Tag: Long-eared Owl
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 🙂
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.
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…
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…
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.
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 🙂
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 🙂
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 🙂
When Sarah arrived home from work at 19:30 yesterday, I suggested a spot of nocturnal motorised birdwatching.
We headed north past Ellington and up to Widdrington before turning towards the coast and down through Druridge. With the thermometer hitting -7C, the ungritted roads were a bit of a challenge. Following some recent big counts of Woodcock it was no great surprise that they flushed regularly from the roadside as we passed. Our main target for the drive was Barn Owl, and we eventually found one perched on a post beside the Spine Road near Blyth. Bird of the evening though was a stunning Long-eared Owl, on a fence post by the edge of the road. As we passed slowly, on the skating rink of a road surface, it turned it’s head imperiously, following us with those piercing orange eyes. Over the last 3 years we’ve shared views of all of Northumberland’s regularly occurring owls with our clients, but for sheer ‘other-worldliness’ you really can’t beat Long-eared Owl.
Yesterday I led our first Safari Day of this week, to Lindisfarne and the North Northumberland coast. Although I really enjoy trips where the main quarry is Red Squirrel/Badger/Otter/Fox/Roe Deer my lifelong love affair has been with birdwatching. Northumberland is a top-quality destination for a winter birdwatching trip; just ask any of the writers/photographers who we’ve taken to the wilds of our home county during the cold(er) bits of the year.
Yesterday was one of those days where you couldn’t wish for better conditions; clear blue sky, warm sunshine (although with sub-zero air temperatures for much of the day), no rain and only a very gentle breeze. I collected Phil and Barbara from their holiday cottage near Guyzance and we followed the coast all the way to Lindisfarne. Small groups of Pale-bellied Brent Geese beside the causeway were a novelty for birdwatchers from the southeast, who are used to seeing Dark-bellied Brents during the winter, and they commented immediately about just how black-and-white the Svalbard birds look. Scanning the fields on the island we located a flock of ~800 Pale-bellied Brents, with a few Dark-bellied mixed in, allowing a direct comparison of the two. The field was also shared by 200+ Curlew and smaller numbers of Redshank, Lapwing and Golden Plover. Panic among a group of Starlings was traced to a 1st-Winter Merlin that helpfully perched on a post at the back of the Rocket Field. It’s amazing how quickly time passes and after 2 hours we headed back towards the mainland among the general exodus that occurs as the end of safe-crossing approaches. Another Merlin beside the causeway allowed even closer views so we stopped for a few more minutes of appreciation of this small predator.
Our picnic spot, overlooking the mudflats between Holy Island and the mainland, provided excellent views of flocks of Lapwing and Golden Plover in the air as well as lots of Shelduck, Eider, Pintail and more PB Brents. We enjoyed all of these in the company of Tom Cadwallender, Natural and Cultural Heritage Officer for the Northumberland Coast AONB, who was supposed to be meeting a camera crew from Inside Out. When we left Tom, they were already 20mins late…
Continuing down the coast, a very obliging Common Buzzard pranced around a field, presumably looking for worms. The Skate Road held well over 1000 Common Scoter, 90+ Purple Sandpipers were huddled on the rocks as the incoming tide washed against their feet and a careful scan produced a few pairs of Long-tailed Ducks (Barbara’s 2nd lifer in a matter of minutes). Red-throated and Great Northern Divers were, well diving mainly, and Slavonian Grebes were bobbing about just beyond the surf.
Our final destination for the day was Newton, and the decision to detour from the coast route down the dead-end road to Low Newton proved to be an inspired one. As dusk approached the assembled ducks on the pool (Teal, Goldeneye, Mallard, Gadwall) all provided entertainment as they called to each other. Then, just a few feet in front of us, a Long-eared Owl silently hunting. We all held our breath as it approached and then it veered away as silently as it had arrived. The walk back to the Landy was to provide probably the best bird of the day, and one of those Northumberland birdwatching moments that was quite simply sublime; against an increasingly starry sky and crescent moon, with an impressive amount of Earthshine, a Bittern flew low over our heads and out over the bay.