Tag: Rook

Waiting on the weather ;-) Druridge Bay Safari 26/04/19

by on Apr.27, 2019, under Druridge Bay

As I arrived in Newbiggin to collect Sue, Nick, Mandy and Ian for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland the sea was looking much calmer than it had done on Wednesday, but the sky was ominous and the forecast more so…

We started with a couple of riverside walks through woodland dripping with bird song. As Blackbirds and a Mistle Thrush fed in open grassland and Chiffchaff, Song Thrush, Chaffinch, Goldcrest and Robin sang from exposed, and not-so-exposed, perches, Grey Wagtails were flycatching from rocks in the fast flowing water and a pair of Dippers were taking food to their nest. Cormorants were perched on dead trees mid-river, Canada Geese were fighting and calling, Gadwall were dabbling serenely and a Grey Heron stalked patiently along the water’s edge in the shadow of the trees as the forecast weather seemed to have arrived, with cold rain driven on a southerly breeze making viewing a challenge.

The rain soon eased though and on the coast Mandy spotted a Barn Owl perched on a fence post, sheltered from the wind. It left it’s perch and was soon offering very obliging views as it quartered and hovered over rough grassland as a Meadow Pipit perched on a wall nearby and a handsome male Wheatear hopped along the track ahead of us. Avocets, Lapwings, Oystercatchers, Redshanks and a lone Curlew were standing in the shallows as Bar-tailed Godwits probed incessantly in the mud while wading belly deep in the wind-ruffled water and three Grey Herons did that very heron thing of flying around after each other rather than just accepting that there’s plenty of space for everyone to hunt in.

After an afternoon of what seemed like permanent dusk, light levels did start to dip towards darkness as a female Marsh Harrier quartered a roadside field, a Sparrowhawk hedge-hopped over the road in front of us, Pheasants and a Red-legged Partridge took their chances crossing the road, a Brown Hare loped away along tractor tracks through deep cover, a Roe Deer raced backwards and forwards through long grass and Coot, Moorhen, Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Teal, Mallard, Pochard, Great Crested and Little Grebe and Mute Swan were all on the water as the squealing of a Water Rail cut through the gloom before we headed back towards civilisation 🙂

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A walk in the woods 01/11/18

by on Nov.02, 2018, under Choppington Woods

It’s been a difficult couple of weeks in the NEWT household.  We’d had a week away in and around Glencoe checking locations for a landscape photography holiday I’m leading over Christmas, then a couple of days after we got back home I wasn’t feeling well.  Sarah took me to see our GP and they sent me straight to the excellent Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital in Cramlington.  Four days later I was discharged, limited to a liquid-only diet and with surgery scheduled for early January.  Luckily I’m well enough to work, as we’ve got a very busy November ahead of us.  This week has been mainly recuperation at home, but I need to keep my mind and body active and daily walks in the woods behind our house are the best medicine…

With the light of day fading to dusk, the harsh ‘chek’ calls of Jackdaws and deep ‘rawk’ of Rooks gathering together to roost were layered with the staccato ratting of Magpies.  The woods are familiar and comforting, and a place to clear my mind.  We’ve walked them countless times over the last 18 years and the benches, interpretation boards, boardwalk/dipping platform and well-surfaced paths were the result of a successful funding bid that I presented back in 2009.  We know which intersections of the footpaths and tracks will produce the pungent scent of Red Fox, temporarily overwhelming the sweet earthy smell of Autumn decay and the heady perfume of Himalayan Balsam, which areas of the wood will have Goldcrest and Long-tailed Tit and where to search for Red Squirrel and the other inhabitants of this reclaimed colliery site.  Woodpigeons were gathering in treetops frosted orange by the setting Sun and, applying the shape, shadow and shine elements of concealment I chose a position on the shaded side of an Ivy-covered hedge.  Willow Tits and Coal Tits gave quiet alarm calls as a Sparrowhawk flew along the hedge and a Kestrel hovered over the field in the half-light.  Jays were crossing between plantations, Roe Deer ventured out from cover to forage close to the field edge, Redwings arrived to roost and the chacking calls so typical of pre-roost Blackbirds penetrated the crisp, cold air under a clear blue sky layered over the pastel pink of the Belt of Venus away to the east as I had a feeling that there was something close by.  A brief whirr of wings so I turned my head slowly…and found myself eye to eye with a handsome cock Pheasant 🙂

