Tag: Red Grouse

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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Wilderness; North Pennines Safari 15/09/2015

by on Sep.22, 2015, under North Pennines

Little sign of human habitation, miles and miles of rolling hills, heather moorland and the occasional small stream and isolated lough for additional interest.  A day in the North Pennines is an intriguingly different prospect after a couple of days on the coast…

I collected Clare and Peter from The Swan and we headed southwest into the interior wilderness of the North Pennines.  Our main target for the day didn’t put up the elusive fight that I expected, as we were no sooner on higher ground than Peter spotted a Greyhen sitting on a dry stone wall.  A Blackcock was feeding in the rough pasture nearby, and suddenly broke off to engage in a couple of minutes of unexpected solo display.  More Black Grouse followed throughout the day and Red Grouse popped up in the heather every few metres.  Kestrels hovered over the fells, Common Buzzards soared along ridges and a flock of Golden Plover was an unexpected find.  Swallows swooped low over streams, fattening up in preparation for the long journey ahead of them, Golden Plover, Grey Plover, Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit, Lapwing, Teal and Wigeon were around the edges of a lough in the shadow of Hadrian’s Wall and the day wouldn’t have been complete without a charm of Goldfinches 🙂

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Wind tunnel; North Pennines Safari 06/06/2015

by on Jun.10, 2015, under Farne Islands, North Pennines

When I arrived at Waren Mill to collect Kevin and Chris, things weren’t looking promising for our planned Farne Islands Safari.  We drove down to the sea at Bamburgh and a quick look told me all I needed to know; there really was no chance of boats sailing out of Seahouses with the frothy white sea being driven by a strengthening southwesterly breeze.  A quick discussion revealed a few species that Chris hasn’t seen yet, and we headed southwest towards the North Pennines to try and catch up with a couple of those.

Ring Ouzel was first up on our revised ‘shopping list’ and we got out of the car, only to discover that it was now so windy that standing upright was a challenge!  We were close to a nest site, and I’ve spent enough years there to know that the birds feed in an area of short grass and clumps of rush just below the narrow secluded valley where they nest.  A couple of minutes later I was scanning along the line of a drystone wall – and a male Ring Ouzel hopped out from behind a clump of rush 🙂  After a few minutes, enjoying good views of the ‘Mountain Blackbird’ as he crossed the rough pasture, we continued on our way.  Curlew, Red Grouse, Golden Plover, Lapwing and a Woodcock, contentedly digging worms out of the earth, were all seen as we headed towards the next species on Chris’s target list.  Black Grouse can be a difficult bird to find in the middle of the day, but I knew where I would expect them to be, and Kevin quickly spotted a dark head, with the tell-tale huge red eyebrow, poking up from the dense grassland.  More Black Grouse followed and we headed across to the coast in search of a third lifer for Chris.  The howling wind appeared to be driving a storm in our direction, and we just managed to find a Roseate Tern before the first rain drops started pattering on our heads 🙂

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A hailstorm of quality; Cheviots Prestige Tour 19/05/2015

by on May.22, 2015, under Cheviot Valleys

As I arrived at Spindrift to collect David and Margaret for their second trip with NEWT, following a day in the North Pennines in 2013, I was thinking about how to structure the rest of the day.  The weather forecast suggested that there would be heavy showers by early afternoon, so I thought it would make sense to do a longer walk before then, and check sites that we could park near as the afternoon wore on and the weather deteriorated…

One of the main target species for our trips into the Cheviot Valleys is Ring Ouzel, so hearing a male in full song as you get out of the car is always a good start 🙂  He was singing from a dry stone wall, as his mate hopped around on the grass below and a second pair of ouzels flew over calling.  A pair of Whinchats were on a heather covered hillside where a Red Grouse was sunning herself, as Grey Wagtails and Dippers bobbed up and down on midstream rocks, the buzzing song of a Common Redpoll revealed the presence of this attractive finch overhead and a Tree Pipit parachuted down from the sky.  A few spots of rain soon cleared to give much brighter conditions and Common Buzzards soared and lazily hovered over the valley tops as a Cuckoo called persistently but remained hidden from view.  Then the sky started to darken and a few drops of rain quickly turned into a heavy hailstorm with rumbling thunder adding to the extraordinary atmospheric conditions.  The hailstorm moved away down the valley and we made our way back to the car, stopping to admire a male Ring Ouzel feeding only 30m away from us, in a field rendered white with hail.  Common Sandpipers bobbed along the stream edge and more Common Buzzards soared against the steep sides of the valley.

