Tag: Merlin

A raptor day; Bespoke Kielder Safari 28/03/2016

by on Mar.30, 2016, under Kielder, Otter

I love the Northumberland coast, and my obsession with the North Sea and it’s wildlife is well documented, but I always look forward to the drive west – away from the sea and into forests and remote moorland…

I collected Jeanette and Simon for their second trip with NEWT, following the Otter mini-Safari on Sunday, and we headed across through Alnwick, Rothbury, Thropton, Elsdon and Otterburn.  As we approached the dam at the southern end of Kielder Water I could see a bird ahead of us flying towards the reservoir.  It was flying directly away from us but it’s a fairly distinctive bird from any angle…and the Osprey hovered over the water, plunged, surfaced with a large fish and flew along the dam wall, pursued by an angry mob of Common Gulls as 6 Roe Deer grazed just outside the cover of woodland beside the North Tyne 🙂  With occasional breaks in the cloud, and brief interludes of warm sunshine, it seemed a good time to find a suitable spot to sit and look over the forest…which worked just as planned with Common Buzzard, Sparrowhawk and Goshawk all making it on to the day list as a flock of Redwing called overhead 🙂

The drive from forest to moorland produced excellent views of a Dipper as it submerged in a fast-flowing stream, and then the moors produced another excellent crop of birds.  Ravens, big impressive and noisy flew overhead, pairs of Common Buzzard seemed to be everywhere we looked, Red Grouse played hide-and-seek with us as they emerged from cover only to vanish again within a few seconds and three more raptors made it seven species for the day.  Kestrel is still a regular bird on many of our tours but the other two were real scarcities; a pair of Merlin were calling noisily just behind us as a male Hen Harrier ghosted across the moor below us.  Then he started skydancing 🙂  That would be a treat enough, but the bird that had prompted his display came into view…not the female harrier we’d expected, but a second male!  The two tussled briefly in the air just above the heather before both drifting out of sight.  Wild Goats were remarkably confiding close to the road as we headed back towards lower ground and trees.

Back down in the forest and a female Common Crossbill was a nice find as the high-pitched songs of Goldcrest and Treecreeper pierced the air, Goldeneye displayed out on the water as a drake Mandarin sat quietly behind the bankside vegetation and Grey Wagtails bobbed along the muddy edge.  Another wildlife-filled day out with clients who were great company 🙂

2 Comments :, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , more...

“Just the day I needed”; Lindisfarne birdwatching 03/11/2015

by on Nov.06, 2015, under Lindisfarne

Losing yourself in the landscape and the wildlife that inhabits it is sometimes just what you need…

I collected Sue from her holiday cottage in Swarland and we headed north towards Holy Island.  The weather had been a mixed bag as I drove across; mist, fog, clear blue skies, sunshine, more mist, more fog.  This was Sue’s third day out with NEWT, after a successful Otter Safari nearly a year ago (and an unsuccessful one in July last year).  Yet again the weather played a pivotal role in the day’s proceedings, with visibility down to less than 100m at times.  Holy Island was awash with Blackbirds, Chaffinches, Goldfinches and Wrens – all quite approachable as they fed in the mist – and two Chiffchaffs led us a merry dance before finally settling for a few seconds and letting us identify them..  Our lunch stop brought a very obliging Merlin within reach of our binoculars, and then right in front of our eyes and over our heads chasing a Meadow Pipit, as the disembodied voices of Curlew, Wigeon, Shelduck and Pale-bellied Brent Geese cut through the mist.  A Short-eared Owl ghosted along the dunes and into the mist and, with visibility hampered to such an extent, I’d got a plan for the last few hours of the afternoon…and as seven Little Egrets dashed and darted in the shallows, we watched a young female Otter with two cubs as they fed just a few metres away from us.  I love watching wildlife, whatever the weather, but the best bit of the day for me was when I dropped Sue back at Swarland and she said “that was just the day I needed”.

