Tag: Magpie

Welcome home to Northumberland; Bespoke Coast Safari 28/04/16

by on May.03, 2016, under Druridge Bay, Otter

As I arrived at Church Point to collect Tom and Sue, the weather was slightly breezy but dry.  The forecast suggested that it might be showery later during the afternoon and promised a bit of a contrast with Tom and Sue’s home country of Australia. Tom’s a Northumbrian so I was really looking forward to showing him parts of the coast that he wasn’t familiar with, hopefully with the weather showcasing Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland at its best…

Cormorants air-dried their wings in the stiffening breeze and a Coot took umbrage at a Moorhen that was doing nothing more sinister than just wandering along the water’s edge, Woodpigeons, Jackdaws, Greylag Geese and Canada Geese speckled the dark grey sky.  A typically nervous Great Spotted Woodpecker watched us warily from behind a tree trunk, Tree Sparrows were chipping in the hedgerows, a Magpie was going back and forth presumably from it’s nest, Robins flicked across paths just ahead of us, Curlew, Redshank and Oystercatcher probed in the mud in conditions that were starting to resemble the winter and a Little Egret was a shockingly bright bundle of white feathers in an ever darkening vista of Northumberland’s coastal wildlife as Avocets, delicate visions in black and white, swept their heads from side to side through shallow water in seach of food.

Great Crested Grebes comported themselves with their usual elegance as more Cormorants stood hunched in the wind and then, as Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler must have been wondering if they were in the right place at the right time of year, the heavens unleashed hail, sleet and snow from an apocalyptic sky and a Water Rail scurried mouse-like between reedbeds as two Otter cubs appeared just beyond the grebes 🙂  Their first appearance was fleeting, just a few seconds before they vanished from sight behind a reedbed.  Then they were back, and porpoising side by side, back and forth, before once again heading into the shelter of the reeds.

As Fulmars soared along the clifftops and Gannets rode the uplift just above the waves offshore, we ended the day with the clouds overhead breaking to reveal blue sky and sunshine in a remarkable area of glorious weather that was surrounded in every direction by leaden grey clouds and storms.  Atmospheric wildlife watching…

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Zzzzzzzzzz; Badger mini-safari 31/05/2014

by on Jun.02, 2014, under Badger, Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Red Fox

After dropping John, David and Sheila back in Alnwick after their bespoke photography trip to the Farne Islands, I met up with Sarah to have something to eat and then I was on my way to Alnmouth to collect Zoe, Richard, Ella, Luke and Charlie.  This was their second trip with NEWT, following an evening mini-safari in late May last year.

One of the species from last year’s trip put in an impressive appearance again, as we watched a Barn Owl hunting along one edge of a pool, while an Avocet fed at the other side, Reed Buntings seemed to be everywhere we looked and a small group of Little Gulls looked tiny alongside nearby Black-headed Gulls.  Soon, light levels had faded to the point where it was time to head off in search of our main quarry for the evening.  Positioning ourselves in a spot that looks over an area where Badgers are regularly seen, we sat quietly.  Almost immediately myself and Ella noticed something black-and-white moving in the vegetation opposite us.. That turned out to be a false alarm though as it revealed itself to be a Magpie 🙂  Things were quiet, although distantly I could hear the alarm calls of Blackbirds, Robins andWrens.  Then another gentle sound just on the edge of hearing; ZZZZzzzzZZZZzzzzZZZZzzzz.  It was warm and humid so it wouldn’t be a great surprise to encounter lots of insects…although these Z’s were coming from Luke and Charlie!  That’s how relaxing it is to just sit and watch for wildlife…

Out of the corner of my eye I caught some movement away along the track.. Had I imagined it?  Maybe it was a dog walker having an evening stroll?  No more movement…and then a Red Fox trotted across the clearing in front of us.  A second fox followed soon after, and then a Badger, big and ghostly pale, as an attempt was made to wake the boys without making too much noise 🙂  Another fox, this time a cub, sat watching us for a few minutes, and Luke spotted that there was a Badger in the undergrowth just beyond it.  More fox sightings followed, and then a final Badger, as the light reached a point where even the sharpest of eyes would struggle to penetrate the gloom.  The drive back to Alnmouth had one last good mammal for us, as a Brown Hare loped along the road a few metres ahead of the car 🙂

