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 🙂
We’ve always said that the best thing for spotting wildife is other wildlife, although the sharp eyes of younger humans could probably give them a run for their money…
I collected Gill from Alnwick, for her third trip with NEWT, and we headed to Bamburgh to collect Debbie, Roger, Joe and Ben. Our plan for the afternoon and evening was to search Druridge Bay and the Northumberland coast for Otters and other wildlife. Oystercatcher, Lapwing and Curlew quickly became the target for some digiscoping by Joe as five Little Egrets sat on the riverbank opposite and a brood of Goosander formed a menacing fleet crossing the river. Digibinning (yes, that is a real thing!) was then employed to capture images of a Great Crested Grebe and well-grown chick while the light was still reasonable, and we headed to our favourite dusk site. A Grey Heron stalked the shallows, catching lots of small fish and other unidentified prey, becoming another digibinning target, Mute Swans stalked serenely across the water, a Sedge Warbler flitted around in the reeds just in front of us and then Little Grebe, Mallard, Teal, Gadwall and Tufted Duck all fanned out from one reedbed giving the distinct impression that they’d rather be somewhere other than close to those reeds. Starlings flushed from their nighttime roost as a Grey Heron flew over and, as dusk began to take on a dark grey cloak, two young Tawny Owls flew out from a bush nearby, a Hedgehog trotted along in front of us and Noctule and pipistrelle bats could be seen and, with the aid of our bat detector, heard. The walk back to the car brought lots of wildlife and the benefit of Joe and Ben’s keen eyesight allowed us to avoid treading on slugs, snails, spiders and an incredible number of toadlets and froglets 🙂
As much as I enjoy searching for mammals during the winter, there’s no denying that the middle of the summer can be a very productive time to concentrate on fur rather than feathers…
I collected Jane and Mike from Seahouses and we headed towards Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland for an afternoon and evening exploring NEWT’s local patch. Barn Owls are always a welcome sight and this one was no exception as it quartered, hovered and dropped to the ground in pursuit of prey. A mixed flock of waders included Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, Common Snipe, Lapwing, Ruff and Redshank as a Brown Hare wandered by. A mammal that is a real Northumberland speciality put in a very welcome appearance. Descending a tree trunk head first the Red Squirrel was intent on raiding a feeder. Then it was away back up the tree before demonstrating it’s agility by leaping from tree to tree on thin branches. A distant Otter was slightly less than obliging as it made it’s way along the edge of a reedbed before vanishing into the gloom. As dusk approached we were sitting in a narrow, steep-sided valley watching for Badgers. As pipistrelles flicked across our field of vision, we could hear the cracking branches that betray the presence of a large clumsy animal and there was a brief glimpse of black and white through the trees opposite. Light levels continued to fall and a Roebuck wandered out into the open. He paused briefly, looking directly at us, and was then spotted by another roebuck who took exception to his presence and let out a series of blood-curdling yells. If you were walking through woodland at dusk and didn’t know what the sound was it could be pretty terrifying 🙂
I’ve been asked some strange things – not usually by our clients, but members of the public who we’ve bumped in to. “There’s a bird and we’re not sure what it is. It sounds like an 80’s video game”…
I collected Carolyn and Pat from Warkworth and we headed out for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. The first thing we noticed was a stiff breeze, straight from the north and with an icy bite that effortlessly knifed it’s way through as many layers as you tried to don against it. Tufted Ducks watched one area of reeds in a state of high alertness, as Goosander, Red-breasted Merganser and Great Crested Grebe all radiated elegance. Cormorants battled against the wind as they headed out to sea and Mute Swan, Mallard, Gadwall, Wigeon and Teal dabbled in the choppy water. Oystercatcher were feeding and engaging in noisy disputes, and as we sat and had our picnic, Fulmars soared effortlessly along the cliff edge as Gannets speared into the breeze heading north.
As dusk approached and the wind continued its relentless assault, a noticeable hatch of flying insects attracted the attentions of Pipistrelles which passed just over our heads.
As for the “80’s video game”…would anyone like to take a guess at that one?
