Tag: Reed Bunting
After the snow of last Monday, Tuesday brought two mini-safaris. The first was a recce trip for a TV production company, assisting with checking out potential filming locations on the Northumberland coast. The weather was glorious; beautiful blue sky, fluffy white clouds and a gentle breeze. The peace and tranquility captured what Northumberland is all about – somewhere that you can relax and simply enjoy the countryside around you.
The second trip of the day began as I collected Neil and Ann from The Swan, and we headed out on a journey along the coast. Avocets were sitting on nests, Reed Warblers, Sedge Warblers and Reed Buntings were all singing and an incredibly bright Yellow Wagtail walked along the water’s edge. With a bit of persistence we located a Grasshopper Warbler singing from a reedbed, body quivering as it delivered it’s ‘reeling’ song with it’s head turning slowly from side-to-side. As we continued northwards we came across the first of three Barn Owls for the evening. As dusk approached Roe Deer came out of hiding, a Red Fox ran across directly in front of us carrying prey, Common Pipistrelles flitted backwards and forwards against the darkening sky and the assembled ducks, geese and swans started acting very nervously. I’d checked that site with Sarah two days earlier and watched a very obliging Otter as it fed. Today though it remained hidden in the reeds, almost certainly the cause of panic amongst the wildfowl…
‘Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep…beep, beep, beep. Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep…beep, beep, beep’, the mega-alert on my pager wasn’t entirely unexpected…
I’d collected Charlie and Edna from Holy Island for a day of birdwatching, from Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland north along the Northumberland coast and eventually back to Lindisfarne. Eponymously disyllabic Chiffchaffs, the descending silvery cadence of Willow Warblers and the mechanical reeling of Grasshopper Warblers accompanied our woodland walk as the first heavy drops of rain precipitated the donning of waterproof jackets. As we sat eating lunch, overlooking the North Sea, the strengthening wind, heavy rain and decreasing visibility might not have filled everyone’s heart with joy. I’m not everyone though, and I described the potential of early May, southeasterly winds, poor weather and the Northumberland coast to Charlie and Edna As it began to clear we continued our journey and enjoyed excellent close views of Sedge Warblers and Reed Buntings singing and at least six Avocets. A stunningly yellow Yellow Wagtail was sharing a field with an equally stunning male Whinchat. Another heavy shower accompanied murky misty conditions…then came the piercing shrill of the pager as we drove through Embleton on our northward journey.
Just a few minutes later we were at Low Newton, enjoying good views of yet another excellent find by the Beadnell Stringer
As I drove to Peth Head Cottage on Thursday afternoon, the rain was hammering against the car windscreen. Friday’s forecast was good though so, after a meal at The Travellers Rest in Slaley, I reminded Derek and Deirdre that we would have an early start the next morning.
19/04/2013 05:00…the incessant ringing of the alarm pierced the depths of my sleep and I jumped out of bed, showered and opened my bedroom window. The dawn chorus, mainly Blackbirds, Robins and Song Thrushes, was deafening, and the last remnants of rain were pattering down as we set off across the moors to a Black Grouse lek. Roe Deer were watching us from a roadside field and a Tawny Owl flew across in front of us, no doubt heading for a secluded daytime roosting site. First lek site, no birds, second lek site two Greyhens and a distant altercation between two Blackcock along a drystone wall as Curlew, Snipe, Oystercatcher and Lapwing displayed nearby and a Common Buzzard lumbered its way across the horizon. A third site produced the goods though as, adjacent to a field filled with summer-plumaged Golden Plover, two Blackcock were strutting their stuff for the benefit of three Greyhens…who watched them with what appeared to be complete indifference
After returning to Peth Head for a delicious, and very filling, breakfast (accompanied by Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Siskins, Robins, Dunnocks and a Reed Bunting on the feeders just outside the dining room window) we set out again. By now, the sun was up, bathing the moors in sublime warm tones, and Derek spotted the tell-tale white flash of a displaying Blackcock. This bird was strutting around next to two Greyhens, head down, tail up, pausing occasionally to stand bolt upright before jumping in the air and singing. Just beyond the lekking lothario, a Short-eared Owl was quartering the moor. Backwards and forwards on long narrow wings, the owl flew closer to our position, until eventually binoculars were put down when the field of view was completely filled with yellow-eyed menace as the owl flew over the bonnet of the car before veering away just inches from the windscreen.
