Tag: Pink-footed Geese
With the cessation of the rain that plagued Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, Wednesday dawned cold and breezy; almost ideal for a day out on the birdwatching paradise that is the Northumberland Coast in the Winter.
As I collected Ele and Lisa from their holiday cottage in the shadow of Bamburgh Castle, the icy northerly wind cut through the multiple layers that I’d put on before leaving the house. We started our day’s birdwatching at Budle Bay, where the wind somehow seemed even icier, and Oystercatchers, Redshank and Curlew were probing the oozing mud as a distant Peregrine flushed flocks of Lapwing and Golden Plover. Eiders were surfing the top of the impressive swell on the open coast and we headed south towards Druridge Bay. Mediterranean Gulls drifted overhead, ghostly pale, as Oystercatchers, Curlew, Turnstone, Redshank and Sanderling worked along the edge of the surf. Among all the immaculate ducks, two species really stood out; Goosander sleek and menacing, and Red-breasted Merganser drakes all trying to out do each other in their attempts to attract the ladies. A flock of Pink-footed Geese fed in a nearby field
As daylight faded a flock of Waxwings were in the distant tree tops and two species that are always a pleasure to see put in an appearance. Short-eared Owl and Barn Owl drifted along the edges of the reedbeds; death on silent wings. Here are a couple of pictures of them from earlier this year (in better light and a gentler breeze!).
The dark nights seem to creep up on us very quickly, and it was already 3.30pm when I collected Ruth and David for a mini-safari on the Northumberland coast. It was an entertaining afternoon with clients, who came to university in Newcastle at about the same time as myself and Sarah and decided to not leave the area after graduation – and who would?
The air around Druridge Bay was filled with noisy flocks of Pink-footed and Greylag Geese, one of the wildlife spectacles that everyone should enjoy at least once, and duck numbers are growing on all of the coastal pools, with several drakes starting to show their finery.
Often, there’s a lot of wildlife activity as daylight fades; Little Grebes were catching tiny fish as Teal and Mallard stared intently at a reedbed that we’ve watched an Otter emerge from several times in the last few months. Moorhens came crashing out of the reeds in all directions but the cause of their alarm remained hidden. Bats flitted close overhead and, as everything settled to a state that looked much more relaxed, and the light faded to the point where it’s a struggle to be certain that you’re seeing genuine movement, rather than that your eyes are playing tricks on you, we headed back to Newbiggin, pausing to admire a beautiful Barn Owl, perched at the roadside.
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.
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
My own highlight of many trips involves those ‘nature red in tooth and claw’ moments, and they come in many guises…
A Chiffchaff was singing as I collected Alec and Margaret from Waren Mill and we headed south down the coast toward Druridge Bay with a day of birdwatching ahead of us. In quite stunning weather we enjoyed fields of Curlew, rafts of Puffins on the sea, and clouds of them swirling over Coquet Island, Fulmars shearing along the cliff-tops, plenty of wildfowl, including a red-head Smew – thanks Gill – and Bean, Canada, White-fronted, Greylag and Pink-footed Geese and 2 Short-eared Owls. It’s always a pleasure to take out clients who really appreciate Northumberland, and even more so when it’s their first visit to our beautiful county and they’ve already vowed to return regularly.
One of those special moments was provided by a bird once described by a good birding friend as “Annoying. They never stop singing, they’re really, really annoying”. The object of his ire? None other than the humble Skylark. I have to say that I don’t find them annoying at all. I’ve hidden in rocky crags, monitoring Hen Harrier nest sites, with Skylarks singing directly overhead, I’ve walked around Holy Island in the summer with several birds singing from so high that they were just dots in the sky and I’ve marvelled at their song as it carries on the breeze. One thing we saw on Thursday was the thing that Chris found particularly annoying; as we drove from Cresswell towards Druridge Pools, we stopped to check the roadside fields and several Skylarks were singing nearby. Suddenly, one of the birds was zig-zagging as it tried to avoid the unwelcome attention of a Merlin. As the falcon chased close on it’s tail, the Skylark continued singing. It might seem a strange thing to do, but it has been shown that Merlins chase non-singing, or poorly singing, Skylarks for longer periods than they chase Skylarks that sing well and they’re more likely to catch non-singing Skylarks. As the birds rose higher and out of sight, we didn’t see the outcome of the chase, but the experience of watching a small bird filled with bravado as a predator closes in on it was one of those moments…
After another day on Holy Island on Sunday (carrying out some contract survey work), I collected Jakob and Nancy from Royal Quays early on Monday for a day of birdwatching around the NEWT ‘local patch’; southeast Northumberland and Druridge Bay.
