The first drops of rain speckled the windscreen of the car as I arrived at Church Point to collect Luke and Louise for their third day out with NEWT this week – an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland searching for Otters…
With the lovely weather of recent days replaced by an icy cold breeze and drizzle, it was looking like it would be a long, hard afternoon. Common Redshank, Curlew and Oystercatcher were probing tidal mudflats and noisily displaying when they took a break from feeding. A herd of Mute Swans included two birds that were engaged in a courtship display; like a serene slow-motion version of the Great Crested Grebe display they were mirroring each other’s head and body movements. As we watched territorial disputes between pairs of Great Crested Grebes the rain intensified and the birds, alongside Tufted Ducks and Goldeneye, were sitting on water that looked to be boiling with the impact of raindrops. Shoveler, Pochard, Teal, Wigeon, Lapwing, Green Sandpiper, Grey Heron and Little Egret were added to the day list and the rain started to ease…
As we were having our picnic on the clifftop overlooking Druridge Bay, accompanied by a raggedy male Stonechat, the weather took a change for the better. Broken cloud produced a dramatic sky, and it was looking good for a decent sunset. A tip-off from one of our local wildlife photographers pointed us in the direction of a pair of Little Owls, who very obligingly posed for Luke’s camera 🙂 One of the owls had gone off, presumably in search of food, and the other one was still sitting there when a dog walker with a Staffie came along. We were wondering how long the owl would wait before flying off…but it sat tight, and instead of fleeing it just stretched itself to as tall and thin as it could before slumping back to it’s usual shape once the dog and walker had passed by! In ever-improving light we watched a Black Tern at East Chevington as it fed amongst Common Terns, Sand Martins and Swallows. A thick bank of cloud to the west obscured the sunset but as a Brown Hare loped across a field, a Common Buzzard was perched in a small tree in a hedgerow, and mist started rising from the water the light was sublime. Scanning slowly along the water’s edge, there was the sign I was looking for; only a slight disturbance, but I hadn’t seen any ducks in that direction. The the Otter surfaced briefly before diving again 🙂 In flat calm conditions we could see the trail of bubbles as it travelled under the water, and then it vanished into the mist. What we could still see though were Mute Swans, Canada Geese and Mallards and they were all watching the Otter. The mist cleared and it reappeared, running along the bank before returning to the water for a few metres and then getting out again. Eventually it vanished into the gloom of the reed edges, only to reappear a few minutes later right in front of us as Grasshopper Warblers reeled and Noctule Bats hawked insects overhead.
Fade to black…
After some wild weather the blue skies and fluffy white clouds, as I set off for a day searching for Otters around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland with Jo, Pat, Rachel and Dave, came as a welcome sight…
Now that we’re in the late winter, wildfowl are looking at their finest and are starting to display with an impressive level of determination. Red-breasted Merganser were strutting their stuff in their engagingly comical bowing display, Goldeneye were delivering their similar, though slightly less elaborate dance and Tufted Duck, Mallard, Wigeon, Scaup, Teal and Pochard were all clad in spring finery, but the long-staying Pacific Diver remains alone. A pair of Common Buzzards were soaring against the clouds at a site where I’ve never encountered them breeding previously. Huge clouds of Pink-footed Geese were replaced by an impressive Starling murmuration as dusk approached, and Common Snipe were uncharactersitically obliging as they fed away from cover amongst Redshank, Lapwing, Curlew and Black-tailed Godwit. On a good day for mammal-watching we saw at least 2, possibly 3, maybe even 5, Red Squirrels and 3 Roe Deer.
With light levels dropping rapidly we had brief sightings of 2 Bitterns, as Water Rail squealed from deep in the reeds, and we were on the verge of admitting defeat to the Otters when Rachel said “what’s that in front of us?”. I turned to look, and the first thing I noticed were the Mallards quickening their pace…as they headed away from the Otter that Rachel had spotted on the bank right in front of us 🙂 We watched it for 10mins, until it was too dark to see it as it twisted and turned in the water, before heading back to Newbiggin.
