I collected Luke and Louise from alnwick, then Alison and Neil from Kingston Park and we headed west at the start of a day searching for raptors around Kielder and the Scottish Borders…
We stopped at the southern end of Kielder Water and the ‘chip chip’ calls of Common Crossbill drew our attention to these impressive bulky finches as they passed overhead. With Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Chaffinch and Blackbird singing all around us we were soon watching Common Buzzards in every direction as Raven and Carrion Crow flew by. Then Luke spotted a large raptor circling in front of the trees…and there was a Goshawk 🙂 We watched as it soared higher and higher until it was just a tiny speck, even through binoculars, against the clouds. Kestrel and Sparrowhawk on the drive to and from Kielder added to the raptor total for the day and we crossed the border into Scotland for the afternoon.
Our picnic spot brought more raptors; first more Common Buzzards, then the shrill alarm calls of a Merlin drew our attention to a pair of displaying Peregrines as Ravens flew along the ridges above us, Wild Goats foraged amongst the scattered trees on the valley sides, and even more Buzzards rose on the stiff breeze. Out on the open moorland Luke was quick off the draw again, this time with a stunning male Hen Harrier. As he gave directions to the bird, it was clear that the rest of us were watching a second male harrier as it quartered the skyline. A flash of blue was a male Merlin racing across the fells, a Red Grouse flushed from the roadside puddle where it was having a droink as we passed, and the air seemed to be filled with Emperor Moths 🙂 A low-flying Common Buzzard passed just over the car as we headed back into Northumberland and finished the day with Common Sandpiper and a fly-by Mandarin.
Quantity on a Kielder Safari isn’t the game we play, but the day list is usually dripping with quality 🙂
I collected Steph from her home in Gateshead, for the first of four North Pennines trips I’m guiding over the next week, and we headed westwards…
A Greyhen, hunkered down against the wind and rain in roadside vegetation, was fairly obliging as Snipe, Curlew and Lapwing displayed overhead and a Blackcock sat motionless in a nearby field. Red Grouse, after Red Grouse, after Red Grouse, followed and offered great photo opportunities for Steph, although the Brown Hares we came across weren’t hanging around to have their picture taken! Then it was the turn of Black Grouse, with a handsome Blackcock on the moor close to the car, soon followed by two more feeding out in the open. Drumming Snipe and displaying Curlew took cover as the rain intensified, but each break in the weather was filled with birds; Black Grouse, Red Grouse, Common Snipe, Curlew, Common Redshank, Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Golden Plover, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Meadow Pipit, Skylark, Goosander and towards the end of the trip, a male Ring Ouzel perched on a fence post, a Grey Partridge on a dry stone wall next to the road and a pair of Peregrine engaged in a display flight 🙂
Yesterday was Pete and Jan’s 9th trip with NEWT and we headed to a location that they haven’t visited with us previously…
Heading north from Embleton we soon encountered the first rain of the day, and by the time we reached the Holy Island causeway the mud and shallow water around the array of Redshank, Greenshank, Curlew, Dunlin and Bar-tailed Godwit was being battered by a fairly torrential shower. As the rain eased, everything scattered as a Peregrine flew over; a muscular menace above mudflats where Grey Seals were hauled out as the tide fell, and a dense flock of Golden Plover settled once the danger had passed. Once the rain eased, we headed across onto the island and began the entertaining game of hide-and-seek that characterises mid-October birdwatching on the coast with birds arriving from the east. Blackcap, Reed Bunting, Robin, Linnet, Stonechat and Meadow Pipit all appeared, vanished and reappeared as the air overhead was filled with calls of Lapwing, Curlew, Grey Plover and Skylark. Three Roe Deer were in a nearby field and a Firecrest put in an unobligingly fleeting appearance in one of many, many bushes that held Goldcrests. We eventually made our way to the north side of the island and joined the twitch of a very obliging Isabelline Wheatear. Every bush seemed to hold Robin and Goldcrest and, along the Straight Lonnen, Redwing, Song Thrush and Blackbird were feeding avidly and a very grey ‘eastern’ Goldcrest stood out from the more typical birds as a Ring Ouzel flew over before diving for cover in a hawthorn bush. After lunch, another bush full of ‘crests produced two Firecrests in view at the same time before we headed back across to the mainland.