A connection with nature allows us to disconnect, even if only for a short while, from our connection with everyday life.  It’s good for body and soul and so many of our clients comment that one of the things they most enjoy about their days out with NEWT is just how relaxing it is to be taken away from work and the stresses of life.  Applying that to myself is working well too 🙂

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Omens; Focus on Northumberland Day 1 and 2 17-18/02/18

by on Feb.18, 2018, under Uncategorized

Day 1 17/02/18

After collecting John and Dani from Hexham we headed to The Battlesteads; our base for the next three days.  Saturday’s evening session at the observatory featured some clear sky and we managed a quick binocular tour of Orion, Leo, Gemini, Cassiopeia, Auriga and the Plough before the rain eventually drove us back to the warmth of the dry room.

Day 2 18/02/18

Today was our inland wildlife/landscape photography day and we headed south into the North Pennines.  The road sides still had a fair amount of snow and a couple of the minor roads that we would have used to cross some of the higher hills weren’t safely passable but a brief detour soon had us next to flocks of Lapwing, Starling and Common GullRed Grouse were their usual obliging selves, sitting well within camera range and chuckling away at us before delivering an ominous ‘go back, go back, go back’ – perhaps they’d had a look at the road conditions already?  The avian specialty of the hills was there in good numbers too; 51 Black Grouse during the day included a single flock of 40 birds before drizzle and fog closed in around us.  Flocks of Rook and Jackdaw flew in front of us on their way to roost, dark birds against a darkening sky as the weather followed us down from the hills and we headed back to civilisation and The Battlesteads.

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Darkness descending; Druridge Bay mini-Safari 20/09/17

by on Sep.21, 2017, under Druridge Bay

I collected Ian and Julie from Hauxley and before we’d set off for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay things got off to a great start with Goldcrests and a Yellow-browed Warbler in the car park 🙂

Next up were two young Roe Deer, trotting along the edge of a field before stopping to watch us, and a Little Owl sitting on the end of the gutter of a cottage.  Waders occupied our attentions for the next hour and a large roosting flock of very vocal Lapwings were accompanied by plenty of Dunlin, a couple of Common Redshank and single Ruff, Curlew and Greenshank, as well as an elusive Common Snipe camouflaged in among reed stubble as Little Egrets squabbled over a prime feeding spot while practically glowing in late afternoon sunlight.  A Barn Owl flew by, carrying a Short-tailed Vole, before vanishing into a barn then reappearing only to be pestered by Jackdaws, Rooks and Carrion Crows.  With light levels falling, Starlings passed by in impressive flocks, but they’d decided to forego a prolonged murmurating display in favour of heading straight to roost in the reedbeds  out of the cold and wind.  With ducks in eclipse plumage it isn’t the best time of year to enjoy watching them but we could still identify Shoveler, Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Gadwall and Pintail in the fading light as Little and Great Crested Grebes alternated between sleeping and diving and Cormorants sat motionless as a Grey Heron flew over with heavy wingbeats.  As the light faded to the point where it was a struggle to see, the squealing of a Water Rail was followed soon after by a brief view of this strange little denizen of the reedbeds as it half-ran, half-flew across a gap in the reeds.

