Tag: Long-tailed Duck

Wax(w)ing lyrical about wildlife; Otter Safari 09/11/16

by on Nov.10, 2016, under Druridge Bay

There are a few species that really epitomise winter wildlife-watching, and they include my favourite bird, one of my favourite mammals, and another bird that never fails to excite…

I collected Andy from Whitley Bay (it’s great to have him back from Mull for a few months over the winter!) and we had an interesting chat about plankton sampling and microscopy as we drove up the coast to collect Genine from Newbiggin.  Genine’s last trip with NEWT was a breathtaking pelagic in early September, and now we were out in search of Otters and any other birds and wildlife that we could find around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  I suggested that we started with a quick search for Waxwings, just a few minutes down the road.  As we approached where they’d been seen the previous day, a flock flushed from a rowan tree where they were gorging themselves on berries.  We watched them land in the bare branches of a tall tree nearby and counted at least 120 birds, with another 60 flying around and landing in trees just along the road.  In the cold and damp, we started our search for Otters, and were soon watching one as it fed on small fish.  With hardly a breath of wind, the water was flat calm and we tracked the Otter‘s movement by the trail of bubbles it left each time it submerged before, after around half an hour, it left the water and vanished up the bank and behind a fallen tree.  Curlew, Lapwing, Common Redshank and Oystercatcher were probing the mud along the water’s edge and a flash of electric blue heralded the arrival of a Kingfisher, which played a game of hide and seek with us as Goldfinch and Bullfinch perched in the tops of trees, the disembodied weak winter song of a Robin came from the depths of a hawthorn and two Sparrowhawks tussled in mid-air overhead before one gave up the fight and flew well away.  Long-tailed Duck, Common Scoter, Common Eider, Goldeneye, Wigeon, Mallard, Red-breasted Merganser and Tufted Duck were a nice haul of wildfowl as Little Grebe warily watched the spot where the Otter had vanished and Long-tailed Tits called unseen from nearby bushes.

The approach of dusk brought thousands of Starlings in a swirling murmuration before they dropped into the reedbeds for the night as the high-pitched yapping of Pink-footed Geese and the discordant honking of Greylag Geese betrayed the presence of skein after skein arriving from feeding areas to the south of us.  Squealing Water Rails remained hidden and, as the last rays of daylight filtered through from the western horizon, Whooper Swans arrived.  Big, ghostly and quiet on their approach, as they hit the water they began whooping and their haunting voices accompanied our walk back to the car in the dark.

Proper wintry cold, almost continuous drizzle, stunning wildlife and lovely clients – just a great way to spend a day in mid-November 🙂  We’ll be running Otter Safaris, Druridge Bay Safaris and Lindisfarne Safaris right through the winter, so get in touch, wrap up warm and come and join us for a day searching for Northumberland’s fantastic wildlife!

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Damp; Druridge Bay 19/10/16

by on Oct.21, 2016, under Druridge Bay

I collected Phil and Richard and we set out for a day birdwatching around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  The forecast suggested there was the possibility of a rain shower sometime in the early afternoon…

Eider were well-appreciated, as Golden Plover carpeted the mud at low tide, and other ducks are starting to look very smart as they moult into breeding plumage; Teal, Mallard, Gadwall, Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Shoveler and a lone Scaup.  Tuesday’s Long-tailed Duck was still present, consorting with male and female Wigeon, although quickly vanished from view.  Grey Herons, Little Egrets, Curlew, Redshank, Lapwing, Avocet and Black-tailed Godwit were either in the shallows or on the muddy edge, Cormorants were doing that fantastic Otter impression that they’re so good at and the bushes along the footpaths held Song Thrush, Blackbird, Goldcrest, Chaffinch, Blue Tit, Coal Tit and a vocal Ring Ouzel that expressed it’s annoyance as we walked by.  The southward migration of Pink-footed Geese continued, and two each of Brent Goose and Barnacle Goose were less expected.  Dunnocks were subjected to greater scrutiny than usual (with the recent arrivals of Siberian Accentors, you just never know…) and Goldcrests were watched at close range as they made their way through willows.

As for that rain shower…an almost apocalyptic 5 minutes that just happened to coincide with us walking back to the car from the Oddie Hide at Druridge Pools.  Driven by a NNE wind though, I wasn’t too distressed by it 🙂

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Searching; Otter Safari 18/10/16

by on Oct.21, 2016, under Druridge Bay

A day around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland was in store as I arrived at Church Point to collect Sam, Luke, Perdi and Georgina.

