Tag: Mediterranean Gull
After a relaxing break over Christmas and New Year, last Saturday was one of the most eagerly anticipated events of the year; the Northumberland Winter Bird Race.
A simple set of rules; start any time you like after midnight, teams of four (or three…or five…), three members of the team must positively identify a species for it to be counted, get to the Three Horse Shoes between 17:00-17:30 and be ready to declare your team total at 18:00.
The starting point for our, vaguely planned, itinerary for the day was to be the NEWT office at 06:00. As Sarah opened the door at 05:45, when our other team members (NTBC Field Trips officer Trevor, and local legend the Liverbirder) arrived, bird #1 was added to the list as a vocal Tawny Owlsang his haunting melody from the churchyard opposite our house. #2 Barn Owl (the first of at least five found around dawn and dusk)joined the list as we headed north in Gordon’s car for our first ‘only one chance’ species…Red Grouse duly obliged and we’d made a flying start. Down on the coast a stunning sunrise also brought Little Egret for the list, as well as occasional good-natured banter with two other teams that had started in the north (including ‘The Tiddlers’) and three more hours in North Northumberland, coupled with Gordon’s local knowledge of Cramlington, which brought us a Kingfisher that we pointed out to several curious dog walkers, saw us reach #85 by midday. The afternoon proved much more testing, and some excellent birds including Smew, Slavonian Grebe, Mediterranean Gull and a fly-by Bittern, took us to a total of 105 by the time we’d eventually given up on trying to tick Goldfinch on call in the dark
Four of the other five teams were already at the Three Horse Shoes by the time we arrived. Species missed were being compared and there was a general feeling that it had been a difficult day. We were only one species short of our best winter bird race total (achieved the last time that we didn’t have an itinerary planned to the nth degree…) but were expecting to be somewhere round 5th out of 6 (historically we’ve been a much stronger Spring bird race team). With other teams declaring totals of 98, 101, 103, 104 and 108, we’d exceeded all expectations and finished 2nd, with 105 species out of a cumulative total across all 6 teams of 129 To put the day in context, the highest total for Northumberland in a Winter Bird Race is 126 for a single team…
Looking forward to early January 2014 already!
With the cessation of the rain that plagued Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, Wednesday dawned cold and breezy; almost ideal for a day out on the birdwatching paradise that is the Northumberland Coast in the Winter.
As I collected Ele and Lisa from their holiday cottage in the shadow of Bamburgh Castle, the icy northerly wind cut through the multiple layers that I’d put on before leaving the house. We started our day’s birdwatching at Budle Bay, where the wind somehow seemed even icier, and Oystercatchers, Redshank and Curlew were probing the oozing mud as a distant Peregrine flushed flocks of Lapwing and Golden Plover. Eiders were surfing the top of the impressive swell on the open coast and we headed south towards Druridge Bay. Mediterranean Gulls drifted overhead, ghostly pale, as Oystercatchers, Curlew, Turnstone, Redshank and Sanderling worked along the edge of the surf. Among all the immaculate ducks, two species really stood out; Goosander sleek and menacing, and Red-breasted Merganser drakes all trying to out do each other in their attempts to attract the ladies. A flock of Pink-footed Geese fed in a nearby field
As daylight faded a flock of Waxwings were in the distant tree tops and two species that are always a pleasure to see put in an appearance. Short-eared Owl and Barn Owl drifted along the edges of the reedbeds; death on silent wings. Here are a couple of pictures of them from earlier this year (in better light and a gentler breeze!).
It’s a rare day when a trip features a limited number of birds and other wildlife, but even the days with lots to see often have a few things that really stand out; sometimes by being scarce, sometimes it’s an intriguing behaviour, and sometimes it can be something that’s quite common but rarely seen. An outstanding day would produce all of those…
I collected Helen and Chris from Church Point for an afternoon of birdwatching and other wildlife around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland in near-perfect weather. Before we headed up the coast though, we spent some time studying the Mediterranean Gulls on the beach and in the car park. Cormorants were feeding just offshore and a very long-billed Dunlin was pottering about on the sand. Working our way along the reserves that line Druridge Bay, one of NEWT’s favourite winter visitors provided some entertainment; a small herd of Whooper Swans had chosen a pool as a stop-off point – provoking a furious reaction from the resident pair of Mute Swans. Teal, Goldeneye, Wigeon, Shoveler, Mallard and Gadwall drakes were all looking good, following their exit from eclipse plumage, Long-tailed Tits flew past, one by one, a Goldcrest was flicking around in a bush nearby, a chirping Tree Sparrow allowed us to approach incredibly close and a Guillemot was hanging around at the base of the weir on the River Coquet. Flocks of Curlew, Golden Plover and Lapwing filled the air, and a Jack Snipe provided lots of entertainment as it bobbed up and down on the edge of a reedbed, as nearby Common Snipe seemed more interested in disputing possession of feeding areas than actually feeding.
