I collected Luke and Louise from alnwick, then Alison and Neil from Kingston Park and we headed west at the start of a day searching for raptors around Kielder and the Scottish Borders…
We stopped at the southern end of Kielder Water and the ‘chip chip’ calls of Common Crossbill drew our attention to these impressive bulky finches as they passed overhead. With Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Chaffinch and Blackbird singing all around us we were soon watching Common Buzzards in every direction as Raven and Carrion Crow flew by. Then Luke spotted a large raptor circling in front of the trees…and there was a Goshawk 🙂 We watched as it soared higher and higher until it was just a tiny speck, even through binoculars, against the clouds. Kestrel and Sparrowhawk on the drive to and from Kielder added to the raptor total for the day and we crossed the border into Scotland for the afternoon.
Our picnic spot brought more raptors; first more Common Buzzards, then the shrill alarm calls of a Merlin drew our attention to a pair of displaying Peregrines as Ravens flew along the ridges above us, Wild Goats foraged amongst the scattered trees on the valley sides, and even more Buzzards rose on the stiff breeze. Out on the open moorland Luke was quick off the draw again, this time with a stunning male Hen Harrier. As he gave directions to the bird, it was clear that the rest of us were watching a second male harrier as it quartered the skyline. A flash of blue was a male Merlin racing across the fells, a Red Grouse flushed from the roadside puddle where it was having a droink as we passed, and the air seemed to be filled with Emperor Moths 🙂 A low-flying Common Buzzard passed just over the car as we headed back into Northumberland and finished the day with Common Sandpiper and a fly-by Mandarin.
Quantity on a Kielder Safari isn’t the game we play, but the day list is usually dripping with quality 🙂
I collected Adrian and Ruth from Seahouses for the first of their two days out with us this week; a Cheviots-plus Bespoke tour…
We started at Bamburgh, with Oystercatcher, Redshank and Purple Sandpiper along the edge of the breaking surf, Common Eider, Common Scoter, Red-throated Diver and a lone Puffin surfing the waves just beyond and distant Gannets breaking the horizon above a sea that had been whipped into a mass of whitecaps by a stiff northerly breeze.
Heading inland, it was starting to look cloudier and the forecast deterioration in the weather seemed to be on its way. You can’t necessarily trust the forecast though, and the spectacular landscape of the Cheviot valleys was bathed in sunlight. The triumvirate of nervously bobbing riverside dwellers all put in very obliging appearances; Dipper, Grey Wagtail and Common Sandpiper have so much in common, and are always great to watch. Sand Martins and Swallows, always a sign that things are changing, were hawking insects overhead as a Raven flew by, the eerie cries of Curlew revealed their presence as they displayed high over the valley, Red Grouse chuckled from the surrounding heather, Chiffchaffs were singing their relentlessly onomatopaeic song from every clump of trees and Ruth spotted a stunning male Ring Ouzel hopping around on a fellside that was dripping with Mistle Thrushes and Wheatears. Lunch was accompanied by 3 Common Buzzards high overhead, tussling and skydiving as partnerships and territories for the breeding season start to take shape.
Continuing along our planned loop for the day brought us to the coast of Druridge Bay and Avocet, Shorelark, Ringed Plover, Kestrel, Sanderling, a raft of at least 9 Red-throated Divers and then, as we headed back to the car at the end of the day, a Short-eared Owl quartering rough fields with deep slow wingbeats 🙂
I love the Northumberland coast, and my obsession with the North Sea and it’s wildlife is well documented, but I always look forward to the drive west – away from the sea and into forests and remote moorland…
I collected Jeanette and Simon for their second trip with NEWT, following the Otter mini-Safari on Sunday, and we headed across through Alnwick, Rothbury, Thropton, Elsdon and Otterburn. As we approached the dam at the southern end of Kielder Water I could see a bird ahead of us flying towards the reservoir. It was flying directly away from us but it’s a fairly distinctive bird from any angle…and the Osprey hovered over the water, plunged, surfaced with a large fish and flew along the dam wall, pursued by an angry mob of Common Gulls as 6 Roe Deer grazed just outside the cover of woodland beside the North Tyne 🙂 With occasional breaks in the cloud, and brief interludes of warm sunshine, it seemed a good time to find a suitable spot to sit and look over the forest…which worked just as planned with Common Buzzard, Sparrowhawk and Goshawk all making it on to the day list as a flock of Redwing called overhead 🙂
The drive from forest to moorland produced excellent views of a Dipper as it submerged in a fast-flowing stream, and then the moors produced another excellent crop of birds. Ravens, big impressive and noisy flew overhead, pairs of Common Buzzard seemed to be everywhere we looked, Red Grouse played hide-and-seek with us as they emerged from cover only to vanish again within a few seconds and three more raptors made it seven species for the day. Kestrel is still a regular bird on many of our tours but the other two were real scarcities; a pair of Merlin were calling noisily just behind us as a male Hen Harrier ghosted across the moor below us. Then he started skydancing 🙂 That would be a treat enough, but the bird that had prompted his display came into view…not the female harrier we’d expected, but a second male! The two tussled briefly in the air just above the heather before both drifting out of sight. Wild Goats were remarkably confiding close to the road as we headed back towards lower ground and trees.
