Tag: Sand Martin

Yes, this really is southeast Northumberland ;-) Otter Safari 18/05/18

by on May.19, 2018, under Druridge Bay, Otter

In warm but breezy weather I collected Baird and Margaret, and then Jacqui, Paul, Chris and Louise ahead of an afternoon and evening around southeast Northumberland and Druridge Bay searching for Otters

Starting with a woodland walk we could hear Blackbird, Blackcap, Robin, Wren, Woodpigeon, Chiffchaff and Chaffinch all singing but the only movement in the rocky streams was gurgling water. Black-headed Gulls were swarming over the wider rivers, mopping up an obviously substantial hatch of flying insects, and Cormorants were doing their best to impersonate Otters.  Our picnic stop overlooking the North Sea brought a fantastic wildlife experience; with everyone else enjoying soup, sandwich and carrot cake I was scanning the sea.  Common Eider, Guillemot and Razorbill were all rafting as Gannets headed north and then I spotted the concentrated activity of a flock of gulls.  Focusing on the sea below them I soon spotted a couple of dorsal fins breaking the surface…and we had nearly an hour with 9 Bottlenose Dolphins porpoising, breaching, feeding and generally being very entertaining right in front of us 🙂  Tufted Duck, Mallard, Shoveler, Gadwall and Great Crested Grebe all looked stunning in low angled sunlight as Lapwings displayed with their bizarre other-worldly calls and, as the Sun sank towards the northwest a Barn Owl flew across the road ahead of us.

Under a beautiful waxing crescent Moon alongside Venus in the west, and Arcturus and Jupiter visible in the twilight to the southeast, with the giant planet stunning through our telescope, the Swallows, Swifts, House Martins and Sand Martins were replaced overhead by Noctule and pipistrelle bats as dozens and dozens of Black-headed Gulls continued feasting on flying insects and a Roe Deer was in the reeds opposite us.  Tufted Ducks, Mallards, Canada Geese and Greylag Geese were looking agitated and one flock of gulls seemed to be whirling in a dense tight circle over a narrow bay in the reeds before gradually drifting along still following the reed edge…and the Otter that was stealthily making it’s way around the pool 🙂  We watched it for a few minutes before it surfaced right in front of an adult Mute Swan and decided it was time to beat a hasty retreat into the reeds.

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Mediterranean; Druridge Bay Bespoke Birdwatching 30/04/18

by on May.02, 2018, under Druridge Bay

I collected Pete and Jan from Embleton for their 11th day out with NEWT, and our intended destination was the Cheviot Valleys.  That isn’t where we headed though as the howling northerly wind would have made several hours on exposed moorland quite unpleasant so, after a quick chat, we decided to head down the coast to Druridge Bay

Our first stop produced probably the bird of the day as a Dipper sat obligingly on a small rock.  Occasionally stretching it’s wings it did little more than turn around, and burst explosively into song when any other Dippers flew along, before eventually flying up into a nest hole.  The scratchy warble of Blackcaps came from deep cover, a Great Spotted Woodpecker drummed briefly, Chiffchaffs were singing their eponymous song, Nuthatches were delivering their entire repertoire of calls and a Treecreeper – incredibly the first I’ve seen this year – shuffled furtively up an ivy-clad trunk.

Lunch overlooking the North Sea produced Fulmars soaring effortlessly on stiff wings and lines of Gannets heading north into the wind.  The next couple of hours could have been set somewhere much further south, and warmer, with only the wind-chill reminding us that we were in Northumberland.  Glossy Ibis, Spoonbill and Little Egret were alongside Garganey and a Channel Wagtail feeding on a marshy field as Sand Martins and Swallows gathered insects overhead and, after we’d left the ibis behind we saw it again as it flew north past us.  Brief songbursts from Sedge and Willow Warblers were mixed in with another scratchy warble as Common Whitethroats advertised their presence, another first of the year for myself and NEWT, and the insect-plundering hordes over the coastal pools included a couple of Common Swifts – as sure a sign as any that the summer is here 😉