Comments Off on “Just the day I needed”; Lindisfarne birdwatching 03/11/2015 :, , , , , , , , , , , , , more...

Gems; Lindisfarne Bespoke Birdwatching 08/10/2015

by on Oct.10, 2015, under Lindisfarne

Thursday was Tony’s second bespoke birdwatching day with NEWT, and we were heading to Holy Island.  The weather was an extraordinary contrast to the mist, murk and torrential rain of Wednesday; clear blue skies and bright warm sunshine accompanied us on the drive north…

Our first port of call on the island was the Vicar’s Garden, and we were greeted by the nasal rasping call of a BramblingChiffchaffs were flitting restlessly in the trees, a flycatcher settled for just a few seconds, Redwings were hopping around with Song Thrush and Blackbird on the lawn as Grey Seals moaned from the sandbars of Fenham Flats, Pale-bellied Brent Geese and Dark-bellied Brent Geese flew north, as the rising tide disturbed them, and a flock of Bar-tailed Godwit put on a synchronised flying display that would rival any Starling murmuration.  A Yellow-browed Warbler eventually revealed itself, one of three we came across during the morning, and after a walk around the lepidoptera-laden lonnens (Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell, Speckled Wood, Peacock, Silver Y), including watching at least 15 Roe Deer, and a Merlin harrassing a Short-eared Owl, we returned to the car to have lunch.  A quick check of my mobile revealed a message about a Radde’s Warbler at Chare Ends.  Now that’s easy twitching of a rarity…just a five minute walk from where we were sitting 🙂  The warbler proved elusive though, and it took a little while to show itself and all of the features that make it identifiable.  Flocks of Goldfinch and Linnet were in the stubble nearby, a Peregrine flew overhead, scattering waders and wildfowl from the mudflats, a Merlin perched obligingly on top of a Hawthorn bush in the dunes and we headed back south after 7 hours on the island.

Comments Off on Gems; Lindisfarne Bespoke Birdwatching 08/10/2015 :, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , more...

Here comes the summer; Druridge Bay 15/05/2015

by on May.22, 2015, under Druridge Bay

The transition from winter, to spring, to summer often seems to come in little bursts, then suddenly it’s really the breeding season and the range of species we find on our trips is very different to just a few weeks earlier.

I collected Angela and Debs from Warkworth and we set off down the coast for a day exploring Druridge Bay in search of Otters and other wildlife.  Elegant Little Egrets and Avocets added a touch of glamour throughout the day as Grey Herons sat motionless, Sedge Warblers and Reed Buntings were singing, Reed Warblers were typically elusive, appearing briefly before vanishing into the base of reedbeds, Swallows, Sand Martins, House Martins and Swifts were hawking insects above the water and Gadwall, Mallard and Tufted Duck were all full of the joys of spring 🙂  A Merlin boldly buzzed a soaring Peregrine, before the arrival of a second Peregrine saw the little falcon beating a hasty retreat and a Cuckoo was mobbed by Meadow Pipits on a nearby fence post.

One thing that our clients always appreciate is the amount of birdsong, and calls, that we hear while we’re out and about.  There’s one call that I don’t think that could ever be described favourably, and that’s the discordant honking of Greylag Geese.  Some days though, it’s almost a constant aural backdrop 🙂

Comments Off on Here comes the summer; Druridge Bay 15/05/2015 :, , , , , , , , , , , , , more...

