Tag: Pale-bellied Brent Geese

Every cloud has a silver(y) grey lining

by on Sep.25, 2012, under Birdwatching, North Sea, Northumberland

Our final full-day pelagic for 2012 was on Saturday and, although I was really looking forward to it, it’s always a shame when we reach the end of our offshore season.

With strong winds on Thursday, and charter boats cancelling trips on Friday, I still felt that we’d be able to sail.  We gathered at Royal Quays just before 09:00 and boarded the SarahJFK.  Brian spotted a Great Spotted Woodpecker just after we set sail, and as we headed downstream we could see a little bit of swell and a few whitecaps offshore.  A skein of Pink-footed Geese high overhead were heading south, and we weren’t too far out of the river when we had our first skua of the day; and it was one of those ‘is it, isn’t it?’ moments as what was probably a dark Pomarine Skua flew north low over the waves.  Three Great Skuas were heading the same way, and another one later caused a ‘dread’ amongst the birds gathered round a fishing boat.  Fulmars and Kittiwakes were with us throughout most of the day and Gannets were soaring by on the breeze.  Our first Sooty Shearwater was in a raft of gulls behind a trawler, and we had at least five more during the day.

As the swell began to ease slightly we were 8 miles off Cresswell, heading north west, when I saw two small waders flying up and over a wave crest.  As they dropped onto the sea I shouted “Grey Phalaropes!” and called to Allan to stop the boat.  Eventually we all had excellent views of these two tiny birds as they bobbed about in the swell.  They were the 2nd and 3rd that I’ve seen on pelagics I’ve organised, following the 1st out in the Farne Deeps in 2010.

Grey Phalarope,Northumberland,bird photography,pelagic birdwatching trips,pelagic wildlife trips

Grey Phalarope,Northumberland,bird photography,pelagic birdwatching trips,pelagic wildlife trips

Grey Phalarope,Northumberland,bird photography,pelagic birdwatching trips,pelagic wildlife trips

We headed towards the coast, and turned to make our way back towards Royal Quays.  Our only Manx Shearwater of the trip was followed soon after by a Pomarine Skua, found by Cain, six Red-throated Divers (including four flying south together), 42 Pale-bellied Brent Geese heading north, 20 Wigeon and 30 Common Scoter.  With only one Manx Shearwater, and no Arctic Skuas at all, this was quite an unusual pelagic but, if you like waders, and you like seabirds, then phalaropes are a dream bird 🙂

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Heading north…

by on Mar.15, 2012, under Birdwatching, Holy Island, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

Living in southeast Northumberland, we’re spoiled by having easy access to some outstanding birdwatching areas.  Holy Island, which we still think is at its best during the winter, is just an hour north up the A1…

I collected Keith and Mary on Saturday morning and we crossed the causeway onto the island for a day of birdwatching around the Northumberland Coast AONB.  Although we encountered wintering Pale-bellied Brent Geese, Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits and other waders and wildfowl, there was a definite spring feel to the day.  The weather was glorious (although a little breezy), and Skylarks could be heard high overhead.  Curlews were in full voice, Grey Herons were stalking through poolside vegetation, Grey Seals were hauled out at low tide and a steady stream of Gannets passed by offshore.  Early afternoon we headed back to the mainland and more waders and wildfowl, as well as a mixed flock of Yellowhammers, Reed Buntings, Linnets and Tree Sparrows (with the male Yellowhammers looking particularly stunning) before finishing in the shadow of Bamburgh Castle with roosting Oystercatchers, Redshanks and Purple Sandpipers, Eiders bobbing about in the surf and a mixed raft of Common Scoters and Slavonian Grebes diving repeatedly in the swell and really testing powers of concentration.

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Raptors, raptors everywhere

by on Feb.02, 2012, under Birdwatching, Holy Island, Lindisfarne, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

Standing on the Heugh on Holy Island with Jill and Steve, we’re all scanning towards Guile Point.  Cormorants, Shags, Red-breasted Mergansers and Eider are all bobbing about on the water, Pale-bellied and Dark-bellied Brent Geese, Bar-tailed Godwits, Grey Plover, Curlew and Oystercatchers are flying by, Common and Grey Seals are splashing in the surf as the tide falls…and I’m focused on the sea with one species in mind.  Then 2 distant white dots, gradually narrowing the gap toward us, and I know I’ve achieved that primary target.  Soon, I’ve got 2 very happy clients watching an immaculate drake Long-tailed Duck.  Outrageously attractive, he waved that eponymous tail in the air before taking off and vanishing out of sight around the headland.