As the end of the trip approached, much too soon with such good company, we were in a small wooded valley, searching for Badgers. We could hear the sound of them blundering through the undergrowth, but a barking dog nearby seemed to spook them and all went quiet. For most of the time that we were there we were under the baleful glare of a feathered sentinel, as a Tawny Owl stared at us from the fork between a branch and tree trunk. Wildlife, watching the wildlife-watchers
Wading birds seem to hold a fascination for so many birdwatchers, from beginners all the way to birders with decades of experience, and Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland at this time of year is often very productive.
I collected Reg and Val (for their second trip within a week) and Nick from Church Point and we started with one of our favourite birds, and one that always impresses, Mediterranean Gull. With the strong breeze driving sand across our field of vision, there was a real wild feel to the experience of watching the birds as they withstood the elements.
Heading north along the coast we witnessed one of the oddest pieces of fieldcraft that I’ve seen with clients. Checking out a small subsidence pond, we were enjoying the sight of Dunlin, Ringed Plovers, Common Redshank and a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper all probing and prodding through the mud at the water’s edge. Another birdwatcher made his way stealthily to the wall along the roadside, and settled to watch the birds from a crouched position. Good fieldcraft, the birds continued feeding appearing completely unconcerned by his presence. Then, when he was ready to leave, he popped up like a jack-in-the-box flushing all of the birds! As the flock eventually settled back down, there was no sign of the Curlew Sandpiper. It’s an important lesson that fieldcraft skills should always be applied when retreating from your position as well as when approaching it
Cresswell Pond continued the wader theme, with some very obliging Common Snipe, Dunlin, Ruff and both Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits (standing alongside one another and allowing excellent comparison of the differences between these species).
At East Chevington, Reg spotted a distant bird perched on a fence post and commented that it didn’t look quite right for a Crow. Tucked down against the wind, the view through our telescope soon revealed that the bird was a juvenile Marsh Harrier. It remained perched for several minutes, regularly turning it’s head to reveal a lovely orange/cream crown contrasting with the uniform dark-brown of the rest of it’s plumage. Hundreds of Lapwings and Starlings were flying back and forth, twisting and turning against the very stiff breeze, Cormorants sat motionless and we headed back to Newbiggin at the end of our day.
Sometimes, just one animal or bird can make a trip a special experience for our clients. Other times it’s the scenery. Maybe a combination of the weather, Northumberland’s stunning skies and the ‘atmosphere’. Occasionally, it’s a little bit of each.
I collected Keith and Anne from their home in the Tyne valley, and headed east towards Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. As we scoured the woods for Red Squirrels, the high winds made it impossible to pick out any movement that might have been our quarry. Dragonflies hawked around the edges of the trees and some rather late tadpoles were wriggling around in shallow ponds. A quick stop at Church Point, produced the hoped-for Mediterranean Gulls; beautiful ghostly pale adults hanging in the breeze over our heads.
Then we were on our way up the coast in search of mud, glorious mud. Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Redshank, (Grey) Red Knot and an immaculate Curlew Sandpiper were all found at very close range and then noisy skeins of Greylag and Canada Geese filled the air around us. Alarmed by the sudden appearance of a juvenile Marsh Harrier, the geese lifted from where they were feeding and headed straight for the nearest pool…where they encountered an adult Marsh Harrier, hanging almost motionless above a reed bed, held in position by the wind. Small groups of Starlings started to appear, tossed around like leaves on the breeze, merging to form a murmuration. The late evening light made the haystacks in nearby fields seem to glow, the sky was quite breathtaking and, as dusk rapidly advanced and the wind strengthened, flocks of Golden Plover and Curlew arrived to roost as we headed west again.
As I drove through the rolling hills of rural Northumberland to the west of Morpeth, the weather was looking superb; blue sky, sunshine, a nice breeze. I collected Mark and Nicola and we headed back towards the coastal plain, for an afternoon of birdwatching around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.
The conditions looked good for raptors, and it wasn’t too long before we had our first Common Buzzards of the afternoon. Then another raptor appeared, soaring just overhead. With long, thin wings, and a long narrow tail, it didn’t look like another buzzard, but it had the sun behind it so was a difficult to view silhouette. Eventually it moved away to the north and, as it engaged in some mid-air sparring with one of the buzzards, its identity was revealed; juvenile Marsh Harrier. As the two protagonists drifted further north, the orange crown of the harrier flashed in the sunlight as the bird soared in circles, contrasting with the rich dark chocolate brown of the rest of its plumage.
Reaching the coast, we stopped off at Newbiggin to look for Mediterranean Gulls and it didn’t take too long before we spotted our first as it flew across from the southern end of the bay and landed on the beach right in front of us. More followed, including a juvenile bird, and Nicola soon commented that, regardless of any plumage differences, the structure of the birds was noticeably different to the nearby Black-headed Gulls. Leaving the Meds behind we began our journey along the coastal road through Druridge Bay. A quick check of the Bewick Drift Flash produced 9 Ruff, 10 Dunlin and a Curlew Sandpiper and we spent a little while comparing the differences between the two sandpipers as well as having a very close view of just how different male and female Ruff are in terms of size.