Another great day out with Pete and Jan, and the weather forecast looks like it could bring even more arrivals from the east over the next few days 🙂
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 Brambling. Chiffchaffs 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.
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 🙂
Although Druridge Bay was still planned to be the focus of part of the day, we decided to start with a quick trip into the Cheviot Valleys first. Lapwings were displaying, newly arrived Willow Warblers seemed to have comandeered almost every bush and tree, Dippers were bobbing up and down on mid-stream rocks, a Peregrine soared along the top edge of the valley as Red Grouse chuckled and chuntered from the heather-clad slopes below and then, in a bare tree in a narrow steep sided valley, a real prize – a stunning male Ring Ouzel 🙂 Roger spotted another Peregrine and then a female Ring Ouzel perched obligingly in another bare tree.
The coast had lots of what we would expect…but the ‘quality over quantity’ of the hills won out on the day 🙂
Dull, overcast, drizzly, misty, cold, miserable…the sort of day that makes Kielder a place where you really have to work for your wildlife sightings.
I collected David from Byrness and we headed into the border forests. After his coastal holiday with us in 2013, and a Farne Deeps pelagic trip in September last year, I was looking forward to meeting up with him again. One look at the weather told me this wasn’t likely to be a good Goshawk day, but it’s always worth trying 🙂 The ‘phantom of the forest’ did remain elusive, but another Kielder speciality put in an appearance with a flock of 15 Common Crossbill chipping away noisily around the forest drive. A Roe Deer crossed the track ahead of us, and we headed across the border. A tumbling Raven was demonstrating its prowess, Red Grouse popped up and down in the heather and, probably the highlight of the day, a pair of Hen Harriers soared over the moor; the female unobtrusive and low over the heather, her mate an enigmatic ghostly grey against the dark background. Common Buzzards circled against the sky and, above one of our favourite Goshawk sites, a Peregrine soared over a clearing between plantations, all muscular menace and effortless grace.
Even the days that don’t look promising still hold excellent wildlife 🙂
The Northumberland coast in the late autumn is a birdwatching destination that I’ll never tire of. Even in weather that could best be described as inclement, there’s a wealth of wildlife to enjoy.
I collected Mike and Janet from the Dunstanburgh Castle Hotel and we headed north for a day birdwatching around Lindisfarne and the North Northumberland coast. Starting with a walk around Holy Island village, a harsh chuckling call betrayed the presence of a Fieldfare in a small tree. Two others joined it, before they all departed noisily. Then more chuckling Fieldfare, and the high seee calls of Redwing, carried through the air from high overhead and we could make out, in the mist, a mixed flock of these thrushes arriving high from the north east and bypassing the island on their way across to the mainland. A Sparrowhawk raced by, hedge-hopping and swerving out of sight behind The Heugh, as thousands of Pale-bellied Brent Geese flew out onto the exposed mud of the wildfowl refuge area and Shag, Eider and Red-breasted Merganser dived just offshore. A couple of very obliging Rock Pipits showed the subtle, dusky beauty that can only be appreciated with close views and Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Redshank, Oystercatcher and Grey Plover were reaping the rich bounty of the mud, as Dark-bellied Brent Geese settled in the newly exposed mud of the harbour, and the high whistling calls of drake Teal carried across to us from the Rocket Field, a Little Auk flew along the main street through the village. Crossing back to the mainland, a Little Egret was stalking through the shallows along the roadside and Curlew and Oystercatcher were so close we could have almost reached out of the car and touched them. As the falling tide exposed sandbars, Grey Seals were moaning eerily and splashing about in shallow water. Suddenly, there were thousands of Wigeon and Golden Plover in the air. They settled but then flushed again so I started a methodical check of every rock that I could see on the mud. Then I found what I was looking for – a rock that was just too vertical…and the view through our ‘scope revealed the impressive muscular menace of a female Peregrine 🙂 She shuffled around and took off, only to settle on another rock closer to us. Our attention was drawn to a charm of Goldfinches feeding nearby, and the Peregrine departed while we weren’t looking.
