Tag: Red Fox

Setting sun; Bespoke Wildlife Safari 05/02/17

by on Feb.06, 2017, under Northumberland Coast

Sunday was a second day out for Edward and Isabel, although this time a bespoke trip.  I collected them from Greycroft and we headed south.  Brambling was the first target on our list for the day and an impressive flock was alongside Nuthatch, Chaffinch, Coal Tit and a male SiskinRed Squirrel was another target species for the day, and we enjoyed prolonged views of one, as another male Brambling called from a treetop nearby and Goldfinches plundered a feeding station.  Long-tailed Tits fed just above our heads and Fulmar found themselves in range of Edward’s camera as we had lunch overlooking the North Sea.  Twite, Pied Wagtail and Sanderling on the beach were our first post-lunch stop and then we headed further north to our last site for the day, with a brief glimpse of a Stoat as it ran across the road in front of us.

Dusk often brings the best of the day and, as Whooper Swans swam across the reflection of the setting Sun, a Kingfisher dived from the reeds, a Water Rail flew between reedbeds, Grey Herons squabbled over prime feeding spots and the assembled wildfowl followed the progress of a Red Fox as it trotted along the bank.  Once it was too dark to see anything in front of us we headed back to Alnwick.

Another great day out with clients who were really good company.  It’s never really any other way 🙂

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Dread; Otter Safari 15/10/2015

by on Oct.16, 2015, under Druridge Bay, Otter

The great thing or the worst thing (depending on your point of view…) with watching wildlife is the sheer unpredictability of it.  There’s always something to watch though, and if you watch for long enough it just gets even less predictable…

I collected Neil and Julia from Newbiggin and we headed towards Druridge Bay for an afternoon and evening searching for Otters.  Anybody who reads our blog regularly will know that Northumberland is a great place to look for Otters, but it usually involves some effort and patience.  45mins into the afternoon and Black-headed and Common Gulls rose in a ‘dread’ then started circling.  The only logical place to look was directly under them…and there was an Otter 🙂  We watched it for nearly an hour, until it eventually caught a huge Eel and vanished into the reeds.  During that hour there was a mass exodus of Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Shoveler, Little Grebe and Gadwall from one reedbed…and a Fox peered out from the reeds before coming out into the open.

The rest of the afternoon was a study of fascinating wildlife; Dippers were fighting with the victor eventually bursting into song, although not before it had been seen off itself by a Kingfisher, Hawthorns were dripping with Goldcrest, a Hebe bush was a mass of Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell and Red Admiral Butterflies and Buff-tailed Bumblebees, a second Kingfisher flew by before perching obligingly on a fence post, Grey Herons were stalking patiently in shallow water, a Little Egret perched high in a tree, a Little Owl fixed us with a withering stare and the afternooon headed towards sunset.  In beautiful orange light from the setting sun, Lapwing, Golden Plover, Curlew, Black-tailed Godwit, Turnstone, Redshank and Oystercatcher roosted as Dunlin busied themselves along the water’s edge, Snipe probed in the mud next to a reedbed and a Water Rail emerged from the gloom of the reeds into the gloom of dusk before slipping back out of sight.

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Persistence; Druridge Bay Safari 13/09/2015

by on Sep.22, 2015, under Druridge Bay

Birdwatching is a mosaic of challenges; gulls, raptors, waders and seawatching can all test your ID skills, but at least you can usually see the bird…

I collected Clare and Peter from The Swan for the first of their 5 consecutive days out with NEWT, and we headed across to the coast.  An impressive charm of Goldfinch grabbed our attention and led us to a big flock of Linnet and a ploughed field sprinkled with CurlewRuff, Redshank, Dunlin, Oystercatcher and Lapwing patrolled the edges of ponds and the seashore whilst Greylag Geese, and our first Pink-footed Geese of the autumn, added a touch of brown to the green fields; a taste of things to come.  Red Fox cubs were chasing each other through long grass in the afternoon sun and a Hobby raced by, but it was midday that brought challenge, and reward…

Woodland birding, with dense foliage and dappled sunlight, can be a frustrating undertaking but we knew that the rewards were in there somewhere.  Brief glimpses of Firecrest and Pied Flycatcher gave way to much better views of the Firecrest as it slowed it’s headlong dash through the trees and settled into one small area, pausing frequently in full view 🙂  One of the sparkling jewels of autumn birding, it eventually moved out of sight and we walked back along the track.  Peter spotted movement in a willow, and a Yellow-browed Warbler graced us with it’s presence for a few seconds, flycatching around the branches of a hawthorn.  Not a bad start to the autumn 🙂

