Tag: Pied Wagtail
I arrived in Berwick to collect Juan and Erika from the railway station for their tour of Lindisfarne and the North Northumberland coast and a first for NEWT – clients from Argentina!
We headed down the coast in some unforecast rain and in the mighty shadow of Bamburgh Castle we watched Purple Sandpiper and Turnstone as they picked their way through the rocks within inches of the frothing surf. Common Eider, Common Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Guillemot and Puffin were all rising and falling in a deep swell and Kittiwakes were passing by as we set the telescope up on the side of the car that was sheltered from the wind and rain. Heading north we came across lots of Shelduck, Wigeon, Teal, Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit and Lapwing, as well as smaller numbers of Shoveler, Goosander and Common Redshank, and a lone Kestrel hanging motionless facing into the wind, then over on to Holy Island where the sky was blue, the clouds were white and fluffy and the wind was still howling…
Grey Seals were hauled out on the mud at low tide and as their mournful calls carried on the breeze across the island Skylarks were singing, tiny black dots against the sky, Meadow Pipits were song-flighting and there were at least 21 Roe Deer feeding in a remarkably dense herd. Red-breasted Merganser were having their crests ruffled by the wind, Pied Wagtails were searching for insects around the car park and panic rippled through the birds out on the mudflats. Grey Herons stalked through marshy edges, the eerie cries of Curlew drifted through the dunes and, as we made our way back across the causeway with the tide rising and the sun setting, Common Eider were displaying, Common Redshank and Pale-bellied Brent Geese were on the edge of the rising water and a Curlew decided to sit on the road right in front of us 🙂
Sunday was a second day out for Edward and Isabel, although this time a bespoke trip. I collected them from Greycroft and we headed south. Brambling was the first target on our list for the day and an impressive flock was alongside Nuthatch, Chaffinch, Coal Tit and a male Siskin. Red Squirrel was another target species for the day, and we enjoyed prolonged views of one, as another male Brambling called from a treetop nearby and Goldfinches plundered a feeding station. Long-tailed Tits fed just above our heads and Fulmar found themselves in range of Edward’s camera as we had lunch overlooking the North Sea. Twite, Pied Wagtail and Sanderling on the beach were our first post-lunch stop and then we headed further north to our last site for the day, with a brief glimpse of a Stoat as it ran across the road in front of us.
Dusk often brings the best of the day and, as Whooper Swans swam across the reflection of the setting Sun, a Kingfisher dived from the reeds, a Water Rail flew between reedbeds, Grey Herons squabbled over prime feeding spots and the assembled wildfowl followed the progress of a Red Fox as it trotted along the bank. Once it was too dark to see anything in front of us we headed back to Alnwick.
Another great day out with clients who were really good company. It’s never really any other way 🙂
Thursday was a mini-Safari exploring Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland and the weather forecast had me donning layer after layer…
I collected Chris and Carol from Church Point and we set off. Getting out of the car at our first destination it didn’t seem quite as cold as forecast – until we were facing into the wind, when it started to feel really chilly. Cormorant, Little Grebe, Red-breasted Merganser, Goosander and Goldeneye were all diving in search of fish and we continued on our way. A remarkable mixed flock of Twite, Turnstone, Pied Wagtail and Sanderling were plundering an ad hoc feeding station on the beach and Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Gadwall, Tufted Duck and Scaup were all dabbling as Curlew noisily took flight, Lapwing were tossed about on the breeze and Starlings arrived at their evening roost, dispensing with the intricacies of a murmuration and diving straight into the shelter of the reeds.
As dusk enveloped everything around we headed back to the car, serenaded by a chorus of Water Rails from deep within the reeds and with an icy cold breeze somehow making five layers not quite enough!