Ghostly white Mediterranean Gulls were drifting through the assembled cloud of Black-headed Gulls as we prepared to head a few miles inland, and a Swallow over the caravan park was an unexpected find.  A Long-tailed Duck on the river Wansbeck was a nice surprise, alongside Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Goosander, Red-breasted Merganser and Mute Swan.  Skeins of Pink-footed Geese passed overhead, making their way south, as Little Egret, Grey Heron and Little Grebe feasted on what seemed to be a never-ending supply of tiny fish, Common Redshank flew back and forth and a Sparrowhawk panicked Woodpigeons in the riverside trees as it flew through.  In the dunes along Druridge Bay Stonechat, Reed Bunting and Meadow Pipit flicked between bushes and fence posts.  The recent wet weather, accompanied by easterly winds has left the coast dripping with Goldcrests, and a feeding flock of around a dozen of these tiny gems was scrutinised for anything different.  Lapwing and Curlew were calling over the fields and a Common Scoter offered views that were vastly different to the usual dark dots riding the crest of waves offshore that typify the species.  An incredibly pale grey Chiffchaff joined them briefly before diving into deep cover and not being as obliging as we hoped.  As we neared the end of the afternoon one of the species that always enlivens a day birdwatching on the Northumberland coast through the autumn and winter put in an appearance.  Dashing and elegant, the Merlin zipped along the dunes before flicking up, over and out of sight, in pursuit of an unidentified small bird.  A handsome bird to end a fine day on the coast 🙂

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Winter’s Icy Grip; Bespoke Lindisfarne Safari 25/02/2016

by on Mar.02, 2016, under Lindisfarne

There’s a special quality to the winter; stark, icy landscapes filled with vast flocks of wintering birds grip the attention and leave you marvelling at the inhospitable conditions our winter wildlife contends with.  We can wear a range of incredibly technical clothing, and head back to the car, or even indoors, if conditions deteriorate but wildlife just has to get on with surviving…

I arrived at Middleton to collect Lesley and Andrew, who were enjoying a week in Northumberland that included their wedding, for their second trip with NEWT (following a successful Otter Safari in May last year) and we headed towards Holy Island.  As we walked out to The Lough, flocks of Pale-bellied and Dark-bellied Brent Geese flew in off the mudflats heading towards the flooded fields where we’ve seen them roosting and bathing over the last couple of weeks.  The flooded fields were frozen fields though, and the geese circled over them before heading back out onto the mud.  Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Gadwall, Goldeneye and Shoveler were all very skittish and we could even track the progress of whatever was disturbing them by their movements, although whatever it was remained unseen by us.  Vast flocks of Golden Plover filled the air and Skylark song carried on the icy breeze.  Back on the mainland the rising tide brought Curlew, Knot, Dunlin, Turnstone, Bar-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover and Common Redshank closer and closer to us.  Then, as the encroaching tide lapped at their toes in the grass at the edge of the mudflats, 12 Skylark suddenly rose in front of us as a flock of Lesser Redpoll sat in bushes behind our viewing point.

Eider, Long-tailed Duck, Common Scoter, Red-breasted Merganser, Slavonian Grebe and Red-throated Diver were on the sea just beyond the rocks where Purple Sandpipers were engaging in their daily dance with the breaking surf and it was time to head back after an enjoyable day with clients who have a great love for Northumberland, and an extraordinary knowledge of great places to eat – we’ll be trying out their recommendations over the next month or so 🙂

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Winter Wonderland 21-24/02/2016

by on Mar.01, 2016, under Druridge Bay, Lindisfarne

Our Winter Wonderland holiday started on Sunday evening with Ben and Diane, and David, arriving at the Bamburgh Castle Inn.

Day One 22/02/16.  Our first full day was around Lindisfarne and the North Northumberland coast and everything that makes the area so good in the winter put in an appearance.  Purple Sandpiper, Oystercatcher, Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Common Redshank, Turnstone, Grey Plover, Golden Plover, Dunlin and Knot represented wading birds, Common Scoter, Eider, Red-breasted Merganser, Long-tailed Duck and Slavonian Grebe were just offshore, Grey Seal and at least 16 Roe Deer provided some mammal interest and there were lots and lots of geesePale-bellied Brent, Dark-bellied Brent, Pink-footed, Greylag and Barnacle filled the air, the fields and the mudflats as Skylarks sang and fought, heralding the arrival of spring 🙂

Day Two 23/02/16.  Our second day was spent around NEWT’s local patch, Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  One of our favourite mammals was soon on the trip list as an Otter cub appeared from its hideaway in a pile of boulders and spent a little while feeding close by 🙂  The long-staying Long-billed Dowitcher joined the trip list too, feeding alongside Knot, Common Redshank and Bar-tailed Godwit and unexpected birds included Marsh Tit and Treecreeper.  As the afternoon light faded, we watched a family group of Whooper Swans and a pair of Dippers sat almost motionless on a mid-stream rock as the water rushed around them and a Barn Owl was a welcome addition to the trip list just before an incredibly brief sleety shower reminded us that this is the winter 🙂

24/02/16.  Departure day dawned bright, cold and encased in frost at the end of the holiday.  Just the way the winter should be!

