Yesterday’s Otter Safari had an interesting weather forecast; damp during the afternoon, but forecast to be completely clear by 7pm. Soon after I collected Rachel, Andrew, Gemma and Dave from Church Point, the first part of the forecast was borne out by reality, as we spent the first couple of hours in persistent rain…
Common Redshank, Curlew and Oystercatcher were all calling noisily and alarming, but the only thing we could see that was causing them any distress was themselves. Despite the rain, the warm conditions had triggered a substantial hatch of insects and Black-headed Gulls, Sand Martins and Swallows were all taking advantage of nature’s bounty. The clearing weather brought a ten minute spell of nice weather as we had our picnic while watching a Grey Seal and Common Eiders in the surf, and Fulmars soaring on stiff wings along the clifftops. Grey Herons and Little Egrets were standing motionless as Lapwings displayed overhead with their bizarre calls defying belief and a stunning drake Pintail flew around.
Following Friday’s unsuccessful Otter Safari we’d made a few changes to the plan for Sunday and, as the sun set away to the west in what was absolutely not a cloudless sky, Sand Martins were replaced in the pursuit of flying insects by Noctule and pipistrelle bats, a Long-eared Owl hunted along a woodland edge and…we watched an Otter hunting in the shadow of a reedbed for nearly 45 minutes 🙂
Day 1. 19/02/17. I arrived at the Bamburgh Castle Inn for the start of our Winter Wonderland holiday, then met up with with Christine, John, Linda and Rosie in the bar and outlined the plan for the next two days while we enjoyed a fantastic meal.
Day 2. 20/02/17. Our first full day was targeting Lindisfarne and the North Northumberland coast. Stopping at Budle Bay on our way north we soon found a Spotted Redshank amongst the Common Redshank, Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler, Mallard, Oystercatcher, Shelduck and Curlew as Pink-footed and Greylag Geese and Lapwing swirled distantly against a leaden grey sky on a stiff breeze and Red-breasted Mergansers looked even more comical than usual with their tufts blown to odd angles. A heavy misty drizzle took hold, yet cleared within minutes, leaving a beautiful azure sky draped in fluffy white cloud. A Kestrel perched obligingly as we stopped along a hedgerow that was heaving with Chaffinches. As the receding tide cleared the Holy Island causeway, waders dropped in to feed along the edge of the recently exposed mud. Knot, Dunlin, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Turnstone and Bar-tailed Godwit were all close to the road and easily observable by using the car as a nice, sheltered, warm hide as Pale-bellied Brent Geese flew over us 🙂 Over on the island we found a mixed flock of Dark-bellied Brent Geese, Curlew and Lapwing. As an unseen threat spooked them and they lifted from the field, it was obvious that the number of birds present was far greater than we thought. Grey Seals were hauled out on the now visible sandbars and we headed back across to the mainland. Lunch overlooking the vast expanse of mud produced more geese and ducks, including Pintail, and a distant Little Stint in amongst a flock of Dunlin and Knot. A Merlin had spooked the Chaffinch flock as we headed back south and a quick stop at Bamburgh produced Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone, Ringed Plover and Eider but nothing on the sea in what the wind had whipped up into a frothing mess of whitecaps. The stiffening breeze was making viewing conditions awkward but the final stop of the afternoon brought Song Thrush, Long-tailed Tit, Greenfinch and Goldcrest before we headed back to Seahouses. Dinner was accompanied by a discussion of the plan for Tuesday, and a target list was quickly developed…
Day 3. 21/02/17. Tuesday saw us heading south towards Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. Our first target for the day was a species that’s scarce and often only offers fleeting views…Willow Tit is a regular visitor to the NEWT garden feeding station but I’d got a different site in mind and we enjoyed prolonged views of at least two of these gorgeous little birds, as well as a detailed discussion about how to separate them from Marsh Tit. Reed Bunting, Common Snipe and Common Buzzard joined the day list as an impressive flock of Lapwing and Golden Plover swirled against the sky as we headed off in search of our next target for the day. This one proved fairly straightforward and we had great views of both male and female Brambling. Little Grebe, Goldeneye and Common and Black-headed Gulls accompanied our lunch stop before we had excellent views of some very obliging Common Snipe, Bar-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Ruff, Tree Sparrow and Little Egret. Shorelark was the one target for the day that eluded us, as we had several flight views of a vocal flock of Twite while Ringed Plover were displaying on the beach, Sanderling were scurrying back and forth and a flock of Common Scoter were offshore with Red-throated Divers and Guillemot just beyond the breaking surf. A handsome male Stonechat flushed from bush to bush ahead of us as we walked along the path and the long-staying Pacific Diver eventually gave great views close to a Slavonian Grebe. There was one target species still remaining on the list for the day though, and I was sure that the last hour of daylight would bring that one for us. Scanning the edges of reedbeds through the telescope revealed a dark shape that hadn’t been there a few minutes earlier during my last scan of the reedbed, and that dark shape stretched and began loping along, still partly obscured by the reeds. Within a minute everyone had located the Otter as it moved quickly around the edge of the pool and then it vanished, only to appear in the water a few minutes later 🙂 We watched as it swam towards us before losing it from sight behind the near vegetation. After a few minutes of calm all of the Mute Swans were suddenly staring towards the bank right in front of us, and the Otter passed by just a few metres away 🙂 A great finish to our final full day in the field.