Deeper into the North Pennines AONB, over moorland liberally sprinkled with pairs of Red Grouse, flocks of Golden Plover flying around and giving their plaintive call, with a Dunlin easily picked out in one flock by it’s small size, and farmland with Brown Hares chasing each other, Derek’s sharp eyes picked out a bird on telegraph wires…and we had our first Ring Ouzel of the trip. Singing it’s simple song, this could well have been the bird that I watched with Sarah in late March. A pair of Ring Ouzels followed soon after, staying just ahead of the car as we traversed a narrow road high above Weardale. Deirdre spotted several displaying Blackcock and we passed from Weardale into Upper Teesdale. Walking the remote moors produced close views of Red Grouse, Golden Plover, Wheatear, Skylark and Meadow Pipit before a completely unexpected find; for a second I wasn’t sure what I was watching, as a large brown and white bird drifted over the moor with deep lazy wingbeats, but as I lifted my binoculars I could barely contain my excitement as I let Derek and Deirdre know that there was an Osprey flying by! We watched the bird as it hovered and then dived into a nearby reservoir, but it’s departure route took it out of sight so we didn’t see if it was successful in its hunt. A pair of Goosander were feeding along the reservoir edge and, as they eventually crossed the open water, they picked up a Tufted Duck for company.
I had a hunch that Black Grouse would be lekking late afternoon, so we returned to a site that had held just one resting Blackcock earlier in the day. Sure enough, ‘the boys’ had gathered for a bit of a barney; 15 of them had turned up – seven obvious pairs of combatants and one bird sitting off to one side holding his wings, head and tail in the typical display posture but just standing still and watching the series of duels that were taking place in front of him. A couple of them broke out into physical fights, and all of the birds were calling as the lek reached a crescendo before, as if someone had flicked a switch, they suddenly lowered their undertail coverts, lifted their heads, folded their wings back in and started nonchalantly pottering around the gladiatorial arena as if nothing had happened. Just as exciting though, was what was going on above the lek. In my field of view I could see a Curlew drop almost vertically before heading skyward again. I raised my binoculars to follow it’s path and as it dropped again it was harassing, with the assistance of a flock of Black-headed Gulls, a male Goshawk! Open moorland may not be typical habitat for this fearsome inhabitant of our upland forests, but it isn’t the first time we’ve seen one out of context in late April.
Back across the moors to Hexhamshire we saw more Red Grouse, more Black Grouse and, after a quick stop back at Peth Head we headed out to eat at the Dipton Mill Inn. We followed that with a drive into Slaley Forest for Woodcock and Tawny Owls then, before retiring to bed, I stood in the dark outside the cottage and listened as at least four Tawny Owls called from close by. A superb end to an excellent day
As a chemist I’ve found fireworks fascinating for some time. While I was still teaching, I developed a series of demonstration experiments that illustrated how different colours are produced by varying the chemicals in the mix and managed, during one particularly spectacular demo, to set fire to a pile of homework and the surface of my desk. Every year there are information campaigns about domestic pets and fireworks, but never really anything about the effect on wildlife…
I met up with Pete and Georgie at Church Point and we set off (in their car, but that’s a whole other story…) around Southeast Northumberland and Druridge Bay. Perhaps my own favourite moment of the day came quite early as a Merlin chased a Common Snipe through the dunes at Cresswell. An elusive Brambling played hide and seek with us nearby and the Coots, Moorhens, Mallards, Teal, Wigeon, Gadwall, Tufted Duck and Shoveler at each pond we visited seemed unconcerned and not indicating the presence of the sinuous predator that enlivens so many of our trips on the coast.
As dusk approached things started to look a bit more interesting; Whooper Swans were clearly alert and agitated, all staring into the same reedbed. We’ve seen it so many times before…and then ‘whoosh’, ‘whoosh’, ‘whoosh’, ‘bang’, ‘bang’, ‘bang’, ‘bang’, ‘bang’, as a fireworks display on a nearby beach scattered everything! Ducks, geese, swans all took to the air and we finished the trip with not very much wildlife in view at all.
