Tag: Otter

Stirring things up; Druridge Bay Safari 07/10/18

by on Oct.10, 2018, under Druridge Bay

I collected Ruth and Chris, and Wendy, Peter and Elizabeth, from Church Point and we set out for an afternoon and evening around our local patch, Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland, with one species in particular at the top of the trip wish list…

The weather forecast had been looking very promising, so it was a surprise that the first drops of rain started as we gathered before setting off.  Within 30mins it was unpleasantly wet and Little Egrets were stalking along the water’s edge as a flotilla of Cormorants did their best to made a dent in the local fish population.  As the rain eased the breeze strengthened and Stonechats were waving in the wind at the top of reedmace.  Exposed mud was covered in Lapwings, Dunlin, Common Redshank, Spotted Redshank and lots of Common Snipe.  The high yapping calls of Pink-footed Geese drew our eyes towards v-shaped skeins of them heading north then, after our picnic on a clifftop overlooking the North Sea, it was time to head to our final site for the day.  Within a few seconds I’d found two Otter cubs play fighting near a bay in the reeds and with everyone’s attention focused on that spot there were suddenly 4 Otters running almost head on towards us 🙂  They vanished into the reeds and the next hour saw an extraordinary arrival of geese; Canada, Greylag,, Barnacle and Pink-footed all heralded their arrival with calls cutting through the gloom of dusk.  More and more arrived, settling in shallow water, and the noise level continued rising then suddenly with a loud rush of wingbeats and a deafening cacophony of mixed goose calls they lifted from their roost in panic…as one of the Otter cubs had reappeared and was bounding straight across the mud and through the roost 🙂  It slid effortlessly into the deeper water and swam out of sight before putting in another appearance as it ran across the reed edge right in front of us as dusk descended towards darkness and we headed back towards Newbiggin.

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Shifting breeze; Bespoke Druridge Bay Safari 17/09/18

by on Sep.18, 2018, under Druridge Bay

Yesterday was a Bespoke Druridge Bay Safari for Russell and Elena and I was glad it was happening before the forecast deterioration in the weather over the next few days.  I collected them from Rothbury and we headed towards the coast and an afternoon and evening around NEWT’s local patch, which turned into an enlightening discussion about photography, food, fly fishing and Sea Buckthorn…

Tufted Ducks, Mallards and a very smart Wigeon were all illuminated by some very nice light and, as we watched a Little Stint scurrying around between Curlew, Lapwing, Common Redshank and Spotted Redshank there was obviously some unease among the waders.  Canada Geese and a Cormorant were looking very alert and the Lapwings took flight before settling again.  Then the cause of all the agitation appeared and we watched the Otter on and off for around 90 minutes before it disappeared next to a reedbed 🙂  Little Egrets were roosting in riverside trees and there was another outbreak of consternation as Mallards all hurried off and a flock of Black-headed Gulls circled something swimming across the river.  It was long and sleek like an Otter, but there was something about the way it was holding its head at an angle that just didn’t seem right…then the Grey Squirrel got out of the water and ran towards the trees!

Our picnic spot overlooking a fairly calm North Sea brought Fulmars and Gannets, and a walk along a well vegetated track produced lots of bees, relatively docile in the cooling evening air, and a Red Admiral as well as plenty of Speckled Wood butterflies.  As dusk approached Swallows and House Martins were gorging themselves on a myriad of flying insects and there was more unrest among roosting birds.  First a sudden departure of Cormorants, then ducks scattered and an Otter appeared briefly before vanishing into the reeds next to a group of Mute Swans.  A female Marsh Harrier caused even more panic then, with Water Rails squealing all around us, a Sparrowhawk was harassed by Carrion Crows and Pink-footed Geese arrived in noisy yapping flocks against a darkening sky with Mars, Saturn and the Moon all bright away to the south there was another kerfuffle against the reeds and not one, not two, not three, but four Otters feeding in the shallows as the light levels dropped to ‘challenging’ 😉  Fade to black…

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Deluge; Otter Safari 06/09/18

by on Sep.07, 2018, under Druridge Bay, Otter

Our second Otter Safari in 2 days looked as thought it was unlikely to be blessed with the same good weather as Wednesday…

