I collected Richard and Liz from Whitley Bay and we headed north along the coast for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland

After a few breezy weeks, we’d got something different to contend with; dense, patchy fog all along the coast.  I don’t mind that too much though, it’s usually manageable, and the birdwatching can be exciting when you don’t know what’s lurking in the mist 🙂  Brambling and Tree Sparrow called overhead as we had lunch, and Redshank, Oystercatcher and Ringed Plover were on the beach below us.  A Little Owl, only revealing it’s presence as it flew quickly out of sight, and a much more obliging Little Owl a couple of minutes later were a great find early in the trip.  Teal, Wigeon, Mallard, Gadwall, Tufted Duck and Shoveler were sleeping and feeding and, particularly in the case of one female Mallard, being very vocal as Great Crested Grebes and Cormorants hunted with elegant menace, a Little Grebe demonstrated a remarkable aptitude for catching small fish and Lapwings were battling the breeze before settling to roost with Starlings and the disembodied voices of Curlew carried through the mist.

Given the cold foggy conditions, moths and butterflies were a surprise.  First a dozen or so Nettle-tap Moths, then the first of several Red Admirals and a Speckled Wood.  A Sparrowhawk was pursuing a small bird (possibly a Chaffinch) and passed just a few metres in front of the car windscreen in it’s pursuit and we set about one of the great joys of birdwatching on the Northumberland coast; wandering along a narrow track between Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Elder and Sycamore with the mist curling it’s cold tendrils around us.  Robins were ‘ticking’ from the bushes, and at least three were singing when they would be better of putting their effort into feeding.  Blackcaps were in the Elders and we tracked down our quarry, although it proved elusive before eventually offering confiding views.  First just a brief glimpse of a small warbler as it flitted between bushes, apparently settling in a Sycamore before vanishing again.  Then as we were looking where we thought it had gone it flew out from behind us and over our our heads, giving a remarkably loud ‘tsooeest’ call before diving back into cover.  Then it appeared at the top of a bush and just sat there, offering great views.  Yellow-browed Warbler is one of the real gems of east coast birding in the autumn and this little treasure eventually performed well for all of us.

With the mist making dusk even gloomier than usual, Grey Herons and a Little Egret flew by a noisy roost of ‘chacking’ Jackdaws as Soprano Pipistrelles hunted the leeward edge of a riverside tree and we listened to their calls with our bat detector before heading back towards the bright lights of Whitley Bay 🙂

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Darkness descending; Druridge Bay mini-Safari 20/09/17

by on Sep.21, 2017, under Druridge Bay

I collected Ian and Julie from Hauxley and before we’d set off for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay things got off to a great start with Goldcrests and a Yellow-browed Warbler in the car park 🙂

Next up were two young Roe Deer, trotting along the edge of a field before stopping to watch us, and a Little Owl sitting on the end of the gutter of a cottage.  Waders occupied our attentions for the next hour and a large roosting flock of very vocal Lapwings were accompanied by plenty of Dunlin, a couple of Common Redshank and single Ruff, Curlew and Greenshank, as well as an elusive Common Snipe camouflaged in among reed stubble as Little Egrets squabbled over a prime feeding spot while practically glowing in late afternoon sunlight.  A Barn Owl flew by, carrying a Short-tailed Vole, before vanishing into a barn then reappearing only to be pestered by Jackdaws, Rooks and Carrion Crows.  With light levels falling, Starlings passed by in impressive flocks, but they’d decided to forego a prolonged murmurating display in favour of heading straight to roost in the reedbeds  out of the cold and wind.  With ducks in eclipse plumage it isn’t the best time of year to enjoy watching them but we could still identify Shoveler, Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Gadwall and Pintail in the fading light as Little and Great Crested Grebes alternated between sleeping and diving and Cormorants sat motionless as a Grey Heron flew over with heavy wingbeats.  As the light faded to the point where it was a struggle to see, the squealing of a Water Rail was followed soon after by a brief view of this strange little denizen of the reedbeds as it half-ran, half-flew across a gap in the reeds.