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Eight year itch; Otter Safari 18/07/2015

by on Jul.20, 2015, under Druridge Bay, Otter

It’s always a pleasure when clients who haven’t met before get on so well with each other.  Of course they always have a shared interest in wildlife, and other shared interests feature regularly (camping, walking and cycling in particular), and long quests in search of an elusive species soon become a talking point…

I arrived at Church Point for an afternoon/evening search for Otters, and quickly met up with John, then Lucy, Matt and Graham and finally Kate.  Conversation quickly turned to Otters, and the pressure was ramped up when Kate revealed that her attempts to see an Otter had stretched over several holidays…and eight years 🙂  Conditions weren’t promising – a howling wind that was tossing Starlings and Lapwings around and a male Marsh Harrier was battling into the breeze, almost at a standstill.  Whitecaps on a pond is never a situation that fills me with joy on an Otter safari, and we continued checking all of the likely locations.  Mediterranean Gull, Avocet, Knot, Black-tailed Godwit, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Common Sandpiper, Dunlin, Little Grebe and Yellow Wagtail were all added to the bird list for the day, Kate spotted a Red Fox creeping into the reeds, but there was still no sign of the sinuous predator.  Early evening, the conditions changed 🙂  The wind died off and the sea was suddenly very calm, so much so that we were able to enjoy watching Harbour Porpoises from our picnic spot.  Things were looking up…

We settled into position at the site where I’d planned to spend the last couple of hours of daylight, enjoying a chat with Cain, then the day suddenly got really interesting.  First a Barn Owl, white death on silent wings, ghosted by just a few metres away from us.  I concentrated on an area of water with very few birds on it – often a good indication that there’s something the birds are unhappy about.  Scan left to right – two Little Grebes sleeping, scan right to left – two Little Grebes sleeping, scan left to right – three Little Grebes sleeping?  The third Little Grebe didn’t look quite right…which wasn’t a surprise as it was an Otter with just it’s nose sticking up through the blanket of weed on the water’s surface 🙂  A quick text to Cain and he joined us again, and the Otter entertained us for an hour.  Emotional at seeing her first Otter, Kate still grabbed her camera, pointed it down the eyepiece of our ‘scope and started filming it 🙂  The magic continued, as a Long-eared Owl flew around the edge of the bushes in front of us before perching on a fence post, baleful orange eyes staring at us.  Then a second Otter swam across in front of us, while the first one was still hunting in the darkening gloom and the eeirie cries of Curlew coming to roost cut through the chill evening air.

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Batty; Cheviot valleys/Druridge Bay Bespoke Tour 08/06/2015

by on Jun.10, 2015, under Cheviot Valleys, Druridge Bay

Looking back through previous blog posts I was reminded that we’ve done a few days combining the best of the hills and the best of the coast, and I headed towards Old Bewick to collect Helen for an afternoon and evening exploring the Cheviot Valleys and Druridge Bay.

As a Common Buzzard soared over the steep valley sides, Curlews launched from the heather, calling in alarm.  Dippers bobbed on mid stream rocks, a Nuthatch with young was busying itself along tree trunks and branches, Whinchats flicked nervously through the bracken, the air was split by the explosive trilling song of Lesser Redpoll and Spotted Flycatchers perched upright on fence posts before sallying forth after flies.

Down on the coast we enjoyed the sight of Avocets mating, two Spoonbills feeding with their heads sweeping from side to side and bills submerged, a female Marsh Harrier causing alarm as it flew over the edge of a pond and Swallows singing and bringing feathers to line their nests.  Dusk brought a remarkable wildlife spectacle, with 30-40 bats hunting in front of us.  The bat detector revealed an astonishing wall of sound as Common Pipistrelle and Noctule swooped, tumbled and hunted insects…right above an Otter that was stalking Tufted Ducks 🙂

The journey back to Old Bewick produced Barn Owl, and a Tawny Owl in the middle of the road sitting on a baby Rabbit!  Then it was time for me to head back towards southeast Northumberland…and Northumberland’s country lanes produced a late night plethora of wildlife; Red Fox, Brown Hare, Roe Deer, Barn Owl, another Tawny Owl sitting on a baby Rabbit, and three Badger cubs trotting alongside the edge of the road 🙂

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Putting the bite on; Bespoke safari 20/06/2014

by on Jun.25, 2014, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

Some wildlife is popular with everyone, some isn’t popular with many people at all, and some, despite the best efforts of Springwatch/Autumnwatch/Winterwatch…

I met up with Niel and Nicky at Church Point, and we set out on an exploration of Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  Despite several incidents involving agitated ducks, indicating that they were worried about something in the reeds, we didn’t manage a sighting of any Otters.  The typical quality birdwatching of the Northumberland coast in late June was still in evidence, with at least 5 Avocets and 11 Little Gulls among the throng.  A tiny Tufted Duck travelled back and forth across the water, in what appeared to be an unsuccessful search for it’s parents then, as the sun dropped towards the horizon, we headed to our regular Badger site.