I collected Alison and then Amanda and David from Newbiggin and we set off for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland searching for Otters.  When the Otters eluded us on Wednesday I’d seen enough at each site we checked to be confident that we’d find Otters this time, and thought that changing the order we visited each site would do the trick…and within a minute of arriving at our first site I’d picked a likely spot for an Otter – and there was one 🙂  In fact there were two, and they caused some consternation among Little Grebes, Tufted Ducks, Mallards and Greylag Geese before vanishing.  Alison hadn’t managed to spot either of them through the ‘scope so I pointed it in the direction of a Water Rail and let everyone marvel at the odd-looking denizen of the reedbed while I scoured the entire pool trying to relocate the Otters.  Amanda beat me too it though, about ten minutes after we lost sight of the Otters one appeared right in front of us!  It slowly made it’s way across the pool, scattering Mute Swans, Little Grebes, Cormorants, Gadwall, Wigeon, Teal, Mallard and Canada Geese before finally vanishing into the dark depths of a distant reedbed.  All of this was going on with a noisy backdrop of Lapwings, Common Redshank and geese as Starlings swirled overhead and 3 Spotted Redshank, dashingly elegant, raced through the shallows.  We could see heavy rain away to the north, and the first few drops began to disturb the calm water.  Up to that point there hadn’t even been a hint of a breeze but that changed and suddenly the wind was very noticeable, as was the arrival of the heavy rain; torrential rain that flooded the roads along the coast and made observing anything quite difficult although three Spotted Redshank, looking remarkably like the same three from earlier in the afternoon dropped in – were they making their way south down the Northumberland coast the same way we were?  A remarkable 123 Mediterranean Gulls settled on the water as the rain intensified, and as we continued down the coast there were more in fields and along the shoreline.

Dusk began to creep up sooner than expected under a leaden grey sky with a remarkable fiery orange sunset on the western horizon as a Grey Heron caught an impressive fish in shallow water, a Kingfisher flew by, Little Egrets stood out in the deepening gloom and it was time to head back to Newbiggin.

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A Storm of Puffins; Druridge Bay Bespoke Birdwatching 30/07/18

by on Aug.05, 2018, under Coquet Island, Druridge Bay

Wouldn’t that be a great title for the next book in the ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ series (Game of Thrones)?  I’ve met a few people over the last 10 years who expected Puffins to be much larger than they actually are, so the idea of unleashing a horde of them on your enemies could have some merit…

Alex, Jess and Tom had booked two days out with us – Saturday and Sunday – both of which had a forecast that couldn’t have been clearer that we wouldn’t be able to sail either around Coquet Island or to the Farnes so we’d hastily rescheduled to Monday and Tuesday, with ‘gentler’ sea conditions forecast.  I collected them from Embleton and we headed south down the coast to our local patch, Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland, pausing at Cullernose Point to have a look at the Kittiwakes and Fulmars.

Late July is a great time to watch waders on the Northumberland coast and Avocet, Dunlin, Knot, Curlew Sandpiper, Ruff, Lapwing, Common Snipe, Curlew, Common Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit, Ringed Plover and Little Ringed Plover were all impressive, but outshone by a stunning summer-plumaged Grey Plover.  A Little Owl was perched quietly by a farm building and our next port of call brought a Little Gull and an Otter that was feeding next to some apparently unconcerned Mute Swans and some very concerned Tufted Ducks 🙂

Then it was time to head off for a sailing around Coquet Island with Dave Gray’s Puffin Cruises.  The stiff southeasterly and a bit of swell meant a very steady crossing was in order.  As we sailed along the Coquet a raft of 27 Goosanders were near the Warkworth side of the river and as we made the short sea crossing Puffins, Sandwich, Arctic and Common Terns and Grey Seals began to appear.  Ghostly pale Roseate Terns were sitting on the nesting terraces that have been constructed for them and one or two were picked out as they flew by as a veritable storm of Puffins whirled around above the island.

Heading back home at the end of the afternoon I was looking forward to an evening at the Battlesteads Observatory and then Tuesday’s trip to Inner Farne.  I was starting to feel a bit peaky though, but that’s a whole other story…

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The sublimity of evening; Bespoke Otter Safari 05/07/18

by on Jul.06, 2018, under Druridge Bay, Otter

I’ve never been great in hot sunny weather so as I collected Mike and Moira, for an afternoon and evening searching for Otters around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland, I was hoping for an increase in cloud cover…

In the heat of the afternoon, Avocets were harassing Grey Herons and Shelduck ducklings were skittering about on the surface of coastal pools as a Roe Deer ghosted through the reeds at the water’s edge and Lapwings squabbled nearby.  A Little Owl glared down from it’s perch between chimney pots as cloud began to roll in and Canada and Greylag Geese were looking alert but there was no sign of the cause of their concern

As daylight turned to dusk there was little sign of the Sun and that improved visibility substantially 🙂  Swallows, Swifts, House Martins and Sand Martins were plundering the rich feast of flying insects and a spectacular dense flock of 39 Black-tailed Godwits twisted and turned in the air in front of us as the distinctive call of Whimbrel failed to betray their location.  Water Rails were running nervously in and out of the reeds as another Roe Deer appeared, trotting through the shallow edge of the pool, and Tufted Ducks gathered their ducklings into tight groups as Cormorants took off, Mute Swans began staring at the reeds and a Little Grebe suddenly froze in position.  Then an Otter appeared just in front of us 🙂  We watched it for 45 minutes, including a remarkable tableau of hunting Otter beneath murmuration of Starlings with a Barn Owl quartering the reeds just a few metres away from us, before it vanished into the gloom of dusk and a distant reedbed.

