Tag: Raven

Everything ‘adding’ up to a great day; Cheviot Valleys Bespoke Birdwatching 28/03/19

by on Mar.29, 2019, under Cheviot Valleys

Yesterday was Sue’s 9th day out with NEWT, and the first time we’d headed into the Cheviot Valleys together…

In warm sunshine and under blue skies we started with a search for Adders. Sue’s sharp eyes spotted two, and we watched both from a respectful distance so they continued basking in roadside vegetation. Great Crested and Little Grebes were perhaps expected, but a Little Egret was a first for our Cheviot Valleys safaris before we headed deeper into the hills and a Brown Hare loped up the road ahead of us.

Dipper was next on the target list and Sue spotted one as it sat motionless on a mid-stream rock. Grey Wagtails were resplendent in breeding plumage and Goosanders gave brief flight views as they headed up a narrow valley. Chiffchaff and Chaffinch were singing, Common Crossbills called overhead, Green Woodpeckers yaffled from the woods and the eerie calls of Curlew rolled down the wind-blasted fells. Meadow Pipits and Skylarks were in song flight as a Ring Ouzel foraged in rough rocky pasture and as Red Grouse engaged in territorial disputes on the hillsides a remarkable few minutes brought Common Buzzard, Kestrel, Peregrine and then a pair of Ravens in glorious synchronous display flight. When the Ravens reappeared from behind the high peak they were in pursuit of an interloper before dropping out of sight again. Common Buzzards were surprisingly scarce on higher ground, although there was little flying in a stiff breeze that it wasn’t easy to stand up in, but suddenly conspicuous in the afternoon sunshine as we headed back down through lower sheltered valleys.

Great weather, great company and great wildlife. See you again soon Sue 🙂

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In the bleak midwin…wait a minute :-) Kielder Safari 24/03/19

by on Mar.25, 2019, under Kielder

Yesterday’s Kielder Safari was filled with returning clients; Stephen on his 3rd trip, Andy and Jill on their 3rd and Gordon and Mandy on their 7th. We’d got one species in particular on the target list for the day…

The forecast was for blustery showers but it started off fairly fine. Once we were out of the car though there was a bitingly cold stiff breeze and low cloud arrived from the north west, interspersed with bright sunshine. Each patch of better weather saw Common Buzzards rise from the trees and Peregrine and Sparrowhawk flew by. Common Crossbills called overhead, a distant Green Woodpecker was yaffling and Chaffinches were singing from exposed perches. Our persistence and resilience paid off and the ‘Phantom of the forest’ put in an appearance. With powerful effortless flight the Goshawk drifted along just above the treetops before rising higher and drifting away to the south and out of sight.

On exposed moorland after lunch, Meadow Pipits were diving for cover, Wild Goats were grazing amongst the heather, Ravens were sitting on the hillside and a Red Grouse called from deep cover.

Our finale was a flock of Goldeneye, with two drakes displaying and trying their hardest to impress the ducks, and then a noisy flock of Goldcrests calling and singing from the trees as we walked back to the car.

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Another raptor day :-) Kielder Safari 05/04/18

by on Apr.06, 2018, under Hen Harrier, Kielder

When we’ve got a day in and around Kielder and the Scottish Borders ahead of us what I’m hoping for is blue sky, not too much cloud and a nice breeze…exactly what we’d got as I collected Ian and Ian from Newbiggin, Joan and Jerry from Hexham and Duncan and Laura from Bellingham…

As Chaffinches belted out their song from the treetops, Coal Tits sang, a Green Woodpecker yaffled and a small flock of Common Crossbills plundered the cones of a Larch tree nearby a male Goshawk flew along the treeline opposite our watch point.  Common Buzzards began displaying as 2 more Goshawks put in a brief appearance and a Sparrowhawk provided a nice comparison with it’s much larger, and really rather different relative.  A very obliging Goldcrest was just a few metres away from us as Ian spotted an Osprey which spent a couple of minutes hovering over the water before deciding there wasn’t anything worth pursuing.

The afternoon managed to equal, if not surpass, the morning’s raptor watching.  Shaggy Wild Goats grazed close to the road, Skylark and Meadow Pipit flew across the narrow road ahead of us as we crossed the moors, more Common Buzzards, including 8 in the air at the same time along one ridge, Merlins angrily buzzing Common Buzzards and Ravens and then, just about the best raptor-watching experience there is…as Red Grouse cackled from the heather nearby a male Hen Harrier drifted along the skyline before rising and falling on deep deliberate wingbeats.  Then a female rose from the heather and mirrored his skydancing display.  The exuberant glorious synchronised dance of the grey male and ringtail was repeated every few minutes before they both raced angrily across the fell to see off a Common Buzzard that had drifted just too close for their liking, and we headed from the hills down through Kielder and back to civilisation 🙂

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A raptor day :-) Bespoke Kielder Safari 20/03/18

by on Mar.21, 2018, under Uncategorized

I collected Sue from Old Swarland for her 7th trip with NEWT and we headed west towards Kielder as the clouds started to break and the blue sky, excellent visibility and light breeze suggested it would be a good day for raptors…

A Goosander flew along the course of tiny stream before our first raptor, a male Merlin cloaked in beautiful blue, dashed low over the road ahead of us as we crossed the moors.  Common Buzzards were either perched or soaring almost everywhere we went during the day and a Sparrowhawk flew by, pursued by an angry mob of passerines.  Carrion Crows breaking the skyline provided their usual share of false alarms before a tight group of three crows betrayed the presence of the ‘Phantom of the Forest’.  Menacing, muscular and purposeful, the Goshawk flew just above the tree tops, apparently unfazed by the yelling crows in hot pursuit.  Kestrel made it raptor #5 for the day as Raven, the honorary raptor, tumbled distantly before another male Merlin, this time perched on a rock, held our attention as Wild Goats grazed nearby and then Sue spotted a male Hen Harrier drifting along a heather-clad ridge above us.  The journey home produced raptor #7 as a Peregrine kept pace with us as it flew along a ridge before perching on a dry stone wall.

Definitely a good raptor day 🙂

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A raptor day :-) Kielder Safari 20/04/17

by on Apr.21, 2017, under Kielder

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 🙂

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Early Spring; Bespoke Cheviots/Druridge Birdwatching 10/04/17

by on Apr.11, 2017, under Cheviot Valleys, Druridge Bay

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 🙂

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A raptor day; Bespoke Kielder Safari 28/03/2016

by on Mar.30, 2016, under Kielder, Otter

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 🙂

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Dreich; Kielder Safari 17/03/2015

by on Apr.01, 2015, under Kielder

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 🙂

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The Chase; Kielder Safari 14/10/2014

by on Oct.15, 2014, under Birdwatching, Kielder, Northumberland

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 🙂

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Black Grouse Bonanza Day 2; Cross-border birding

by on Apr.23, 2013, under Birdwatching, Kielder, Northumberland

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.

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