We’ve spent a lot of time watching Otters, and probably just as much time watching the behaviour of other wildlife whenever our favourite sinuous stealthy predator is on the prowl. You could be forgiven for thinking that we’d know exactly how birds would behave…
I collected Rebecca and Russell from Church Point and we set off for a few hours exploring Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland on an Otter mini-Safari. The chilly afternoon air was bathed in beautiful light, as Wigeon, Mallard, Gadwall, Teal and Shoveler dabbled and Little Grebe and Tufted Duck dived. Lapwing skittishly took flight, Grey Heron and Little Egret stood motionless, Common Snipe squabbled and probed, a small murmuration of Starlings soon dropped into the warmth and security of the reeds and a Water Rail came out into the open to bathe. As the light faded I was scanning the shadows at the base of a reedbed and passed by a family of Mute Swans. There was sudden swirl of brown next to them, and my first thought was Little Grebe – after all the swans didn’t seem concerned, but there was a niggling doubt in my mind…and then the Otter resurfaced 🙂 For nearly 30 minutes it fed, often in amongst the swans, and rarely more than a few metres away from them. I’ve seen swans hissing and growling at Otters, I’ve seen them angrily charge towards a feeding Otter when they’d got small cygnets, but this was the first time I’d seen them almost completely ignore one that was so close that it was swimming, and feeding, between them! The Otter vanished into the reeds, and we headed back to the car with pipistrelle bats hawking around the trees in the half-light of dusk.
Some wildlife is popular with everyone, some isn’t popular with many people at all, and some, despite the best efforts of Springwatch/Autumnwatch/Winterwatch…
I met up with Niel and Nicky at Church Point, and we set out on an exploration of Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. Despite several incidents involving agitated ducks, indicating that they were worried about something in the reeds, we didn’t manage a sighting of any Otters. The typical quality birdwatching of the Northumberland coast in late June was still in evidence, with at least 5 Avocets and 11 Little Gulls among the throng. A tiny Tufted Duck travelled back and forth across the water, in what appeared to be an unsuccessful search for it’s parents then, as the sun dropped towards the horizon, we headed to our regular Badger site.
Intriguingly, no Badgers appeared – which is unusual at a site where we have a 95% success rate – but, as at least three Tawny Owls began penetrating the gloom with their eerie calls, the sharp alarms of Blackbird, Robin and Song Thrush heralded the arrival of another mammal that inhabits the darker parts of the day. Bloodthirsty killer of farmyard chickens, attempted abductor of babes from cribs in the south of England…whichever way you look at it the Red Fox gets a bad press…which sadly glosses over just what wonderful animals they are. Sleek, beautiful, playful…we watched as three adults trotted across the clearing in front of us. As Niel photographed one peering from the undergrowth (oh, for a Nikon D4!), I lifted my binoculars and realised that there were three small cubs chasing around too 🙂 Two of the adults, and the three cubs, disappeared along a track up the hill, and then the adults came out into the clearing again, presumably having tucked the kids up safely in bed. Pipistrelle bats were flitting across our field of view as we conceded that our vision could no longer penetrate the enveloping dark.
Love them or hate them, there’s no denying that foxes have a real magic…a bit like Luis Suarez 🙂
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been asked to describe my favourite wildlife experience…and how many times I’ve said that I don’t think it’s possible to narrow it down to just one choice. There are a few though, that would make a great ‘top five’ (or ‘top ten”)…
I collected David and Sue from their holiday accommodation and we headed north along the Northumberland coast. The plan for the afternoon was to search some of our regular Otter sites, and have a good look at the other wildlife that was around. There’s really only one weather condition that I’m not keen on for wildlife-watching, and unfortunately we got it yesterday afternoon. A stiff wind is not ideal for finding wildlife; insects are likely to stay deep in vegetation and mammals and birds are more likely to find somewhere sheltered and have a nap than subject themselves to the ravages of the wind. One bird that seemed to be everywhere we went was Kestrel; we must have seen seven or eight of these small falcons hovering in the breeze during the afternoon.
As we watched Wigeon, Teal, Mallard and Mute Swan a rarely seen denizen of our reedbeds put in a brief appearance. In just a few seconds the Water Rail ran out of one reedbed, quickly crossed a patch of open mud and vanished into the depths of another reedbed. Wader passage was still evident, with Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwit, Ruff, Lapwing, Curlew and Dunlin. One bizarrely comical moment was caused by a Starling flying into the middle of the wader flock to bathe. We can only guess at what the roosting waders thought it was, but it caused a ripple of alarm that could be traced through the flock as it flew in.
