Day 1. 19/02/17. I arrived at the Bamburgh Castle Inn for the start of our Winter Wonderland holiday, then met up with with Christine, John, Linda and Rosie in the bar and outlined the plan for the next two days while we enjoyed a fantastic meal.
Day 2. 20/02/17. Our first full day was targeting Lindisfarne and the North Northumberland coast. Stopping at Budle Bay on our way north we soon found a Spotted Redshank amongst the Common Redshank, Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler, Mallard, Oystercatcher, Shelduck and Curlew as Pink-footed and Greylag Geese and Lapwing swirled distantly against a leaden grey sky on a stiff breeze and Red-breasted Mergansers looked even more comical than usual with their tufts blown to odd angles. A heavy misty drizzle took hold, yet cleared within minutes, leaving a beautiful azure sky draped in fluffy white cloud. A Kestrel perched obligingly as we stopped along a hedgerow that was heaving with Chaffinches. As the receding tide cleared the Holy Island causeway, waders dropped in to feed along the edge of the recently exposed mud. Knot, Dunlin, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Turnstone and Bar-tailed Godwit were all close to the road and easily observable by using the car as a nice, sheltered, warm hide as Pale-bellied Brent Geese flew over us 🙂 Over on the island we found a mixed flock of Dark-bellied Brent Geese, Curlew and Lapwing. As an unseen threat spooked them and they lifted from the field, it was obvious that the number of birds present was far greater than we thought. Grey Seals were hauled out on the now visible sandbars and we headed back across to the mainland. Lunch overlooking the vast expanse of mud produced more geese and ducks, including Pintail, and a distant Little Stint in amongst a flock of Dunlin and Knot. A Merlin had spooked the Chaffinch flock as we headed back south and a quick stop at Bamburgh produced Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone, Ringed Plover and Eider but nothing on the sea in what the wind had whipped up into a frothing mess of whitecaps. The stiffening breeze was making viewing conditions awkward but the final stop of the afternoon brought Song Thrush, Long-tailed Tit, Greenfinch and Goldcrest before we headed back to Seahouses. Dinner was accompanied by a discussion of the plan for Tuesday, and a target list was quickly developed…
Day 3. 21/02/17. Tuesday saw us heading south towards Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. Our first target for the day was a species that’s scarce and often only offers fleeting views…Willow Tit is a regular visitor to the NEWT garden feeding station but I’d got a different site in mind and we enjoyed prolonged views of at least two of these gorgeous little birds, as well as a detailed discussion about how to separate them from Marsh Tit. Reed Bunting, Common Snipe and Common Buzzard joined the day list as an impressive flock of Lapwing and Golden Plover swirled against the sky as we headed off in search of our next target for the day. This one proved fairly straightforward and we had great views of both male and female Brambling. Little Grebe, Goldeneye and Common and Black-headed Gulls accompanied our lunch stop before we had excellent views of some very obliging Common Snipe, Bar-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Ruff, Tree Sparrow and Little Egret. Shorelark was the one target for the day that eluded us, as we had several flight views of a vocal flock of Twite while Ringed Plover were displaying on the beach, Sanderling were scurrying back and forth and a flock of Common Scoter were offshore with Red-throated Divers and Guillemot just beyond the breaking surf. A handsome male Stonechat flushed from bush to bush ahead of us as we walked along the path and the long-staying Pacific Diver eventually gave great views close to a Slavonian Grebe. There was one target species still remaining on the list for the day though, and I was sure that the last hour of daylight would bring that one for us. Scanning the edges of reedbeds through the telescope revealed a dark shape that hadn’t been there a few minutes earlier during my last scan of the reedbed, and that dark shape stretched and began loping along, still partly obscured by the reeds. Within a minute everyone had located the Otter as it moved quickly around the edge of the pool and then it vanished, only to appear in the water a few minutes later 🙂 We watched as it swam towards us before losing it from sight behind the near vegetation. After a few minutes of calm all of the Mute Swans were suddenly staring towards the bank right in front of us, and the Otter passed by just a few metres away 🙂 A great finish to our final full day in the field.
Day 4. 22/02/17. Departure day dawned dry, bright and with an icily cold breeze as we gathered for breakfast before all heading off our separate ways.