Five Little Egret together between Amble and Warkworth was a good start to the day, while 15 juvenile Goosander formed a sleek and menacing flotilla along the river as mum watched sleepily from the river bank nearby. Curlew and Lapwing flew overhead and we continued down the coast where more Little Egret awaited. This was a really rare bird in Northumberland, not too long ago, so encountering them just about everywhere you look is quite odd. Waders were next on the list and an impressive selection at Cresswell included a stunning summer-plumaged Knot, 1 Ruff, 2 Common Sandpiper, 2 Little Stint, 5 Avocet, 14 Golden Plover, 24 Black-tailed Godwit and lots of Dunlin, Curlew, Lapwing and Oystercatcher. Alongside them were another 10 Little Egret! Len and (another) Gill were in the hide and Gill asked “Can you remember when…” 🙂
The end of the afternoon brought another wader for the list (Common Snipe), Yellow Wagtails and a Pied Wagtail dicing with death around the hooves of cattle and a close encounter with an adult and chick Great Crested Grebe. The chick’s incessant begging, even when it was apparently asleep with it’s head tucked under it’s wing, had the adult hunting constantly and effectively. Time and again it surfaced with a small fish which it shook and battered on the water’s surface before offering to the chick, which went quiet for just a few seconds before resuming it’s demand for food.
Ever improving weather tends to make days out with clients slightly more relaxed than those days where we’re contending with the elements – although I personally prefer the more challenging days 😉
I collected Julie and Mike from The Plough Inn, not much more than a stone’s throw from the sea, and we set out for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. The reedbeds were resonating with the song of Sedge Warbler and Reed Bunting as Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler were singing from the trees that had grown above the height of the hedgerows, Great Crested Grebes crossed the water with elegant grace and Mute Swan, Greylag Goose and Canada Goose kept a watchful eye on their fluffy babies. A hatch of flying insects had attracted the attention of Swallow, Sand Martin, House Martin and Swift as well as an impressive flock of Black-headed Gulls and at least six 1stSummer Little Gulls. The eerie cries of Curlew carried on the southerly breeze and Lapwing displayed so close that we could hear their wingbeats as well as the nuances of their remarkable calls. Just as remarkable, if not more so, was a Common Snipe ‘drumming’ impressively as it flew back and forth right in front of us while we were dazzled by a shockingly bright Yellow Wagtail.
With the sun appearing beneath the dark grey cloud layer as it neared the horizon, the landscape was suddenly bathed in extraordinary light. Intense greens and yellows contrasted with the subtle hues of areas still in shadow as a Barn Owl ghosted by on silent wings, a Grey Wagtail was flycatching from midstream rocks, a Grey Heron stalked the shallows and Mallard and Goosander swam downstream, carried on the rushing bubbling flow where insects trapped in the surface layer fell prey to hungry fish lunging clear of the water and briefly inhabitating an alien world before splashing back down into the watery darkness.
It isn’t unusual for our clients to see species for the first time on one of our tours, but it’s much less usual for me to see something new…
I collected Chris from home in Gosforth and we headed out towards the coast and Druridge Bay. It’s always a great pleasure to have Chris out on a tour with us, although this one held the possibility of an early, and sudden, finish as his step-daughter was due to have her second child. Mid-August is still an excellent time for wading birds and the selection on offer was impressive; Dunlin, Knot, Avocet, Lapwing, Curlew, Whimbrel, Redshank, Ruff, Common Sandpiper and Oystercatcher were perhaps overshadowed by one of Chris’ two lifers for the day; Stilt Sandpiper 🙂 Pied, Yellow and Grey Wagtails were all flycatching close to water and a 2cy male Marsh Harrier managed to be both impressive and educational at the same time.
