Tag: Little Owl

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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Dragons

by on Oct.17, 2012, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

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

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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.

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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.

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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 :-).

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The darkening gloom

by on Aug.08, 2012, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

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 volesWillow 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.

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Spotting the Otter

by on Jun.28, 2012, under Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast, Otter

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 BayAvocet 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.

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Druridge Bay 01/05/2012

by on May.03, 2012, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland

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 😉

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