We’ll be adding 2017 and 2018 dates to our holiday page shortly but please do get in touch if you’ve got any questions about what we offer. Our short break holidays have a maximum of 6 participants, and a relaxed pace, and we’re always happy to create something bespoke too 🙂
We always try to provide a weather forecast a day or two before a trip; it helps people to decide what footwear would be appropriate for example. Sunday’s update for everyone booked on yesterday’s Otter Safari was ‘Current weather forecast suggests dry and warm with only a very light NE breeze.’ By yesterday morning that had changed to ‘…likely to be cooler than anticipated, damp/misty and windy…’
I arrived at Church Point to collect Pamela, Conrad and David & Dianne, and we set off for an afternoon and evening searching for Otters around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. A beautiful ghostly pale adult Mediterranean Gull in the car park provided a nice comparison with the Black-headed Gull it was sitting next to and in the heavy mist that was about as far as we could see at the start of the tour. Another Mediterranean Gull, this time a juvenile moulting into 1st-winter plumage provided an even more educational experience. Gulls may not be everyone’s cup of tea but they’re great for learning all of the basics of moult and aging 🙂 Cormorant, Little Grebe, Canada and Greylag Geese, Mute Swan, Gadwall, Mallard, Wigeon, Teal, Tufted Duck, Grey Heron and Lapwing were just about everywhere we went, Ruff demonstrated their obvious sexual dimorphism, Starling murmurations were developing in the misty gloom of mid-afternoon and Little Egrets were delicate, luminous, silently stalking along the water’s edge. A juvenile Marsh Harrier quartered the edges of nearby fields but was subjected to continuous harrassment from corvids and a late brood of quite well-grown Swallows watched us from their nest. As dusk approached we were overlooking a stretch of water that I had high hopes for. Suddenly, hitherto unseen on the water in the dark shadows of bankside vegetation, Teal scattered in an almost perfect circle, including some that flew straight into the tree-lined bank and the impenetrable darkness was bisected by the typical line of bright water of the wake of an Otter 🙂 In the deep gloom of dusk, and the softening blanket of mist, it was proving difficult to pin down, and not everyone managed to, and the sequential flushing of Grey Heron along the bank hinted at it’s progress before it eventually surfaced near a group of Mute Swans, diving in a slightly more obliging location for a minute or so before it disappeared into the darkness.
Wednesday brought a first for me – arriving at Church Point to collect Lucy, Jon, Hattie and Lily, the car park was completely full! That’s nice weather for you though…
We started our afternoon around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland with a search for Red Squirrel. With lots of people around it wasn’t entirely surprising that our quarry eluded us, but Chaffinch, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Goldfinch and Dunnock were all benefiting from the supply of free food as everyone tried to get to grips with the contact calls of Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler. Dragonflies were hawking around the tree tops and a range of insects finished up in our sample pot before being released back to the plants we’d taken them from. On to wetter habitats and an attempt to catch a Blue-tailed Damselfly ended comically when it flew from its perch and settled on my finger instead 🙂 Common Snipe, Curlew Sandpiper, Common Redshank, Ruff, Curlew and Lapwing were a nice little haul of waders and a calling Greenshank stayed out of sight as Little Egrets stalked along the water’s edge and Grey Herons tried to remain inconspicuous amongst the clumps of rush. I was called on to answer some tricky questions during the afternoon – “would a Grey Squirrel attack a person?” was slightly easier to answer than “what sort of cloud is that?” 😉
As often is the case, there was a discussion about best wildlife of the trip. Common Snipe and Cinnabar Moth caterpillar both got the seal of approval, although the vote did come before we were heading back down the coast and a Barn Owl was quartering the roadside fields. Death on silent wings, beautifully backlit by the later afternoon sun and the finale to Jon’s 40th birthday wildlife tour 🙂
Five Little Egret together between Amble and Warkworth was a good start to the day, while 15 juvenile Goosander formed a sleek and menacing flotilla along the river as mum watched sleepily from the river bank nearby. Curlew and Lapwing flew overhead and we continued down the coast where more Little Egret awaited. This was a really rare bird in Northumberland, not too long ago, so encountering them just about everywhere you look is quite odd. Waders were next on the list and an impressive selection at Cresswell included a stunning summer-plumaged Knot, 1 Ruff, 2 Common Sandpiper, 2 Little Stint, 5 Avocet, 14 Golden Plover, 24 Black-tailed Godwit and lots of Dunlin, Curlew, Lapwing and Oystercatcher. Alongside them were another 10 Little Egret! Len and (another) Gill were in the hide and Gill asked “Can you remember when…” 🙂
The end of the afternoon brought another wader for the list (Common Snipe), Yellow Wagtails and a Pied Wagtail dicing with death around the hooves of cattle and a close encounter with an adult and chick Great Crested Grebe. The chick’s incessant begging, even when it was apparently asleep with it’s head tucked under it’s wing, had the adult hunting constantly and effectively. Time and again it surfaced with a small fish which it shook and battered on the water’s surface before offering to the chick, which went quiet for just a few seconds before resuming it’s demand for food.