Intriguingly, no Badgers appeared – which is unusual at a site where we have a 95% success rate – but, as at least three Tawny Owls began penetrating the gloom with their eerie calls, the sharp alarms of Blackbird, Robin and Song Thrush heralded the arrival of another mammal that inhabits the darker parts of the day.  Bloodthirsty killer of farmyard chickens, attempted abductor of babes from cribs in the south of England…whichever way you look at it the Red Fox gets a bad press…which sadly glosses over just what wonderful animals they are.  Sleek, beautiful, playful…we watched as three adults trotted across the clearing in front of us.  As Niel photographed one peering from the undergrowth (oh, for a Nikon D4!), I lifted my binoculars and realised that there were three small cubs chasing around too 🙂  Two of the adults, and the three cubs, disappeared along a track up the hill, and then the adults came out into the clearing again, presumably having tucked the kids up safely in bed.  Pipistrelle bats were flitting across our field of view as we conceded that our vision could no longer penetrate the enveloping dark.

Love them or hate them, there’s no denying that foxes have a real magic…a bit like Luis Suarez 🙂

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Zzzzzzzzzz; Badger mini-safari 31/05/2014

by on Jun.02, 2014, under Badger, Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Red Fox

After dropping John, David and Sheila back in Alnwick after their bespoke photography trip to the Farne Islands, I met up with Sarah to have something to eat and then I was on my way to Alnmouth to collect Zoe, Richard, Ella, Luke and Charlie.  This was their second trip with NEWT, following an evening mini-safari in late May last year.

One of the species from last year’s trip put in an impressive appearance again, as we watched a Barn Owl hunting along one edge of a pool, while an Avocet fed at the other side, Reed Buntings seemed to be everywhere we looked and a small group of Little Gulls looked tiny alongside nearby Black-headed Gulls.  Soon, light levels had faded to the point where it was time to head off in search of our main quarry for the evening.  Positioning ourselves in a spot that looks over an area where Badgers are regularly seen, we sat quietly.  Almost immediately myself and Ella noticed something black-and-white moving in the vegetation opposite us.. That turned out to be a false alarm though as it revealed itself to be a Magpie 🙂  Things were quiet, although distantly I could hear the alarm calls of Blackbirds, Robins andWrens.  Then another gentle sound just on the edge of hearing; ZZZZzzzzZZZZzzzzZZZZzzzz.  It was warm and humid so it wouldn’t be a great surprise to encounter lots of insects…although these Z’s were coming from Luke and Charlie!  That’s how relaxing it is to just sit and watch for wildlife…

Out of the corner of my eye I caught some movement away along the track.. Had I imagined it?  Maybe it was a dog walker having an evening stroll?  No more movement…and then a Red Fox trotted across the clearing in front of us.  A second fox followed soon after, and then a Badger, big and ghostly pale, as an attempt was made to wake the boys without making too much noise 🙂  Another fox, this time a cub, sat watching us for a few minutes, and Luke spotted that there was a Badger in the undergrowth just beyond it.  More fox sightings followed, and then a final Badger, as the light reached a point where even the sharpest of eyes would struggle to penetrate the gloom.  The drive back to Alnmouth had one last good mammal for us, as a Brown Hare loped along the road a few metres ahead of the car 🙂

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Damp, dark woodland; Badger safari 17/05/2014

by on May.23, 2014, under Badger, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

During Thursday’s Otter Safari, we were chatting about the different mammals that can be encountered in Northumberland and Albert asked whether we had many Badgers in Northumberland.  I described their distribution, and how we go about finding and watching them, and before the evening was finished we’d arranged a Badger mini-safari for Saturday.

On my way to collect Albert and Elisabeth I was listening to commentary on the FA Cup final and suffered the heartbreak of Aaron Ramsey’s extra time winner for Arsenal (there’s a big cat, not found in Northumberland, that’s very close to my heart!).  We made our way to our regular Badger site, and settled into position.  Song Thrushes, Blackbirds, Robins andWrens were all calling as daylight faded, and then the Tawny Owls started hooting and ‘ke-wick’ ing.  At one point there were at least three owls calling, including one close to our spot, and one perched tantalisingly hidden in the canopy high overhead.  As on so many of our Badger trips, the first mammals to appear were Red Foxes – with an adult and two cubs running about on the hillside opposite us, occasionally pausing to stare across the valley with gloom-piercing eyes.  One Badger appeared as well; probably the largest that I’ve ever seen, running along the same track that the foxes had been on, before making it’s way along a trail through the vegetation and into the gloom.

