Tag: Long-eared Owl

The golden hour; Bespoke coastal birdwatching 07/06/17

by on Jun.09, 2017, under Druridge Bay

I collected Nicky and Mick from Newbiggin and we set off for an afternoon and evening exploring Druridge Bay and south east Northumberland.  The weather was somewhat nicer than it had been 24h earlier, in fact postively summery although with a fairly stiff breeze.  Sometimes I could write a blog post by skipping to the last hour or so of the trip and, after a challenging afternoon including a good look at Black-headed, Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Whitehroats song-flighting from bramble scrub and a couple of woodland walks with Jays playing hide and seek with us, Treecreepers creeping up the trunks of trees, Robins and Wrens singing from deep cover and Fulmars gliding on stiff wings along the clifftops that’s where we find ourselves…

Against a stiff northwesterly the Barn Owl was struggling; already bearing the heavy burden of a plump vole it was flying northeasterly and sideways to make progress to the north, forced out over the sea before battling it’s way back onshore and dropping from the remarkable height it had chosen to fly at as Great Crested Grebes radiated elegance on the choppy water in front of us and a Starling murmuration numbered a couple of hundred birds.  As the light levels dropped to absolutely sublime it was time for more owls to put in an appearance;  first another Barn Owl, then another, another and incredibly our fifth of the evening, with three of them in one binocular view 🙂  With an aural backdrop of Mallard, Gadwall, Wigeon, Curlew and Lapwing, and the air filled with Swifts the scene was set for another owl, this time a Long-eared hunting through the dunes, it’s dark plumage providing a stark contrast to the pale ghostly Barn Owls.  There was another surprise waiting for us too as Nicky asked “what are those birds along there?”.  I turned and looked through my binoculars and the impression was raptor-like, combined with a hint of thin, long-tailed Woodpigeon…a closer look therough our ‘scope, and there were two Cuckoos!  The final hour is often the highlight of a day watching wildlife, but this hour was just shoveling the quality in 🙂

 

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May magic; Otter Safari 09/05/17

by on May.10, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

After a week away from home, leading a wildlife photography holiday for another company, I was looking forward to getting back to all things NEWT and as I collected Mike and Barbara from Low Newton, ahead of an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay searching for Otters, I was thinking that the afternoon sunshine was maybe just a bit too bright and hot but that the evening could be good…

Whitethroats, Sedge Warblers and Blackcaps were all singing, and occasionally affording brief glimpses, and a male Bullfinch was equally stunning in the few seconds that he perched at the top of a small tree.  Little Egrets and Grey Herons were hunting in the shallows, Shelduck, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Shoveler, Teal and Gadwall were all feeding and a Lesser Whitethroat was a nice addition to the trip list.  Lapwing were displaying and Avocets were sitting on nests and occasionally getting up to rearrange their precious contents as the Sun headed westwards.

Then the waders took centre stage; a male Ruff, coming into his breeding finery, Black-tailed Godwits (and single Bar-tailed), noisy Curlew and a Whimbrel flew right overhead uttering it’s distinctive call as Lapwings were tumbling and calling and at least 20 Common Snipe took flight.  Male Stonechat, male Reed Bunting and dapper Tree Sparrows, all excellent attractive birds, still paled when compared to at least 7 Yellow Wagtails, including an exquisitely beautiful Channel Wagtail (perhaps should be known as Chanel Wagtail!), which were in a feeding flock with both Pied and White Wagtails.  A real bonus bird came in the form of a Long-eared Owl, hunting masterfully in and around the bushes it passed by just 20m in front of us at one point! A male Marsh Harrier was another great bird for the trip and he engaged in an overly optimistic attempt to chase and catch a Black-headed Gull in flight 😉

