Tag: Rabbit

“That’s not a bill. That’s a bill”; Otter Safari 12/07/2014

by on Jul.15, 2014, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Otter

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.

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Watching the wildlife; Otter Safari 24/06/2013

by on Jun.26, 2013, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast, Otter, Southeast Northumberland

Sunday morning, and the weather forecast of impending doom brought the not unexpected ‘phone call that saw clients transferring from Sunday’s to Monday’s Otter Safari.  Monday afternoon, and the weather looked reasonable as I collected Ken and Rosemary from The Swan and then we drove to the coast and collected Paul, and Lisa and Steve, from Church Point.

I’d seen at least ten Otters in the last month, so I was fairly confident that an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay, southeast Northumberland and the Northumberland coast would have a higher-than-average chance of successfully locating our target species for the trip.  What we found raising interest in the local Mallards and Tufted Ducks in the mid-afternoon sunshine wasn’t an Otter, but the birds’ behaviour of slowly swimming along a reedbed, just a few metres from the shore, was a good indication of the predator they had spotted and we watched as a Red Fox slowly made it’s way along the edge of the pond followed by an ever-expanding entourage of ducks 🙂  At least eight Little Gulls provided some undeniably cute birdwatching interest and we continued our search.  The next mammal to join the day list was Rabbit, under-rated and attractive, but still not an Otter.  Flocks of geese and ducks seemed to be responding to some hidden menace;  getting out of the water, cackling as if startled, getting back in the water, getting out of the water…but still no sign of an Otter.

As dusk approached, and a Roe Deer walked slowly along the edge of the pond, there was a change in the mood of the assembled ducks; suddenly alert, feeding stopped and heads were raised as high as their outstretched necks would allow.  A pair of Greylag Geese were doing the same and Paul soon spotted the cause of their consternation as the head, then the sinuous body, and finally the tail, of an Otter broke the surface 🙂  Heading into a small bay in the reeds it soon slipped out of sight, only to reappear a few minutes later; twisting and turning as it fed close to the reeds.  Common Pipistrelle, as we walked back to the car, and Brown Hare, as we drove back towards Newbiggin, were mammals #5 and #6 for the day and the trip was rounded off with a Barn Owl, flying from a fence post as we passed by.

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Three stars

by on May.31, 2013, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

I collected Zoe, Richard, Ella, Luke and Charlie from Alnmouth and we started our evening mini-safari around the Northumberland coast and Druridge Bay. It wasn’t too long before we were watching one of the birds that never fails to grab the attention of our clients; a beautiful, ghostly pale, Barn Owl was quartering the vegetation close to the water’s edge before plunging into a reedbed in pursuit of prey.  A Roe Deer played hide-and-seek with us, as it persistently walked out of sight behind a bush before reappearing, first to one side of the bush then the other and Sand Martins, House Martins, Swallows and Swifts were all hawking insects, allowing a detailed observation and discussion of these species that less-experienced birdwatchers often find confusing.  Black-headed Gulls and Little Gulls were watched at close quarters, with the Black-headed Gulls squabbling with each other like a group of children 🙂  Little Grebes were, well, just as cute as ever and two large Bats flew over, not echolocating, not feeding, just heading somewhere on a mission.

Heading north, our 2nd Barn Owl of the evening was flying just ahead of us, and perched briefly in the lower branches of a roadside tree, Rabbits were scampering around on grassy banks and our 3rd Barn Owl was silhouetted in a bare tree like a sentinel guarding the road back to Alnmouth.

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In the grip of winter…in late March

by on Apr.04, 2013, under North Pennines, Northumberland

Sunday saw the two of us heading southwest into the North Pennines to carry out some recce work for a press trip that Martin was leading.  As soon as we were up above the level of the Tyne valley there was snow laying, which got deeper as we gained altitude.  Lapwings, Curlew and Oystercatcher were all displaying, Common Kestrels were hovering over the few clear areas of vegetation and Common Buzzards soared by.  With a white landscape, Red Grouse and Black Grouse were easy to find and a few Red Grouse were close enough to make it worthwhile getting the camera out.

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Red Grouse,bird photography,bird photography tuition,Northumberland

Red Grouse,bird photography,photography tuition,Northumberland

The highlight of the day came just over the border in County Durham with a stunning male Ring Ouzel, close to a nest site, being harrassed by a Mistle Thrush. The ‘Mountain Blackbird’ just seemed to be in exactly the right place in the wintry hills in deep snow.

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North Pennines – Busman’s Holiday

by on May.04, 2012, under Birdwatching, North Pennines

We’ve got a busy few weeks coming up, giving talks locally, exhibiting at the Scottish Bird Fair and delivering the bird identification training courses for the North Pennines WildWatch programme.  Once that’s out of the way, we’ll be into our busy period for trips out with clients, and then delivering more training courses – this time on offshore wildlife survey techniques for MARINElife/North East Cetacean Project and our local Wildlife Trusts.

With all of that in mind we had a weekend in the North Pennines, staying at Saughy Rigg Farm and making an early start on Saturday to visit a Black Grouse lek.  Armed with our new Telinga Pro8W and Stereo DATmic…we sat in the car with the heaters on as the temperature hit 3C and it started snowing 🙂  We could see the grouse – they were sitting huddled in clumps of rush, looking decidely miserable – but they weren’t performing (at least not early on Saturday morning).  A ghostly-pale Short-eared Owl braved the elements, quartering the grassland in search of prey, and the mic picked up the sound of drumming Snipe, calling Curlew and cackling Red Grouse, but once the Blackcock started lekking they were upwind of us and the wind tunnel effect of trying to record them led to a change of tactic and concentrating on photography.

