Tag: Mistle Thrush
This morning was another early start, and I crawled out of bed at 03:30 as the alarm disrupted my sleep…
I collected Daniel and Nigel from Ponteland and we headed towards the North Pennines. Curlew and Lapwing were displaying over the fells, but in the icy cold stiff breeze, Red Grouse and Black Grouse were more of a challenge to find than they were yesterday. Golden Plover, Oystercatcher, Common Snipe and Common Redshank were quickly found and we came across some much more obliging Red Grouse, and two Fieldfare, before heading even further to the southwest. Nigel had just spotted a probable Common Redstart, in a plantation dripping with Mistle Thrushes, when the light drizzle, that had accompanied us for most of the trip, turned to sleet and then proper snow with large flakes speckling the windscreen of the car 🙂 We sat it out, and once the poor weather had cleared the hills produced the sort of birding that is jaw-dropping. First a Short-eared Owl, quartering the fells with stiff, slow, wingbeats before dropping onto a vole in the grass and then obligingly taking it onto an open area where we could watch it through the telescope. Soon after that we came across 14 Blackcock, who abandoned foraging, flew to a lek right in front of us and then all kicked off as a Woodcock shuffled through the grass, accompanied by an aural backdrop of calling Snipe. In the bone-chilling cold, yesterday’s Spring Gentians were no longer displaying their finery and Black-headed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls were struggling against the breeze as Skylarks soared overhead and a Kestrel matched the success of the Shortie before we finished with lunch and a Dipper 🙂
I collected Adrian and Ruth from Seahouses for the first of their two days out with us this week; a Cheviots-plus Bespoke tour…
We started at Bamburgh, with Oystercatcher, Redshank and Purple Sandpiper along the edge of the breaking surf, Common Eider, Common Scoter, Red-throated Diver and a lone Puffin surfing the waves just beyond and distant Gannets breaking the horizon above a sea that had been whipped into a mass of whitecaps by a stiff northerly breeze.
Heading inland, it was starting to look cloudier and the forecast deterioration in the weather seemed to be on its way. You can’t necessarily trust the forecast though, and the spectacular landscape of the Cheviot valleys was bathed in sunlight. The triumvirate of nervously bobbing riverside dwellers all put in very obliging appearances; Dipper, Grey Wagtail and Common Sandpiper have so much in common, and are always great to watch. Sand Martins and Swallows, always a sign that things are changing, were hawking insects overhead as a Raven flew by, the eerie cries of Curlew revealed their presence as they displayed high over the valley, Red Grouse chuckled from the surrounding heather, Chiffchaffs were singing their relentlessly onomatopaeic song from every clump of trees and Ruth spotted a stunning male Ring Ouzel hopping around on a fellside that was dripping with Mistle Thrushes and Wheatears. Lunch was accompanied by 3 Common Buzzards high overhead, tussling and skydiving as partnerships and territories for the breeding season start to take shape.