At the other end of the day we watched a flock of 20 Slavonian Grebes and a similar number of Common Scoter, another 6 Long-tailed Ducks, an elusive Black-throated Diver and 3 equally elusive Red-throated Divers and 2 Harbour Porpoises as the light faded to the point where even the impressive assembly of optical equipment wasn’t offering an advantage any more.

Sandwiched in between though, was a veritable feast of raptors;  we’d already had a couple of Common Buzzards (and I’d had 2 on the drive to Hauxley before collecting Jill and Steve), 2 Sparrowhawks and several Kestrels by lunchtime, but the best was yet to come.  First a Merlin perched on a post in front of us for 10 minutes, then we found 2 Peregrines sitting on boulders at low tide.  Soon a wave of panic spread through the assembled waders, and the Barnacle, Greylag, Pink-footed and White-fronted Geese, as the 2 Peregrines swooped back and forth.  Then, our second Merlin of the day began harrassing one of the Peregrines. As chaos raged across the mudflats, one of the Peregrines made a kill; an unfortunate Redshank.  It took it’s prize to a rock and began plucking it…and 2 more Peregrines arrived!  All 3 tussled over the spoils of the hunt, before 2 of them conceded and sat a little distance away.  A dry, cold wintry day and spectacular drama played out by some excellent wildlife.  The Northumberland coast in the winter – there’s nothing better 🙂

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Winter Wonderland 28/11/11-01/12/11

by on Dec.07, 2011, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

Last week was our Winter Wonderland birdwatching holiday, although as I arrived at Saughy Rigg I wondered if Windy Wonderland would be a better name for it 😉

The original itinerary involved the Solway coast on Tuesday and the North Pennines on Wednesday, but a quick discussion with our guests on arrival meant that our coastal day was switched to Northumberland to avoid the poor weather in the west.

The plan worked well, at least until mid-afternoon when the weather caught up with us and we had a couple of hours of dodging the showers.  The waders and wildfowl that winter here featured throughout the day and Greylag, Pink-footed, Pale-bellied Brent, Barnacle and Eurasian White-fronted Geese were all enjoying the mild weather on the Northumberland coast.  3 splendid drake Goosanders  were blown across Druridge Pools before battling their way back against the wind, and a Roe Deer was grazing in the gap between 2 reed beds.  As so often seems to happen, some of the best wildlife of the day saved its appearance until the light began to fade.  First a Short-eared Owl, with a strikingly white face, quartering backwards and forwards along the margins of a field, then 2 Water Rails, those small, secretive denizens of the reeds, stepped gingerly into view; prodding and poking and squealing like piglets as they vanished back into the gloom.  Then, as flocks of geese descended to roost, a Bittern flew from the reeds and headed south.

Wednesday brought another breezy morning, and we headed into the hills.  Remarkable numbers of Red Grouse chuckled at us as we watched from the comfort of the car, and 7 Black Grouse were the first of no less than 75 that we found during the day.  The weather closed in all around us and, after a quick check of a lough wher Teal, Wigeon and Lapwing were roosting and Goldeneye were feeding, we finished the day at one of our favourite evening venues.  An unidentified raptor flew low across the heather moorland and out of sight over a ridge, Red Grouse burst from cover before settling again a short distance away and a lone Short-eared Owl battled into a brutal headwind as the evening faded to darkness.

Winter Wonderland is one (in fact, two) of the holidays on our itinerary for 2012, so give us a call on 01670 827465 for more details or to book your place.

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Rough…

by on Oct.28, 2011, under Birdwatching, Holy Island, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

The last 2 days were spent running 2 Prestige Tours for Peter and Alison, and the Northumberland coast delivered plenty of birdwatching gems.

On Wednesday we were covering Holy Island and the Northumberland coast, and planned to spend the morning on Holy Island and then come off at lunchtime just before the tide covered the causeway (remember – the crossing times are published for a reason, don’t drive into the North Sea, it won’t end well!).  A thorough check around the village, and the Heugh, produced 2 Black Redstarts, Blackcaps, lots of Blackbirds, Fieldfares, Redwings and an intriguing Chiffchaff (almost sandy brown above, very unlike our breeding birds).  Grey Seals and Pale-bellied Brent Geese were out on the mud, Dark-bellied Brent Geese, Wigeon and Teal were roosting on the Rocket Field and a Woodcock was flying circuits of the village.  As well as an almost continuous wave of thrushes leaving the island, the distinctive flight calls of Skylarks and Lesser Redpolls could be picked out.

