Tag: Little Owl
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.
Our returning clients theme continued last week, when I collected Elaine and Sue for an Otter Safari, concentrating mainly around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. We first met between Christmas and New Year 2008 when they joined myself and Sarah on a guided walk on Holy Island. On that day Elaine photographed this stunning Stonechat
and we also had a brief view of a Jack Snipe as it flushed ahead of us.
Last Wednesday we set off up the coast, stopping to check our favourite Little Owl site. Elaine spotted the bird, as it was mobbed by no less than six Magpies. It fixed it’s tormentors with what can only be described as a look of utter contempt and they gradually drifted away. Cresswell Pond produced a persistently-bobbing Jack Snipe, tucked in amongst the reeds and much more obliging than our 2008 bird on Holy Island, and plenty of Common Snipe like this one, again photographed by Elaine.
Curlew, Golden Plover, Lapwing, Dunlin, Redshank and Oystercatcher were all roosting around pool edges and the change out of eclipse plumage was very noticeable among the ducks, with drake Teal looking particularly good. As the warm autumn sunshine bathed the landscape around us, the air was suddenly filled with dragonflies and Elaine captured this portrait of a stunning Migrant Hawker.
There’s something captivating about dragonflies and, as myself and Sue concentrated on scanning reed edges for any indication that an Otter was lurking, Elaine returned to the spot where the dragonfly had been earlier. Within a matter of minutes the temperature fell slightly and insect activity ceased.I’m not sure we have any finer insect than Migrant Hawker, and you can see from Elaine’s photo what a stunner it is.
As sunset neared and we searched for any sign of our quarry, we watched a Starling murmuration developing as a herd of Whooper Swans flew between distant fields. Just before it got dark the Whoopers appeared overhead, giving their eerie call and dropping into their overnight roost site. After a really enjoyable day out, we returned to our starting point and I looked forward (with good reason!) to seeing Elaine’s images from the day, which I’m really happy to be able to post in our blog – thank you Elaine .
Despite protestations from Sarah, I still think that you really can’t beat the evening when it comes to wildlife experiences.
As the rain poured (and I really do mean poured) down on Sunday afternoon, I ‘phoned Peter to check that he was managing to make his way to Northumberland successfully for our evening mini-safari around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. As I collected him at 6pm, the weather was improving and we headed to the coast. Our regular Little Owl was perched at the entrance to its nest hole, soaking up the warm rays of the evening sunshine, lazily turning its head to peer at us from above. An adult Mediterranean Gull was a surprise find just south of Cresswell village and, as Gannets soared offshore on those remarkably long thin wings, we headed to Cresswell Pond. All of the assembled Lapwings, Curlew, Golden Plover, Dunlin, Oystercatcher and Avocets lifted in alarm as a Barn Owl passed by on its way to the dunes in search of voles. Willow Warblers were flycatching, Linnets were looking shockingly red in the low sunlight and we continued on our way up the coast. Three more Barn Owls gave an impressive tally for an evening’s birdwatching and a female Marsh Harrier perched very obligingly on a fence post. The light was deteriorating and as we stood by a river, swollen by the heavy rain, a leap, a small splash and the top of its head racing across from one bank to the opposite was the one Otter of the evening. A ferocious predator making its way into the darkening gloom.
They’re the sort of words I always want hear at the start of a day out with clients “The sole reason for coming to Northumberland on this holiday was to see an Otter“. So, no pressure there, then…
I collected Ann and Glyn from their b&b in Seahouses and we set out on an exploration of the best birdwatching and otter spotting locations on the Northumberland coast around Druridge Bay. Avocet and Whimbrel were among the birdwatching highlights of the afternoon then, as dusk approached, it looked as though everything was going to go wrong; wave after wave of torrential rain battered down so the surface of the pond looked as if it were boiling and columns of mist were drifting across our field of view.
I was still confident though. The ducks, swans and other waterbirds were looking nervous, and that’s always a good sign. Then it happened, as Ann said “what’s that over there by the reeds?”, I got the end of the reedbed in view, steadied my binoculars, and an Otter surfaced before swimming along, allowing all of us to get it in focus, and vanishing into the reeds; Ann had managed to see her first wild Otter and she’d found it herself As the rain cleared a Long-eared Owl flew straight toward us and the Otter reappeared, this time trying to grab a Moorhen that was perched half-way up the reeds. It twisted and turned, sleek and sinuous, and once again sought the cover of the vegetation at the water’s edge. As the waterfowl settled and began to look much less worried, we left the hide and waded back to the car
I managed a good bonus bird myself on the drive back down the coast as a Little Owl flew from a roadside fencepost.