Our picnic stop, overlooking the North Sea, produced a beach filled with Ringed Plovers, and a lone Sanderling, as well as soaring Fulmars and rafts of Eiders, bobbing in the gentle swell far below us. It was starting to turn colder, breezier, and the first drops of rain started to fall. Cresswell Pond was very productive, as it has been for a few weeks now, but a few species really stood out; a Spoonbill, which had been at East Chevington during the afternoon, flew in and made its way right round the edge of the pond, sweeping that extraordinary bill from side to side in search of food, Yellow Wagtails arrived to roost and sat along the base of the reeds, where they provoked a very aggressive response from the Common Snipe that were feeding there and a Barn Owl came out following a heavy shower and caught a vole in the dunes away to the north before carrying it within a few metres of where we were sitting.
The finale to the trip came beside a fast flowing river, downstream was dark, inky blackness, but upstream the water was lit by the eerie glow from a nearby town. Daubenton’s Bats were trawling the water surface, their presence betrayed by the expanding circles where they’d gaffed prey at the surface. Then, a ripple too big to be from a bat; and an Otter surfaced for a few moments before disappearing into the dark.
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 voles. Willow 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.
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…
Trips with existing clients are always a pleasure, not only because it’s very gratifying to get a booking from someone we’ve taken out before, but also because we already have shared memories. I had 3 things vivid in my mind from when I took Pete and Janet out in September 2008 – it rained, we saw 11 adult Mediterranean Gulls on the beach at Newbiggin and Janet found an Otter.
I collected Pete and Janet from their holiday cottage in Embleton, and we headed across to Sharperton to collect David and Mary. They’re all members of the same Natural History Society, who were our first group booking, back in 2009, and we always enjoy catching up with them, and the other members of their group, at the Bird Fair each August. Tuesday was a bespoke trip, combining Harwood and Druridge Bay, and the weather forecast suggested that it wouldn’t rain…
As we approached Harwood a Roe Deer crossed the track, walked into the trees and then stopped to watch us. This was the first of 11 that we saw on our journey through the forest (well, it was about 11, and if I say 11, it’ll help the punchline to this post!).
Harwood again produced memorable sightings; Roe Deer, Tree Pipit, at least 3 Cuckoos, Siskins, plenty of Crossbills, more Roe Deer and a mouth-wateringly attractive male Common Redstart. A list of species can never really do justice to just how good encounters with wildlife can be though; as 2 Roe Deer bounded across the clearfell area beside the track, 2 Cuckoos were engaged in a frantic chase, calling frequently and mobbed by Meadow Pipits every time they left the safety of the trees, while the male Redstart flicked along the edge of a nearby plantation, red tail shivering as he perched on a tree stump, black face contrasting with his white forehead and supercilium, the subtle grey of his crown and mantle and the orangy-red of his breast.
As we tucked in to our picnic lunch, overlooking a very calm North Sea, the first drops of icy rain began to patter down. Then, a comment from Janet to set the pulse racing “I’m sure I just saw a fin”. With such calm water the sudden appearance of black shapes at the surface stood out, and Janet had found yet another exciting mammal on a NEWT safari. This time it wasn’t the sleek, sinuous predator of our lakes and rivers, but another sleek, sinuous predator. We watched for several minutes as the pod of Bottlenose Dolphins moved slowly south. At least 6 animals, including a very small calf, they surfaced lazily every 30seconds or thereabouts as I texted observers further south to let them know what was coming.
Avocet, Garganey (2 handsome drakes), Common Sandpiper, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, clouds of Swifts, Swallows and martins, and weather best described as changeable, all contributed to an excellent afternoon around Druridge before I completed our circular route, dropping Pete and Janet, and then David and Mary. See you at the BirdFair
So, it rained, we saw 11(ish) Roe Deer in Harwood and Janet found some Bottlenose Dolphins…
Our Druridge mini-Safari with Karl and Linda featured some of those species that are at or near their northern limit in Britain; Avocets, a recent colonist of Northumberland, and Marsh Harriers, here for a few years longer, are always much appreciated and Newbiggin’s Mediterranean Gulls are an excellent example of a group of birds that is often overlooked or simply ignored by many. Some of our commoner species go down well; Grey Heron, Curlew and Cormorant always get plenty of attention and Wigeon, Shelduck, Mallard, Red-breasted Merganser, Goldeneye, Teal and Great Crested Grebe all have their own attraction too.
What I really enjoy about our trips is enthusiastic clients. So long as we keep getting them, and Karl and Linda were no exception, I don’t think I’ll ever get jaded, no matter how much time I spend in the field. A couple of frequent questions from our clients are ‘what do you do on your days off?’ and ‘what do you do when you’re away on holiday?’ For some reason, they never seem surprised when I give them the answer