Tag: Red-breasted Merganser

Signs of spring, remnants of winter; Lindisfarne Safari 19/04/18

by on Apr.20, 2018, under Lindisfarne

I collected Gordon and Mandy for their 6th day out with NEWT, and 2nd this week, from the Bamburgh Castle Inn and we headed up the coast towards Holy Island under clear blue sky and warm sunshine…

Lapwing were displaying over the fields; twisting, tumbling and calling with their very unbird-like song.  Roe Deer were quietly grazing nearby and Little Grebe and Moorhen were around the edges of the Lough.  A small flock of Golden Plover flew by as Meadow Pipits were song-flighting from fences and Skylarks were everywhere, occasionally landing on the ground where we could see them but mostly high against the deep blue background.  Around the edge of the harbour Bar-tailed Godwits, Ringed Plover, Redshank and a lone Grey Plover were exploring the mud as a Wheatear perched on an old drystone wall and a Fulmar arced effortlessly past the castle.

On a fast rising tide, Shelduck and Curlew came closer to the land and a pair of Pintail drifted past with small groups of WigeonEider and Common Scoter were riding the gentle swell, Red-breasted Mergansers flew by, a White Wagtail was with a dozen or so Pied Wagtails and on the increasingly isolated tops of rocks a lone Dunlin was with a flock of Purple Sandpipers, no doubt all enjoying the Northumberland sunshine as they prepare to head back north to their breeding grounds 🙂

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Mist, murk, mud and mergansers; Otter Safari 12/04/18

by on Apr.13, 2018, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

I collected Stephen and Soraya from The Swan, then Martyn and Colin, and Jo, from Church Point, ahead of an afternoon around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland searching for Otters

On a stiff easterly breeze with drizzle, mist, murk and heavy rain showers, spirits could have been dampened but having a car filled with cheerful enthusiastic guests with a great interest in conservation was just the right thing to keep everyone going.  Fulmars were arcing along the clifftops and a Kestrel impressed with it’s geostationary approach to hunting, facing directly into the wind and hanging near motionless.  A Little Owl perched on a low horizontal branch, in the lee of the tree trunk where it would have had some respite from the cold, and occasional groups of Starlings rushed by like mini-murmurations taking a quick route to roost.  A male Stonechat perched at the top of a clump of rushes before a sallying flycatching flight and then back into cover.  As the deafening clamour of hundreds of Black-headed Gulls added a surreal touch of discordance to the sight of Great-crested Grebes drifting elegantly across the water, and Goldeneye engaged in some less than enthusiastic display, Curlew, Lapwing, Dunlin, Redshank, Turnstone and 5 pairs of Avocet were all wading in the shallows as a group of Common Snipe, unusually out in the open, were flushed by a Grey Heron stalking along the edge of the reeds.  The menacing dark shapes of Cormorants sank from view as they hunted the myriad small fish that were dimpling the water’s surface and a Great-crested Grebe very obligingly decided to start hunting just a few metes away from us.  We might have expected all of the birds to be keeping their heads down in the wind and rain, but if there’s one species that you can rely on to provide a spectacle, it’s Red-breasted Merganser; shaggy crests waving in the breeze, the males were engaged in their comical ostentatious posturing.  Necks outstretched and dipping with a theatrical bow that looks like they’re trying to upend themselves, they were completely unconcerned by either the weather, or that fact they they’re not anywhere near their breeding grounds yet 🙂

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Waders in the wet; Druridge Bay Bespoke Safari 03/04/18

by on Apr.06, 2018, under Druridge Bay

Tuesday was forecast to be a nice day but when I collected John and Sue from Newbiggin, for a day around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland, I wasn’t entirely convinced…

It didn’t take too long for the rain to arrive, while we were watching a flock of 22 Goldeneye who were presumably wishing they’d chosen somewhere warmer to spend the winter 😉  With water levels high from snowmelt and rain, space around muddy edges was at a premium.  Lapwing, Curlew and Dunlin were all wandering around the interface of mud and water and a flock of 22 Black-tailed Godwits circled repeatedly before finally pitching in to the shallows to feed and bathe.  Fulmars were soaring along the clifftops on a stiff breeze and a Meadow Pipit came in-off and settled in the grass nearby.  An obliging Little Owl stared at us from it’s not so hidden perch in a bare tree and every hedgerow seemed to be alive with Blackbirds and Robins as a real bonus bird popped up in front of us – Black Redstarts are fantastic birds and the flash of red as it dropped from a fence to the ground, and then back again, really stood out against the rest of it’s sooty-grey plumage.  Spring was clearly in the air and we were treated to the remarkable comical displays of drake Goldeneye and Red-breasted Merganser as a Starling murmuration began to develop and the light began to fade.