There were two species that David and Margaret were both very keen to see during the day, and I thought I knew just the place for them.  So, in mid-afternoon we found ourselves in a beautiful, atmospheric area of woodland…marvelling at the beauty of a pair of Common Redstarts and watching a mating pair of Pied Flycatchers, with all four birds in the same tree at one point 🙂  As we headed back to Seahouses, we could see some impressive storms in every direction, so I suspected I might have a challenging drive back home at the end of the day…

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Ringing the changes; Druridge Bay 18/04/2015

by on Apr.21, 2015, under Birdwatching, Cheviot Valleys, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

Saturday saw Roger returning for a second day out with NEWT, after Kielder in May 2012, and, as he was stopping at The Swan, we chatted on Friday evening about the possible options.

Although Druridge Bay was still planned to be the focus of part of the day, we decided to start with a quick trip into the Cheviot Valleys first.  Lapwings were displaying, newly arrived Willow Warblers seemed to have comandeered almost every bush and tree, Dippers were bobbing up and down on mid-stream rocks, a Peregrine soared along the top edge of the valley as Red Grouse chuckled and chuntered from the heather-clad slopes below and then, in a bare tree in a narrow steep sided valley, a real prize – a stunning male Ring Ouzel 🙂  Roger spotted another Peregrine and then a female Ring Ouzel perched obligingly in another bare tree.

The coast had lots of what we would expect…but the ‘quality over quantity’ of the hills won out on the day 🙂

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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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Midsummer moorland meanderings, another alliteration; North Pennines 27/06/2014

by on Jul.02, 2014, under Birdwatching, North Pennines, Northumberland

I collected Peter for his third day out with NEWT and we headed southwest towards the big hills of the North Pennines.

Midsummer on the moors is a very different prospect to the spring and early summer.  Common Snipe, Curlew, Redshank, Lapwing, Oystercatcher and Golden Plover are all still there, but occasional calls are the norm, rather than the all-enveloping soundscape of March and April.  Black Grouse have, in the main, finished displaying but can still be found furtively creeping between clumps of rush, and the condensed growing season for plants in the often brutal environment of exposed areas so high above sea level means that some of the most sought-after species aren’t in flower by the time we reach the end of June.

What midsummer does bring though is chicks, and photo opportunities 🙂  Young Curlew, fluffy, short-billed replicas of their parents, were pottering about, and apparently intent on not letting Peter get his camera focused on them, Red Grouse with their large broods, including one pair with chicks picking grit from the roadside, seemingly oblivious to our presence, and Golden Plover, watching us from raised tussocks in the heather as their young prodded and poked around the vegetation nearby.  A Blackcock, now showing signs of moult and no longer the strutting dandy of the lekking season, wandered across a rushy field and, after a day in the hills, probably my own favourite moment of the day came as a Common Snipe perched on the apex of a dead tree and Peter patiently waited for it to turn its head to one side so that he could capture the extraordinary length of the bill.  The bird obliged, of course 🙂

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Moorland magic; Bespoke birdwatching 16/06/2014

by on Jun.18, 2014, under Cheviot Valleys, Hen Harrier, Kielder, Northumberland

Heading up the coast to Embleton to collect Pete and Janet for their fourth day out with NEWT (plus a couple of days with their local natural history society on a Northumberland  visit in 2009), I had a mixture of anticipation and trepidation.  It’s always a pleasure to have them on a tour, but this time we were heading to an area that I know quite well myself, but haven’t covered in any great depth with clients…