Moorland magic; Bespoke birdwatching 16/06/2014

by on Jun.18, 2014, under Cheviot Valleys, Hen Harrier, Kielder, Northumberland

Heading up the coast to Embleton to collect Pete and Janet for their fourth day out with NEWT (plus a couple of days with their local natural history society on a Northumberland  visit in 2009), I had a mixture of anticipation and trepidation.  It’s always a pleasure to have them on a tour, but this time we were heading to an area that I know quite well myself, but haven’t covered in any great depth with clients…

We headed inland, skirting the edge of the Cheviot massif, passing through Kielder and across into the Scottish borders in ever-improving weather 🙂  Common Buzzards were soaring against the blue sky, Skylarks were singing as they ascended heavenwards, Meadow Pipits parachuted down at the end of their display flights, Red Grouse popped their heads up above the heather, Grey Wagtails were flitting from rock to rock in the shallow streams, Whinchat were carrying food back to their nests, recently fledged Wheatears scolded us as we disturbed their afternoon nap, Wild Goats grazed steadily on the hillsides high above the valley bottom and then, in the warmth of the mid-afternoon, came one of those moments you dream of (well, I do – other naturalists may have other dreams!)…

Floating across the hillside on agile wings, passing over a Cuckoo perched on a small sapling, carrying food back to his mate and their hungry brood, the male Hen Harrier drifted by before depositing the prey at the nest.  He quickly found more food for himself and settled on a prominent rock in the heather.  As we watched him through the ‘scope, a familiar chattering call rattled down the fell.  Something had disturbed the female harrier, and she had left the nest and was soaring above it.  Then, the likely source of her displeasure appeared.  Racing on swept back wings, a Merlin flew straight at the harrier.  She twisted and turned to avoid the assault by the smallest of our falcons, and flew towards the ground.  The Merlin wasn’t going to give up though, and the dogfight continued; the otherwise elegant harrier looking cumbersome as the annoying gadfly buzzed around her.  Eventually the smaller bird broke off and settled in a nearby tree, as the male harrier left his perch and soared high over our heads against the blue sky.  When I look back in years to come, this really will be an experience that’s fixed firmly in my memory 🙂

 

Comments Off on Moorland magic; Bespoke birdwatching 16/06/2014 :, , , , , , , , , , more...

The enchanting isle; Lindisfarne Safari 29/11/2013

by on Dec.03, 2013, under Bamburgh Castle, Birdwatching, Holy Island, Northumberland

After a planned 5 week break to recover from surgery I headed to Bamburgh, to collect Laura and Richard for a mini-Safari around Lindisfarne, brimming over with enthusiasm to be back and doing what I love.

Starting in the shadow of Bamburgh Castle, we watched Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone, Redshank and Oystercatcher as they flew from wave-blasted rock to wave-blasted rock with Eiders appearing and disappearing in the swell just beyond them.  A flock of Twite rose briefly from the weedy fields and, sitting on a ridge in adjacent field was the largest Peregrine that I’ve ever seen.  As we neared Holy Island a flock of Pale-bellied Brent Geese were making their way along the shoreline and Grey Plover, Ringed Plover and Bar-tailed Godwit were exploring the recently uncovered mud as a Greenshank slept with it’s head tucked between its wings.  We were using two cars, as Laura and Richard thought it would make more sense then transferring their three dogs to my car.  As we headed across the causeway a Merlin chased a flock of Snow Buntings, but they were up and over the dunes before the second car reached them 🙁

As daylight faded we enjoyed excellent ‘scope views of a crescent Venus in the western sky, and then I was on my way back down the coast to get ready for a full day trip on Saturday 🙂

Comments Off on The enchanting isle; Lindisfarne Safari 29/11/2013 :, , , , , , , , , , more...

Wild Geese and small predators; Druridge Bay 20/09/2013

by on Sep.23, 2013, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

After a damp morning around Druridge Bay on Thursday, Friday looked much more promising.  I collected Simeon and Kathy from their holiday accommodation in Warkworth and we set off down the coast for an afternoon around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  Late summer/early autumn trips often feature plenty of waders and wildfowl and this was no exception.  Common Snipe were playing ‘hard-to-spot’ as they slept in sparse clumps of reed, Dunlin, Ruff, Ringed Plover, Black-tailed Godwit, Lapwing and Golden Plover were all either roosting or sticking their beaks into the mud and a lone Greenshank was sitting on the periphery of a big flock of Lapwing.  On slow deep wingbeats a Sparrowhawk flew low across the water towards us, pulling sharply up and over us at the last minute.  Over a coastal reedbed a juvenile Marsh Harrier drifted lazily along, swooping down towards the water and scattering the Mallard and Teal that had been dozing contentedly there.