As the Sun dropped lower the light was simply sublime and we settled into position at our final site for the evening.  Canada and Greylag Geese were incubating, a Grey Heron took a Mallard duckling and swallowed it whole right in front of us as the agitated parents called in vain before returning to protect their one remaining offspring.  A small group of Black-headed Gulls caught my attention, circling persistently as Swallows, Sand Martins, House Martins and Swifts swirled around and feasted on the bounteous hatch of flying insects that the warm weather had brought.  There, directly beneath the gulls was an Otter 🙂  We watched it’s progress along the shadowy water near the reeds and a couple of times it got out and bounded along the bankside.  A second Otter was also given away by the bright trail of its wake, as the swifts and hirundines were replaced by the insectivorous night shift of Pipistrelle and Noctule Bats, and by the time we headed back to the car the Moon and Jupiter were both shining brightly in the darkening sky.  Through the ‘scope the quality of seeing was extraordinary; without any atmospheric turbulence Jupiter was a perfect disc, the Galilean moons were pinpoints of light surrounding it and the craters of the Moon were impressive at 60x magnification.

Wonderful wagtails, stunning waders, Otters and astronomy; that’s a lot of quality packed into one afternoon and evening 🙂

Druridge Bay and Otter Safaris are available all year round, so have a look at our calendar for available dates and get in touch to see what we can do for you.  If there isn’t date that’s good for you, still get in touch – we’re always happy to add additional trips to our calendar!

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April showers; Otter Safari 16/04/17

by on Apr.17, 2017, under Druridge Bay

Yesterday’s Otter Safari had an interesting weather forecast; damp during the afternoon, but forecast to be completely clear by 7pm.  Soon after I collected Rachel, Andrew, Gemma and Dave from Church Point, the first part of the forecast was borne out by reality, as we spent the first couple of hours in persistent rain…

Common Redshank, Curlew and Oystercatcher were all calling noisily and alarming, but the only thing we could see that was causing them any distress was themselves.  Despite the rain, the warm conditions had triggered a substantial hatch of insects and Black-headed Gulls, Sand Martins and Swallows were all taking advantage of nature’s bounty.  The clearing weather brought a ten minute spell of nice weather as we had our picnic while watching a Grey Seal and Common Eiders in the surf, and Fulmars soaring on stiff wings along the clifftops.  Grey Herons and Little Egrets were standing motionless as Lapwings displayed overhead with their bizarre calls defying belief and a stunning drake Pintail flew around.

Following Friday’s unsuccessful Otter Safari we’d made a few changes to the plan for Sunday and, as the sun set away to the west in what was absolutely not a cloudless sky, Sand Martins were replaced in the pursuit of flying insects by Noctule and pipistrelle bats, a Long-eared Owl hunted along a woodland edge and…we watched an Otter hunting in the shadow of a reedbed for nearly 45 minutes 🙂

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Eight year itch; Otter Safari 18/07/2015

by on Jul.20, 2015, under Druridge Bay, Otter

It’s always a pleasure when clients who haven’t met before get on so well with each other.  Of course they always have a shared interest in wildlife, and other shared interests feature regularly (camping, walking and cycling in particular), and long quests in search of an elusive species soon become a talking point…

I arrived at Church Point for an afternoon/evening search for Otters, and quickly met up with John, then Lucy, Matt and Graham and finally Kate.  Conversation quickly turned to Otters, and the pressure was ramped up when Kate revealed that her attempts to see an Otter had stretched over several holidays…and eight years 🙂  Conditions weren’t promising – a howling wind that was tossing Starlings and Lapwings around and a male Marsh Harrier was battling into the breeze, almost at a standstill.  Whitecaps on a pond is never a situation that fills me with joy on an Otter safari, and we continued checking all of the likely locations.  Mediterranean Gull, Avocet, Knot, Black-tailed Godwit, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Common Sandpiper, Dunlin, Little Grebe and Yellow Wagtail were all added to the bird list for the day, Kate spotted a Red Fox creeping into the reeds, but there was still no sign of the sinuous predator.  Early evening, the conditions changed 🙂  The wind died off and the sea was suddenly very calm, so much so that we were able to enjoy watching Harbour Porpoises from our picnic spot.  Things were looking up…