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Hustle and bustle; Bespoke Druridge Bay mini-Safari 03/07/18

by on Jul.04, 2018, under Druridge Bay

Sometimes you just know it’s going to be a good trip, and as I collected Anne and Ron from Whitley Bay for an evening around Druridge Bay the blue sky, sunshine and gentle breeze had me thinking this was going to be a great time to be out in the field…

A Barn Owl quartering along the roadside and then hovering over the dunes, stunning in the golden light, was a fantastic start to the trip as Avocets flew by before settling back down.  A brood of 5 fairly large Water Rails was an unexpected sight as they came out into the open, close to a Tufted Duck with a large brood of tiny ducklings,  before dashing nervously back in to the cover of the reeds.  Mallard, Gadwall and Mute Swan were all dabbling for food beneath dense clouds of flying insects and then our attention was grabbed by a tight circling flock of Black-headed Gulls, Common Terns and Arctic Terns…directly above an Otter 🙂  Each time the Otter surfaced the birds repositioned themselves directly above it and we tracked it’s progress between Mute Swans and Cormorants.  Then the birds found another target and began pestering Grey Herons.  Each time a gull or tern dived at the heron it flattened it’s back, opened it’s beak wide and let out a raucous cry.  Every so often the attack would cease, before starting up again with renewed vigour and new recruits.

Our journey back down the coast brought another new species for the evening as a Brown Hare dashed out of the verge along the road and then back into the deep grass.

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Now you see me…; Druridge Bay Safari 22/06/18

by on Jun.26, 2018, under Druridge Bay

Last Thursday was Anne and Howard’s 2nd day out with NEWT, after a Farne Islands trip in June last year, and this time our destination was NEWT’s local patch – Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland

In glorious sunshine we started with a woodland walk.  Jays and Great Spotted Woodpeckers were characteristically quite vocal, and Coal Tits, Blue Tits and Nuthatches were feeding fledglings in the branches above our heads and a Banded Demoiselle put in a graceful appearance.  We were searching for Dippers and Anne spotted one on a branch that apparently hadn’t had one on it just a few seconds earlier.  We watched it for around 20 minutes as it slept, preened stretched and then vanished as it turned it’s back towards us.  Among the sun-dappled branches just a few inches above the river it just blended into the background without it’s striking white breast on display.

After a picnic overlooking the North Sea, with Fulmars arcing by along the clifftop, we continued north along the bay.  Avocet chicks were running around the shallows as 13 adults were either incubating, feeding or engaging in some entertaining disputes with Shelducks.  In the warm afternoon sunshine damselflies were abundant and Great Crested Grebes were feeding with a single chick.  At our final site for the day 33 Black-tailed Godwits were feeding close to Tufted Ducks, Mallard and Teal and as Cormorants flew out towards the sea I caught a glimpse of a dark back as it submerged out of sight.  Probably a Cormorant, but always worth making sure…and there was an Otter 🙂  A great way to end the day!

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Yes, this really is southeast Northumberland ;-) Otter Safari 18/05/18

by on May.19, 2018, under Druridge Bay, Otter

In warm but breezy weather I collected Baird and Margaret, and then Jacqui, Paul, Chris and Louise ahead of an afternoon and evening around southeast Northumberland and Druridge Bay searching for Otters

Starting with a woodland walk we could hear Blackbird, Blackcap, Robin, Wren, Woodpigeon, Chiffchaff and Chaffinch all singing but the only movement in the rocky streams was gurgling water. Black-headed Gulls were swarming over the wider rivers, mopping up an obviously substantial hatch of flying insects, and Cormorants were doing their best to impersonate Otters.  Our picnic stop overlooking the North Sea brought a fantastic wildlife experience; with everyone else enjoying soup, sandwich and carrot cake I was scanning the sea.  Common Eider, Guillemot and Razorbill were all rafting as Gannets headed north and then I spotted the concentrated activity of a flock of gulls.  Focusing on the sea below them I soon spotted a couple of dorsal fins breaking the surface…and we had nearly an hour with 9 Bottlenose Dolphins porpoising, breaching, feeding and generally being very entertaining right in front of us 🙂  Tufted Duck, Mallard, Shoveler, Gadwall and Great Crested Grebe all looked stunning in low angled sunlight as Lapwings displayed with their bizarre other-worldly calls and, as the Sun sank towards the northwest a Barn Owl flew across the road ahead of us.