Mid-afternoon we were treated to the spectacle of the sky filled with skein after skein of geese; mainly Pink-footed, but with small groups of Greylag and Canada interspersed amongst the yapping flocks of one our favourite Icelandic winter visitors.  Our next magic moment came courtesy of a mustelid.  Not the Otter that we were searching for, but instead the beautiful little predator that has featured on so many of our trips in the last few weeks.  For several minutes we watched as a Stoat ran backward and forwards along the water’s edge, perched on rocks, had a good look at a Moorhen and finally bounded away through the poolside vegetation.  Another small predator provided the next wildlife experience.  Lapwing, Golden Plover, Ruff, Black-tailed Godwits, Dunlin, Teal, Mallard, Gadwall and Starling all took to the air; had they spotted an Otter lurking in the reeds?  maybe a Fox?  No, what was coming was the Grim Reaper on tiny pointed wings.  A Merlin was suddenly amongst the scattered birds in the air.  Twisting and turning, the tiny falcon had singled out a Dunlin from the multitude of possible targets in front of it.  The chase was on and could be easily followed by watching the path carved through the tightly bunched Lapwings that had taken to the air in alarm.  As the Dunlin made a final bid for freedom, the Merlin gave up the chase and settled, out of sight, in a hawthorn bush in the dunes.  It didn’t have long to catch it’s breath before it was disturbed by a dog walker and flew into a dune slack away from disturbance.  Simeon’s comment after this life and death chase echoed those of many of our clients previously “it’s gripping, but I was really willing the Dunlin to get away”.

As the evening progressed and the Sun dropped below the western horizon, geese began arriving to roost, bats were flitting back and forth across our field of view and, as the light finally faded to black and we headed back to Warkworth, a Barn Owl flew low over the car.

Comments Off on Wild Geese and small predators; Druridge Bay 20/09/2013 :, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , more...

Evening flight; Druridge Bay birdwatching 05/09/2013

by on Sep.11, 2013, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland

Sometimes we see birds that are rare or spectacular, but sometimes the common birds are the ones that are the highlight of the day…

I collected Julia and we set off for the coast, and an afternoon and evening birdwatching around Druridge Bay.  A Merlin passed by on pointed wings, racing across a nearby field and causing panic amongst the birds in the hedgerows.  Eiders and Goosanders were on the River Coquet and we found the first of two Stoats for the day.  Grey Herons and Cormorants were standing statue-like by the edges of pools, and waders included Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits, Curlew, Dunlin, Ruff, Lapwing, Redshank and no less than five Greenshank.

As dusk approached a small murmuration of Starlings quickly dived into the cover of a reedbed and then one of nature’s great spectacles unfolded before us as skein after skein of geese arrived noisily for their evening roost.  Canada and Greylag Geese may not be any peoples favourites, but as the numbers swelled and the noise level rose to a cacophony it was a bewitching sight.  On the edge of the roost two birds caught the eye; not genuinely wild, although nobody seems to be entirely sure where they came from, the two Bar-headed Geese were still worth watching.

Then, on the journey back to Netherton, two mammals were caught in the glare of our headlights.  First a Hedgehog, crossing the road in the middle of Warkworth, managed to avoid being run over then another mammal…nearly a week later, and I’m still not sure what it was, although Polecat/Ferret seems the best option.  Who knows what’s roaming the countryside…

Comments Off on Evening flight; Druridge Bay birdwatching 05/09/2013 :, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , more...