Then, drifting on the breeze, a high-pitched yapping marked the beginning of one of my favourite wildlife experiences. First a flock of Pink-footed Geese came in low and splashed down on the water. Soon after a flock of Greylag Geese arrived, then more Pink-feet, a large flock of Canada Geese and four very endearing, but obviously escaped, Bar-headed Geese. More geese followed, and then a flock of Pink-feet, heralded by those yapping calls, could be seen as tiny specks high against the clouds overhead. These birds were surely just arriving from far-flung parts, to join the wintering goose flocks around Druridge Bay. Suddenly birds took to the air; Dunlin first, then Lapwing, followed by ducks and then geese. Too much panic, surely, for an Otter? What the birds had seen, and we eventually spotted as it drifted high against the clouds above us, was a Marsh Harrier. Making it’s way steadily north west, it eventually drifted out of sight and the birds settled back down.
As dusk approached , the breeze finally relented and, with the backdrop of a stunning sunset, both Noctule and pipistrelle bats flew by. The cause of a sudden panic amongst the assembled ducks was caused remained unseen, and as the light faded to the point where it was time to head back, we could still hear the geese – over a mile away from where we were. The dark of the night brought one last wildlife experience though, as a Badger trotted along the road just in front of the car.
By extraordinary coincidence, one of our least observed mammals put in an appearance for the second consecutive day…
I collected David, Jackie and Alexander from Bamburgh and we headed south to start their Prestige Tour of the Northumberland Coast. As Swallows and House Martins flitted about low over the water in front of us, a Stoat proved elusive as it darted in and out of the vegetation close to the water’s edge, momentarily startling the dozing ducks before vanishing back into the edge of a reedbed. As ever something wholly unexpected appeared, on this occasion a Peregrine over Cresswell village. A Roe Deer walking through an arable field appeared like a disembodied head – only popping up, like a Jack-in-the-box, every few metres as it made it’s way across the field.
Another elusive mustelid put in a brief appearance too, as a Badger trotted along between reedbeds, but unfortunately hidden from view by the vegetation on our side of the pool. As dusk approached, pipistrelle bats were flitting back and forth, tiny Common Froglets hopped across the path in front of us and the drive back to Bamburgh produced another impressive mammal, as a Brown Hare loped along the verge as we passed.
As I collected Alison and David from The Swan for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay, southeast Northumberland and the Northumberland coast, the weather was continuing in the glorious vein that it had struck a few days previously.
Mid-summer can be a quiet time, other than the obvious hustle and bustle of the Farne Islands, but there’s always something to see. At the moment wader numbers are starting to build; Lapwing, Curlew, Redshank and Oystercatcher have all come down to the coastal strip from their breeding grounds and Black-tailed Godwits are moving through. One of the first things we came across was a group of four of these beautiful elegant waders as they rested with a flock of Lapwings. Little Gulls were flycatching and then sleeping and a male Marsh Harrier gave views that were simply breathtaking. As we headed up the coast, a female Marsh Harrier flew low over the car, being equally as obliging as the male. Grey Herons were stalking along pool edges, Common Spotted Orchid, Bloody Cranesbill and Harebell added colour to pathside vegetation, hirundines heading to roost formed swirling clouds of dark dots against the greying sky, a Common Frog sprang across the path in front of us and a Barn Owl hunted over rough pasture on silent wings.
The thing that always characterises days out with clients who are passionate about wildlife, and Alison and David have a mouthwatering list of wildlife they’ve seen around the world, is that before you know it, it’s nearly dark, pipistrelles are hawking insects in the last vestiges of daylight and it’s time to head back.
After an enjoyable few hours watching the British & Irish Lions demolition of Australia, I loaded up the car, collected our picnics from The Swan and headed north to collect Jacky and Marcus from their holiday accommodation at the stunning St Cuthbert’s House. A quick drive back down the coast and we collected Alice and John and embarked on our search of Druridge Bay, southeast Northumberland and the Northumberland coast.
I’d identified a site where Otters have been active in the late afternoon, so that was our first port of call. With Common Terns dip-feeding just in front of us, Canada and Greylag Geese with goslings, Gadwall with ducklings and lots of Sand Martins and Swallows there was plenty of birdwatching interest as we waited in hope for the possible appearance of our target species for the trip. Jacky’s excited comment “there’s a…yes, it’s an Otter” marked the start of nearly an hour of Otter activity. The initial animal turned out to be two together, and then eventually we were watching four of them as they swam back and forth, feeding, clambering on poolside rocks and play-fighting 🙂
Lapwings, Curlew and a Greenshank were all evidence of post-breeding gathering/migration, Starlings were grouping into larger flocks as daylight faded, Sand Martins were swirling in a big pre-roost flock, a Barn Owl drifted on silent wings over a reedbed and, as the falling light levels finally rendered everything as a silhouette we headed back to the car with pipistrelles hawking just over our heads.