Once we were off the island, I’d decided to head north to Goswick.  Another Black Redstart and a Yellow-browed Warbler were around Coastgurad Cottage, and we made our way through the dunes.  The adult drake Black Scoter was still present, although less than easy to see with a line of rolling surf impeding the view.  As the tide rose, flocks of Bar-tailed Godwit, Knot, Dunlin and Grey Plover rose from the exposed sandbar, shuffling along to the next ‘dry’ spot.  A Short-eared Owl was seen coming in-off, harrassed by Herring Gulls before finally finding sanctuary on the Snook, and then the bird of the day (well, I think so anyway) appeared just behind us.  Tracking south along the coast a juvenile Rough-legged Buzzard was given a bit of a going over by the local corvids.

Heading back towards Seahouses we stopped off at Harkess Rocks,  where Purple Sandpipers, Turnstones, Redshank and Oystercatchers were all flitting from rock to rock and Eider were bobbing about just offshore as daylight faded and it was time to return Peter and Alison to their holiday accommodation.

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Arrivals

by on Oct.25, 2011, under Bamburgh Castle, Birdwatching, Holy Island, Northumberland

The autumn regularly produces excellent birdwatching experiences, and our Friday afternoon Lindisfarne mini-safari was no exception.

I collected Pat and Ian from Glororum and we headed north towards Holy Island.  With the tide falling, the newly exposed mud provided a veritable banquet for the massed waders and wildfowl.  As far as the eye could see the shoreline was lined with Pale-bellied and Dark-bellied Brent Geese, Barnacle Geese were arriving and the mud was a hive of activity with Wigeon, Teal, Bar-tailed Godwits, Curlews, Redshanks, Oystercatchers, Knot, Dunlin and Grey Plover all tucking in.  2 Carrion Crows were administering a warm welcome to a Peregrine, and a Little Egret flew in, landing beside another egret that was stalking around the edges of a pool on the mudflats.  As the afternoon wore on, we relocated to Bamburgh, and the rocks there produced excellent views of the waders we’d seen earlier as well as a few Purple Sandpipers.

Then came one of those real experience moments.  Despite the strong offshore winds 3 Fieldfares were battling against the headwind, low over the waves.  They crossed the beach, flew by us and as they dropped towards the shelter of the coastal fields they were intercepted by 2 Sparrowhawks.  The final act of the encounter happened out of sight, but you can’t help thinking that it was a cruel end to a herculean effort.

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Stranded

by on Oct.13, 2011, under Bamburgh Castle, Birdwatching, Holy Island, Northumberland

I love Holy Island, but it can be a bit crowded sometimes…

I collected Mike and Maggie from St Cuthbert’s House on Tuesday morning and we began birdwatching our way north.  In the shadow of Bamburgh Castle we watched Bar-tailed Godwits, Knot, Turnstones, Purple Sandpipers, Eider and Gannets in a bitingly cold northwesterly wind.  We crossed onto Holy Island just before the rising tide covered the causeway…and found that the car park was empty!  For the next 5 hours we practically had the island to ourselves, and enjoyed swirling flocks of Knot and Bar-tailed Godwit, Oystercatchers, Shags, Gannets plunge-diving, Red-breasted Mergansers,  Grey Seals, Fieldfares, Redwings, Curlew, Teal, Black-tailed Godwits, Grey Plover, Kestrels, Peregrine and then, as the tide began to recede, flocks of Pink-footed Geese and Pale-bellied Brent Geese took to the air, heading for the newly exposed mud and the feast it brings.

Deliberately stranding yourself on Holy Island always carries risks as a birdwatcher; what if something really good turns up on the mainland? As an experience with clients though, particularly when one of them is a very keen wildlife and landscape photographer, it really is something special.

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Marching on

by on Mar.30, 2011, under Birdwatching, Lindisfarne, Northumberland

As the start of the main season approaches, it’s been a busy few weeks for NEWT.  I attended the latest Netgain meeting, as this important part of the North Sea Marine Conservation Zones project nears its conclusion, plans are developing for the Birdwatching Northumberland stand at this year’s British Birdwatching Fair, Tourism fairs/leaflet distribution days gave us a chance to catch up with a lot of the accommodation providers we work with, final preparations are in hand for a big group holiday we’re running in May and 2 smaller holidays in July, and days out with clients are increasing in frequency.