Continuing along our planned loop for the day brought us to the coast of Druridge Bay and Avocet, Shorelark, Ringed Plover, Kestrel, Sanderling, a raft of at least 9 Red-throated Divers and then, as we headed back to the car at the end of the day, a Short-eared Owl quartering rough fields with deep slow wingbeats 🙂
mid-April can be a strange time inland. Some summer visitors will have arrived, but you can never be quite sure which ones…
I collected Richard and Florence from West Acre House and we headed westwards towards the central massif of Northumberland. An unexpected, and very pleasant, surprise was bumping into Dean from Cheviot View who was enjoying a walk in the glorious sunshine. Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Great Crested Grebe, Canada Goose, Greylag Goose and Oystercatcher were all pottering around on old gravel pits as Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Blackcap all sang and fed, a Brown Hare loped through the trees and we headed deeper into the valleys as lunchtime approached, encountering Pheasant after Pheasant, and Red-legged Partridge after Red-legged Partridge, as well as Mistle Thrush and Song Thrush obligingly feeding next to each other and offering an opportunity for comparison as a Dipper bobbed up and down on a mid-stream rock before flying up to it’s concealed nest. Red Grouse cackled, the trilling buzz of Lesser Redpoll punctuated the air overhead, the eerie cries of Curlew echoed around the valley, the swee-wee-wee-wee-wee of a nervous Common Sandpiper pierced the excited bubbling of the stream and Common Buzzards soared lazily on the warm breeze as the shocking yellow of a Grey Wagtail added a splash of colour to the dappled light of the valley bottom. Swallow and Sand Martin harvested the bountiful insects overhead and, as we walked back down the valley towards the car, I could hear a simple song from the steeper ground above us. Focusing my attention on the direction that the sound was coming from brought not one, not two, but three Ring Ouzels 🙂
Certainly felt like the spring…
After a remarkably mild winter, Wednesday brought some weather with a bit of bite, the sort of day where you really need the wildlife to be performing at it’s best to take your mind off the conditions…
I collected Katherine and Brenda from Church Point for an afternoon/evening Otter Safari, and we headed north up the coast through Druridge Bay. Our first stop was looking very promising; Goosanders, Grey Herons, Avocets, Wigeon, Teal, Pintail, Mallard, Curlew, Lapwing, Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Common Snipe, Turnstone…and a noticeable lack of birds in one corner of the pond 🙂 Always the first sign we look for when searching for Otters, so I was confident that there was one moving around close by. It was looking so promising that I thought we should stay put and have lunch where we were. I went back to the car to fetch our soup and sandwiches and when I got back to the hide, less than 5mins later, I was greeted with “You’re not going to believe it, but there’s an Otter just over there.” Sure enough, Brenda’s directions had me looking in exactly the spot where it next surfaced 🙂 After a few minutes it went out of sight, before reappearing 30mins later, spreading panic amongst the ducks that were roosting at the water’s edge. Then, as mysteriously as it first appeared, it dived and didn’t resurface where it could be seen.
We headed on up the coast in conditions that were becoming less entertaining, with a brutal southeasterly wind that seemed to drive the cold and damp through every layer of clothing that could be mustered. Noisy Black-headed Gulls were dive-bombing Canada Geese, Little Grebes were just being their cute selves, Sand Martins swirled back and forth over the River Aln, Coot and Moorhen busied themselves around the reedbeds and Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Blackbird, Mistle Thrush, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove and Wren were all singing.
Probably a more wintry day than any day out we had during the winter, enriched by the sleek, sinuous menace of the Otter 🙂
Sunday saw the two of us heading southwest into the North Pennines to carry out some recce work for a press trip that Martin was leading. As soon as we were up above the level of the Tyne valley there was snow laying, which got deeper as we gained altitude. Lapwings, Curlew and Oystercatcher were all displaying, Common Kestrels were hovering over the few clear areas of vegetation and Common Buzzards soared by. With a white landscape, Red Grouse and Black Grouse were easy to find and a few Red Grouse were close enough to make it worthwhile getting the camera out.
The highlight of the day came just over the border in County Durham with a stunning male Ring Ouzel, close to a nest site, being harrassed by a Mistle Thrush. The ‘Mountain Blackbird’ just seemed to be in exactly the right place in the wintry hills in deep snow.
Days out with a specific target in mind for our clients can be very good, or very frustrating and, as I drove across the snow and ice coated roads towards Elsdon to collect George, Tam, Ken and Kath, I had a good feeling about the day ahead.
One of NEWT’s all-time favourites was in our sights for the day; Red Squirrel is becoming more and more difficult to see. One of our most reliable sites over the last five years has seen the arrival of Grey Squirrels and a diminishing population of Reds, and that’s a pattern repeated in many places.
