Tag: Northumberland Birdwatching

Owling

by on Dec.08, 2010, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Family and friends, Northumberland

When Sarah arrived home from work at 19:30 yesterday, I suggested a spot of nocturnal motorised birdwatching.

We headed north past Ellington and up to Widdrington before turning towards the coast and down through Druridge.  With the thermometer hitting -7C, the ungritted roads were a bit of a challenge.  Following some recent big counts of Woodcock it was no great surprise that they flushed regularly from the roadside as we passed.  Our main target for the drive was Barn Owl, and we eventually found one perched on a post beside the Spine Road near Blyth.  Bird of the evening though was a stunning Long-eared Owl, on a fence post by the edge of the road.  As we passed slowly, on the skating rink of a road surface, it turned it’s head imperiously, following us with those piercing orange eyes.  Over the last 3 years we’ve shared views of all of Northumberland’s regularly occurring owls with our clients, but for sheer ‘other-worldliness’ you really can’t beat Long-eared Owl.

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Walking the Wansbeck

by on Nov.21, 2010, under Birdwatching, Family and friends, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

We’d planned to do some survey work this morning, but the prospect of walking along the beach from Cresswell to East Chevington into a stiff northerly with heavy rain and temperatures only hovering just above freezing wasn’t too tempting.

Instead we opted for some southeast Northumberland birdwatching with a walk along the River Wansbeck near Morpeth.  Our local river is a real gem in some parts and we walk several of them regularly.  In the gloom and wet of this morning we still enjoyed the Mallards and Moorhens on the river, the flocks of Coal Tits and Long-tailed Tits in the trees and, best of all, the iridescent electric blue of a Kingfisher as it perched on a tree overhanging the water.  An afternoon spent working (on the Northeast Cetacean Project and a business plan that we’ve been preparing) will be followed (we hope!) by a relaxing Sunday evening and then a busy week ahead; finalising and submitting the business plan, bringing the Northeast Cetacean Project database up to date, drafting a couple of articles that Martin’s writing and meeting up with some old friends (and new ones) as we put together next year’s itinerary for NEWT.  Oh, there’ll be a few blog posts as well 🙂

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Northumberland; Birdwatching on the high sea

by on Sep.19, 2010, under Birdwatching, North Sea, Northumberland

Yesterday was our final full-day pelagic for the year.  With a couple of late cancellations, ten of us boarded the SarahJFK and headed out to sea.  Before we reached the end of the Tyne piers there was already a bit of swell…

Once we were out and heading offshore it was exhilarating, with an often icy westerly breeze and long rolling waves from the north.  Small groups of Pale-bellied Brent Geese passed by during the day and a small group of Greylag Geese and Pink-footed Geese as well – a sure sign that the autumn is here.  There was an almost complete absence of Fulmars, leading to speculation about what these enigmatic seabirds are doing when we can’t find them, and only one Manx ShearwaterArctic Skuas were a bit thin on the ground, but we did find a good pelagic prize – a sub-adult Pomarine Skua that passed by with two Great Skuas.  Excellent views of the latter species, and some stunning Sooty Shearwaters were the highlight of the day, and there were lots of Kittiwakes and Gannets, although that accolade could have gone to the 2 White-beaked Dolphins that were seen briefly on 3 occasions late in the afternoon.

Northumberland birdwatching, pelagic, Great Skua

Great Skua or 'Bonxie'

Pelagic, Birdwatching Northumberland, Sooty Shearwater

Sooty Shearwater

Pelagic Birdwatching Northumberland Sooty Shearwater

Sooty Shearwater - the epitome of grace

The swell proved a bit too much for some participants so, in between scanning for birds and cetaceans, I spent some time providing sympathy and advice for the worst of the stricken 🙂  Don’t let that put you off signing up for any of next-year’s pelagics though; it’s actually quite unusual for anyone to be really seasick on one of our pelagics, but the big swell (probably originating a few days ago from the near the north west coast of Norway) combined with a strengthening westerly breeze was a freak combination of conditions that managed to hinder the enjoyment of all the birds around the boat for a couple of the girls.  I was once asked, by someone who was a self-professed non-sailor, why I would spend so much time on a small boat in the North Sea…I think that now I would just send them a link to the images in this post and the videos in my Farne Deeps trip report

We’ve got one more pelagic this year, around the Farne Islands, Holy Island and the Skate Road on Saturday December 4th, so give us a call on 01670 827465 for further details or to book.

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A little otter on Friday

by on Jun.19, 2010, under Birdwatching, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

Our fifth safari in four days had been arranged as a birthday present and I collected Barry and Maureen from Ponteland before starting with our usual southeast Northumberland birdwatching woodland walk.  The ‘Red vs Grey’ conundrum occupied our conversation as we enjoyed excellent views of a Red Squirrel.  As we walked by a wonderful hay meadow it was hard to believe that we were in an area that one of our previous clients had expected to be ‘sort of grim and industrial’ 😉  On the coast our regular Little Owl was as chilled out as ever and the Sedge Warblers and Reed Buntings were struggling to cling to the reeds in a strengthening breeze.  Strong wind is just about the worst condition for watching wildlife but I’m ever the optimist…

The combination of that optimism, and a lot of experience of Otter behaviour, meant that I still believed that our target for the day would be achieved.  Sure enough, we were able to watch an Otter briefly as it fed.  A commotion in a reedbed, a scattering of ducks, and two nervous-looking Coots, meant that I was sure we were about to see a second Otter.  It soon appeared and we enjoyed a prolonged period of observation as it made it’s way across the pond, eventually passing close by our position.  More Sedge Warblers and Reed Buntings were singing as we walked through another meadow, teeming with vetch and some stunning orchids and a Reed Warbler was picking it’s way along the base of a reedbed before starting to sing and providing a perfect comparison with a nearby Sedge Warbler.  As I drove Barry and Maureen home I was thinking about how, no matter how often I lead our tours, every day is different.  It may be a cliche, but it’s the best part of what we do.