We often find ourselves, usually when we’re at the British Bird Fair, explaining that Northumberland isn’t a particularly rainy county, in fact it’s very much the opposite. It is sometimes cold and windy though…but all you need to do is wrap up warm
I collected Philip and Pauline from Outchester and we headed south towards Druridge Bay for a day’s birdwatching on the coast of southeast Northumberland. A brief search around Woodhorn for the Great Grey Shrike that had been there until the day before proved fruitless, and we continued to follow the road up the coast. With a bitterly cold northerly wind I guessed where our regular Little Owl would be sunning itself – and it performed like the star that it is; peering inquisitively at us and then craning it’s neck to look at something on the ground far below. Our lunch stop, overlooking the North Sea, was as spectacular as ever with rolling surf and plenty of ‘white horses’. Cresswell produced some of the best birds of the day, with a pair of Great Crested Grebes, Hooded Crow, 5 Northern Wheatears, 5 Avocets and 2 Little Ringed Plovers being the highlights. East Chevington provided very close views of a Roe Deer, a female Marsh Harrier, Skylarks singing on the breeze and a mixed flock of Swallow, House Martin, Sand Martin and Swift.
With clients from the town of my birth and an enthusiasm for cetaceans like my own, as well as a keen eye for the locations used in popular television series, it seemed that the day was over very quickly and I dropped them back at Outchester in the early evening, stopping for a few minutes to look at Pauline’s hydrophone. Gadget geek? No, not me
As the rain hammered down while I packed the car ready for Sunday’s Otter Safari I was filled with optimism; the weather forecast (really, I should stop believing these…) suggested that the afternoon and evening would be dry and bright.
When I arrived at Church Point Marc and Marika were already there, and we were joined by Becky and Jim soon after. The trip was a present for one of each couple, and we set off for an afternoon of birdwatching combined with searching for Otters. First stop was one of our Little Owl sites, and Becky’s sharp eyes picked out a juvenile bird that was doing a very passable impression of a stone. Our next stop, beside the River Coquet, produced Common Terns fishing, flyby Curlews (and a discussion of separation from Whimbrel), 4 Common Sandpipers and some impressive thunderstorms away to the north and west of us.
A heavy shower as we reached the NWT reserve at East Chevington kept us in the car for a few minutes, during which time we were entertained by a family party of Stonechats. As the rain eased we walked to the hide overlooking the north pool. Amongst the throng of Common, Sandwich and Arctic Terns and Lapwings were 3 adult Knot, still in breeding plumage. Suddenly the entire roosting flock lifted, and the unmistakeable figure of a Spoonbill flew across our field of vision. It seemed intent on landing, but the constant harrassment from the terns meant that we were treated to several flypasts, including one where it was just 20m away from us. As if this wasn’t spectacular enough, 2 Little Egrets appeared, while the Spoonbill was still circling, and were subjected to the same treatment. Eventually a semblance of calm returned and we watched a juvenile Marsh Harrier as it pranced comically in the wet grass, presumably eating worms that had been brought to the surface by the rain, and a second juvenile harrier harrassed by crows. Another creature to benefit from the rain was a very young Hedgehog busily eating worms and, in a real ‘aahh’ moment, pausing briefly to sniff the air.
Our picnic stop, overlooking the southern end of Druridge Bay, produced rafts of Eiders and Common Scoters, the piping calls baby Guillemots rising from the waves below, Gannets and Sandwich Terns plunging into the sea, at least 3 Arctic Skuas and the majestic lumbering menace of a Pomarine Skua passing south just offshore.
Changeable, showery weather often produces good sunsets, and this was no exception; as a band of steel grey cloud drifted along the horizon, sunlight shone through a narrow gap, fading from gold to orange to red to pink. And there, in the reflection of the dramatic sky, was the main event – an Otter, twisting and turning, creating panic among the waterfowl, perched imperiously on a boulder and then vanishing into the deepening shadows of the water’s edge. Clouds of Noctule Bats and Common Pipistrelles swirled overhead, occasionally passing within a few feet of us, a female Tawny Owl called from the nearby trees, and the scene faded to darkness…
We just had an all too infrequent ocurrence; both of us at home and able to go out and about together for a whole weekend
On Saturday we decided to concentrate on our local area. Southeast Northumberland offers some excellent wildlife and birdwatching opportunities and, with bookings for the rest of this year coming thick and fast, we’re checking over our Safari Day routes whenever we get the chance so that we hit the ground running once the season gets properly underway.