As the weather moved through in waves of varying grot, we watched a group of three Roe Deer grazing in a roadside field, and then headed a bit further down the coast. Dusk was approaching rapidly as we watched more waders feeding busily as the tide rose, Lapwings flew over like giant bats and thousands of Black-headed and Common Gulls arrived to roost. Wave after wave of mist and drizzle, wave after wave of birds, wave after wave of waves 🙂
After a break from work and blogging, and our first proper holiday in quite a while, I got back into the swing of things on Sunday with a visit to probably my favourite mid-October location…
Crossing the causeway to Holy Island is always accompanied by a sense of anticipation, and when I collected Graham and Joan from the Manor House they mentioned that Yellow-browed Warblers had been seen the day before. Checking the bushes and trees in the Vicar’s Garden didn’t produce any sight or sound of the Siberian speciality, but everywhere was heaving with Robins – presumably recent arrivals from the continent – and Grey Plover, Pale-bellied Brent Goose, Bar-tailed Godwit and Grey Seal could be seen, and heard, by turning through 90 degrees from the trees. After checking other suitable spots around the village, and finding a couple of Goldcrest, we crossed to the mainland and down to Bamburgh. Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Curlew, Purple Sandpiper and Knot were around the rocks as Eider and Guillemot rose and fell with the gentle swell of the sea and Gannet and Sandwich Tern plunged into shoals of fish offshore in conditions that wouldn’t have been out of place in mid-June. We made our way slowly back up the coast, taking in vast flocks of Wigeon over the mudflats and a Weasel that responded obligingly to my imitation of a dying mouse (the sound, rather than a visual imitation!). Little Egrets and Shelduck were exploiting the food supply on the exposed mud and we crossed back on to the island…only to learn that a White-tailed Eagle had been soaring high inland of us while we were watching the Weasel 🙁 We headed down to the causeway, to see if the eagle would make a reappearance, as flocks of Sanderling, Dunlin, Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit, Pale-bellied Brent Goose and Golden Plover concentrated on the rapidly diminishing areas of mud above the rising tide and a Peregrine powered across our field of view before it was time for me to cross back to the mainland and head south.
I collected John, Graham, Andy, Sue, Sue and Lesley from their cottage in Shilbottle and we set off inland towards the imposing landscape of the Cheviot massif. As we got out of the car and donned waterproofs we had the first rain shower of the day, but it quickly passed and the path began gaining in altitude as Oystercatchers perched on fence posts, swallows and martins hawked back and forth through air buzzing with insects in the warm, humid conditions and Willow Warblers and Chaffinches competed with their congeners in a singing contest. The plaintive cries of Curlew echoed around the steep valley sides, the high calls of Siskin and the buzzy rattle of Lesser Redpoll came from overhead and one of the archetypal valley birds put in an appearance as we found a succession of adult and juvenile Dippers. A lone Common Buzzard hovered high over the moors in search of prey and a Peregrine repeatedly rose above the skyline before dropping back down in a prolonged attack on an unfortunate, and unseen, victim.
Lunch overlooking the sea was accompanied by Fulmars gliding gracefully back and forth on stiff wings, before we switched our attention to waders, wildfowl and waterbirds. Little Egrets and Grey Herons were stalking menacingly along shallow pool edges, at least 50 Black-tailed Godwits were roosting, and a small group of Little Gulls looked diminutive alongside Black-headed Gulls (which aren’t all that big themselves!). Reed Buntings were singing their rather repetitive song, Sedge and Reed Warblers flew by before vanishing into the depths of the reedbeds and we enjoyed the sight of delicate and dainty, yet incredibly feisty, Avocets. Great Crested Grebes were feeding their stripy offspring, Arctic, Common and Sandwich Terns perched obligingly, allowing easy comparison, and the afternoon brought an unexpected surprise in the shape of no less than six Spoonbills. They did little more exciting than occasionally wake up and preen for a short while before nodding off again, but the sight of six of these impressive birds together wrapped up the day nicely 🙂