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Birds, birds, birds; Druridge Bay mini-Safari 12/09/17

by on Sep.13, 2017, under Druridge Bay

I collected Peter and Melanie from Cramlington ahead of a few hours around Druridge Bay and apart from a stiff breeze the weather was just about ideal…

Some impressively dense flocks of Swallows and Sand Martins were gorging themselves on flying insects, Little Egrets were stalking through the shallows with the feathers ruffled by the breeze, Goldfinches were foraging among the dried out heads of knapweed, Black-tailed Godwit, Ruff and Dunlin were wading in the shallows and Shoveler, Gadwall, Teal, Wigeon and Mallard were all far less impressive than they’ll be in a few months time with all of the drakes currently in eclipse plumage.  Grey Herons were sitting motionless along the edges of reedbeds and in among clumps of rush, Starlings and Lapwings were swirling on the breeze, Cormorants were submerging repeatedly in search of food, Little and Great Crested Grebes were sleeping in the afternoon sunshine and there were a few real quality birds throughout the afternoon. A Black-necked Grebe led us a merry dance as it made it’s way quickly across, and most of the time underneath, the water and a Little Owl was incredibly obliging, first perched on a feed trough, then a stone wall and finally right on the apex of a cottage roof.  Marsh Harrier and a typically zippy Merlin rounded out the afternoon and we finished before the rain arrived 🙂

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Owling; Otter Safari 17/07/17

by on Jul.19, 2017, under Druridge Bay

I collected Una and then Verna from Church Point and we set off for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and South East Northumberland searching our favourite Otter spots

The heat of the afternoon was tempered by a gentle breeze as we came across 8 Little Egrets and a Kingfisher put in a brief but brilliant appearance with flash of dazzling azure as it landed on a rock in front of us before flying across the river and reappearing a few minutes later.  More azure blue flashed towards the extremity of Blue-tailed Damselflies and a Red Admiral took a real liking to Verna, flying around for a few seconds before settling on her arm 🙂  As the evening progressed the light suddenly switched from dazzling and contrasty to sublimely beautiful.  A small Starling murmuration hinted at the spectacle we’ll be enjoying by the winter, 2 Roe Deer were in deep vegetation, a Kestrel was flitting from tree to tree along the roadside ahead of the car and a Barn Owl flew over the reeds carrying a Short-tailed Field Vole as Common Swift, Barn Swallow, House Martin and Sand Martin plundered the dense clouds of insects rising above the ethereal mist drifting over the water.

As the light faded and we headed back a Brown Hare loped along the road ahead of us, pausing on the track into a field and I suggested that owls should be on the target list for the next 10-15 minutes of the drive.  Two separate telegraph poles were adorned with Little Owls, with the tiny predators giving us their very best withering stare, before a third Little Owl flew alongside the car briefly and a Barn Owl drifted across the road ahead of us 🙂

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Slimming; Otter Safari 21/04/17

by on Apr.22, 2017, under Druridge Bay

The first drops of rain speckled the windscreen of the car as I arrived at Church Point to collect Luke and Louise for their third day out with NEWT this week – an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland searching for Otters

With the lovely weather of recent days replaced by an icy cold breeze and drizzle, it was looking like it would be a long, hard afternoon.  Common Redshank, Curlew and Oystercatcher were probing tidal mudflats and noisily displaying when they took a break from feeding.  A herd of Mute Swans included two birds that were engaged in a courtship display; like a serene slow-motion version of the Great Crested Grebe display they were mirroring each other’s head and body movements.  As we watched territorial disputes between pairs of Great Crested Grebes the rain intensified and the birds, alongside Tufted Ducks and Goldeneye, were sitting on water that looked to be boiling with the impact of raindrops.  Shoveler, Pochard, Teal, Wigeon, Lapwing, Green Sandpiper, Grey Heron and Little Egret were added to the day list and the rain started to ease…

As we were having our picnic on the clifftop overlooking Druridge Bay, accompanied by a raggedy male Stonechat, the weather took a change for the better.  Broken cloud produced a dramatic sky, and it was looking good for a decent sunset.  A tip-off from one of our local wildlife photographers pointed us in the direction of a pair of Little Owls, who very obligingly posed for Luke’s camera 🙂  One of the owls had gone off, presumably in search of food, and the other one was still sitting there when a dog walker with a Staffie came along.  We were wondering how long the owl would wait before flying off…but it sat tight, and instead of fleeing it just stretched itself to as tall and thin as it could before slumping back to it’s usual shape once the dog and walker had passed by!  In ever-improving light we watched a Black Tern at East Chevington as it fed amongst Common Terns, Sand Martins and Swallows.  A thick bank of cloud to the west obscured the sunset but as a Brown Hare loped across a field, a Common Buzzard was perched in a small tree in a hedgerow, and mist started rising from the water the light was sublime.  Scanning slowly along the water’s edge, there was the sign I was looking for; only a slight disturbance, but I hadn’t seen any ducks in that direction.  The the Otter surfaced briefly before diving again 🙂  In flat calm conditions we could see the trail of bubbles as it travelled under the water, and then it vanished into the mist.  What we could still see though were Mute Swans, Canada Geese and Mallards and they were all watching the Otter.  The mist cleared and it reappeared, running along the bank before returning to the water for a few metres and then getting out again.  Eventually it vanished into the gloom of the reed edges, only to reappear a few minutes later right in front of us as Grasshopper Warblers reeled and Noctule Bats hawked insects overhead.