After a drive through snowy wastelands, the car was loaded with an arsenal of camera equipment and we headed towards southeast Northumberland. I’d got two ‘new’ sites in mind and the first of these produced sightings of at least two Red Squirrels and a nice flock of Redwings, Song Thrushes and Mistle Thrushes. Good for viewing, not so good for photography with dense foliage on many of the trees and the squirrels in a position where they were heavily backlit. I was confident that the second site I planned to visit would offer better photo opportunities…and it did. In excellent light, we watched at least five Red Squirrels; camera shutters were firing at a machine-gun rate and George and Kath took over 500 shots between them. I went back the next day and had a bit of luck myself…
There was a degree of reluctance to leave the squirrels behind, but the light began to fade and we headed onto the coast in search of more wildlife. Owls were high on the wishlist and two Short-eared Owls performed for the cameras just like this one from last year.
A Common Snipe was unusually bold, feeding along the water’s edge well away from cover, Pink-footed Geese were grazing a nearby field, Whooper Swans whooped as they arrived to roost and a small murmuration of Starlings soon thought better of flying around in the bitter cold and quickly headed instead for the warmth of the roost. Then it was time for us to head back in the dark through the frozen hinterland of Northumberland.
Tuesday was Christina’s second day out with us this week, and we had a very specific target for our afternoon and evening of birdwatching and photography, luckily I’d already spent a lot of time this year checking out breeding locations for the species concerned…
As the stunning weather illuminated the North Pennines AONB in beautiful light, Mountain Pansies and Cotton Grass were gently swaying in the breeze, Curlews and Lapwings were calling as they traversed the fellsides, Skylarks were singing from high overhead, Ring Ouzels and Mistle Thrushes flitted from tree to boulder to grassy slope and back again, a lone Woodcock (presumably with a faulty body clock) was roding in bright sunshine and there, on a fence post not 50 metres away was our quarry; stretching, posturing and delivering a haughty stare with piercing yellow eyes, the Short-eared Owl sat obligingly as Christina rattled off frame after frame of pin sharp owl portraits. The owl was just one small part of the whole experience, but it was the part that the afternoon had been structured to deliver and it slotted into its appointed place in the vast landscape and soundscape. Our wildlife doesn’t always perform to plan (and it would be rather dull and predictable if it did!), but when everything comes together perfectly it feels sublime.
There are times when you can visit the same location on successive days and see exactly the same wildlife, other times something you saw the day before has moved on but there’s compensation in the form of something unexpected…
I collected Julie and David from The Swan and we set off for day of bespoke birdwatching, combining the best of our uplands with the post-industrial birdwatching wonders of southeast Northumberland. As we headed inland towards the Cheviot valleys the spectacular scenery (not for the first time) elicited a number of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from the passenger seats of the car. Crossing the ford where the Harthope Burn becomes the Wooler Water we enjoyed very close views of those two riverine specialists, Dipper and Grey Wagtail. I’m enthusiastic about most, if not all, birds but male Grey Wagtails are truly stunning birds, and one that often holds our clients entranced for extended periods of time. We continued along the valley, and set off to walk up a narrow valley leading up into the hills from the main valley. Red Grouse were cackling all around us, flying from one side of the valley to the other and occasionally perching in full view, imperiously staring at us as we followed the burn their territories. A female Ring Ouzel flew down the valley, over our heads and away to a distant clump of trees, a pair of Sparrowhawks displayed ahead of us, and we stopped for lunch. Our post-lunch walk was another spectacular one. This time in a steep-sided valley, with Peregrines, Kestrels, Common Buzzards and Ravens soaring overhead, Mistle Thrushes carrying food to hungry nestlings and the song of a male Ring Ouzel carrying on the strengthening breeze. An icy April shower added to the wild, remote feel of the valley and we headed back downhill into glorious sunshine. Our assemblage of raptors (including the honorary member – the Raven) didn’t feature the Osprey I’d seen the day before, but we did have a real bonus bird…one of the things about birding in narrow steep-sided valleys is that birds appear very unexpectedly, and on this occasion it was the enigmatic ‘Phantom of the Forest’ as a male Goshawk broke the skyline in front of us and beat his way powerfully across the moors.