Back down in the forest and a female Common Crossbill was a nice find as the high-pitched songs of Goldcrest and Treecreeper pierced the air, Goldeneye displayed out on the water as a drake Mandarin sat quietly behind the bankside vegetation and Grey Wagtails bobbed along the muddy edge. Another wildlife-filled day out with clients who were great company 🙂
Dull, overcast, drizzly, misty, cold, miserable…the sort of day that makes Kielder a place where you really have to work for your wildlife sightings.
I collected David from Byrness and we headed into the border forests. After his coastal holiday with us in 2013, and a Farne Deeps pelagic trip in September last year, I was looking forward to meeting up with him again. One look at the weather told me this wasn’t likely to be a good Goshawk day, but it’s always worth trying 🙂 The ‘phantom of the forest’ did remain elusive, but another Kielder speciality put in an appearance with a flock of 15 Common Crossbill chipping away noisily around the forest drive. A Roe Deer crossed the track ahead of us, and we headed across the border. A tumbling Raven was demonstrating its prowess, Red Grouse popped up and down in the heather and, probably the highlight of the day, a pair of Hen Harriers soared over the moor; the female unobtrusive and low over the heather, her mate an enigmatic ghostly grey against the dark background. Common Buzzards circled against the sky and, above one of our favourite Goshawk sites, a Peregrine soared over a clearing between plantations, all muscular menace and effortless grace.
Even the days that don’t look promising still hold excellent wildlife 🙂
We’ve always tended to stick to the coast during the autumn and winter, but our Dark Skies experiences are attracting a lot of interest, particularly with clients who’d like to combine a wildlife tour with stargazing. Of course, the stargazing is rather weather dependent…
I collected Lorraine, Steve, Debbie and Gary from their holiday cottage in Longframlington and we headed west, along the Coquet Valley, nestled between the Cheviot Hills and Simonside and across into Kielder. The border forests aren’t blessed with quantity of wildife at this time of the year, but there’s no doubting the quality 🙂 Red Squirrels were the main target species for the trip, which Lorraine had booked as a wedding anniversary surprise for Debbie and Gary, and they didn’t disappoint, with two animals engaged in a furious chase around the trees as they struggled for dominance over a feeder. One quickly prevailed and began hoarding nuts, coming so close that you could almost reach out and touch it. Ravens were soaring over the road, and the one bird that was present in good numbers, as expected, was Chaffinch. We crossed over the border into Scotland, enjoying close views of Common Buzzards as they held position in the breeze above a ridge, a Kestrel perched on a telegraph pole and Stonechats in roadside vegetation. A covey of Red Grouse burst from the heather, then another, and then the source of their distress drifted by – a ringtail Hen Harrier 🙂 The harrier quartered back and forth over the moor for a few minutes before dropping out of sight and we made our way onward over the desolate moorland road.
As daylight faded and roosting Cormorants squabbled noisily, a Roe Deer was grazing quietly by the water’s edge. It came right down to the water to drink and then we could hear the splashing of ducks frantically trying to take off from the reeds. Had the deer disturbed them? No, by the edge of the reeds an Otter made its way menacingly along from where the ducks had flushed…and then got out of the water, spooking the deer and chasing it a few metres up the bank 🙂 It would have had to be an optimistic Otter to try and predate a Roe Deer, so they may well have just startled each other.