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Crashing waves; Druridge Bay Safari 01/02/18

by on Feb.02, 2018, under Druridge Bay

Arriving at Church Point to collect Jenny and Peter, and Lynne, it was looking like we’d have a dry, but cold and windy day around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland…

With a stiff breeze, every bit of water we looked at, whether river, pool, pond or roadside flash flood was being whipped up into a series of white-capped peaks.  Bullfinches and Robins were very obliging as we walked through woodland, although Goldcrest remained heard but not seen, and on the nearby river Little Grebe, Cormorant and Goldeneye were all diving in search of food.  Red-breasted Merganser had their spiky crests ruffled comically by the wind and a drake Long-tailed Duck was looking superb – as were all of the Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye, Gadwall and a drake Goosander.  A herd of Whooper Swan were grazing in a coastal field and noisy flocks of Canada and Greylag Geese flew by in skeins scattered on the breeze.  Six Grey Herons had discovered a nice sheltered spot to sit and a Little Egret stalked delicately along the water’s edge.

Our exposed clifftop lunch spot was like a wind tunnel with waves cashing below a flock of Great Black-backed, Black-headed, Common and Herring Gulls hanging in the breeze, accompanied by a beautiful ghostly pale adult Mediterranean Gull which settled on the narrow strip of exposed sand that remained and found itself surrounded by scurrying Sanderling.

The rapidly rising tide of the early afternoon was pushing waders up off the beach and rocks with Curlew, Oystercatcher, Redshank and Dunlin all arriving to roost.  Lapwing were tossed on the breeze and, along with dense twinkling flocks of Golden Plover rising from a nearby field with geese and Starlings, peppered the sky.  The reflections of grey clouds darkened the water as low-angled sunlight illuminated the reeds and the contrast between dark grey and glowing gold was just sublime and as we headed back down the coast towards Newbiggin we paused to admire a flock of noisy yapping Pink-footed Geese.

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Swirling; Otter mini-Safari 30/12/17

by on Dec.31, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

Yesterday’s mini-Safari was rearranged from Friday, when the ice on the roads would have made it a foolhardy exercise to head out.  I collected Jo, Chris, Lauren and Dilly from Church Point and we headed off for a few hours exploring Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland…

At the start of the afternoon there was no breeze, and the water was almost mirror-flat, with the swirls of diving Goldeneye, Little Grebe and Cormorant patterning the surface.  Cormorants that weren’t feeding sat on fallen trees, shoulders hunched and looking thoroughly miserable as a Grey Heron flew from one side of the river to the other and perched briefly before flying away upstream.  As light rain pattered on the calm water a Great Black-backed Gull flew by, always an impressive bird in the right light, and then the clouds parted and blue sky and warm(ish) sunshine marked the start of the sky clearing.  Out on to the coast and a dense flock of Golden Plover were swirling on the rising breeze as Pink-footed Geese rose from a distant field and speckled the sky and a charm of Goldfinches flew over the car before disappearing into rank vegetation next to the road.  Long-tailed Tits were moving between trees and a Sparrowhawk flew so low across the road ahead of us that it only narrowly avoided the car.  Mute Swans, including one scruffy looking youngster, were feeding alongside a group of displaying Red-breasted Mergansers.  At least 10 drakes were vying for the affection of just one female, but she was having none of it and any of the drakes who ventured too close, no matter how impressive his head-bobbing and mohawk-waving, was driven away.  As the Moon rose in the east, providing an impressive sight through the telescope, all of the ducks were getting agitated; Goldeneye, Gadwall, Teal, Wigeon and Mallard all moved purposefully away from one edge of the reeds, then more Mallard appeared from the reeds and flew across the pool and suddenly the distribution of birds on the water, which had been quite even when we first arrived, was very polarised.  Whatever was in the reeds wasn’t revealing itself though, and in a now stiffening cold breeze who could blame it?