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The hunter, hunted; Lindisfarne Safari 19/02/2016

by on Mar.01, 2016, under Lindisfarne

Our second successive day on and around Lindisfarne was accompanied by an incredibly stiff breeze, which contributed to a fascinating encounter…

I collected Andy, Jill and Catherine from The Swan and we collected Alison en route to the north of the county.  Waiting for the tide to clear from the causeway, we spent the first part of the day on the mainland.  Bar-tailed Godwit, Oystercatcher, Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone, Curlew, Common Redshank and Knot were all close to the edge of the breaking surf as Long-tailed Duck, Common Scoter, Eider, Razorbill and Slavonian Grebe braved the icy bite of the wind out on the exposed sea.  Teal, Wigeon, Pale-bellied Brent Geese and Dark-bellied Brent Geese grazed on the newly-exposed areas of mudflat as the tide fell and a stunningly handsome drake Pintail flew by.  Grey Seals hauled out on exposed sandbars and, over on the island, we watched a Kestrel, holding position in the breeze, as another raptor found itself in a bit of difficulty…

Between the island and the mainland, a Sparrowhawk was beating a desperate path into the wind.  Struggling to make headway, its task was made all the more difficult by the attention of a Herring Gull.  Exposed, and really not in its element, the Sparrowhawk was driven back by the wind as the mob of gulls began growing.  Time and again it flew towards the mainland only to be brought almost to a standstill by the breeze and harassed by the gulls into turning back towards the island.  Eventually it dropped towards the sea before accelerating across the gap, just a few feet above the deadly waves, and was lost from sight as it neared the relative sanctuary of the mainland.  If there’s a rule when watching wildlife it should be ‘expect the unexpected’ 🙂

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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…

Eurasian Otter,Lutra lutra,Northumberland,otter watching,otter safari,otter photography

Eurasian Otter,Lutra lutra,Northumberland,otter watching,otter safari,otter photography workshops

Eurasian Otter,Lutra lutra,otter watching.otter safari,otter photography workshops

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.

Liite Owl,Athene noctua,Northumberland,birdwatching Northumberland,wildlife sfaris UK,wildlife tours UK,wildlife photography,wildlife photography workshops,

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.

Stoat,Mustela erminea,Northumberland,wildlife sfaris UK,wildlife tours UK,

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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Rain song in beautiful light; Northumberland Birdwatching 12/03/2014

by on Mar.17, 2014, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

Last Wednesday was a trip I’d been looking forward to for some time.  Janice and David have visited Northumberland annually for many years and it was David’s 50th birthday so Janice had arranged an afternoon out for him 🙂

Arriving at Cresswell, I was impressed by the naked-eye view of a Red-throated Diver from the window of the cottage, and we were soon on our way up the coast, for an afternoon’s birdwatching concentrating on locations where there is a better than average chance of seeing an Otter.  David is a keen reader of some of our local birdwatching blogs and it wasn’t long before we bumped into a familiar name as we enjoyed East Chevington’s quartet of grebes Little, Great Crested, Slavonian and Red-necked – in the company of Alan Gilbertson, who showed us an image he’d taken of Bean Geese at HauxleyGoldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Long-tailed Duck, Tufted Duck, Teal, Wigeon, Mallard and Gadwall were all stunning in the beautiful afternoon light and we continued on our way.  The closure of one of the footpaths at Hauxley was going to make viewing the geese slightly tricky, as we’d have to be looking into the sun.  We managed to find one spot that gave us a good view of the birds and, after we’d sifted through plenty of Greylag, Canada and Pink-footed Geese, which were obligingly on the pool rather than on a distant field, I spotted the brown wings and orange legs of a Tundra Bean Goose, which was asleep but woke to allow excellent comparison with the Pinkfeet.

On to a delightful spot that we’ve been checking recently for Otter, and the songs of Wren, Greenfinch and Goldfinch filled the air, as well as the persistent ‘rain song’ of a male Chaffinch, a Dipper came along the river, calling, and secreted itself away from view under the bridge we were standing on, a Grey Wagtail flew over calling, a Common Buzzard glided low over the trees and a flock of Curlew rose noisily from nearby fields.  The Chaffinch and his mate were busy helping themselves to flies that were trapped in spider webs, and a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers really looked at their best in the sublime low sunlight.