We headed inland, skirting the edge of the Cheviot massif, passing through Kielder and across into the Scottish borders in ever-improving weather 🙂  Common Buzzards were soaring against the blue sky, Skylarks were singing as they ascended heavenwards, Meadow Pipits parachuted down at the end of their display flights, Red Grouse popped their heads up above the heather, Grey Wagtails were flitting from rock to rock in the shallow streams, Whinchat were carrying food back to their nests, recently fledged Wheatears scolded us as we disturbed their afternoon nap, Wild Goats grazed steadily on the hillsides high above the valley bottom and then, in the warmth of the mid-afternoon, came one of those moments you dream of (well, I do – other naturalists may have other dreams!)…

Floating across the hillside on agile wings, passing over a Cuckoo perched on a small sapling, carrying food back to his mate and their hungry brood, the male Hen Harrier drifted by before depositing the prey at the nest.  He quickly found more food for himself and settled on a prominent rock in the heather.  As we watched him through the ‘scope, a familiar chattering call rattled down the fell.  Something had disturbed the female harrier, and she had left the nest and was soaring above it.  Then, the likely source of her displeasure appeared.  Racing on swept back wings, a Merlin flew straight at the harrier.  She twisted and turned to avoid the assault by the smallest of our falcons, and flew towards the ground.  The Merlin wasn’t going to give up though, and the dogfight continued; the otherwise elegant harrier looking cumbersome as the annoying gadfly buzzed around her.  Eventually the smaller bird broke off and settled in a nearby tree, as the male harrier left his perch and soared high over our heads against the blue sky.  When I look back in years to come, this really will be an experience that’s fixed firmly in my memory 🙂

 

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Kettling; Kielder Safari 23/04/2014

by on Apr.25, 2014, under Birdwatching, Kielder, Northumberland

The alarm went off at 06:00 on Wednesday, and my heart sank as I looked out of the window…heavy mist, not ideal for any of our tours, but particularly not good for a day in Kielder.  I drove to Kingston Park to collect Steph and we headed west in much more promising conditions; low cloud in some valleys, but some sunshine too.  We collected Paul and Trish from Wark, and then Ivan from Tower Knowe and headed into the forest.  It was a bit cool and misty for any raptors to be up and about, but two Common Crossbill flew by and the air around us was filled with the descending silvery cadence of Willow Warblers as Woodpigeons, Stock Doves and Carrion Crows caused a brief quickening of the heart rate as they flew between plantations.

A walk to the Bakethin reserve produced lots of Siskin, and Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Teal, Oystercatcher, Cormorant and Common Sandpiper were around the water’s edge.  As we got back to the car park, which provided good views of Treecreepers, Paul spotted a raptor high overhead, and binoculars resolved it into the impressive shape of an Osprey.

Over the border into Scotland we were soon encountering Common Buzzards, lots of them, and a remarkable number of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits.  We reached our picnic spot and, as soup, sandwiches and carrot cake were consumed, raptors began to appear above the skyline.  First Common Buzzards, then a female Hen Harrier, followed soon after by a skydancing grey male 🙂  Then more Common Buzzards, and more Common Buzzards At one point we had between four and six birds behind us, while higher up the valley at least ten were kettling in one thermal along with a Peregrine 🙂  Absolute heaven for any birdwatcher who enjoys raptors…and who doesn’t?  Along the stream Reed Buntings were pretending to be Dippers, but we did eventually find the genuine article, which obligingly bobbed up and down on a rock before diving into the fast flowing water, and Wheatears were perched on old stone walls.  On the hillsides high above the valley bottom, Wild Goats were grazing as we enjoyed close views of Common Buzzards both perched and flying, and Red Grouse were found as we crossed the moors back towards England.

We finished the trip with an uncountable number of Chaffinches and a real Northumberland speciality as a Red Squirrel ran around on the ground before deciding to hang upside down on a peanut cage, and it was time to reverse the route and drop everyone off.

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