If our morning excursion is the shape of things to come then it’s going to be an excellent Spring Little Owl, Roe Deer (including a handsome buck with velvet antlers, who watched us between the trees as we trained our binoculars on him), Red Squirrel, point-blank views of Treecreeper, Nuthatch and Great Spotted Woodpecker and lots of fresh Otter spraint all combined into a memorable morning.
As dusk approached we were out and about again. We monitor a few Badger setts regularly and the activity around the sett we checked on Saturday evening was exactly what we’d expect in early March. Another successful outing
Yesterday we were doing something completely different (although birdwatching featured again, of course). We set out for the southwestern border of Northumberland, and beyond, as we pre-walked the route that Martin will be leading for the North Pennines AONB ‘Know Your North Pennines’ course on Wednesday. Journeying to Upper Teesdale gave us the chance to check out some of our favourite Black Grouse sites en route (you’ll be pleased to know that the species hasn’t vanished from Northern England!) and enjoy the sight of Lapwings displaying and flocks of Golden Plover in the fields. Our photography holiday in late October ‘Autumn Colours’ is based in the North Pennines and we finished the day with a visit to one of the area’s gems.
Yesterday was one of what are rapidly becoming our favourite trips; afternoon/evening safaris. I collected Claire and Stuart from their holiday cottage near Brinkburn Priory and we headed towards the coast.
Our regular Little Owl watched us imperiously, before turning tail and scuttling out of sight as a dog walker came along the track. The coastal pools along Druridge Bay are hosting an ever increasing number of waders; Dunlin, Turnstone, Redshank, Knot, Ruff, Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Common Sandpiper and Curlew were all roosting, a Spotted Redshank called but remained frustratingly out of sight behind a reedbed, and Greenshank and Whimbrel both responded to imitations of their calls. Then, that most majestic of waders graced the air in front of us, although only briefly; a Black-tailed Godwit flew low over the roost, everything panicked, and a Peregrine carved through the flock before heading out over the sea and then away high to the north. Little Grebes and Grey Herons were both well appreciated, then it was time to check some of southeast Northumberland’s finest mammal sites.
Red Squirrels always go down well with our clients, and the one we watched feeding was no exception. A juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker was equally obliging and we watched it for a while before moving on to our favourite site for Badger watching. Probably the biggest Badger we’ve seen so far trotted across the hillside opposite us and a much smaller animal (maybe a young cub) made it’s way through the undergrowth just over the stream from our position. As darkness approached we found ourselves on a hilltop with a Tawny Owl calling ‘ke-wick’ from the woodland below us. After whistling at waders during the afternoon I imitated the quavering hoot of a male Tawny Owl and waited. The bird called from closer. I called again, and it came closer still. Eventually it flew up into a bare tree, silhouetted against the final glow of daylight in the sky, only 20m away from us. I switched to copying the bird’s ‘ke-wick’ call and it turned to face us directly, ready to challenge this impertinent intruder. I remained silent, not provoking any further response, and the bird flew to a nearby tree, screeching defiantly as we made our way back down the hillside. Common Pipistrelles and Daubenton’s Bats were picked up on the bat detector and seen as they flitted back and forth. The final wildlife of the evening though was close to the cottage at Brinkburn, and was another piece of Northumberland magic; a doe Roe Deer and her fawn ran along the road in front of us.
As Autumn approaches evening safaris mean finishing at a quite amenable hour, so give us a call on 01670 827465 to find out how you can share in these memorable experiences with us.