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Here come the Scandinavians; Druridge Bay Birdwatching 26/10/2015

by on Oct.28, 2015, under Druridge Bay

October, mist, drizzle, winds off the sea…

I collected Bernard from Newbiggin and we headed north to begin a day birdwatching around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  A very obliging Dipper was singing from a mid-stream rock, before it started feeding.  If you’ve never seen a Dipper feeding, put it on your list of things that you really need to see!  As Common Redshank and Curlew probed in gooey estuarine mud, we could see a wave of panic spreading towards us from the north.  First, the air was filled with Greylag and Pink-footed Geese, Woodpigeon, Rook, Carrion Crow and Jackdaw. Then Wigeon, Mallard, Canada Geese and Curlew took flight and 20 Black-tailed Godwit passed overhead.  A few minutes later the cause of all the consternation put in an appearance – a female Sparrowhawk, menacing and muscular as she followed the coast southwards.  Then a sight, and sound, that always warms my heart as 20 Redwing and 6 Fieldfare, winter visitors from Scandinavia, flew over.  More waders and wildfowl featured during the afternoon; Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Gadwall, Little Grebe, Common Snipe, Dunlin, Lapwing and Golden Plover resplendent in low autumn sunlight.  A Water Rail wandered out of the reeds and our final new bird for the day was an elegant female Pintail, as the calls of Redwing and Fieldfare continued to cut through the afternoon air.

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The power of the sea

by on Jul.06, 2013, under Bamburgh Castle, Birdwatching, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

We rarely let the weather get the better of us.  Apart from our annual programme of North Sea Pelagics, where the weather really can make a difference to a trip going ahead or not, we can pretty much cope with anything the elements throw at us.

I collected Harry and Maureen for their mini-safari on the North Northumberland coast as the first drops of rain began to speckle the windscreen of the car.  Straight down the coast and we were soon watching Eiders and Common Scoter riding up and over the surf, Guillemots, Puffins and Razorbills loafing offshore, Gannets and Fulmars soaring effortlessly over the sea, Swallows hawking insects within a few feet of us and Rooks foraging around the car park in search of discarded morsels of food.  All of this was in heavy rain, but positioning the car at just the right angle to the wind made it possible to watch all of these birds and the dark majesty of the sea as a backdrop.  Along the coast towards Holy Island a huge group of Grey Seals were basking in the improving weather and, all too soon, it was lunchtime and the end of the trip.

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The power of the sea

by on Mar.25, 2013, under Bamburgh Castle, Holy Island, North Sea, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

Friday was a safari on the North Northumberland coast for Kathryn and Linda.  As I collected them from the Lindisfarne Inn, the biting wind carried a flurry of snow, and I guessed this could well be a day for birdwatching from the warmth and comfort of the car.

Over the next few hours we had close views of Bar-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Redshank and Oystercatcher as they probed in the mud, seemingly oblivious to the breeze, a Peregrine shot by, menace on pointed wings, and a Brown Hare sat majestically in the middle of a field.  From the car park at Stag Rock we could see the MV Danio, still stranded near the Longstone lighthouse, as Common Scoter and Eider rode up and over the impressive swell and Gannets battled into the breeze.  Black-headed Gulls and Rooks were almost perched on the car, and the South Low below the Holy Island Causeway offered impressive views of Eider, Long-tailed Duck and Scaup.

Our lunch stop was the Bamburgh Castle Inn, which gave us a good view of the extent of the swell rolling from the south east…and the approaching snow, which got to us just before we got back to the car 🙂

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Enchanted evening

by on Nov.23, 2012, under Birdwatching, Choppington Woods, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

As the air cools, a pall of pale ghostly mist hangs just above the ground in a wildflower meadow dropping away ahead of me.  I’m on a woodland edge, standing on a soft cushion of fallen larch and pine needles.  Standing still and blending in, the mist wraps me in its cooling blanket as a flock of Goldcrests move through the trees just behind my vantage point.  Overhead Redwings, Rooks and Jackdaws head to roost as a Carrion Crow caws defiantly from the top of a tall larch and Wood Pigeons flutter up and down at tree-top height.  The incessant screeching of Jays and chatter of Blackbirds betrays the presence of a Tawny Owl; stirring in preparation for its nocturnal foray, it soon tires of the harassment and heads deeper into the wood.  A Woodcock appears at the same point where I emerged from the trees just a few minutes ago, having followed my route alongside the gurgling stream.  Away over the fields I can see a Barn Owl, hunting close to the site where it raised this year’s young hoolets, and Roe Deer nervously make their way out into the open.  As the light fades and I head for home, it’s hard to believe that I’m on the edge of the most densely populated area of Northumberland and walking through a mixed woodland where there were once three coal mines, including one of the first deep-shaft mines anywhere in the world.  For now though, it’s just me and the wildlife…