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A tiding; Bespoke Otter Safari 27/11/17

by on Nov.28, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Otter, Southeast Northumberland

Yesterday was a rearranged trip from late March; Trevor had booked an bespoke Otter Safari for Linda’s birthday, then two days before the original date I was knocked off my bike by a car and had a heavy fall that saw me unable to work for a week (and is still causing some ongoing niggles).  I suggested then that we reschedule for the back end of the year, so I had my fingers crossed that my suggestion would work out as planned…

There was a slight spanner in the works though, an icy cold westerly ‘breeze’.  At our first site Mallards and Tufted Ducks were showing a lot of wary interest in one area of reeds but whatever had grabbed their attention remained out of site as Water Rails squealed, Teal, Gadwall and Wigeon slept, sheltered from the wind, and Cormorant, Little Grebe, Goldeneye and Red-breasted Merganser plundered the water of small fish.  As I scanned the edge of a reedbed that’s now so familiar I could probably sketch from memory every reed, stone and fallen branch along the water’s edge there was a small dark shape that shouldn’t have been there.  At distance and through binoculars I couldn’t be certain but I was fairly confident…and through the ‘scope there was a Kingfisher 🙂  A very excited Linda had got one of the three species on her bucket list right there in full view of the telescope, and once it had vanished we headed off in search of another one of those three.

Within seconds of scanning the water there was an Otter.  We watched it through the ‘scope for a few minutes and then headed along the bank to get a closer view, and while we were out of sight in the trees it did that typical Otter thing of vanishing completely!  In the icy breeze it had probably eaten it’s fill and headed off to a warm cosy sheltered spot in the trees on the opposite bank.  The second of Linda’s bucket list species was on the list, and I told her my favourite spot for the third (as it’s in the Scottish highlands, so quite a way from NEWT’s patch).

The bright light of early afternoon brought at least 6 Kestrels, hovering into the wind, with one of them being subjected to almost continuous harassment from a Carrion Crow, and three Sparrowhawks, including one that passed within a few metres of us as it battled into the wind and another that was being harassed by a crow.  More squealing Water Rails provided a discordant accompaniment to vocal Whooper Swans as Lapwings were tossed like leaves on the breeze and a dusk roost of Magpies, with at least 42 birds, raised the question of what the collective noun is.  By the power of mobile data and Google we ended up with charm, murder, gulp and – the one we thought most appropriate – a tiding 🙂

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Wintering; Lindisfarne Safari 08/11/17

by on Nov.09, 2017, under Holy Island, Lindisfarne

I collected Nick and Mel from Seahouses for their 2nd consecutive day out with NEWT and we headed north towards Holy Island under blue skies…

Along the causeway Little Egrets, Redshank and Curlew were patrolling the interface between falling tide and freshly exposed mud.  Flocks of Golden Plover and Bar-tailed Godwit patterned the sky in twinkling clouds as Red-breasted Mergansers pursued fish incessantly just offshore and a fantastic Merlin was perched in roadside bushes along the Snook.  Blackbirds seemed to be in every bush we passed and a flock of Redwing were obligingly close as they feed in a grassy field.  Robins were ‘ticking’ in deep cover and Grey Seals were hauled out enjoying the sunshine while the chacking calls of Fieldfare betrayed their presence overhead.  Standing at the top of the Heugh a Woodcock flew by before vanishing over the cliff edge and an elegant Black-tailed Godwit provided a contrast to the short-legged Bar-tailed GodwitsRoe Deer were just visible in long grass and a walk along Greenshiel produced a couple of heart-stopping moments as first a Woodcock and then a male Pheasant exploded from cover as we passed by.  As the tide rose and we headed back to mainland Pale-bellied Brent Geese were chased along by the incoming water.  Shelduck and Wigeon were present as far as the eye could see and we finished the afternoon with a magnificent Peregrine perched on a rock before it headed off and sent ripples of panic through all of the assembled waders, wildfowl and gulls.

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A stream of Starlings; Otter Safari 07/11/17

by on Nov.07, 2017, under Druridge Bay

I collected Karen and Angie, and Nick and Mel, from Newbiggin and we headed off in search of Otters around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.

I quickly changed our plan due to high levels of disturbance at our first site, and as soon we were at our alternative start point there was an Otter 🙂  We watched it for over an hour, with a noisy flock of Long-tailed Tits in the trees nearby, before it did that typical Otter thing of slipping beneath the surface and vanishing.  As we sat having lunch on the clifftop just south of Cresswell village a Fieldfare came low in-off after what must have been an arduous sea crossing against a WNW wind.  Flocks of Redwing and Fieldfare speckled the sky and, as Oystercatcher, Redshank, Curlew, Dunlin and Lapwing came to roost, and Pink-footed Geese dropped into a nearby field, yapping noisily as they descended, a Lesser Black-backed Gull was struggling with a large, dead flatfish.  The struggle ended abruptly as a Grey Heron chased the gull away and tried to swallow the fish itself before leaving it to a Great Black-backed GullLittle Egrets shone brightly white in the gloom of the late afternoon, before a break in the cloud away on the western horizon delivered a sublime sunset that bathed Mallard, Gadwall, Wigeon, Teal, Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Slavonian Grebe and Whooper Swan in jaw-dropping orange light.