Under a beautiful waxing crescent Moon alongside Venus in the west, and Arcturus and Jupiter visible in the twilight to the southeast, with the giant planet stunning through our telescope, the Swallows, Swifts, House Martins and Sand Martins were replaced overhead by Noctule and pipistrelle bats as dozens and dozens of Black-headed Gulls continued feasting on flying insects and a Roe Deer was in the reeds opposite us.  Tufted Ducks, Mallards, Canada Geese and Greylag Geese were looking agitated and one flock of gulls seemed to be whirling in a dense tight circle over a narrow bay in the reeds before gradually drifting along still following the reed edge…and the Otter that was stealthily making it’s way around the pool 🙂  We watched it for a few minutes before it surfaced right in front of an adult Mute Swan and decided it was time to beat a hasty retreat into the reeds.

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Persistence :-) Otter Safari 27/04/18

by on May.01, 2018, under Druridge Bay, Otter

I collected Paul and Jenny from The Swan and we set off for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland, searching for Otters

So far, 2018 has been another one of those years where we should be adding our regular Little Owls to the payroll, and the tiny predator scowling at us from a bare tree was like a toddler trying to look fierce while not really being very tall and scary at all 🙂  Fulmars soared over the North Sea, which was looking remarkably calm, as Eiders rafted just offshore and Grey Seals dived languidly before resurfacing a short distance away.  While Teal, Mallard, Gadwall, Goldeneye and Tufted Duck all looked pristine in their breeding finery, two other ducks really stole the the mid-afternoon show; Garganey and Pintail are both incredibly attractive, and both unusual enough in Northumberland in late April to be elevated above other wildfowl 😉  A Little Egret flew by and a Spoonbill was, very typically, asleep in the rushes as a White Wagtail stood out as pale and strikingly marked compared to Pied Wagtail.  As the Sun sank towards the horizon in the north west a Barn Owl flew by, radiantly golden in the sunlight, and Starlings began to gather in small numbers compared to their winter murmurations.

A lone Whooper Swan was with Mute Swans as Roe Deer grazed close to the edge of a pool and dusk descended.  Cormorant, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye and Great Crested Grebe all left ripples as they dived, but their were ripples from one edge of a reedbed with no obvious cause.  Then there were 2 Otters 🙂  We lost sight of one of them quickly, but the other could be seen, keeping low in the water and trying to sneak up on Mute Swans which were having none of it.  As the light faded to a point where we couldn’t seen clearly anymore, the Otter was still swimming back and forth in it’s incessant search for food.

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Save the best ’til last; Druridge Bay Safari 20/04/18

by on Apr.26, 2018, under Druridge Bay

All of our Safari Days have developed over the last ten years, and even on our familiar, regular Druridge Bay Safaris there’s always the possibility of changing the route slightly and visiting sites that we visit ourselves regularly but haven’t taken clients to yet…

That’s how I found myself with Ian and Elaine & Becky and Helen along a stretch of river that was a new one for a NEWT safari.  We were having an afternoon and evening searching for our favourite sinuous predator around the NEWT local patch and in the warm afternoon sunshine Great Spotted Woodpeckers were drumming and Chiffchaff, Robin, Blackbird, Nuthatch, Blackcap, Chaffinch and Coal Tit were all singing.  On a shallow coastal pool there were no fewer than 19 Avocets (genuinely rare up here when we moved to the north east 25 years ago…) and, while Sand Martins and Swallows fed on the rich hatch of flying insects, Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Teal, Gadwall, Great Crested Grebe and Shelduck dabbled and dived as a pair of Garganey remained unobtrusive until the drake started singing his raspy song.

Our picnic spot, overlooking the North Sea produced a high-tide roost of Redshank, Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Dunlin and Purple Sandpiper as Fulmars soared by and Sandwich Terns were plunge-diving just offshore.  The descending silvery cadence of Willow Warblers came from hawthorns alongside footpaths and the afternoon was feeling more Spring than Winter (at last!).

A Little Owl glared balefully from a roadside tree, but remained obligingly perched in full view and we headed to our final location for dusk.  A Short-eared Owl drifted across one reedbed as a female Marsh Harrier quartered another one and Water Rails squealed from a third as the Mute Swans and Greylag Geese seemed to be the only birds in a fairly large area of water…

The Short-eared Owl emerged from the dunes and settled on a distant fence post and I set the ‘scope up so that everyone could have a look at it.  I was scanning the foreground and I thought I saw a dark shape just a few feet behind a Greylag.  I mentioned it but it seemed unlikely that it was an Otter, unless the goose hadn’t seen it and it hadn’t seen the goose…which is what seems to have happened as an adult Otter appeared a few metres further along the reed edge  🙂  After a few minutes with no further sightings a Grey Heron and a Marsh Harrier both flushed from a reedbed further round the pool – and there was an Otter cub too 🙂  We watched as it made it’s way along the edge and then out across the open water with dusk approaching.

 

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