I collected Susan and Mike from Seaton Burn and then Frank, Gabrielle, Boudewijn and Odette from The Swan before heading to the coast. Boudewijn’s sharp eyes picked out tiny insects as we made our way along footpaths with dense vegetation alongside as Swallows and House Martins swooped low over the fields, picking off flying insects that had strayed just a bit too far from safety. Adult Swallows were feeding young in a nest just a few feet away from us and, out on the water, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Gadwall, Wigeon and Pochard were all decked out in the shabby chic of late summer and a Grey Heron caused alarm as it flew in, scattering Lapwings and Black-headed Gulls from the edge of the pool. Cormorants dived, doing their best Otter impressions, Common Sandpipers bobbed nervously on the riverbank, a well-grown brood of Goosander were remarkably well camouflaged amongst piles of rocks and Little Egrets were stalking tiny fish in the shallows. As the wind started to pick up and the first few drops of rain began to fall, Swifts scythed their way through clouds of insects overhead. Whimbrel was a nice addition to the wader list for the day along with Curlew and Redshank which are much more expected. Common and Sandwich Terns called as they flew by and Eider were rafting on a flat sea as we had our picnic. Our final site for the day was where I was confident we’d find an Otter. Starlings were murmurating, Reed Buntings and Meadow Pipits flicked through the vegetation just ahead of us, a roe Deer emerged from behind a reedbed to take a drink at the water’s edge…and then the sky turned dark rather quickly and the rain started hammering down 🙁 That did produce one entertaining moment though, as a rather large Great Crested Grebe chick took shelter on its parent’s back just before we admitted defeat to the weather.
04/01/2008, and NEWT’s first ever day out with clients was a strange, cold, gloomy day where we managed to find our target species for the day, Roe Deer. Eight years on and I found myself out with clients on January 4th again…
As I arrived at Church Point to collect Roberta and Dougie, the first thing that struck me was the height of the waves crashing into Newbiggin Bay. Then the icy cold wind started probing, although it couldn’t breach the layers of clothing I’d aligned against it. Whichever direction you looked, the weather looked different; a patch of blue sky, sunlight trying to break through the clouds, distant rain…all possibilities seemed open as we headed down the coast. Greylag Geese, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Gadwall, Teal, Coot, Moorhen and a lone Lapwing braved the cold as the first rain shower of the day made the water’s surface dance. Next came what all agreed was the highlight of the day as Goldeneye and Little Grebe drifted apart and the space between them was occupied by an Otter 🙂 With a 75% success rate on our Otter Safaris during 2015 it wasn’t suprising that 2016 started with such an obliging mustelid which came closer and closer before drifting away and feeding incessantly.
Lunch overlooking the North Sea brought Fulmars arcing effortlessly along the cliff tops, a very obliging Little Gull looked tiny alongside Black-headed Gulls and the wader and wildfowl list for the day continued to grow with Wigeon, Red-breasted Merganser, Scaup, Pochard, Pink-footed Goose, Dunlin, Ruff, Redshank, Curlew, Golden Plover and Long-billed Dowitcher. A very vocal Fieldfare gave remarkably confiding views, Goldfinch and Tree Sparrow jostled for position on feeders and, as the wind strengthened, waves crashed on the shore with a roar reminiscent of heavy traffic and the rain showers intensified, we headed back to Church Point.
Through the thickening mist, just inches above the ground, the Sparrowhawk maneuvered it’s way at speed around bushes and the edge of a reedbed. From that position it couldn’t see any possible targets. Of course, that meant it couldn’t be seen either…
I’d collected Laura and Barry from Church Point at midday. for an afternoon birdwatching around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. Unlike the stunning sunshine and warmth of Monday, conditions were rather overcast. On a walk through woodland, we came across a roving tit flock. Goldcrests could be heard high in the trees, and a quick session of pishing soon had one just a few feet away from us as it descended to investigate where the squeaking noise was coming from. Our lunch stop, overlooking the length of Druridge Bay, gave us the opportunity for a spot of seawatching although, with the lack of any substantial breeze, there wasn’t a great deal of movement offshore. Eider were dotted here and there, Cormorants were flying along the coast, a few Swallows were catching insects low over the clifftop vegetation and flocks of Goldfinch and Linnet were noisily flitting about. Lapwings, Curlew, Dunlin, Ruff, Snipe, Ringed Plover and Redshank, the latter in what seemed to be a state of perpetual motion, were working their way along exposed mud as Grey Herons stalked with an imperceptibly slow motion that spells danger to fish, frogs and ducklings everywhere. As the afternoon continued, we were suddenly confronted with heavy mist. Then the rain started. Thinking this would clear the mist proved a forlorn hope, and we watched a flock of Dunlin make several low passes over the mud in front of us before they vanished into the mist. Eiders and Cormorants were diving repeatedly on the River Coquet near Amble and Salmon were leaping from the water – a real joy to watch when all three of us in the car are keen flyfishers. With dusk approaching, although this wouldn’t differ too much from the rest of the afternoon, the yapping of Pink-footed Geese could be heard from behind the grey impenetrable curtain of mist. Growing louder, and with the calls of Greylag and Canada Geese intermingled, the flock appeared on the edge of the mist. Just beyond the limit of clarity, the amorphous mass of several hundred geese dropped onto the water and then upped the volume of their calls. As another flock arrived they were greeted noisily by the birds already on the water.