As flock after flock after flock of Starlings streamed into a reedbed roost, still arriving when it was almost too dark for us to see, and two Roe Deer bounded along through deep vegetation, the day had one last surprise in store as a Long-eared Owl perched on a fence post in the dunes before attracting the attention of the local Carrion Crows 🙂

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Other-worldly; Lindisfarne Safari 02/11/17

by on Nov.05, 2017, under Holy Island, Lindisfarne

Thursday’s Lindisfarne Safari was a stranding trip, with our plan to cross onto the island just before the tide cut it off and then stay there until the causeway cleared again.  I collected Sue, for her 6th trip with NEWT, from Old Swarland and then we headed to Alnwick to collect Paul, Edith, Jan and Astrid from Greycroft, where it was lovely to see Audrey who was giving them the eminently sensible advice of dressing with plenty of layers…

It had been a lovely morning, with blue skies and fluffy white clouds, as I left home, but the further north we got, the murkier the weather looked.  As we reached the causeway, with Curlew, Common Redshank, Little Egret and Bar-tailed Godwit all foraging along the edge of the rising tide, there was a steady drenching drizzle and waterproofs were needed once we were over on the island.  Blackbirds and Robins seemed to be everywhere we looked, Goldcrests were flitting restlessly in the pursuit of insects and with St Cuthbert’s Island cut off by the rising water Bar-tailed Godwits and Oystercatchers had arrived to roost en masse.  House Sparrows are one of the most noticeable features of a day on Holy Island and there they were; in every bush and on every rooftop they paid little attention to us as we walked by.  Spiky-haired Red-breasted Mergansers were splashing in the shallower water as Grey Seals swam in deeper channels and a Kestrel was toughing it out in the stiff breeze and drizzle.  Common Snipe were busying themselves among the reed edges and a Woodcock, heavy-bodied and long-billed, flew by.  A flock of Fieldfare and Redwing looked to be newly arrived and we made a short migration ourselves – to the cafe!  Golden Plover flocks decorated the sky and, as we explored the remains of the early medieval farmstead at Green Shiel, and Pale-bellied Brent Geese speckled the gradually exposed mud, a sunset of burnt orange illuminated the western horizon as the dark tendrils of dusk curled around the island.

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Choppy; Otter Safari 14/04/17

by on Apr.17, 2017, under Druridge Bay

Friday was Adrian and Ruth’s 2nd day out with NEWT, after Monday’s Cheviots Valleys/Druridge Bespoke tour, and I arrrived at Church Point to collect them, as well as Sandra and Paco, and Rachel and Andy.  A torrential downpour passed mercifully quickly and we were on our way for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland searching for Otters

The transitional nature of mid-April was really obvious; Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Teal and Wigeon are typical birds of winter on the Northumberland coast, but now they were alongside displaying Great Crested Grebes and Avocets as a White Wagtail pottered along the edge of a shallow pool, Swallows and Sand Martins were hawking newly emerged insects as the songs of Chiffchaff and Sedge Warbler emanated from deep cover in trees and reedbeds and the descending silvery cadence of Willow Warbler trickled on the breeze.  A noisy flock of Long-tailed Tits were just above a male Blackcap who chacked angrily as we disturbed whatever it was that he’d been up to before we walked by and the peace and elegance of Little Egrets was shattered as a Great White Egret objected to their proximity to the rushes where it was hiding.  Grey Herons stalked the water’s edge as Skylarks ascended heavenwards, Meadow Pipits parachuted back down at the end of brief display flights and Reed Bunting and Stonechat perched at the tops of isolated bushes in the dunes.

With an icy cold breeze rippling the water’s surface and nipping at noses and fingers we finished at sunset with our quarry for the day having eluded us.

We’re often asked what the chances are of seeing an Otter on one of our trips, and it isn’t an easy question to answer.  They’re wild animals and they don’t run to a timetable that guarantees we’ll find them.  That’s something that makes wildlife watching so great – the unpredictability of it all 🙂  To put some numbers to it though…this was our 12th Otter Safari since the start of November 2016, and only the 2nd of those where we haven’t found at least one Otter!

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