Fade to black…

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“I’ll believe Otters exist…”; Otter Safari 26/05/16

by on Jun.01, 2016, under Druridge Bay, Otter, Southeast Northumberland

“…when I actually see one”.  A remarkable number of NEWT’s clients seem to have had holidays on Mull/Shetland/Orkney/Skye searching for Otters (often on guided tours) without seeing one, and that revelation at the start of a tour always ramps the pressure up a bit…

I arrived at Church Point in heavy mist and drizzle, and quickly met up with Sarah and Charlotte, Keith and Maggie, and Stephanie, and we set off for an afternoon and evening searching for Otters around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  I juggled the sites we were visiting, to take account of the weather, but I knew where I thought we should be towards dusk.  In the misty, drizzly gloom a Little Egret looked luminous.  With warm, humid conditions the air was alive with the sussurating buzz of recently emerged insects.  Black-headed and Little Gulls, and swarms of Swifts, were rampaging through the dense clouds of flies as a Pheasant sat motionless in the grass on the water’s edge.  Gadwall, Goosander, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Canada Goose and Greylag Goose were all lazing on the water and Common Terns harried a Moorhen that had ventured just that little bit too close to their nest.  Grey Herons flew around calling and a dispute over a prime feeding spot broke out between two of these huge birds.

We arrived at what I’d planned as our final location for the evening and I suggested that one particular part of the pool would be worth keeping a close eye on.  Was that a dark shape beneath the gulls?  I lifted my binoculars and scanned, then decided my eyes must have been playing tricks on me.  As I set the ‘scope up, there was an “erm…” from Charlotte, who was looking at the same spot…and there was an Otter 🙂  We watched it for over an hour as it made it’s way around the pool, feeding almost constantly and creating an interesting wildfowl exclusion zone!  Here’s an Otter from last year, showing it’s fearsome dentition 🙂

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Eventually it vanished into the impenetrable depths of a reedbed and we headed back towards Newbiggin, encountering a Little Owl perched on a telegraph pole at the roadside 🙂

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Plan A, Plan B; Otter Safari 07/02/2015

by on Feb.10, 2015, under Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Otter

A question I’ve been asked a few times recently is “What if we hadn’t seen an Otter there?”.  The answer, of course, is that we have a Plan B (and Plan C and Plan D as well, just in case…).

I collected Bing and Martin and we headed out towards the coast for their bespoke Otter Safari.  Just over an hour later, and Plan A wasn’t looking good; there were Cormorants, Goldeneye and Little Grebes as far as the eye could see, but no sign of our target species…however, good things come to those who wait, and when Bing mentioned that she’d just seen something diving I looked across in the same direction, and up popped an Otter 🙂  Here’s an image of an Otter at ‘Plan A’ in mid-January.

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We watched it for a few minutes before it slipped out of sight, and I thought it would be sensible to put Plan B into action.  First though, it was time for lunch.  We paid a visit to probably the most endearing star of our recent days out

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and then we sat on a cliff top as Turnstone, Sanderling, Grey Plover, Ringed Plover, Oystercatcher, Bar-tailed Godwit and Curlew scurried, stalked, prodded and probed their way along the shoreline below us.  Plan B proved to be much more successful, as we watched an Otter as it startled Redshank, Curlew, Mallards, Canada Geese and Greylag Geese.  We lost track of it for a few minutes, then suddenly it was right in front of us, getting out of the water briefly, before heading off into the reflection of the sun, and creating the typical ‘ring of bright water’, each time it surfaced 🙂  A Stoat provided some entertainment, as they always do – this one was photographed on New Year’s Day, when we were checking Plans A, B, C and D 🙂

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Another species that we’ve been watching regularly over the last few weeks provided a vivid splash of colour in the fading light of the afternoon,

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and then it was time to return Bing and Martin to their hotel, with the goal of seeing an Otter in the wild reached via Plan A and Plan B 🙂  If you’d like to search for Otters in the wild, or any of Northumberland’s other stunning wildlife, then give us a call on 01670 827465 – wildlife is unpredictable, but the one thing we can guarantee is that we’ll always do everything we can to make sure you’re in the right place at the right time!