Fireworks

by on Nov.20, 2012, under Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast, Southeast Northumberland

As a chemist I’ve found fireworks fascinating for some time.  While I was still teaching, I developed a series of demonstration experiments that illustrated how different colours are produced by varying the chemicals in the mix and managed, during one particularly spectacular demo, to set fire to a pile of homework and the surface of my desk.  Every year there are information campaigns about domestic pets and fireworks, but never really anything about the effect on wildlife…

I met up with Pete and Georgie at Church Point and we set off (in their car, but that’s a whole other story…) around Southeast Northumberland and Druridge Bay.  Perhaps my own favourite moment of the day came quite early as a Merlin chased a Common Snipe through the dunes at Cresswell.  An elusive Brambling played hide and seek with us nearby and the Coots, Moorhens, Mallards, Teal, Wigeon, Gadwall, Tufted Duck and Shoveler at each pond we visited seemed unconcerned and not indicating the presence of the sinuous predator that enlivens so many of our trips on the coast.

As dusk approached things started to look a bit more interesting; Whooper Swans were clearly alert and agitated, all staring into the same reedbed.  We’ve seen it so many times before…and then ‘whoosh’, ‘whoosh’, ‘whoosh’, ‘bang’, ‘bang’, ‘bang’, ‘bang’, ‘bang’, as a fireworks display on a nearby beach scattered everything!  Ducks, geese, swans all took to the air and we finished the trip with not very much wildlife in view at all.

As we headed back to the car a figure appeared out of the dark “Dr Kitching. Slight change of plan, Sarah’s poorly so I’ve come to collect you”.  The hero of the day was a man whose knowledge of the Northumberland coast is second to none, and whose blog is really worth checking out.  Cheers Ipin, you’re a star 🙂

Comments Off on Fireworks :, , , , , , , , , , , , , more...

Sing when you’re winning

by on Mar.26, 2012, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland

My own highlight of many trips involves those ‘nature red in tooth and claw’ moments, and they come in many guises…

A Chiffchaff was singing as I collected Alec and Margaret from Waren Mill and we headed south down the coast toward Druridge Bay with a day of birdwatching ahead of us.  In quite stunning weather we enjoyed fields of Curlew, rafts of Puffins on the sea, and clouds of them swirling over Coquet Island, Fulmars shearing along the cliff-tops, plenty of wildfowl, including a red-head Smew – thanks Gill 🙂 – and Bean, Canada, White-fronted, Greylag and Pink-footed Geese and 2 Short-eared Owls. It’s always a pleasure to take out clients who really appreciate Northumberland, and even more so when it’s their first visit to our beautiful county and they’ve already vowed to return regularly.

One of those special moments was provided by a bird once described by a good birding friend as “Annoying.  They never stop singing, they’re really, really annoying”.  The object of his ire?  None other than the humble Skylark.  I have to say that I don’t find them annoying at all.  I’ve hidden in rocky crags, monitoring Hen Harrier nest sites, with Skylarks singing directly overhead, I’ve walked around Holy Island in the summer with several birds singing from so high that they were just dots in the sky and I’ve marvelled at their song as it carries on the breeze.  One thing we saw on Thursday was the thing that Chris found particularly annoying; as we drove from Cresswell towards Druridge Pools, we stopped to check the roadside fields  and several Skylarks were singing nearby.  Suddenly, one of the birds was zig-zagging as it tried to avoid the unwelcome attention of a Merlin.  As the falcon chased close on it’s tail, the Skylark continued singing.  It might seem a strange thing to do, but it has been shown that Merlins chase non-singing, or poorly singing, Skylarks for longer periods than they chase Skylarks that sing well and they’re more likely to catch non-singing Skylarks.  As the birds rose higher and out of sight, we didn’t see the outcome of the chase, but the experience of watching a small bird filled with bravado as a predator closes in on it was one of those moments…

Comments Off on Sing when you’re winning :, , , , , , , , , , , , more...

Looking for something?

Use the form below to search the site:

Still not finding what you're looking for? Drop a comment on a post or contact us so we can take care of it!