Sunday’s Northumberland coast safari started very close to home, with Germaine and Greg having stayed at The Swan on Saturday evening. We started with our usual riverside walk, looking at an artificial holt and talking about the ecology of the Otter. Our first really good sighting of the day was a Red Squirrel, which chattered angrily at a photographer who was sitting beneath the tree that it was descending. Woodland birdwatching can be sometimes be very quiet, but with a large mixed flock of tits and Goldcrests, as well as Treecreepers and a very aggressive Nuthatch around the same glade there was plenty to see. Out on to the coast south of Druridge Bay and, in the warm sunshine, our favourite Little Owl was posing for the camera. The sunshine was also encouraging insect activity and we quickly added to the day list; Common Darter, Blue-tailed Damselfly, Common Blue Damselfly, Meadow Brown, Small Copper, Shaded Broad-bar, Lesser Marsh Grasshopper, Common Blue Butterfly, Green-veined and Small White were all found along one small stretch of footpath. Grey Herons were stalking along the pond edges and one got into a gruesome wrestling match with a large Eel. All of the ducks scattered, clearly there was something in the reeds that they were unhappy about, but what it was didn’t reveal itself. Further north, we came across three Little Egrets (surely the next addition to Northumberland’s breeding birds – if they haven’t already…), a Common Lizard that was sunning itself and, thanks to Germaine’s sharp eyes, a pair of Roe Deer. A really good day, with a real mixed bag of wildlife and clients who made it all the more enjoyable. And to think…Sunday used to be homework-marking day
We’re in one of our busier periods at the moment; two trips on Thursday, two on Friday and then we’ll be out again tomorrow.
Thursday’s two mini-safaris featured some of our old favourites; Little Owl is one of the best crowd-pleasers that there is, Dunlin, Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Grey Heron and summer-plumaged Knot all went down very well and some attractive insects added a touch of glitter – Common Darter, Blue-tailed Damselfly, Small Copper, Red Admiral and Dark Green Fritillary are all easily overlooked (well maybe not Red Admiral), but quite stunning if you take the time to search for them and then look closely. After finishing Thursday’s first trip, and dropping Kevin, Angela and Georgia back at Newbiggin, I went back to the office, dealt with a few e-mails, packed the head torches and bat detectors ready for the evening and then headed back out for the day’s second tour of Druridge Bay and Southeast Northumberland. Then the heavens opened. With windscreen wipers barely able to provide a clear view, traffic was crawling. I was considering the unthinkable – cancelling a trip. The rain eased and I collected Andy and family. The trip list was very similar to the morning and then I thought it might be worthwhile to have a quick look at the sea.
Now, seawatching is an obsessive pastime but it isn’t for everyone; I’m certain that long periods staring at the sea, hoping that something exciting will appear, don’t make for good client experiences. So we don’t do it…very often. The sea had been flat calm during the day and there was only a gentle breeze. Ideal conditions for searching for cetaceans, in fact. The number of e-mails, texts and ‘phone calls I’d had during the week was the clincher. I knew that cetaceans sightings were increasing and viewing conditions were just right…surely the right time to take clients for a seawatch. Gannets were passing by and we all scanned the sea. Quickly I picked up 2 dolphins away to the south. Then another 2, then 3 including 2 calves. Through binoculars I had little doubt that these were White-beaked Dolphins. A quick look through the ‘scope revealed all of the relevant ID features; tall falcate dorsal fin, white flanks arcing up behind the dorsal to form a pale saddle. As everyone managed to see the dolphins, I scanned slowly to estimate how many dolphins there were. At least 25 individual animals were found, and the pod was spread out over at least 6 square miles of the North Sea! Another birder arrived and we managed to get him on to the dolphins as well. It’s almost impossible to describe just how extraordinary such a sighting is. Normally the best opportunities arise when you’re on an organised pelagic trip. We’ve got 4 more of these this year; and with only one place remaining on September 18th, two places on September 4th and four places on August 12th, get in touch now on 01670 827465 to join us and experience the best pelagic wildlife and birdwatching opportunities available on the east coast. August 12th will be a groundbreaking trip; we’re heading out to the Farne Deeps and reports from anglers and researchers suggest that the area could produce sightings of some spectacular wildlife. Minke Whale, White-beaked Dolphin, Common Dolphin and Killer Whale have all been found previously.
After the dolphins we had another of the species that always captivates our clients as a Barn Owl allowed a prolonged period of observation as it hunted along the coastal dunes. As darkness descended and we headed back to our starting point the raindrops began to speckle the windscreen of the Landy again.
The highlights of Friday’s first trip were Red Squirrel and Little Owl (for Kate and Lucy) and a very unexpected Green Sandpiper (for me).
The evening pelagic took place with some extraordinary glowering skies to the north. As the swell began to develop, we were treated to very close views of Gannet and Fulmar before returning to Royal Quays in the dark, but the abiding memory of the last week is the extraordinary spectacle of a little-known cetacean, hunting, leaping and playing in the seas off Northumberland.