Day 4. 22/02/17. Departure day dawned dry, bright and with an icily cold breeze as we gathered for breakfast before all heading off our separate ways.
We’ll be adding 2017 and 2018 dates to our holiday page shortly but please do get in touch if you’ve got any questions about what we offer. Our short break holidays have a maximum of 6 participants, and a relaxed pace, and we’re always happy to create something bespoke too 🙂
Our second successive day on and around Lindisfarne was accompanied by an incredibly stiff breeze, which contributed to a fascinating encounter…
I collected Andy, Jill and Catherine from The Swan and we collected Alison en route to the north of the county. Waiting for the tide to clear from the causeway, we spent the first part of the day on the mainland. Bar-tailed Godwit, Oystercatcher, Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone, Curlew, Common Redshank and Knot were all close to the edge of the breaking surf as Long-tailed Duck, Common Scoter, Eider, Razorbill and Slavonian Grebe braved the icy bite of the wind out on the exposed sea. Teal, Wigeon, Pale-bellied Brent Geese and Dark-bellied Brent Geese grazed on the newly-exposed areas of mudflat as the tide fell and a stunningly handsome drake Pintail flew by. Grey Seals hauled out on exposed sandbars and, over on the island, we watched a Kestrel, holding position in the breeze, as another raptor found itself in a bit of difficulty…
Between the island and the mainland, a Sparrowhawk was beating a desperate path into the wind. Struggling to make headway, its task was made all the more difficult by the attention of a Herring Gull. Exposed, and really not in its element, the Sparrowhawk was driven back by the wind as the mob of gulls began growing. Time and again it flew towards the mainland only to be brought almost to a standstill by the breeze and harassed by the gulls into turning back towards the island. Eventually it dropped towards the sea before accelerating across the gap, just a few feet above the deadly waves, and was lost from sight as it neared the relative sanctuary of the mainland. If there’s a rule when watching wildlife it should be ‘expect the unexpected’ 🙂
Tuesday was a trip around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland for Stephen, who’s been out with NEWT a few times already.