The second half of the day was spent on the Northumberland coast, finishing close to home around Druridge Bay. The Common Eiders we found were greatly appreciated and the tour of NEWT’s ‘local patch’ produced a number of highlights with Marsh Harrier, Little Ringed Plover, Avocet, Pintail and Red-breasted Merganser all going down particularly well but, perhaps, the bird of the day was a Short-eared Owl that perched on a roadside fencepost and watched us just as intently as we were watching it; piercing yellow eyes holding us all enthralled as we completed a long day of birdwatching that seemed to be over too soon. Isn’t that always the way 😉
Sunday started with a journey to inland Northumberland, birdwatching on some heather moorland in order to complete our final 2 ‘early season’ visits for the BTO Bird Atlas. Contrary to the forecast weather, it was cold, windy and drizzly. However, we set off and were eventually rewarded with a dramatic improvement as the sun came out and so did the birds. Alongside all of the Willow Warblers, Chaffinches, Skylarks and Meadow Pipits the highlights were at least 3 Spotted Flycatchers and a stunning male Whinchat. A pair of Curlew began alarming as we crossed the moorland, constantly changing position to draw us away from their nest location.
After a walk of just over 5 miles we headed home and decided that we would venture out towards dusk in search of badgers. We’ve got an Otter and Badger trip on Thursday so we needed to check on the current status of a couple of setts that we’ve been watching for some time. As we settled into position, with what appeared to be a horde of bats flying around, Blackbirds and Mistle Thrushes were alarming (as they often do late in the day). Soon, movement on the hillside opposite revealed our first badger of the evening. Very grey, with cream stripes, it came out of a sett, squatted on a patch of bare earth and then vanished into the undergrowth. A second animal quickly followed, much more gingery than the first, and then a third, starkly black and white. It really is a privilege to sit and watch these magnificent animals as they go about their business (no pun intended).
After such a successful evening, getting a ‘phone call earlier today “can you take us out to look for Red Squirrels, Otters and Badgers tomorrow please” was exactly what we wanted. Once upon a time I wouldn’t have been happy working on a Bank Holiday weekend, now it’s an enjoyable part of my career choice. Just over 2 years in, and I don’t regret even a tiny part of that decision.
After the changeable weather during the Birdwatching Northumberland press trip culminated in excellent conditions on Monday, I hoped that we would get more of the same on Tuesday for a Lindisfarne Safari that I was leading. It looked good; at home we had a heavy frost and clear blue skies. Yet just a few miles down the road, as I headed to Gosforth to collect our client, there was a bank of thick fog. Not to worry, conditions might be better on Holy Island…they weren’t, in fact the fog was even thicker. As we stood on the Heugh it was eerie. A bitingly cold southeasterly wind and visibility down to just a few metres. Oystercatchers, Redshanks and Herring Gulls could all be heard through the mist and we continued our journey around the island. Song Thrushes lifted from each clump of grass as we walked towards the harbour and slightly improved visibility allowed us to look closely at Teal, Bar-tailed Godwits and Curlew. Lichens and mosses came under great scrutiny (remarkable structures when viewed under a hand lens). Off the island we found Pale-bellied Brent Geese, small groups of Whooper Swans, a field with lots of Greylag and Pink-footed Geese (and a ‘Canalag’ hybrid), several Kestrels, an incredibly obliging Common Buzzard, a mixed thrush flock (Redwing, Fieldfare, Mistle Thrush, Song Thrush and Blackbird), plenty of waders and, finally, as the mist returned and brought steady rainfall with it, Common Scoter, Shag and Eider on the sea. As we drove back down the A1 the worsening weather made it seem likely that we’d had better conditions than back at home. There’s always something to see, whatever the weather.