We settled into position at the site where I’d planned to spend the last couple of hours of daylight, enjoying a chat with Cain, then the day suddenly got really interesting.  First a Barn Owl, white death on silent wings, ghosted by just a few metres away from us.  I concentrated on an area of water with very few birds on it – often a good indication that there’s something the birds are unhappy about.  Scan left to right – two Little Grebes sleeping, scan right to left – two Little Grebes sleeping, scan left to right – three Little Grebes sleeping?  The third Little Grebe didn’t look quite right…which wasn’t a surprise as it was an Otter with just it’s nose sticking up through the blanket of weed on the water’s surface 🙂  A quick text to Cain and he joined us again, and the Otter entertained us for an hour.  Emotional at seeing her first Otter, Kate still grabbed her camera, pointed it down the eyepiece of our ‘scope and started filming it 🙂  The magic continued, as a Long-eared Owl flew around the edge of the bushes in front of us before perching on a fence post, baleful orange eyes staring at us.  Then a second Otter swam across in front of us, while the first one was still hunting in the darkening gloom and the eeirie cries of Curlew coming to roost cut through the chill evening air.

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(Not the) Farne Islands 09/07/2012

by on Jul.10, 2012, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Farne Islands, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

Yesterday was a Farne Islands Prestige Tour…or at least that was the plan…

As I drove towards Seahouses to collect Dick and Jenny, having already figured out that there weren’t going to be any sailings to the islands in those conditions, I received the call that confirmed it.  So, what to do instead?  A quick discussion with clients who had realised before I arrived that it wasn’t a day for heading across to the Farnes…and then we were off on a tour of the Northumberland coast.  Grey Seals were ‘bottling’ just offshore, female Eiders were supervising the creches of this year’s youngsters, Shelduck were feeding along the tideline and Oystercatchers and Redshank were probing next to the breaking surf.  We headed south to see what the weather at that end of the coast would bring…and had a not too bad afternoon around Druridge Bay 🙂  Mediterranean Gulls were loafing alongside Black-headed Gulls, a female Marsh Harrier flew across in front of the car (and we later found her again, perched in a bush overlooking her nest site), Dick found a Long-eared Owl that performed for over ten minutes – hunting amongst the reeds and rushes in broad daylight, Jenny spotted a Roe Deer and a Brown Hare lolloped into view nearby, no less than 23 Little Gulls were in a roost that also had three Black-tailed Godwits, a Dunlin, still with a solidly black belly, was sleeping next to a small pool and we even managed a spot of seawatching; a huge flock of Gannets and terns was circling and plunging, three Arctic Skuas pursued and robbed the successful terns and a raft of Common Scoter rose into view, and then fell again, just beyond the surf.  Perhaps the most unusual sight of the day though, was a Barn Owl carrying prey, not unusual in itself, but the bird flew 3/4 of the way anticlockwise around the north pool at East Chevington, then flew back all the way it had just come before flying 3/4 of the way around the pool clockwise to get back to where it had been five minutes earlier.  Wildlife, you never know when it’s going to appear, you never know what it’s going to do…

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The rain before the storm

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

Thursday morning was a Druridge Bay mini-safari and, when I arrived at Church Point, Michelle and Andy, and Jane, were already there.  We set off for a morning of birdwatching on the southeast Northumberland coast in cool, overcast conditions…but by the time we reached Cresswell the rain had started and visibility was closing in rapidly.  Birdwatching in conditions where you can hear the birds, but can’t really tell where they are, is a quite surreal experience.  As the poor weather moved on, so did we…and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat as we enjoyed an obliging Common Snipe perched on a  fence post, at least three Long-eared Owls, including recently fledged young birds, two male Marsh Harriers and one female, a Common Cuckoo, Common, Arctic and Sandwich Terns bathing, Great Crested Grebes and a Grey Heron peering in our direction through the reeds.

At the end of the trip we returned to Church Point and I headed back to the office where, a couple of hours later, it suddenly turned very dark…

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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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Evening trinity

by on Jun.21, 2012, under Birdwatching, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

Monday’s Otter Safari featured a quite surreal evening, as mist developed over the pools, close to the Northumberland coast, really playing tricks on the eyes.  As Coots scattered and Mallards and Mute Swans all stared in the same direction, our quarry remained hidden from view.  Roe Deer were bounding around the poolside vegetation, and a magnificent Long-eared Owl ghosted silently by.  As darkness approached we headed back towards Church Point to drop Erin and Adrian off before taking Christina and Sean back to their respective holiday accommodations.  Along the road we came across 2 Barn Owls and then a Tawny Owl, sitting on prey in the middle of the road before flying to a nearby fence post and glaring balefully at us.