As we headed north along the coast it seemed to be getting darker and by 11:00 the light levels were approaching those you would normally expect at dusk in mid-December. Even in the gloom there was plenty to see though; Shoveler, Teal, Wigeon, Mallard, Gadwall, Goldeneye, Tufted Duck and a gorgeous drake Pintail were all looking superb in breeding plumage, Common Snipe gave incredibly obliging views (although they probably thought they were well hidden in short reed stubble), Little Egret really shine in the gloom and the Long-billed Dowitcher at Cresswell occasionally lifted it’s head out of the water 🙂 A very vocal Twite was a lifer for Stephen, a mixed flock of Redwing and Fieldfare added another new species to his list and the high pitched yapping of thousands of Pink-footed Geese reached us before we spotted them dropping from high overhead. On a day when twilight seemed to be with us throughout, the birdwatching was still high quality 🙂
October, mist, drizzle, winds off the sea…
I collected Bernard from Newbiggin and we headed north to begin a day birdwatching around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. A very obliging Dipper was singing from a mid-stream rock, before it started feeding. If you’ve never seen a Dipper feeding, put it on your list of things that you really need to see! As Common Redshank and Curlew probed in gooey estuarine mud, we could see a wave of panic spreading towards us from the north. First, the air was filled with Greylag and Pink-footed Geese, Woodpigeon, Rook, Carrion Crow and Jackdaw. Then Wigeon, Mallard, Canada Geese and Curlew took flight and 20 Black-tailed Godwit passed overhead. A few minutes later the cause of all the consternation put in an appearance – a female Sparrowhawk, menacing and muscular as she followed the coast southwards. Then a sight, and sound, that always warms my heart as 20 Redwing and 6 Fieldfare, winter visitors from Scandinavia, flew over. More waders and wildfowl featured during the afternoon; Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Gadwall, Little Grebe, Common Snipe, Dunlin, Lapwing and Golden Plover resplendent in low autumn sunlight. A Water Rail wandered out of the reeds and our final new bird for the day was an elegant female Pintail, as the calls of Redwing and Fieldfare continued to cut through the afternoon air.
Unexpected safaris are always a pleasure, and yesterday was a mini-Safari around Druridge Bay that was only arranged on Tuesday.
I collected Alison, John, May and Isaac from Low Hauxley and we headed down the coast. In glorious weather, the cacophony of unbridled bird song was a noticeable contrast to the gloomy days of March. Chaffinch, Wren, Goldfinch, Blackbird and Robin were all singing and the onomatopoeia of our first Chiffchaff of the year was emanating from deep cover. A pair of Red-breasted Mergansers, all crazy hair do and striking pattern, were swimming back and forth with their heads below the surface in search of fish, a Little Egret stalked elegantly through the shallows, Curlew, Oystercatcher and Redshank prodded and probed in the gooey mud, Goldeneye and Cormorant imitated the Otters we were looking for and Grey Herons stood, sentinel like, against the riverside bushes. Canada and Greylag Geese were noisily proclaiming their arrival, a young Whooper Swan lived up to it’s name and Great Crested Grebes and Pintail vied for the accolade of elegant beauty.
A male Marsh Harrier drifted by and a Mediterranean Gull, ghostly white against the speckled backdrop of Black-headed Gulls, performed for some of the group, before frustratingly hiding in the middle of the gull flock. Common Buzzards were soaring against the blue sky and hovering Kestrels were a feature throughout the morning and early afternoon, as Meadow Pipits song-flighted from coastal fence-posts.
It certainly feels like the spring…
Even after 40+ years birdwatching, there are times when I’m not sure whether the thing that excites me the most is a lone rarity, a life or death interaction involving one of the predators we encounter, or an impressive flock of something common…
I collected David and Dot from Gosforth and we made our way across to the coast for a day of mid-November birdwatching. This proved to be a day of flocks; Pink-footed Geese rose then dropped in nearby fields, peppering the sky and cutting through the autumn air with their yapping calls. Mini-murmurations of Starlings twisted, turned, bunched and swirled, demonstrating that they don’t just reserve that spectacle for the fading light of evening. Common Snipe were sitting in the vegetation close to the water’s edge, extraordinarily well camouflaged when asleep and only really betraying their presence once they woke up and started probing in the soft mud of the shallows. Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Redshank, Curlew and Eider are almost a given on the coast in the winter, a lone Sanderling hurried back and forth in a flock of Ringed Plover and Teal, Wigeon and Goldeneye are eyecatching whether in flocks or alone. Elegant Pintail glided by and Stonechats flicked their tails nervously perched in the tops of bushes in the dunes along the coast. One isolated tree brought a memorable spectacle, with a charm of Goldfinches, and a lone Greenfinch. For a couple of years now, a lot of our clients have reported increasing numbers of Goldfinch, and a tremendous decrease in Greenfinch. No matter how numerous Goldfinch become, it’s hard to imagine that we could ever become blase about them; strikingly patterned, with their red face, black and white head and yellow wing flashes, and with liquid, twittering songs and calls, they really are quite charming 🙂