Chris’ other lifer for the day was a new bird for me too. Gulls aren’t everybody’s cup of tea, but the Caspian Gull in Amble Harbour was an impressive bird; a whole lesson in structure, behaviour, moult and ageing all wrapped up in in one ‘large white-headed gull’; the alternative to ‘little brown jobs’ for birders who prefer staring at mud rather than bushes 🙂
I know I may go on a bit about how wonderful Northumberland is but, even after more than 20 years living here, there are days when even I find it hard to believe just how good it can be…
I collected Colin and Hazel from the hills above Budle Bay and we headed south along the coast for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay. Colin was keen to improve his handling of his new dSLR, and they were also quite keen on searching for Otters. The afternoon started with some top quality birdwatching; Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit, Scaup, Common Snipe and Dunlin are all nice, but the standout bird was the Stilt Sandpiper that has been enjoying a tour of Cresswell and Druridge Pools over the last week. Arriving at our picnic spot just south of Cresswell, I mentioned that, with such good visibility and relatively calm seas, whales and dolphins are always a possibility, perhaps tempting fate to deal us a poor hand… A few minutes later I was scanning the sea out towards the horizon when I saw a splash. I raised my binoculars, to check that it wasn’t a distant boat, and there was another splash, and another, and another, then four together 🙂 As the synchronous breaching continued I trained the ‘scope on the area where the dolphins were, and was surprised to see that they were Bottlenose Dolphins. In early August, the default dolphin for the Druridge Bay coast is White-beaked Dolphin, and that’s the species we’ve been finding on our recent pelagic trips, but this has been an extraordinary year so I shouldn’t be too surprised to have found myself showing Bottlenose Dolphins to our clients too 🙂
The evening continued with some very obliging birds in front of Colin’s camera; Common Snipe, Dunlin, Linnet, a flock of Starlings taking a bath and an assortment of wagtails then, as light levels began to fall, we switched our attention to the patient waiting game of looking for Otters,as flock after flock of Starlings flew towards their evening roost. Soon, we were watching the sleek, sinuous shape of an Otter as it hunted and fed. It passed out of sight for a few minutes, only to reappear and surface just in front of a second Otter! A third one was slightly further way from us and eventually we watched as one of them came straight towards us before disappearing behind the reeds.
The day isn’t over ’til it’s over though, and Northumberland’s wildlife provided one last moment of magic as a Tawny Owl was perched on the road sign outside Colin and Hazel’s holiday let at The Ducket 🙂
Often, the species that we’re specifically searching for appears and is the highlight of the day. Sometimes, the scenes involving the supporting cast take some beating though…
I arrived at Church Point to collect Rose, Tom and Alison, and we headed up the coast for an afternoon around Druridge Bay searching for Otters. July is one of our favourite times to visit the coast, as wading birds are starting to head south, still in breeding plumage. Black-tailed Godwit, Golden Plover and Dunlin were all lazing at the water’s edge in the increasingly breezy afternoon, and one of our most delicate looking birds provided a lot of entertainment. Avocets are a fairly recent addition to Northumberland’s breeding avifauna, and their delicate appearance belies their feisty nature. As three fluffy Avocet chicks swept their heads from side to side in shallow water, occasionally breaking off to go and tuck themselves under their parent’s wing, the adult Avocets were busy keeping the area clear of other birds. Black-headed Gulls, and even Pied Wagtails were driven off, but the most ferocious assaults were reserved for a flock of Common Snipe. Secretive and usually hidden out of sight, the snipe had ventured away from the shelter of the reedbeds and into shallow water where they were feeding with a sewing machine action, faces in the water and constantly probing the soft mud beneath. The Avocets weren’t having that though, and the snipe were persistently flushed by attack after attack. When we’d first arrived a Spoonbill had been flying above the pond, and it settled and went to sleep. Eventually it woke up and began walking along the edge of the pond before disappearing from view. Then it took off and flew across the water, settling near the Avocets…
The first furious airborne assault on the Spoonbill left it completely unmoved, so the Avocet landed nearby and charged at it, head down and neck stretched forward, menacing with that long, upcurved rapier like bill. The Spoonbill lifted it’s head from the water, opened it’s bill and waved it as if to say “Do you really want me to slap you with this?” 🙂 Obviously a different approach was required, which involved the Avocet pretending to feed, whilst slowly sidling towards the Spoonbill, ready to launch another attack. That was greeted in the same manner, and when the Avocet tried again, the Spoonbill simply kept it’s head in the water and charged straight at the Avocet, sweeping it’s bill from side to side. Eventually the Avocets gave up the attack, but kept a close eye on the Spoonbill, as another ten Avocets flew over and a Little Egret put in a brief appearance.
As dusk approached we settled into position overlooking another pool. All seemed calm, Marsh Harriers were hunting the reedbeds as daylight faded, and then an Otter appeared, making it’s way across the shadow-dappled water, twisting, turning, diving, pausing at the surface to consume its catch before resuming the hunt 🙂 A second Otter was hunting in the deep shadow of a reedbed, and the closer one betrayed it’s own presence with the classic ‘ring of bright water’ each time it surfaced. A Barn Owl came as a shock, when it flew through Rose’s binocular view, and a white Rabbit and four Brown Hares were illuminated by the car headlights as we made our way back to Church Point in the rain.