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A lazy summer afternoon

by on Jun.03, 2010, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

It’s that time of year again.  Bright sunshine, insects are on the wing and in Southeast Northumberland, birdwatching is taken at a steady pace.

On yesterday’s Druridge Bay trip  Common Blue  and Blue-tailed Damselflies were flitting about in front of us and every so often would stop and rest, giving everyone an opportunity to see just how stunning they are.  Butterflies were around in good numbers as well and we had close views of one of my personal favourites, Small Copper.  Other wildlife was taking advantage of the sun as well; a Brown Hare crouched by a fence with flies buzzing around it’s nose and a very obliging Little Owl was sitting in the entrance to it’s nest.  A quick stare to check us out and then it dozed off again. Grey Herons flapped by, Lapwings were calling and trying to distract attention away from their chicks, Dunlin, resplendent in breeding plumage, probed the mud around the edge of Cresswell Pond and, in what seemed like next to no time, the day was done and we were heading back to Newbiggin.

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Setting the scene

by on May.31, 2010, under Birdwatching, Northumberland

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.

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Something for the weekend

by on May.12, 2010, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Lindisfarne, Northumberland

There are times in the winter when I’m mainly office-based and what I really look forward to, during what often seem like interminably long days, is the arrival of the Spring and increasing numbers of ‘client days’.

On Tuesday morning I headed to Newbiggin to collect John and Christine, clients from last year’s Beginners Birdwatching ‘Seabirds and Waders’, who were back in Northumberland for a birdwatching morning in Druridge Bay.  The weather was erratic to say the least, with bright warm sunshine, a bitterly cold northeasterly wind, sleet and even snow it was a morning to be wrapped up warm.  The birding was as excellent as we would expect in mid-May; the morning’s highlights included a male Ruff in full breeding plumage, eight elegant beautiful Black-tailed Godwits, a pair of Garganey and some incredibly close views of Whitethroats as they warbled their scratchy song from hedgerows, trees and telegraph poles.

This morning brought something completely different; a Lindisfarne Safari with our first Spanish clients.  Alfredo and Nieves had managed to get across from Ibiza, despite the disruption caused by the Icelandic volcano, and were looking forward to a day birdwatching on Holy Island and the north Northumberland coast.  The weather was changeable again but, as yesterday, we stayed dry.  A flock of 80 Ringed Plover on Holy Island were very vocal as they repeatedly flew overhead, 2 Little Egrets in Budle Bay flew by calling and a Little Gull and a White Wagtail at Monk’s House Pool were both nice surprise finds.  Eventually we found ourselves bathed in warm sunshine as pairs of Arctic Terns displayed high overhead against the azure sky and, looking inland, we could still see a lingering snowfield on the Cheviot.  Alfredo and Nieves both have a broad, and quite detailed knowledge of natural history, and Alfredo is a keen, and skilful, photographer.  I only have a very limited grasp of Spanish but through a combination of Spanish, English, Latin and a shared love of natural history and photography, any language barriers were easily transcended.

We’ve got Northumberland birdwatching tours for the rest of the week and then on Saturday it’ll be time to chill out with a glass of wine, a BBQ and our National Moth Night event at Lee Moor Farm, near Alnwick.  All are welcome, so give us a call on 01670 827465 if you would like to come along for an evening of wildlife watching fun, suitable for young or old, beginner or expert.

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mid-April magic

by on Apr.21, 2010, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

After a couple of days in the office (although I’m not complaining; I spent those two days finalising details for two new projects and taking bookings for group photography trips and a Northumberland birdwatching holiday) it was good to get out with clients this morning.  Our three clients became just one though, due to the Icelandic volcano, and I collected Ellen from Newbiggin by the Sea for a tour of southeast Northumberland and Druridge Bay.  We started with a search for Mediterranean Gulls.  None of the nice, ghostly white-winged adults were around but there was a 2nd year bird amongst the Black-headed Gulls.  It made a good identification subject, as the lack of obvious white wings meant that it was possible to focus on structure rather than just plumage, although the obvious wing-bar ensured that a discussion of wing topography was easy to relate to what we could see flying in front of us.

Under deep blue skies with fluffy white clouds this was a beautiful morning, although the bitingly cold, howling northwesterly meant that hats and gloves were in order.  At Cresswell we admired our bird of the day; a stunning male Black-headed Wagtail.  I’d never seen one before, and as Ellen is from the southwestern US it was a lifer for her as well.  The geographical connection to where I spent 6 months in 1999/2000 focused conversation on two of my favourite topics; birdwatching and Mexican food.  Summer visitors were evident, with Swallow and Sand Martin flying over all the coastal pools, Willow Warblers singing their silvery, descending cadence sheltered from the wind, a nervous Common Sandpiper just a few metres away from us and, best of all one of the best looking ducks to have ever dabbled around Druridge Pools, Garganey, was another lifer for Ellen.  A pair of Stonechats perched in a bare hawthorn were a welcome sight, after a winter that will have surely decimated their population.  The three hours passed incredibly quickly and I dropped a happy birdwatcher in Morpeth to continue the next leg of her journey through Northumberland.

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