Our final port of call was Cresswell Pond, which was bathed in warm orange sunlight with the tops of the reeds appearing to be aflame as the sun sank closer and closer to the horizon.  Common Snipe were roosting at the water’s edge and a Starling murmuration twisted and turned above the skyline to the north as the light faded and I returned David back to the cottage.  Incredibly, five hours had quite simply flown past as we enjoyed an afternoon birdwatching and chatting about wind farms, raptor persecution, marine conservation and Scottish independence.  Do you know, you can easily tie all of those topics together 🙂

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More five star birdwatching; Northumberland coast 24/02/14

by on Feb.25, 2014, under Birdwatching, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

Yesterday continued to lay to rest the myth that February is a quiet month…

Starting in the north of the county, overlooking the iconic landscape of Holy Island, brought the expected waders and wildfowl, and three lifers for Paul and Katie, who were back for another day out with us, following a trip in 2009; Common Scoter, Long-tailed Duck and Twite. A Peregrine muscled its way menacingly through the air above a flock of Dunlin, Grey Seals were ‘bottling’ at high tide and Bar-tailed Godwits, Redshank and Curlew were probing the soft exposed mud as the tide began to drop.  Eider, Shelduck, Red-throated Divers, Wigeon and Teal were all at or near the water’s edge and the songs of Skylark and Yellowhammer reverberated in the warm sunshine.  Perhaps the highlight of the morning was a bird that is always breathtaking; sailing elegantly into the stiff breeze, a male Hen Harrier was tracking along a hedgerow heading inland 🙂

The afternoon brought Paul and Katie’s fourth lifer of the day, a Red-necked Grebe, with Little, Great Crested and Slavonian Grebes all close by for comparison.  Two Avocets were rather unseasonal, a pair of Pintail exuded elegance, drake Goldeneye looked very smart in their contrasty breeding plumage, Red-breasted Mergansers looked quite, well, comical as they always do and two Brown Hares were sitting motionless in a nearby field.  With 30 minutes until sunset a small flock of Starlings flying in from the north led to me suggesting that we go and see where they’d gone, and to check if there was going to a significant murmuration…

What followed was, quite simply, one of the most remarkable things I’ve ever witnessed.  Initially the Starlings were about a mile south of where I expected them to roost, and there were a lot of them.  Soon two other large flocks merged with them and they moved slowly north, eventually passing directly overhead with the sound of wingbeats like a gentle breeze rustling through a forest.  The murmuration drifted away to the south again, then back north.  Almost an hour had passed when the activity levels within the flock were ramped up.  Twisting and turning with more urgency, the density of birds in different parts of our view coalesced to form writhing shapes from the previously uniform oval.  With light levels fading, the birds vanished from sight, only to betray their presence in a series of shapes that resembled a slug, then a snail, then a car.  We soon lost them in the gloom again, only for the finale to the evenings proceedings to take us all by surprise as the flock compacted over the reedbed where they were going to roost, forming a dense arrowhead as they funneled into the reeds.  With the first birds down in the reedbed, the rest of the flock wheeled slightly higher, then repeated the maneuver, a second arrowhead driving into the reeds.  A third, then a fourth, cohort entered the roost and all was quiet.  Fade to black…

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Five star birdwatching; Northumberland Coast 20/02/14

by on Feb.23, 2014, under Birdwatching, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

Our fourth trip this week was a day birdwatching with Simon, who was back again after previous trips including a stunning Farne Deeps pelagic in 2012.  We’d spoken in advance of the trip and Simon was keen to add a few of Northumberland’s wintering birds to his life list; divers, grebes, Purple Sandpiper and Brambling were all mentioned as desirable.

When I arrived to collect him on Thursday morning, I was still wrestling with the challenge of heading inland for Brambling, yet leaving plenty of time to explore the Northumberland coast.  That worry was quickly taken away, as putting a feeder up outside the holiday cottage meant that Simon had found one of the species on his wish list himself 🙂  Covering most of the coast from north to south produced five lifers;  Red-throated Divers just beyond the surf, Long-tailed Ducks including a breathtakingly beautiful drake, Purple Sandpipers unobtrusively poking around in rock pools, displaying Goldeneye rivaling the attractiveness of the Long-tailed Ducks and, as the afternoon light faded and the rain finally arrived, a very obliging Water RailTwite, Stonechat, Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting, Skylark, Marsh Harrier, Slavonian, Little and Red-necked Grebes, Shelduck, Bar-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Grey and Golden Plover, Lapwing, Gannet, Curlew, Teal, Mallard and Wigeon may have been reduced to a supporting role for the day, but all combined to produce an excellent day’s birdwatching on the Northumberland coast 🙂

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