As much as I enjoy searching for mammals during the winter, there’s no denying that the middle of the summer can be a very productive time to concentrate on fur rather than feathers…
I collected Jane and Mike from Seahouses and we headed towards Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland for an afternoon and evening exploring NEWT’s local patch. Barn Owls are always a welcome sight and this one was no exception as it quartered, hovered and dropped to the ground in pursuit of prey. A mixed flock of waders included Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, Common Snipe, Lapwing, Ruff and Redshank as a Brown Hare wandered by. A mammal that is a real Northumberland speciality put in a very welcome appearance. Descending a tree trunk head first the Red Squirrel was intent on raiding a feeder. Then it was away back up the tree before demonstrating it’s agility by leaping from tree to tree on thin branches. A distant Otter was slightly less than obliging as it made it’s way along the edge of a reedbed before vanishing into the gloom. As dusk approached we were sitting in a narrow, steep-sided valley watching for Badgers. As pipistrelles flicked across our field of vision, we could hear the cracking branches that betray the presence of a large clumsy animal and there was a brief glimpse of black and white through the trees opposite. Light levels continued to fall and a Roebuck wandered out into the open. He paused briefly, looking directly at us, and was then spotted by another roebuck who took exception to his presence and let out a series of blood-curdling yells. If you were walking through woodland at dusk and didn’t know what the sound was it could be pretty terrifying 🙂
As much as I enjoy searching for, and finding, wildlife with our clients I have to admit to a fascination what wildlife does and how it behaves…
Druridge Bay is a great place throughout the year, there’s always plenty to see, and Thursday was no exception. Great Crested Grebes, haughtily elegant, Mallard, Wigeon, Teal, Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Shoveler, Shelduck, all so different from the duller plumage they’ll be wearing shortly, dainty Little Gulls flycatching amnogst flocks of Black-headed Gull and even a couple of rarities, Great White Egret, hunched in the rushes near a Grey Heron, and Bonaparte’s Gull, roosting with Black-headed Gulls, for good measure.
At this time of year one of the highlights is often wading birds on passage. These birds, so cryptically patterned during the winter months, often appear in rather stunning breeding finery at the end of spring passage, and the start of autumn passage. There’s little quite as remarkable as a male Ruff dressed in his best dancing clothes. This blog post from 2010 has an example of one 🙂 Passage birds in the spring have a raging passion burning in their blood, and as Curlew displayed overhead and Common Snipe dropped into the rushes we came across one male Ruff who was giving it his all. Jumping, prancing, strutting, spreading his ruff like an Elizabethan dandy and bowing handsomely and exaggeratedly at the feet of his intended. There was only one flaw in this impressive dance of desire…the subject of his attention was a Redshank! It would appear that in the absence of any Reeves our Ruff wasn’t going to hide his light under a bushel. Settling for second best, or blinded by desire, his ardour wasn’t dimmed by the persistent rejection from the obviously agitated Redshank 🙂
Wildlife does the funniest things…
The influence of the weather on our wildlife can never be underestimated. Strong cold winds are often a signal for everything to go into hiding, seeking warmth and shelter in reedbeds, bushes, behind rocks…pretty much anywhere where they’ll be tricky to see. Last Saturday was in that cold and windy category so I was pleased that Wednesday’s Druridge Bay trip looked as though it would be blessed with warm sunshine 🙂
I collected Karen and Richard from Newbiggin by the Sea and we set out for a day birdwatching around NEWT’s local patch. With a slight change in the weather, the wildlife responded obligingly; the onomatopoeia of Chiffchaffs was near constant throughout the day, as was the rough throaty warble of Whitethroat. A remarkably obliging Sedge Warbler sat in the reed tops in front of us, occasionally sallying forth in song-flight before returning to his stage, close to a male Reed Bunting who was singing his somewhat simpler song. Avocets were an elegant study in black and white, Dunlin and Ruff are both attractive birds in breeding plumage, Little Gulls are incredibly tiny when seen alongside other birds, Skylarks were dust-bathing, Tree Sparrows were hopping around on the footpath just a few feet away from us and goslings were grazing close to the water’s edge.