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Never work with children or animals…

by on Feb.18, 2014, under Northumberland, Photography, Southeast Northumberland

Back when I was a teacher, and developing demonstration experiments, I came across a piece of advice that has stuck with me since then ‘prior practice prevents poor presentation’.  It served me well; it’s far better to accidentally set fire to the ceiling tiles in your classroom when there’s just yourself, a lab technician and a fire extinguisher there.  And what did I learn from that incident? Make sure your class are sitting towards the back of the room, and keep the fire extinguisher close to hand 😉

We apply a similar philosophy with NEWT.  Recce sites consistently and, even when a site is regularly producing sightings of the target species, keep searching for new sites too.  Preparation for our beginners photography workshop at the weekend involved baiting three locations with hazelnuts, to maximise the chances of Red Squirrels appearing right in front of us in a photogenic location with lighting angles worked out well in advance.  We visited the sites on Saturday in poor weather conditions and re-baited with over a pound of nuts.  Sunday dawned and I met up with Bryan.  His previous trip with us had been a successful search for Otters, and Red Squirrels have always been an easier mammal to track down…

The weather couldn’t have been better; bright sunshine always helps.  Coal Tits, Great Tits, Blue Tits, Long-tailed Tits, Chaffinches, Blackbirds and Magpies seemed to be everywhere around us.  However, not any sight of a squirrel 🙂 They’d cleaned out the nuts from all of the sites we’d baited, so we re-baited, and waited.  The likely explanation is that the combination of a stiff cold breeze and the extraordinary number of people walking their dogs through the woods meant that they were keeping their heads down.  So I’ve set up a baiting area in a much quieter piece of woodland, and invited Bryan to come along for a session photographing the squirrels there once I’ve determined the best angles and times of day.  No matter how much preparation you put in, sometimes the unpredictable nature of wildlife still gets the better of you 🙂

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Big Garden Birdwatch 2013

by on Jan.31, 2013, under Birdwatching, Choppington Woods, Family and friends, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

Last weekend was the Big Garden Birdwatch and we followed tradition by sitting in our kitchen with a mug of coffee, and a bacon and tomato sandwich, having topped up all of the feeders the evening before.  An hour later, we’d racked up a list of 21 species; Blackbird 3, Jackdaw 2, Collared Dove 2, Robin 3, Chaffinch 20, Great Tit 3, Coal Tit 3, Magpie 1, Blue Tit 2, Dunnock 1, Goldfinch 8, Jay 1, Bullfinch 1, House Sparrow 1, Greenfinch 1, Woodpigeon 2, Redwing 1, Tree Sparrow 1, Song Thrush 1, Sparrowhawk 1, Brambling 2. Quite a successful hour, although most species weren’t present in the numbers we would have expected and, as usual, several species that had been visiting the garden in recent days (Marsh Tit, Willow Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Siskin, Great Spotted Woodpecker) failed to appear during the 1 hour of the survey.  Easy birding, and part of a huge national survey.  If you didn’t do it this year, give it a go in 2014 🙂

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Hide and seek

by on Oct.31, 2012, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast, Southeast Northumberland

Sunday was a Prestige Otter Safari for Chris and Sophie.  It was Chris’ birthday and, as I collected them from Berwick in some pretty horrible conditions, I was hoping that we would drive south into better weather.  Sure enough, we did pass out from under the rain clouds, but the day stayed quite gloomy and windy.  I’d already had an excellent start to the day’s birdwatching, with a flock of 14 Waxwings flying alongside the road as I approached Berwick.  I’m often asked what my favourite bird is, and usually reply that it’s impossible to have a favourite…but Waxwings have a special place at the top of my list 🙂

Down in southeast Northumberland we found an adult Mediterranean Gull, and Chris proved to be remarkably eagle-eyed – picking out a sleeping Jack Snipe in an area of cut reeds.  On the water the usual suspects (Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Shoveler, Gadwall) were joined by some less regular species; Scaup, Pintail and a pair of Long-tailed Ducks. Some surprising entertainment was provided by a Merlin which spent several minutes harassing a Magpie, and then there was a sudden movement of Goldeneye, Coot and Moorhen away from a reedbed.  They stared intently at the reeds for a few minutes before drifting back towards the edge, then repeated the whole process twice more!  There was something in the reeds that was causing concern, but it didn’t reveal itself (not an unusual occurrence in strong winds – and who could blame anything for staying sheltered?).  We moved on to another pool…and had a repeat performance, this time with Pochard, Goldeneye, Teal, Tufted Duck and Whooper Swan being a bit on edge.  Sometimes wildlife can be frustrating…

Given the low temperatures and high wind, it seemed a little over-optimistic to get the bat detector out.  However, just to confirm that you can’t ever predict wildlife, we had at least two or three Common Pipistrelles, including some frenzied feeding activity around a streetlight, before heading back up the coast.