…accelerating on powerful wings, following an approach of supreme stealth, the Sparrowhawk exploded from a gap in the reeds, still just inches from the ground. Lapwings and Starlings took to the air in panic, but the predator quickly fixed it’s baleful stare on the three closest birds to the edge of the reeds. The Dunlin took flight, but the concealed approach by the Sparrowhawk had given it the edge that it needed in the game of life and death that was playing out in front of us. With lightning quick reflexes it plucked the Dunlin deftly from the air, turned back through the channel in the reeds, and settled to devour it’s catch out of sight. Not out of sight from us though 🙂
On Saturday I was in the Kielder area with Sarah, collecting our new mountain bikes from Ian at The Bike Place. The weather was glorious; blue skies, sunshine – everything you would want on a day there with clients.
Skip forward to Sunday morning…
I collected Jon and Alison, Jill and Steve & Laura and Nicola from Hexham and we headed north towards the Border Forests. The weather was somewhat different; overcast, not even a slight breeze and the air was damp and bitterly cold. In those conditions the forest is an ethereal place, remote, other-worldly and an experience in itself. Mistle Thrushes and Chaffinches seemed to be everywhere that we looked, Common Buzzards were sitting hunched on tree-tops and telegraph poles, Roe Deer crossed the track ahead of us and the only Common Crossbills of the day were a group of four that flew by as we were trying to locate a very vocal Raven. Then, a very nice policeman stopped and showed us his Badger and Red Squirrel 🙂 A Green Woodpecker yaffled from the wooded slopes below us and Goldcrests, Blue Tits, Great Tits and Robins could all be heard.
Heading towards the border a Dipper sat on a rock at the water’s edge, bobbing up and down before heading upstream in a whirr of wing beats. Red Grouse was found soon after heading up onto the moors around Newcastleton and the next addition to the trip list was probably the highlight of the day (apart from the Badger…). The next grouse was well hidden, with only it’s head visible but, as I stopped the car to let everyone have a good look at it, it raised itself from the heather and revealed it’s true identity; a stunning male Black Grouse, resplendent in the day’s only real attempt at sunshine. He wasn’t alone though, as two more Blackcock appeared from amongst the heather and eventually a total of five flew across the road and settled again.
After a picnic stop in one of my favourite places, we went in search of Wild Goats. It didn’t take too long to find one and, as is often the case, once you’ve found one you soon find more. This prompted the following exchange in the back of the car “That goat’s got a baby” “You’re kidding me”…
Heading back towards Northumberland a flock of Fieldfares were on telegraph wires and two Great Spotted Woodpeckers were perched at the top of a small tree by the road. A walk to the hide at Bakethin produced Goldeneye, Mallard, Tufted Duck and Pochard and one of Northumberland’s more exotic inhabitants rounded off the day as we watched at least five Mandarins, including three gaudy drakes and two subtly beautiful ducks in a tributary of the north Tyne.
The weather was an experience, we had some excellent wildlife to enjoy, and we hardly saw another person all day…but what really made the day for me was having six clients who all got on so well with each other, were really enthusiastic about birdwatching and wildlife and provided a steady level of entertainment throughout the day 🙂
Sunday was a Prestige Otter Safari for Chris and Sophie. It was Chris’ birthday and, as I collected them from Berwick in some pretty horrible conditions, I was hoping that we would drive south into better weather. Sure enough, we did pass out from under the rain clouds, but the day stayed quite gloomy and windy. I’d already had an excellent start to the day’s birdwatching, with a flock of 14 Waxwings flying alongside the road as I approached Berwick. I’m often asked what my favourite bird is, and usually reply that it’s impossible to have a favourite…but Waxwings have a special place at the top of my list 🙂
Down in southeast Northumberland we found an adult Mediterranean Gull, and Chris proved to be remarkably eagle-eyed – picking out a sleeping Jack Snipe in an area of cut reeds. On the water the usual suspects (Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Shoveler, Gadwall) were joined by some less regular species; Scaup, Pintail and a pair of Long-tailed Ducks. Some surprising entertainment was provided by a Merlin which spent several minutes harassing a Magpie, and then there was a sudden movement of Goldeneye, Coot and Moorhen away from a reedbed. They stared intently at the reeds for a few minutes before drifting back towards the edge, then repeated the whole process twice more! There was something in the reeds that was causing concern, but it didn’t reveal itself (not an unusual occurrence in strong winds – and who could blame anything for staying sheltered?). We moved on to another pool…and had a repeat performance, this time with Pochard, Goldeneye, Teal, Tufted Duck and Whooper Swan being a bit on edge. Sometimes wildlife can be frustrating…
Given the low temperatures and high wind, it seemed a little over-optimistic to get the bat detector out. However, just to confirm that you can’t ever predict wildlife, we had at least two or three Common Pipistrelles, including some frenzied feeding activity around a streetlight, before heading back up the coast.