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Heron aid

by on Sep.19, 2011, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

Our 3rd Druridge Bay/southeast Northumberland trip in 5 days began with an old friend as our regular Little Owl sat sleepily in the sunshine, only opening an eye to check who we were before nodding off again.  Further north, we watched a flock of 59 Pink-footed Geese as they headed south high overhead.  3 Grey Herons flew south past us, then north over Warkworth before heading south again.  Incredibly. later in the afternoon, the same 3 herons flew south overhead at East Chevington, followed soon after by another 4, and we found another 3 sitting in a recently mown field near Hauxley.  East Chevington also produced a good flock of Lapwing, with several Ruff scattered amongst them, and Cresswell held a flock of Dunlin with a Little Stint.

As sunset approached we settled to the waiting game of quiet observation by a small pool.  Tawny Owls called nearby, a Buzzard was perched obligingly in the open, a Sparrowhawk was hedge-hopping to see what it could scare up for dinner, Jackdaws and Rooks were gathering noisily before going to roost and there was a notable level of panic and a high level of alertness in the assembled ducks.  The cause of the panic didn’t show itself though, and we walked back to the car with Common Pipistrelles flying just above our heads before I returned Tamasin and Daniel to Newbiggin.

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Comfort zone

by on May.03, 2011, under Birdwatching, Cheviot Valleys, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

I’ve been a general naturalist since an early age, but birdwatching has been the thing that has always gripped my imagination.  As a wildlife guide though, is that really enough?  That’s a question that seems to arise occasionally on internet forums.  I decided at an early stage of NEWT that I needed a much broader and deeper knowledge, so I spend a lot of time studying things that once upon a time (I’m ashamed to admit) I would have ignored, or even not noticed.  Every day that I spend with clients, I make an effort to learn from them, whilst imparting my own knowledge, skills and understanding of what we encounter.

On Thursday I led an afternoon of guided birdwatching around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  The blazing sunshine when I collected Karen from Newbiggin made it almost impossible to see anything in the bay but, as each small gull flew by, we checked for the identification features that would provide us with a Mediterranean Gull.  All proved to be Black-headed Gulls, and we headed north up the coast.  As we stood by the River Coquet, discussing how to separate Carrion Crow, Rook and Jackdaw in flight, I saw the tell-tale ghostly wings of a Med Gull as it drifted down towards the water’s edge.  Jet black hood, pristine white wingtips and, as perfect as if it was scripted, sitting next to an adult Black-headed Gull allowing easy comparison.  Some of our favourite birds followed; Marsh Harrier, Nuthatch, Heron and at least 17 Whimbrel.  During the afternoon I learned a feature of Wood Sorrel that will ensure I never misidentify it (again…).  Karen, you were right 🙂

Friday was something very different as we were headed inland to the Cheviots for a day searching for summer visitors.  After a few hours with a spectacular roll-call of the wildlife of the valleys, including Brown Hare, Roe Deer, Whinchat, Tree Pipit, Wheatear, Spotted Flycatcher, Red Grouse, Curlew and Lapwings (with chicks), we followed the track up a steep sided valley in search of a bird that Sue hadn’t seen before (and really wanted to).  As the sky darkened, the wind strengthened and chilled, and the first drops of icy rain began to fall, I spotted 2 distant birds flying down the valley.  I didn’t have any doubt about the identification so, when they eventually settled on the tops of the heather, I aimed the ‘scope in their direction and Sue enjoyed her first views of the ‘Mountain Blackbird’.  Ring Ouzels may often be seen on passage in the spring and autumn, but high in a remote valley, where you think the elements could give you a good working over at any time and the habitat supports so few species, is simply the right place to see them.  Another lesson learned; memorable sightings make you forget about the weather 🙂

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