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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

Common Stonechat,bird photography,bird photography tuition,Northumberland

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.

Common Snipe,Northumberland,bird photography,bird photography courses,bird photography holidays

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.

dragonfly,Migrant Hawker,Northumberland,macro photography,macro photography workshop,insect photography,insect photography workshop

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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In a dark wood

by on Nov.02, 2010, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

October ended with a Prestige Tour around Druridge Bay and Southeast Northumberland.  I collected Christine and Mark from Stannington and we headed across to the coast.  Flocks of Linnets. Lapwings and Grey Partridges were close to the road and we settled to check one of our regular Otter sites.  All of the assembled Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Gadwall and Coot were concentrated in one area of the pool and clearly nervous about one particular corner.  We weren’t fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of any predators, but the behaviour of the waterfowl was typical of the type of indication you get that there’s an Otter about.  Our lunch spot for the day was beside the River Coquet and, along with the Cormorants and Grey Herons that were patrolling the water’s edge, an Atlantic Salmon provided some spectacular entertainment as it launched itself vertically out of the water, three times in rapid succession, just a few metres away from us.

As we walked along the River Wansbeck after lunch, via a detour around the north edge of Ashington to enjoy the spectacle of 90+ Waxwings gorging themselves on Rowan berries, skeins of Pink-footed Geese passed overhead and, as the sun sank towards the horizon, it was time to seek out the wildlife that occupies that magical time of day.  As we settled into position near one of our favourite badger-watching spots there was an incredible commotion from the trees on the other side of the stream.  Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Wrens, Robins and Magpies were all alarming loudly.  The mobbing was too intense, and too stationary, to be the mild alarm that a Red Fox or Badger often triggers and shortly after one Tawny Owl flew through the trees opposite, a second bird finally got fed up with the mobbing and flew from it’s perch.  An unwelcome sighting was a Grey Squirrel, in a woodland that until recently still held Red Squirrels.  Our first Badger of the evening was a big adult, trotting across the top of the clearing.  Then, after a few minutes of near silence, two Badger cubs came crashing through the undergrowth.  They crossed the stream beneath a fallen tree, paused briefly rising on their haunches like stripy black-and-white meerkats, and then headed uphill behind us.  Our fourth Badger of the evening followed the same route before we headed back to the Landrover and civilisation.

I dropped Christine and Mark back at Stannington and there was time for one last piece of magic as a Barn Owl floated lazily from a fence post as I drove back towards the A1.

Throughout the late autumn and winter we’ll be scheduling most of our trips to finish in darkness.  Druridge Bay and Lindisfarne are both excellent locations through the winter, and as darkness descends, so give us a call on 01670 827465 to find out how we can bring that experience to you.

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You couldn’t make it up

by on Jul.25, 2008, under Birds

The National Trust carried out a survey recently, where they discovered that children were more likely to be able to identify a Dalek than a Magpie. Now, I’m not surprised at all by this, after all we’re always being told that the younger generation are tied to the PC/TV/Wii.

What was much more interesting than the survey though was the farce that ensued as it was reported. Sky News online (link) illustrated the findings of the survey with relevant images; unfortunately they had an image of a Magpie-Robin (something we’ll never record on a Northern Experience trip) instead of the good old Magpie that 20% of children in the North-east can’t identify, and a Great Tit instead of the Blue Tit that 25% of children are not able to recognise (they have at least corrected that one on the website).

Not to be outdone, The Independent ran a competition with several images, and 3 options for what each image showed. The options for one image were Tench, Loach and Barbel; this could have been a tricky one, particularly as the image showed a Woodlouse.

A few years ago there was some excitement, at least among people who didn’t realise that the birds were just on passage, when Avocets turned up at Cresswell Pond, between Amble and Newbiggin. The local press duly reported the suggestion that the birds were going to breed there, and illustrated the article with a picture of an American Avocet…

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