 

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New Year, quality wildlife; Otter Safari 22/01/2015

by on Jan.23, 2015, under Birdwatching

During quiet periods of the year, we keep going out and checking excellent wildlife sites all around Northumberland.  Although we can never predict exactly what we’ll see, and where, those days out on our own are the basis of successful days out with clients…

I arrived at Church Point to collect Gordon and Michelle and we set off in search of Otters.  I love the pressure of a client being obsessed with Otters but never having seen one in the wild, it keeps me focused 🙂  Soon we were watching a distant Otter as it fed in mirror calm water!  A slow, steady approach took us much closer and then another two Otters appeared, eventually coming so close that we could hear a splash, each time they dived in search of fish, and the crunching, munching sound of them devouring their catch 🙂  We’ve been watching this group of Otters since mid-December, so we’ve got a few images of them…

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After 90 minutes they’d moved on and so did we.  Our next wildlife star of the day was another one that we’ve been watching and photographing over the last few weeks – a Little Owl.

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As the afternoon passed, and the cold damp air held us in it’s icy grip, more stunning wildlife put on a show that demonstrated just how good Northumberland is during the winter.  An array of wildfowl in breeding finery is a highlight of the winter months; Teal, Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallard, Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Red-breasted Merganser, Eider and a Long-tailed Duck.  A Barn Owl, ghostly white, bringing death on silent wings to unsuspecting mice and voles is always a crowd pleaser while Kestrels, Buzzards and a brief view of a Hen Harrier were the reward for a session of raptor watching as dusk approached.  Another ghostly white winter speciality put in a typically fleeting appearance – a Stoat in ermine 🙂  Possibly my favourite land mammal, here’s an image of one from last winter.

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Finally, as the light faded to the point where it was getting difficult to see anything and flocks of Pink-Footed and Greylag Geese peppered the sky, one of our most elusive birds wandered out into the open and entertained us.  Probing and prodding at the marshy ground between two reedbeds, the Water Rail gave obligingly prolonged views.  Surprisingly small, remarkably beautiful, and a great way to end the day with clients who’ve persuaded me (almost…) that there are destinations so spectacular that I really need to get on a ‘plane at some point next year…

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Focusing on the coast

by on Oct.19, 2012, under Bamburgh Castle, Lindisfarne, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast, Photography

Having lived on, or near, the Northumberland coast for 15 years (apart from my 6 month sojourn to Texas and Arizona) it’s a location I return to time and again with my camera/binoculars/telescope/camcorder/sound recording gear (delete as applicable depending on my mood and/or aim for the day).  The coast is my favorite location for one-to-one photography tuition with clients too (although the North Pennines AONB runs it pretty close!).

I drove down to Wallsend to collect Mac for his day of photography tuition, and we set off along the coast of southeast Northumberland and Druridge Bay.  I’ve always seen dilapidated farm buildings as ideal locations for Little Owl and Barn Owl, but one group of buildings made an ideal location to explore the reciprocal relationship between shutter speed and aperture, before we headed north and Mac added immeasurably to my knowledge of the opencast mining operations of the area.  Next stop was on the top of the dunes overlooking the north of Druridge Bay and, as well as the impressive scene looking across the rolling surf out to sea, a high-tide wader roost was building up on the rocks below us.  Redshank, Turnstone, Oystercatcher and Curlew were all arriving as the surf lapped at their feet.  Then they all scattered.  Sadly this didn’t herald the arrival of a Peregrine or other predator…but, instead, a jogger.  As luck would have it, I was due at a meeting with a Lead Adviser from Natural England a few days later, to discuss coastal activities and wildlife disturbance.  The conclusion of  a brief discussion at that meeting was that jogging through a high-tide wader roost in a SSSI is mindless stupidity, sheer ignorance and possibly an offence.  People really should know better.

Boats at Boulmer and Holy Island came under the focus of Mac’s camera before we arrived at our final location for the day.  Breaking surf, rock pools and the Northumberland coast’s stunning edifice of Bamburgh Castle provided our last shoot before the sun dipped behind the dunes and out of sight, and we headed back south.  The light wasn’t the best, although it was a good day to experiment with exposure settings, so here’s a shot of Bamburgh Castle in the sort of conditions that I really enjoy.

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