Friday was a trip that I’d been looking forward to for quite some time. Emily had been on the bird ID course that I ran as part of North Pennines WildWatch and had then booked herself and her dad, Steve, onto an Otter Safari.
I arrived at Church Point to collect them, and we set off up the coast. With bright sunshine and a northerly wind, I predicted that our regular Little Owl would be sunning itself on the edge of its nest hole. Sure enough, it was sitting in full view soaking up the rays 🙂 Waders featured throughout the afternoon, as they have done for over a month now, with Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Common Redshank, Common Snipe, Lapwing and very close views of Dunlin and Ringed Plover. Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Pochard and Mallard were all paddling around, Little and Great Crested Grebes were, as always, much admired, restless flocks of Greylag and Pink-footed Geese swirled from field to pool and back again, and several skeins of Pink-footed Geese passed south high overhead, their presence betrayed by their high-pitched calls. A Grey Seal was loitering with intent in the Coquet Estuary, and a Grey Heron sat motionless by the water’s edge.
We ended the day by a moonlit river, under a starry sky. A Grey Heron stalked through the riverside vegetation, and a group of Mallards stared intently into the shadows of the overhanging trees on the opposite bank, then scattered soon after the wake from an, otherwise unseen, animal caught our attention. Darkness, and the chill night air, settled on the river as we made our way back to the car.
With a forecast for heavy rain today, we had one more client than expected yesterday for our Druridge Bay/southeast Northumberland tour.
I c0llected Annie from High Weldon, Brian from Bedlington and then David from Warkworth before our first stop at one of our favourite birdwatching spots beside the River Coquet. The first thing that was apparent was that there was a not inconsiderable wind-chill factor in play. Thankfully our local area has plenty of reserves with north-facing hides, so plotting a route that would keep us out of the wind wherever possible was quite straightforward.
It wasn’t a day for passerines, although Blue Tit and Goldcrest could be heard calling from deep inside coastal hedgerows, and we found ourselves in the middle of a big swirling flock of Starlings as we ate lunch overlooking the sea, so waders and wildfowl provided the main focus of the day. Bar-tailed Godwit, Ruff, Dunlin and some very nice flocks of Golden Plover, Curlew, Knot and Lapwing were feeding, roosting and, at Cresswell, taking to the air in a panic as a Peregrine exuded menace as it passed over. ‘Scope-filling views of Common Snipe always go down well, and there was an excellent array of wildfowl and waterbirds to enjoy; Gadwall, Mallard, Teal, Wigeon,Pochard, Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Pintail, Little Grebe, Coot, Moorhen, and Pink-footed, Greylag and Barnacle Geese were all well appreciated, especially with a lot of the drake ducks out of eclipse plumage and looking quite stunning. especially when the sun broke through the clouds.
When the autumn really starts to feel autumnal, I’m always optimistic 🙂
Thursday afternoon found me leading an afternoon of birdwatching, and searching for Otters around our local area; Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.
I collected Ruth and Margaret from the Swan at Choppington and we drove the short distance to Newbiggin to collect Mike and Maggie (for their second trip with us this week), Ben and Siobhan. A ghostly white Mediterranean Gull drifted by the car before we headed north. The River Coquet produced one of my own favourite wildlife experiences as we watched Salmon leaping, and Cormorants, Grey Herons and Goosanders fishing. Lapwings, Redshank, Curlew and a Greenshank all flew by and, after enjoying our lunch by the river, we headed down the bay. East Chevington produced lots of Knot, Dunlin, Ruff, Lapwing, Curlew, Golden Plover, Pintail, Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Pochard, Gadwall, Mallard, Teal and Wigeon and our next stop was Cresswell. Along the hedge leading down to the hide there were at least 8 Goldcrests, and from the hide there was another nice wader roost. As well as the species we’d already seen at East Chevington there was a single Black-tailed Godwit, plenty of Turnstone and 2 Purple Sandpipers. As the sun began falling towards the horizon, we settled into position to search for Otters. Flocks of Pink-footed Geese filled the sky to the north and a Daubenton’s Bat moved back and forth over the water. All of the signs were there; ducks, Coots and Swans moving en masse from one spot to another, nervously moving back before reversing direction again and, successive groups of birds across the water exploding into the air in a state of panic. The only thing that didn’t happen, was the Otter coming out into view! Still, with a success rate of 75% on Otter Safaris since mid-April, we’re always optimistic whenever we go in search of them.