We made our way back across Northumberland, hoping for a break in the weather and a starry sky but it wasn’t to be and the first drops of rain peppered the windscreen as we reached Longframlington. Then I just had a short journey home to a delicious birthday dinner 🙂
Saturday saw a much more relaxed start, at a much more civilised hour, for the second day of our Black Grouse Bonanza guided holiday. After another filling breakfast at Peth Head we set out for a day around Kielder and the Borders. With beautiful blue sky, fluffy white clouds and a nice breeze, it looked very much like a ‘Raptor Day’.
After a drive up the North Tyne valley, the first thing that struck us when we arrived at the dam end of Kielder Water was the number of Willow Warblers that were singing. Swallows were zipping back and forth and there was a real springtime feel in the air. As always, flocks of Chaffinches seemed to be everywhere, and we made our way to NEWT’s favourite raptor watchpoint. In our quite exposed position we were at the mercy of what turned out to be a bitingly cold westerly wind so hats, gloves, fleece jackets and windproof layers were required. There was an extraordinary difference between being in the sunshine and being under the layers of cloud that were scudding across from the west, and that had an effect on the birds too. After a couple of hours of occasional sightings of Common Buzzard, and one Goshawk that shadowed a buzzard over a distant plantation, midday was approaching when it all kicked off; first one pair of Common Buzzards appeared opposite our watchpoint, then a second pair appeared alongside them, and a third pair over an adjacent plantation were probably responding to the flurry of activity. Six buzzards in the air at the same time was only a start though, as the harsh croaking of a pair of Ravens drew our attention and these big, impressive ‘honorary raptors’ materialised from the background of the trees below our eyeline, breaking the skyline and soaring across the valley and disappearing over the trees to the northwest as another four Ravens rose into view away to the east. The buzzard activity drew the attention of a male Goshawk, who circled with one bird before gliding away over a distant plantation.
Before crossing the border into Scotland we sat by a small stream and watched two Dippers as they bobbed up and down on mid-stream rocks and dived into the crystal clear, and presumably icy cold, water. During our lunch break a Common Buzzard soared along a ridge just above our position, and as we crossed the moors a Raven was flying over a nest site, a Kestrel was hanging in the wind, Wild Goats were grazing contentedly, and a single Red Grouse raised its head above the shelter of the heather and into the breeze as we passed.
A stop at the Bakethin reserve on the way back down the North Tyne brought excellent views of an Osprey as it circled over the water, Common Sandpipers were displaying noisily, Oystercatchers had a noisy exchange during changeover at a nest, Teal were displaying, Goldeneye and Cormorant were diving, Chiffchaffs seemed to be in every tree and a Green Woodpecker was persistently yaffling. Each time it called we all scanned the ground in the direction the calls were coming from, more in hope than expectation. Eventually Derek managed to locate the bird…perched at the top of a tree, yaffling away like a Blackbird would sing from an exposed perch! The sky beyond the woodpecker held our 5th raptor for the day, a soaring Sparrowhawk, and we headed back to Peth Head.
The holiday was to produce a final bit of magic, as a night-time drive along a narrow country lane produced excellent views of two young Badgers, running across just a few metres ahead of us, a third Badger along the roadside and a Roe Deer running along the verge towards us before springing over a wall and away across the fields.
With such lovely clients, an excellent accommodation base and a whole series of stunning wildlife experiences during the holiday, I’m excited about next year’s Black Grouse Bonanza already 🙂 We’ll be announcing 2014 holiday dates shortly, but please get in touch if you would like to be kept informed of the details of what we have on offer next year.
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 🙂
One of my favourite locations, at a time of year when it isn’t often visited, and returning clients (always a pleasure!) made for an excellent day’s birdwatching in southwest Northumberland and north west County Durham yesterday.
I collected Reg and Val from their home in Newcastle and, as we headed west along the Tyne valley, the clear blue sky promised a good day. Starting with a walk along the River Allen, we soon encountered a mixed flock that included Nuthatch, Coal Tit, Great Tit, Blackbird and Robin. The river produced some stunning Grey Wagtails and a brood of Goosanders, shepherded by mum as they scoured the river, heads held below the surface as the current carried them along. Common Buzzards were calling from high against the azure sky and we could have been forgiven for thinking it was a nice Spring day – other than that the only birds singing were Robins.