Monday was a day around Druridge Bay and the southeast Northumberland coast, and an extraordinary contrast with Sunday’s summery weather…
I collected Trish and Carol from Dunstan and we headed south along the coast. Kingfisher is always a spectacular sight, and one flew under a bridge beneath our feet, adding a touch of sparkle to a day that was developing into cold, windy and gloomy. Ducks are, for the most part, out of eclipse plumage now and Wigeon, Teal, Tufted Duck and Gadwall were all looking resplendent. Little Grebes were engaged in non-stop fish catching, Curlew flew noisily by and a Little Egret was stalking elegantly along the River Coquet. We were joined for the latter part of the day by Michael and Fiona and we settled into position to search for Otters. In such gloomy windy conditions even my eternal optimism was dampened slightly, and although there were occasional panicky moments among the ducks, which included a beautifully elegant Pintail, the enigmatic predator didn’t put in an appearance. What we did get though was a Starling murmuration so close we could hear the wingbeats, thousands and thousands of Pink-footed Geese flying to roost and flock after flock of Golden Plover and Lapwing appearing out of the gloom of the dusk sky and dropping into nearby fields. Dusk is still my favourite time of the day, and if you’ve never experienced it surrounded by wildlife you really should give it a go, even the common birds are transformed by numbers and there’s always the chance of a mammal or two 🙂
With a holiday for a family wedding in Scotland looming, my last day out with clients for a couple of weeks was a mini-safari around Druridge Bay. The unpredictable weather of recent weeks had been replaced by something much better as we headed north along the coast.
The remnants of winter birdwatching, in the shape of Wigeon, Goldeneye, Pintail and Red-breasted Merganser, were intermingled with the early spring in the elegant form of at least three Avocets, and a lone Whooper Swan, in the midst of a herd of Mute Swans, probably hasn’t made it’s mind up what it’s doing for the summer yet. Towards the end of the afternoon a yapping flock of Pink-footed Geese flew north, quickly gaining altitude as if heading off towards Iceland…before encountering the stiff northwesterly wind and looping back round again…and again…and again, before they eventually gave it up as a bad job and settled on the water with the discordant sounds of Canada and Greylag Geese around them. The comings and goings at a feeding station held the attention for some time, with Great Tits, Coal Tits, Blue Tits, Tree Sparrows and Chaffinches all clustering around the feeders.
Trips including young children can be a bit fraught but 3-year old Sylvie demonstrated a sharp eye for finding spiders, and 5-year old Felix, with some help from his little sister, wove a remarkable tale of a superhero Otter with a poisonous sting in it’s tail that I could have listened to for the rest of the day – a great way to finish work before NEWT’s first ‘proper’ holiday for a long time 🙂
After a remarkably mild winter, Wednesday brought some weather with a bit of bite, the sort of day where you really need the wildlife to be performing at it’s best to take your mind off the conditions…
I collected Katherine and Brenda from Church Point for an afternoon/evening Otter Safari, and we headed north up the coast through Druridge Bay. Our first stop was looking very promising; Goosanders, Grey Herons, Avocets, Wigeon, Teal, Pintail, Mallard, Curlew, Lapwing, Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Common Snipe, Turnstone…and a noticeable lack of birds in one corner of the pond 🙂 Always the first sign we look for when searching for Otters, so I was confident that there was one moving around close by. It was looking so promising that I thought we should stay put and have lunch where we were. I went back to the car to fetch our soup and sandwiches and when I got back to the hide, less than 5mins later, I was greeted with “You’re not going to believe it, but there’s an Otter just over there.” Sure enough, Brenda’s directions had me looking in exactly the spot where it next surfaced 🙂 After a few minutes it went out of sight, before reappearing 30mins later, spreading panic amongst the ducks that were roosting at the water’s edge. Then, as mysteriously as it first appeared, it dived and didn’t resurface where it could be seen.
We headed on up the coast in conditions that were becoming less entertaining, with a brutal southeasterly wind that seemed to drive the cold and damp through every layer of clothing that could be mustered. Noisy Black-headed Gulls were dive-bombing Canada Geese, Little Grebes were just being their cute selves, Sand Martins swirled back and forth over the River Aln, Coot and Moorhen busied themselves around the reedbeds and Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Blackbird, Mistle Thrush, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove and Wren were all singing.
Probably a more wintry day than any day out we had during the winter, enriched by the sleek, sinuous menace of the Otter 🙂