As we headed back to the car a figure appeared out of the dark “Dr Kitching. Slight change of plan, Sarah’s poorly so I’ve come to collect you”. The hero of the day was a man whose knowledge of the Northumberland coast is second to none, and whose blog is really worth checking out. Cheers Ipin, you’re a star
Sunday was something quite different for NEWT, with a guided walk for 14. We met Linda and her family, who had arrived from all parts of the UK to celebrate several special occasions in one weekend, in Druridge Bay and set out for a walk in rather nice weather. One or two of the group had to be encouraged to take waterproof jackets with them though…
Skylarks were soaring over the fields, a Reed Bunting was singing from a nearby hedgerow and a very amiable local, who had worked at East Chevington while it was still a coal mine, stopped to tell us a little of the history of the area. Perhaps the most unexpected sighting of the morning was a Barn Owl, roosting in a pine tree and staying put as all of the group enjoyed ‘scope views of it.
The question that led one of the ladies to make the comment that forms the title of this blogpost came as we were appreciating the beauty of a group of Common Spotted Orchids, when she asked “why are some ‘Orchids’ and some ‘Orchis’?”. As Martin explained that the word orchis means testicle, and that’s where the Orchids get their name from, there was a ripple of laughter through the group at the comment “Ooh, I wish I hadn’t asked”.
Just a couple of minutes from the car, at the end of a walk that it was a real pleasure to lead with a group who asked plenty of questions, the first raindrops began to fall and we finished in a ‘refreshing’ summer shower.
Returning clients have been a bit of a theme this year, and I was really looking forward on Wednesday to be collecting Carolyn and Brian for a day of birdwatching in and around Kielder. The weather was looking less than promising but, as I collected them from their holiday cottage in Cresswell with it’s stunning view out over the North Sea and Druridge Bay, we agreed that we’d make the best of the weather, whatever it was doing.
On the edge of the border forests a Roe Deer watched us with great interest and a Common Buzzard was perched at the top of a spruce tree that seemed barely able to support it’s weight. As if that perch wasn’t precarious enough, the bird was hanging it’s wings out like a Cormorant, presumably trying to dry them during a lull in the rain.
As with many of our trips there was a species that was particularly sought after. On this occasion it was our old favourite, the Dipper. With several bits of excellent river, that could be viewed from the car if the showers returned, it wasn’t too long before we found one, then another. With Sand Martins zipping in and out of nest holes, Common Sandpipers, Reed Buntings, Stonechats, Whinchats, Pied Wagtails, Oystercatchers, and Goosanders (another lifer for Carolyn and Brian) the rivers were a real hive of activity. Curlew were flying up the valley and we headed across the border. Red Grouse were a third lifer for the day, some majestic Wild Goats watched imperiously as we had a post-lunch walk, and a Peregrine was perched on a rock on the moorland high above us. It launched from it’s vantage point and flew directly over our heads before dropping to the ground and furtively creeping around before disappearing into a nearby gulley.
As we made our way back east, we found ourselves in a patch of sunshine with a handsome male Siskin and a Spotted Flycatcher just ahead of us, and we continued our journey back to Cresswell.
Just as I arrived at Harkess Rocks to collect Andy and Helen for an afternoon of birdwatching around the Holy Island of Lindisfarne and the North Northumberland coast, the first drops of sleety rain began splattering on the windscreen. We haven’t really had any sort of winter yet, apart from an hour of snow on December 16th, but yesterday afternoon did feel positively chilly. Undaunted by the easterly wind and icy showers we enjoyed the wader and wildfowl spectacle that is the Northumberland coast in the winter. Curlews singing as they flew by must have a joie de vivre that lets them vent that emotional haunting call wherever they may be. Other wading birds entertained as they probed, prodded and buried their bills face-deep in the mud; Grey Plovers, Bar-tailed Godwits, Redshanks and Oystercatchers were all making the most of the exposed mud at low tide. A big flock of Yellowhammers, Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Goldfinches, Tree Sparrows, House Sparrows and Reed Buntings held our attention for a good while and wildfowl were well represented with Shelduck, Eider, Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Goosander and Pintail. As we watched a very obliging Dark-bellied Brent Goose, it was a sobering thought that our wintering birds are generally here because conditions in the areas where they breed are too harsh at this time of the year. Mammals were braving the cold too; 7 Roe Deer, a Brown Hare and 5 Common Seals made a not too shabby mammal list for the afternoon.