Sitting with clients who have a real appreciation of mammals, on a damp woodland floor, as daylight fades and the world becomes one of owls, foxes, badgers and inexplicable noises, is one of my favourite things…and for a few hours it even took my mind off ‘that’ goal 🙂

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On silent wings; Northumberland coast 26/04/2014

by on May.06, 2014, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

There are some species that are favourites with particular clients, there are others that may be fairly common but still have good wildlife experience appeal, and then there are a select few that have everybody watching their every move…

I arrived at Church Point and quickly located Carol, Dave, Megan and Emily.  Our carload was soon complete with the arrival of Mr and Mrs Robertson and we headed north along the Northumberland coast.  Our aim for the afternoon was to visit several Otter sites, in the hope of catching sight of the elusive sinuous predator.  Cold and windy isn’t an ideal weather condition for the search and it turned out that the closest we came (probably) was a sudden panic and ducks heading purposefully away from a reedbed, and an unseen menace.  Throughout the afternoon and evening there was plenty of avian interest; male Ruff, part way to breeding plumage, Grey Herons, stalking menacingly along the waters edge, Little Grebes, diving before surfacing with tiny fish, the cartoon-like Goosanders and Red-breasted Mergansers, noisy Greylag and Canada Geese and delicate, dainty Avocets, suddenly transformed into a furious vision of Hell when a female Marsh Harrier drifted foolishly over their pond.  As dark descended, Moorhens were making their way along the river side and Emily demonstrated remarkable hearing, picking out the squeaking of a shrew in the bankside vegetation. Eerie mammalian screeching from the woodland on the other side of the river was probably an altercation between Red Foxes as the last remnants of daylight gave way to the dark.

The moment that had everyone’s attention focused came at sunset, in beautiful light.  We were almost back at the car when I spotted a familiar shape hovering above the dunes.  It dipped out of sight, before lifting from the grasses and heading towards us.  It dipped again, then perched on a fencepost before resuming the hunt.  Subtly coloured with mesmerising black eyes that are quite unforgettable the ‘Ghost Owl’, ‘Death Owl’, ‘Hushwing’ or simply Barn Owl has a rich folklore and really is one of those select few species that you’ll never tire of watching 🙂

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Fantastic Mr Fox; Moorland and Coast 07/03/2014

by on Mar.14, 2014, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Harwood, Northumberland

One of the best bits of being outside and searching for wildlife is the how everything around you ties together to create an experience; the landscape, the wildlife and the weather all come together to produce whatever they may…

I collected Paul and Jeanette from their holiday accommodation in Warkworth and we started out down the coast towards Druridge Bay.  Originally the plan had been Harwood and then the coast, but weather conditions suggested it would be better to reverse that.  Then there was a sudden change from the poor conditions and it was looking like a glorious morning after all so we reverted to Plan A.  The Northumbrian weather responded by throwing everything it could at us; sunshine, azure blue skies, fluffy white clouds, torrential rain and brutal biting winds all came, went and came again 🙂 There was no sign of any Goshawk activity in the good spells but you could hardly blame them 🙂  Eventually we retreated back down to the coastal plain…and had the same sequence of changeable weather all over again!  Feeding stations were a hive of bird activity, with Chaffinches, Long-tailed Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit and a very bright male Siskin all entertaining us, but Red Squirrels weren’t to be seen.  Some of our coastal ponds have been producing regular Otter sightings over the last few months…but the most notable thing was that the howling gale was generating waves that you could have surfed on!  Tree Sparrows and Goldfinches were clinging on to branches as the wind buffeted them and, as Curlew, Lapwing and a nice mini-murmuration of Starlings were tossed about on the breeze, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye; Mallard, Wigeon, Teal, Shelduck and Slavonian, Red-necked, Great Crested and Little Grebe struggled in the waves.

Our final destination for the day was one of our favourite Badger setts.  There was rustling in the scrub on the valley sides, but no stripy black-and-white head appeared, at least not before it was too dark to see.  What did come along though was a Red Fox.  Unusually obliging, this one trotted along just above the sett before stopping and fixing us with a stare.  It didn’t bolt, as foxes so often do, but watched us, and some passing dog walkers, before continuing with its exploration of the hillside.  Often underrated, undervalued, frequently despised…but a thoroughly engaging animal if you take time to watch the almost feline grace of this wild canine.

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