After two long hard days offshore (8hr pelagic on Saturday – blog post coming soon! – and 14hr offshore on Sunday for a North East Cetacean Project transect survey) today brought some light relief from the rolling swell of the North Sea as I headed north to Seahouses to collect Phil and Ann (who had won a morning out with NEWT in a competition on Visit Northumberland) and Rachael and Alex, who by happy coincidence were all staying at St Cuthbert’s House.
In weather that was glorious, even by the high standards set during this year, we headed north towards Holy Island. In the north of Northumberland, with a falling tide, it was looking like a good waders and wildfowl morning. Mudflats were dotted with a mosaic of Mallard, Shelduck, Curlew, Dunlin, Lapwing, Redshank, Oystercatcher and Pink-footed Geese and, as we drove along the coastal road towards Holy Island, we had the treat of watching a Sparrowhawk as it flew just ahead of us, only inches above the road. Ringed Plover and more Dunlin, Curlew and Redshank were feeding in the mud of Holy Island harbour, Pied Wagtails were, well, wagging their tails along the pebbly edge of the harbour, a flock of House Sparrows was engaged in stripping the seeds from grasses just above the tideline and House Martins and Swallows were sallying back and forth in search of insects in the warm autumn sunshine. Flocks of waders in flight are a spectacle to rival any other and as we watched, and listened to, a group of Grey Seals that were hauled out on the sandbanks between the island and the mainland, the amorphous twisting turning shapes in the air high overhead resolved into flocks of Golden Plover and Bar-tailed Godwit.
The final part of the plan for the morning was a short session of seawatching. Sandwich and Common Terns were diving close to the shore, Gannets were a bit further out and the sea was dotted with the dark shapes of Eiders. Turnstones were perched on the top of rocky outcrops, a Harbour Porpoise proved elusive as it surfaced to breathe and an Arctic Skua raced south before everyone could get on to it. Obligingly it came back north, settled on the sea for a little while and then continued steadily north before breaking off into a aerobatic attack on a Sandwich Tern with another skua joining in as the tern twisted and turned in an attempt to evade the pirates of the sea as they attempted to rob it of it’s recent catch.
Lots of birds, lots of interesting wildlife behaviour to watch, and four clients who were all great fun to spend the morning with – if I ever suggest that I’m going to return to teaching, just point me in the direction of this blog post 🙂
Returning clients have been a bit of a theme this year, and I was really looking forward on Wednesday to be collecting Carolyn and Brian for a day of birdwatching in and around Kielder. The weather was looking less than promising but, as I collected them from their holiday cottage in Cresswell with it’s stunning view out over the North Sea and Druridge Bay, we agreed that we’d make the best of the weather, whatever it was doing.
On the edge of the border forests a Roe Deer watched us with great interest and a Common Buzzard was perched at the top of a spruce tree that seemed barely able to support it’s weight. As if that perch wasn’t precarious enough, the bird was hanging it’s wings out like a Cormorant, presumably trying to dry them during a lull in the rain.
As with many of our trips there was a species that was particularly sought after. On this occasion it was our old favourite, the Dipper. With several bits of excellent river, that could be viewed from the car if the showers returned, it wasn’t too long before we found one, then another. With Sand Martins zipping in and out of nest holes, Common Sandpipers, Reed Buntings, Stonechats, Whinchats, Pied Wagtails, Oystercatchers, and Goosanders (another lifer for Carolyn and Brian) the rivers were a real hive of activity. Curlew were flying up the valley and we headed across the border. Red Grouse were a third lifer for the day, some majestic Wild Goats watched imperiously as we had a post-lunch walk, and a Peregrine was perched on a rock on the moorland high above us. It launched from it’s vantage point and flew directly over our heads before dropping to the ground and furtively creeping around before disappearing into a nearby gulley.
As we made our way back east, we found ourselves in a patch of sunshine with a handsome male Siskin and a Spotted Flycatcher just ahead of us, and we continued our journey back to Cresswell.