We started with Mediterranean Gulls at Newbiggin. Gulls may not be everyone’s bird of choice, but I defy anyone to tell me that adult Med Gulls aren’t stunningly beautiful Sanderling, Redshank, Oystercatcher, Turnstone and Pied Wagtail were picking along the tideline as we watched the meds and we left them behind to continue our journey up the coast. Seawatching produced Guillemots, Razorbills, several Red-throated Divers, Fulmars using the breeze to soar incredibly close to the cliffsides and a possible ‘Northern’ Eider drifting south among the Common Eiders. A Peregrine made its way south with those powerful, menacing wingbeats, Rock Pipits in small flocks danced about on the wind, and we left the sea (although not too far away!) and continued our journey. Geese, which have characterised so much of our birding this winter are still around and we managed Greylag, Pink-footed, Canada, Barnacle, Taiga Bean and Eurasian White-fronted. Goldeneyes are still around in good numbers, Teal, Shoveler, Gadwall, Wigeon, Red-breasted Merganser and Mallard were all resplendent (as most ducks tend to be in the late winter) and 2 Common Snipe circled several times before deciding that the pond wasn’t to their liking and heading off again.
I returned Jakob and Nancy to the ferry terminal for their return journey to the Netherlands, and made the slightly shorter journey back to Scotland Gate myself.
Whenever we have a trip with clients who have been given gift vouchers, I always wonder what they expect. Some will have chosen gift vouchers when asked what they would like, some will have been given them by our existing clients, and for some it must be a complete mystery tour. When we get an enquiry we always try to determine exactly what our clients want, but at the start of a trip I’ll always enquire “is there anything you’re particularly keen to see while you’re in Northumberland?” Then, the pressure is on to try and deliver that experience…
I collected Patrick and Bronwyn from Amble yesterday morning for a day of birdwatching around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. As we set off it was a beautiful morning; sunny, calm and dry and I soon determined that one bird they would love to see was Bittern – they’ve visited sites where Bitterns breed and Bitterns overwinter but not, so far, anywhere where the aforementioned birds were obliging enough to come into view for them. An hour into the trip and it was already windy, bitterly cold and spotting with rain but the birding was good. 2 Bewick’s Swans in a roadside field were very obliging, nibbling on the vegetation as we studied them, 12 Goosanders sailed majestically across a lake, Patrick’s sharp eyes picked out an immaculate male Sparrowhawk on a fence post and the air was filled with skeins of geese (Canada, Greylag, Pink-footed, White-fronted and Bean), a Skylark battled into the wind and Wigeon, Teal, Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Pochard, Mallard and Great-crested Grebe were picked out from the flock on the water.
A brief visit to Newbiggin to track down a Mediterranean Gull (or four) was followed by lunch overlooking the North Sea. Heading up through the bay, Red-breasted Mergansers were displaying and a Short-eared Owl (the first of three for the afternoon) perched on a roadside fence-post. Reedbeds were illuminated by that beautiful winter afternoon light (I wax lyrical about it frequently, but it really is a breathtaking backdrop to the wildlife and part of the experience). As the afternoon light began to fade, Venus appeared overhead, a herd of Whooper Swans trumpeted their arrival for the evening roost and a Grey Heron shot out of one reedbed, flew across in front of us, landed just out of sight and flushed a Bittern that flew almost the reverse of the route taken by the heron, along the near edge of the pool directly in front of us and dropped into a reedbed and out of sight! Wildlife may be unpredictable, but those days when it seems to perform to order leave me, and our clients, with a big grin After that what more was there to do than spend the evening relaxing back at home with a glass of good red wine. Cheers
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
When we’re out with clients, or even out on our own, there are days when nothing stands out and, simply, everything is memorable Sometimes though there will be one thing that really sticks in the memory.
I collected Vin and Nicky from Whitley Bay yesterday morning and we set out on an exploration of the Druridge Bay/Southeast Northumberland area in idyllic weather conditions. Grey Wagtail, Long-tailed Tits, Mallards, Kestrels and a Buzzard all entertained before we came across the remarkable goose flocks that we’re enjoying this winter. Pink-footed, Bean and White-fronted Geese were bobbing about on lakes, flying in skeins towards other geese feeding in nearby fields and…scattering in panic. That scattering always focuses everyone’s attention; we know that there’s something happening that the birds are unhappy about, and that something is often the arrival of a predator. Sure enough, as the Common and Black-headed Gulls took to the air and made a mad dash for the centre of the lake, a Peregrine scythed through the flock. For 20 minutes it climbed, stooped and harried the gulls, who had presumably realised that it wouldn’t dive into the water so became less willing to take flight as it repeatedly buzzed them. Eventually, and preumably tired after all the exertion without a kill, it settled in a nearby field with a goose flock. We all had the same thought whilst we were watching it; when we were young and first interested in birdwatching this was an almost mythical species. Once incredibly rare, due to a combination of persecution, egg-collection and the effects of organochlorine pesticides, it takes my breath away that I have the opportunity so often to watch Peregrines in the wild, and share the experience with our clients. It probably deserves the title of this blog post…but the flock of 50 displaying Goldeneye in the hour before dusk were something special too
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.
They happen all the time when we’re out with clients; unexpected, breathtaking, spectacular. All part of that ‘every day is different’ thing that comes with being a wildlife guide
On Saturday, at the end of a day of good autumn birdwatching around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland, I was privileged to share an extraordinary moment with Richard, Hazel and Ruth.
It started with the familiar call of distant Pink-footed Geese. The weather had begun to deteriorate, dark clouds covering much of the sky, and heavy rain falling, but with the sun still managing to burst through in places. Then it all came together; birds, weather, light, as skein after skein of geese headed north to roost, framed by a double rainbow