Three owl species in little over an hour, and Tuesday’s trip was a bespoke photography outing for Christina to photograph Short-Eared Owls.  I’ll blog about that one tomorrow 🙂

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Triumph over adversity

by on Jun.13, 2012, under Northumberland, Otter

The changing weather on Thursday afternoon hadn’t filled me with confidence for Friday’s bespoke birdwatching and Otter Safari and, as the rain hammered against my office window on Friday morning, several ‘phone conversations with Vicky explored our options for the day.  Eventually we settled on starting early evening and going through until dark – perhaps that way the rain would have passed over?

As I arrived at Shieldhall to collect Vicky and Dave, it was still looking like an ‘interesting’ evening.  We made our way to our favourite Otter site and had our picnic in the car.  The rain stopped…and was replaced by heavy mist 🙂  Never mind, we’ve had some fantastic wildlife experiences with clients in misty conditions so we made our way to the pool and settled into position and waited.  All seemed calm, and it was only out of the corner of my eye that I thought I saw a distant, small black shape vanishing beneath the water’s surface.  As I turned my binoculars in that direction, a Mute Swan began hissing and the Otter resurfaced 🙂  As the insistent alarm calls of Blackbirds rattled in the distance (perhaps they’d found a Long-eared Owl to harrass?) the Otter made it’s way menacingly across the water before finally disappearing into the dark depths of the reedbed.  Even when the weather’s inclement life goes on for our wildlife and, so long as we can stay reasonably sheltered and it isn’t too dark to see, excellent wildlife experiences still happen 🙂

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Three days in early June

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

We started June with three trips in the first four days of the month, all focused around our ‘local patch’; Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.

On Friday morning I collected Gary and Claire from their holiday base in Proctor Steads, and we headed down the coast.  Even though we’ve lived close to Druridge Bay for nearly 12 years, the wildlife of this post-industrial landscape is still as special as it always was.  Whether it’s Tree Sparrows feeding young, ghostly pale Roseate Terns on their nest boxes on Coquet Island, a Cuckoo flying low over a coastal reedbed, dense flocks of hirundines and Swifts hawking insects low over a lake, Reed and Sedge Warblers singing from adjacent reedbeds allowing easy comparison of their song, Fulmars soaring along a cliff edge within a few metres of us as we eat our lunch or Blue-tailed Damselflies drifting along footpaths and tracks before settling on the grasses and apparently vanishing, there’s always something going on, always something to watch and the day always seems to end too soon.

Saturday was an afternoon/evening Otter Safari and I collected Lesley and Kevin from Church Point before heading north.  After an afternoon spent birdwatching, with my own personal highlight being a very yellow Yellow Wagtail, and searching for Otters, we settled into position for an evening session at one of our favourite ponds.  As a pair of Roe Deer grazed poolside vegetation, looking resplendent in the sublime light from a sunset that looked like a fire burning on the horizon, and a Long-eared Owl drifted back and forth over the reedbeds, our quarry made his appearance.  Gliding menacingly through the water, the Otter managed to sneak up on 2 Mallards, who noticed him when he was just a few feet away and took flight.  Exploring the rest of the pool he was pursued by an ever-expanding flock of Black-headed Gulls before finally vanishing into the sanctuary of the reeds.

Our third excursion around Druridge Bay was a Prestige Tour for Pete and Rachel.  Sedge and Willow Warblers and Reed Buntings all sang from obligingly open locations, although Reed Warblers remained hidden deep in reedbeds, a Roe Deer put in an uncharacteristic daytime appearance and a Mute Swan had a remarkable hissy fit.  The cause of his slightly embarrasing temper tantrum couldn’t be seen, but as he kept charging at a reedbed it seemed likely that a predator he saw as a threat to his cygnets was lurking out of our sight, but not his.  Later in the day an even more impressive display of annoyance was demonstrated by two cock Pheasants as they spent a good 20 minutes posturing and fighting.  Our clients frequently comment about how relaxing a day out with us is…and those Pheasants could really have done with chilling out too 🙂

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