Yesterday we had a Lindisfarne Safari; Pale-bellied Brent Geese, Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits, Grey Plover, Wigeon, Teal, Golden Plover and Dunlin were still around in good numbers, Skylarks and Meadow Pipits were singing literally everywhere that we walked, and Long-tailed Ducks were displaying their breeding finery.  When discussing bird songs and calls with clients, I always mention The Sound Approach, which I’ve always found to be such an inspirational book, so was really pleased to learn that Brenda has a copy of the book, and an interest in how different people describe the same bird sounds.

At the end of a really enjoyable trip, I made the long drive to Otterburn Mill for a meeting with the Chair’s of some of Northumberland’s other tourism associations.  Some strong, and often conflicting, views were expressed but we all agreed that what is best for Northumberland is for us all to move in the same direction. So we will…

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It’s Sunday, so it must be Lindisfarne

by on Mar.21, 2011, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Holy Island, Lindisfarne, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

After enjoying an all too brief view of the ‘super Moon’ on Saturday as I drove eastwards across Northumberland on my way home from the North Pennines, we’d got something completely different in the booking diary for Sunday; guided birdwatching on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne.  Having Sarah along as an additional guide was a real bonus as well.

Gillian and Roger are existing clients, and this time we’d got other members of the family along as well – Roddy, Lucy and Alec.  We’ve done plenty of family trips with young children, but a request to see “Seals, Lions and Tigers” from a 2-year old was a new experience for us!  We managed one of those three 😉

Black-tailed Godwit (a stunning bird, well on it’s way to breeding plumage), Pale-bellied and Dark-bellied Brent Geese, Oystercatchers, Bar-tailed Godwits, Red-breasted Mergansers and Long-tailed Ducks were all well appreciated.  Gillian picked out a tiny dark dot, high overhead, as a Skylark sang his evocative melody, and Roger spotted a Goldcrest, with a very very gold crest, as we ascended The Heugh.  18 Whooper Swans flew over the island, accompanied by a single Bewick’s Swan.  With that species so scarce in Northumberland during the winter, we wondered if it was the same bird that we first found, a few miles down the coast, in late December.  All too soon, it was time to return the family to the starting point of the tour and make our way down the Northumberland coast, along Druridge Bay and back to the office.

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Appreciating what we have

by on Feb.21, 2011, under Birdwatching, Holy Island, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

During the winter months, our mini-safaris are concentrated on the coast and we always keep a close eye on the weather.  Sometimes that doesn’t work out though, as the Northumberland coast frequently seems to have it’s own microclimate that doesn’t match either the forecast, or the weather, a few miles inland.

When I arrived at the mainland end of the Holy Island causeway to collect Sharon and Andrew, I was surprised to discover that it was a sublimely beautiful morning.  A bitingly cold wind was scything across Fenham Flats but the forecast rain was nowhere to be seen.

Curlew and Bar-tailed Godwit were beside the causeway, and flocks of smaller waders were wheeling around in the air near the island.  Winter wildfowl are a feature of the Northumberland coast and, with drakes in near full breeding-dress, Teal and Wigeon are particularly breathtaking.  Pale-bellied Brent Geese were alongside Dark-bellied Brent Geese, allowing an easy comparison, Lapwings were gloriously iridescent in the bright sunlight and a Peregrine caused panic before beating a path towards the mainland. 12 Common Seals were an unexpected bonus and a covey of Grey Partridges scurried across a field as we walked by.  Common Buzzards were perched on hedgerows and the number of Kestrels we found was astonishing; at least 8 birds in just a few miles of birdwatching on the coast.

After just over 3 hours of birdwatching in near-perfect conditions it was time to return to our starting point and then onwards; Sharon and Andrew heading back across to Holy Island and me heading to Rothbury to Chair a meeting between Northumberland Tourism, Northumberland County Council and the Chairs of Northumberland’s Tourism Associations.  The stunning morning really emphasised in my mind the importance of the meeting in the afternoon; Northumberland has some outstanding birdwatching, wildlife and photography opportunities during the winter (and throughout the rest of the year as well) so we need to make sure that we keep shouting as loudly as we can about them.

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