Once we were out on the moors. we started to encounter Red Grouse. Always a stunning bird, whether you’re looking at the handsome males or the intricately patterned females, the sunlight really brought out the best in this moorland specialist. Black Grouse proved slightly more difficult, unsurprising as there was a ‘stiff’ breeze racing across the fells of the North Pennines AONB 🙂 After a lot of effort, we did find three young Blackcocks sheltering between clumps of rush, and they were very obliging for Reg’s camera. As we crossed one (very) minor road, we came across my own personal highlight of the day. Two Ravens appeared over a nearby ridge and headed towards a plantation at the top of the ridge ahead of us. As they soared higher, a third Raven came into view and began tumbling. The two closer birds responded with a breathtaking display of aerobatics and, as they plunged towards the ground before swooping up again, their deep croaking calls carried on the breeze to where we were sitting. A special bird in a special place, and simply awe-inspiring 🙂
As I collected Jason and Jane for a bespoke day of birdwatching in the beautiful Cheviot valleys, the first few raindrops pattered against the windscreeen of the car. As we headed south from Melkington the rain stopped and visibility improved, so I was sure were in for an excellent day.
The day featured all of the species we would expect; Roe Deer, Brown Hare, Raven, Dipper,Grey Wagtail, Common Sandpiper, Tree Pipit, Redstart and Red Grouse amongst many but a few of the regulars put on a really special performance.
Cuckoos were calling along the valley but frustratingly staying out of view, until a handsome male flew across the track ahead of us and then perched in full view. A pair of Whinchat provided another highlight as they flitted along a stream, dashing from rock to rock like Grey Wagtails, tails flicking as they sallied across the adjacent hillside.
Soon after I collected them, Jason had mentioned that he’d never seen a Ring Ouzel. No pressure there, then 😉 As we started our first walk of the day, I could hear a Ring Ouzel singing, and soon located him at the top of a distant tree. More followed, including a pair sitting together on a fence, but probably the best of the seven that we found was a singing male; high in a narrow gully his song reverberated beautifully off the surrounding rock carrying over a distance at which he was just a black speck through our binoculars, his song was as clear as if he was just along the hillside. As the wind and rain finally arrived, and we discussed sustainability and conservation (I really should write a book…), his song continued, although he shifted the side of the gully he was on to shelter from the rain. A remote valley exposed to the elements, a real mountain specialist putting on a performance for us, stimulating insightful thoughts from Jason and Jane…another memorable day at ‘the office’ 🙂
“Is Sarah keeping you organised and under control?” – that was a question I was actually asked by a client who I took out, for their second trip, recently. Now, I’m the first to admit that organisation isn’t really one of my strengths, but the other owner of NEWT encourages me 😉
With four clients, and three separate pick-up locations, for our Kielder Safari last Friday, there was plenty of opportunity for the plan to not go smoothly. However, with Neil collected from his accommodation at The Swan, and Ken and Paddy collected from Low Hauxley, we pulled into the car park at The Pheasant Inn in Kielder at 10:00 – exactly the time I’d said I would be there to collect Roger, our fourth participant for the day.
As we drove through the forest, home of Roe Deer, Red Squirrel and Goshawk, on rough tracks we stopped to watch a Great Spotted Woodpecker perched at the top of a very flimsy spruce, Common Buzzards soared over nearby plantations, Meadow Pipits flitted across the track ahead of us, Chaffinches were singing from what seemed like every tree and a flock of 20 or so Common Crossbills moved through the trackside trees, pausing to nibble at cones, and constantly giving their ‘chip, chip’ calls. As we continued, a mixed flock of Common Crossbills and Siskins suddenly erupted from the trees. These two colourful denizens of the dark forests often seem outrageously bright against the dark green foliage, and are always well appreciated by our clients.
Other moorland and upland specialities followed as we headed through the afternoon; Red Grouse, picking their way through the heather, Goosander flying upstream in remote narrow valleys, Ravens – tumbling, cronking and having a real battle with Carrion Crows – and one of my personal favourites, Wild (Feral) Goats. The collective noun for them is a ‘trip’, coincidentally the same as for one of our favourite birds, the Dotterel – a mountain and moorland specialist that we’ve yet to find on a NEWT Safari 🙂
With shared interests including photography, fly fishing and, of course, a deep love of Northumberland there was plenty of discussion amongst everyone during the day. Vast forest, small world…