A food pass between male and female Marsh Harriers happened in front of us, Great Crested Grebes were engaged in their elaborate courtship dance and two male Lapwings left a cloud of feathers as they came to blows over what was presumably a prime patch of mud and rushes. With the warmth of the sunshine and an obvious hatch of insects, the air overhead was filled with Swifts and it finally felt like the summer was here as they started screaming 🙂
04/01/2008, and NEWT’s first ever day out with clients was a strange, cold, gloomy day where we managed to find our target species for the day, Roe Deer. Eight years on and I found myself out with clients on January 4th again…
As I arrived at Church Point to collect Roberta and Dougie, the first thing that struck me was the height of the waves crashing into Newbiggin Bay. Then the icy cold wind started probing, although it couldn’t breach the layers of clothing I’d aligned against it. Whichever direction you looked, the weather looked different; a patch of blue sky, sunlight trying to break through the clouds, distant rain…all possibilities seemed open as we headed down the coast. Greylag Geese, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Gadwall, Teal, Coot, Moorhen and a lone Lapwing braved the cold as the first rain shower of the day made the water’s surface dance. Next came what all agreed was the highlight of the day as Goldeneye and Little Grebe drifted apart and the space between them was occupied by an Otter 🙂 With a 75% success rate on our Otter Safaris during 2015 it wasn’t suprising that 2016 started with such an obliging mustelid which came closer and closer before drifting away and feeding incessantly.
Lunch overlooking the North Sea brought Fulmars arcing effortlessly along the cliff tops, a very obliging Little Gull looked tiny alongside Black-headed Gulls and the wader and wildfowl list for the day continued to grow with Wigeon, Red-breasted Merganser, Scaup, Pochard, Pink-footed Goose, Dunlin, Ruff, Redshank, Curlew, Golden Plover and Long-billed Dowitcher. A very vocal Fieldfare gave remarkably confiding views, Goldfinch and Tree Sparrow jostled for position on feeders and, as the wind strengthened, waves crashed on the shore with a roar reminiscent of heavy traffic and the rain showers intensified, we headed back to Church Point.
Yesterday saw returning clients, as Jayne and Andy joined us for an Otter Safari. Their previous day with NEWT, back in September 2010, proved memorable as we found a White-winged Black Tern at Cresswell.
Under blue skies and sunshine, in stark contrast to recent days, we headed for Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. Arriving at our first site, it was immediately apparent that Little Grebe, Mallard, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Wigeon and Mute Swan were all avoiding one area of the pond. As a noisy flock of Fieldfare moved through the trees above the reedbed on the opposite side of the water the birds began dispersing over the wider area of water and there was no further sign of possible Otter activity so we headed onwards. Little Egret were darting at small fish in the shallows, Curlew, Oystercatcher and Redshank were probing the mud as Goosander and Eider dived in search of prey. I focused my attention on a gap between two small groups of Little Grebe…and there was the tell tale dark shape, twisting and diving 🙂 A second Otter surfaced right alongside the first and as they came closer I could see that they were the two cubs that we’ve been watching for the last few weeks. We watched them as they came closer and closer, feeding constantly for over 90 minutes, regularly surfacing and diving synchronously.
After lunch overlooking the North Sea, we headed to Cresswell where an impressive wader roost included Redshank, Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Dunlin, Knot, Curlew, Lapwing and the Long-billed Dowitcher. Skein after skein of Pink-footed Geese patterned the sky, Red-breasted Merganser were displaying and drake Goldeneye stood out from the gloom as the sky clouded over, a strengthening breeze began to exert a chilling grip and we headed back to Alnmouth.
Friday was Tony’s third, and final, day of bespoke birdwatching with NEWT and we headed north in similar weather to Thursday…
Travelling north, Roe Deer seemed unsure which way to run across the road so dodged back and forth in front of us. On the rising tide, Little Egrets, Bar-tailed Godwits, Curlew, Dunlin, Redshank and Oystercatcher were hunting along the water’s edge, Pale-bellied Brent Geese were leapfrogging north, Pink-footed Geese flew south high overhead as the ‘choo-it’ calls of a Spotted Redshank and eerie moaning of Grey Seals cut through the tranquil air. A Common Buzzard was perched on a telegraph pole and the rising tide brought more birds towards us, Herring, Common, Black-headed, Great Black-backed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Ruff, Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover, Wigeon, Goosander, Mallard and Teal were more obliging than distant swirling flocks of Lapwing and Barnacle Goose and a noisy tribe of Long-tailed Tits moved through the trees behind us. Lunch at Stag Rocks produced Common Eider, Guillemot, Gannet, Red-throated Diver, Turnstone, Purple Sandpiper and Shag, then Greenshank and Shoveler were soon added to the day list as we continued south down the coast. Panic amongst Herring Gulls and Cormorants revealed a Grey Seal swimming along the River Coquet and Great Crested Grebe and Goldeneye were the final new birds for Tony’s holiday as a juvenile Marsh Harrier flew by and Greylag and Pink-footed Geese began arriving at their overnight roost.