I often reflect on my decision to return to Northumberland from Arizona, and as we watched that lone Brent Goose, with the biting wind driving waves of showery rain, were my thoughts of the warmth and sunshine of Tucson? No, what I was thinking was that this is the weather I came home for…and the reason that good outdoor clothing is a necessity
I collected Ruth and Margaret from The Swan for their second trip with us; this time a half-day Beginner’s Birdwatching trip around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. After scouring some bushes where we could hear a roving tit flock, and enjoying excellent views of a flock of Tree Sparrows in the beautiful sunshine, we visited Hadston Scaurs in search of the Yellow-browed Warbler that had been seen there earlier in the morning. We were unlucky, although we could hear the flock of Goldcrests that it had been with but they were deep in the hedge and we only had occasional brief views as they hurried about. Reed Buntings, Dunnocks, Blackbirds and Bullfinches all performed well, Robins were calling from what seemed to be every bush, Linnets and Skylarks were moving south overhead and skeins of Pink-footed Geese passed over.
We had a session looking at shapes of ducks, and how to use that skill to separate similar species, and finished at Cresswell with a species that Margaret was really keen to see on this trip, Eider; our county bird, and a real stunner
Our fifth safari in four days had been arranged as a birthday present and I collected Barry and Maureen from Ponteland before starting with our usual southeast Northumberland birdwatching woodland walk. The ‘Red vs Grey’ conundrum occupied our conversation as we enjoyed excellent views of a Red Squirrel. As we walked by a wonderful hay meadow it was hard to believe that we were in an area that one of our previous clients had expected to be ‘sort of grim and industrial’ On the coast our regular Little Owl was as chilled out as ever and the Sedge Warblers and Reed Buntings were struggling to cling to the reeds in a strengthening breeze. Strong wind is just about the worst condition for watching wildlife but I’m ever the optimist…
The combination of that optimism, and a lot of experience of Otter behaviour, meant that I still believed that our target for the day would be achieved. Sure enough, we were able to watch an Otter briefly as it fed. A commotion in a reedbed, a scattering of ducks, and two nervous-looking Coots, meant that I was sure we were about to see a second Otter. It soon appeared and we enjoyed a prolonged period of observation as it made it’s way across the pond, eventually passing close by our position. More Sedge Warblers and Reed Buntings were singing as we walked through another meadow, teeming with vetch and some stunning orchids and a Reed Warbler was picking it’s way along the base of a reedbed before starting to sing and providing a perfect comparison with a nearby Sedge Warbler. As I drove Barry and Maureen home I was thinking about how, no matter how often I lead our tours, every day is different. It may be a cliche, but it’s the best part of what we do.
An early start on Thursday saw us close to home, birdwatching in southeast Northumberland. 6am at Church Point as I collected Mick and Helen was sublime; warm, still and very quiet. Starting with a woodland walk we had excellent views of Red Squirrel and Great Spotted Woodpecker. In the bright sunshine our regular Little Owl was sitting at the entrance to it’s nest. These conditions at this time of the year mean that insects feature prominently in our safaris; Blue-tailed Damselflies and Silver Ground Carpet moths seemed to be everywhere that we walked. Sedge Warblers and Reed Buntings were singing from the reedbeds and Grey Herons stalked patiently along the edges of coastal ponds. The quality of conversation made the morning seem to fly past; environment, conservation, sustainability and renewable energy are all important things to NEWT and it’s always a pleasure to share our love of the northeast and it’s wildlife with clients who know the area and the countryside so well. Mick’s keenness on video recording and photography of the wildlife he sees was enjoyable, and Helen managed to photograph a Sedge Warbler using her mobile ‘phone. All too soon, Thursday (part 1) was over…