Over the course of the two days, we had excellent views of Red Grouse, Black Grouse, Golden Plover, Curlew, Common Snipe, Redshank, Curlew, Brown Hare, Roe Deer and Rabbit.  The maze of little roads throughout the area offer lots of photographic opportunities so we made the most of them 🙂

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Greyhens, Allendale, Northumberland 28/04/2012

 
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Brown Hare, Weardale 28/04/2012

 
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Golden Plover, Upper Teesdale 28/04/2012

 
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Black Grouse, Weardale 28/04/2012

 
Black Grouse,North Pennines AONB,bird photography holidays,bird photography tuition

lekking Blackcocks, Upper Teesdale 28/04/2012

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On the trail of the otter…and then some

by on Jun.13, 2010, under Badger, Birdwatching, Northumberland, Otter, Red Squirrel, Southeast Northumberland

Yesterday was the first of several forthcoming days where we’re running multiple trips on the same day, and with 6 clients during the day, and 2 of them joining us for an evening safari as well, it was a day that could go really well, or not…

The primary target species for everyone was our old favourite, Otters. We started with a spot of birdwatching, and excellent views of the Little Owl that we should probably be adding to the NEWT payroll 😉  Our first Otter site didn’t produce the goods, although 2 Brown Hares chasing each other around a nearby field provided good entertainment.  Once we’d been there as long as I’d decided in advance of the trip, I had a hunch that another site, that has disappointed for several months now, might just produce the goods.  As we arrived I pointed out the location of a holt and suggested that the area around that was a good place to check.  Within a minute, Anthea had found 2 Otters, and we watched them for 75 mins as they fed, played, paddled along the surface, dodged in and out of the reeds and eventually vanished, probably to have an afternoon nap after their marathon feeding session.  A bit more birdwatching further up the coast produced excellent views of Common and Sandwich Terns and then it was time to return Liz & James and Kate & Take (pronounced Tarka – the most appropriate name for any participant in a NEWT trip so far) to their respective holiday locations and start the second trip of the day with Andy and Anthea.

Anthea is an Australian with a fascination for British wildlife and the day out was part of a target list that she has for a 3 month trip around Britain and Europe.  Red Squirrel was next on the list and patience and persistence paid off as we settled ourselves close to a feeding area and eventually had excellent views of at least 3 squirrels, and some very close Jays, Great Spotted Woodpeckers  and a Nuthatch.

With such a long day, sustenance came in the form of a meal at The Swan before we were on our way again.  Myriads of Rabbits were along the roads and we made our way along the heavily wooded valley of a small stream and got into position opposite a Badger sett.  A Red Fox walked along the hillside before vanishing into the undergrowth and causing consternation in all of the birds that were settling to roost.  It re-appeared just up the track from where were sitting and ran up the hill behind us, then a 2nd Fox crossed the hillside.  Soon we were treated to the sight of not one, not two, but three Badgers crossing a clearing.  As the light levels in the wood dropped to unmanageable we relocated to a feeding area that’s popular with Badgers and Foxes where we watched another Fox as it stalked along an edge, apparently invisible to the Rabbits that were sitting on the grass.  As we walked back to the Land Rover we added mammals #7 and #8 to the day list; Common Pipistrelle and Daubenton’s Bat.  A long day, but a really, really excellent one 🙂

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Early to rise

by on May.28, 2010, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

4am, and the insistent ringing of the alarm prises me out of bed.  Stagger down the stairs, get dressed, find binoculars/hat/gloves and head out into the chill early morning Southeast Northumberland air.  The Dawn Chorus is in full flow; Blackbirds are leading the way, and dominating the soundscape around our house, Chiffchaffs are singing from the churchyard and I make a mental note to do this again tomorrow to get some sound recordings.

Walking along the River Wansbeck I can see a pointed snout sticking out of the water distantly.  Closer inspection reveals a Grey Seal.  A Grey Heron flies by, croaking and screeching as a pair of Carrion Crows harrass it until it turns through 180 and heads away from the annoyance.  I move on as well, heading towards Druridge Bay.  With ethereal mist rising from a coastal pool, Sedge Warblers are singing from the bushes around me, and I’m concentrating on the mimicry that they employ, when a group of Rabbits suddenly scatter and Lapwings, Black-headed Gulls and Common Terns begin circling and alarming.  A movement in the grass reveals itself as a Red Fox; wary, immaculate and healthy – this isn’t the urban scrounger so familiar to many people, but rather what a recent client described as “that’ll be one of those rural foxes then”. 

Then, one of those moments that take me back the best part of four decades; a Cuckoo starts calling.  My first Cuckoo, all those years ago, was on an early morning birdwatching cycle ride to a site several miles from home.  With nobody else anywhere to be seen, and all of the sounds of the early morning to myself, that haunting sound carried from nearby trees before the pointy-winged long-tailed shape of the bird raced across my field of view.  I stand and marvel at the bird.  It’s fascinating breeding ecology and migration still grip me the way that birdwatching did when I was a little lad.  Perhaps I need to start setting the alarm for very early every morning 🙂

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