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A wet day in the borders; Kielder Safari 17/04/18

by on Apr.18, 2018, under Kielder

I collected Gordon and Mandy from The Battlesteads for their 5th day out with NEWT and we headed towards Kielder.  The forecast suggested occasional showers, so I was hopeful that the breaks in the rain would encourage raptors to be up and about…

6 hours later the rain eventually stopped 🙂  We’d had views of Dipper and Grey Wagtail along a shallow fast-flowing rocky stream as Sand Martins vanished into nest holes in the steep riverbank.  A Common Buzzard seemed unperturbed by the rain and patience and persistence finally paid off when Gordon spotted a male Hen Harrier quartering a skyline ridge as Wild Goats grazed below.  We moved along the road and another male Hen Harrier flew across the road ahead of us and was joined by a ringtail.  As they worked they way along the ridge, more buzzards could be seen distantly and blue sky, fluffy white clouds and warm sunshine replaced the rain as Chaffinches and Robins sang from the trees close to the border, Siskins gave their high pitched calls as they flew over and Common Crossbills flew through without being obliging enough to settle where we could see them and more buzzards rose on thermals in the afternoon sunshine.

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Birds, birds, birds; Druridge Bay mini-Safari 12/09/17

by on Sep.13, 2017, under Druridge Bay

I collected Peter and Melanie from Cramlington ahead of a few hours around Druridge Bay and apart from a stiff breeze the weather was just about ideal…

Some impressively dense flocks of Swallows and Sand Martins were gorging themselves on flying insects, Little Egrets were stalking through the shallows with the feathers ruffled by the breeze, Goldfinches were foraging among the dried out heads of knapweed, Black-tailed Godwit, Ruff and Dunlin were wading in the shallows and Shoveler, Gadwall, Teal, Wigeon and Mallard were all far less impressive than they’ll be in a few months time with all of the drakes currently in eclipse plumage.  Grey Herons were sitting motionless along the edges of reedbeds and in among clumps of rush, Starlings and Lapwings were swirling on the breeze, Cormorants were submerging repeatedly in search of food, Little and Great Crested Grebes were sleeping in the afternoon sunshine and there were a few real quality birds throughout the afternoon. A Black-necked Grebe led us a merry dance as it made it’s way quickly across, and most of the time underneath, the water and a Little Owl was incredibly obliging, first perched on a feed trough, then a stone wall and finally right on the apex of a cottage roof.  Marsh Harrier and a typically zippy Merlin rounded out the afternoon and we finished before the rain arrived 🙂

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Stalking; Otter Safari 29/08/17

by on Aug.30, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

I collected Julie, Thomas, Steven and Mandy ahead of an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland searching for our favourite predator

At this time of the year it’s fair to say that ducks aren’t really at their best and Mallard, Teal, Gadwall, Tufted Duck and Shoveler were all easier to separate based on size and shape than one plumage detail.  Little Grebe numbers seem to be higher and higher each time we’re out and about and the only thing separating Great Crested Grebe chicks from their parents now is the stripy face 🙂  Lapwings flushed in panic but the cause of their consternation remained unseen, as it so often does with Lapwings which seem to be really jittery all the time, and Starlings swirled on the breeze as Sand Martins, House Martins, Swallows and three Swifts were hoovering up flying insects ahead of the long journey south.  A Kestrel hovered over the dunes before dropping to the ground then quickly ascending again, empty-taloned. Regularly spaced along each water’s edge, Grey Herons were standing motionless as Little Egrets darted busily back and forth before heading to roost in riverside trees.  As dusk approached, Mute Swans drifted away from the water’s edge and that’s always a trigger to look at where they’re moving away from, but we couldn’t see anything along the bank in the rapidly deepening gloom as Canada Geese called noisily as they flew in to roost and a Long-eared Owl ghosted along the scrub just in front of us and the journey back saw a Barn Owl fly across the road in front of the car.

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Halcyon days; Druridge Bay mini-Safari 25/08/17

by on Aug.25, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

This morning saw me working at the opposite end of the day to usual, and I arrived to collect James, Wendy, Megan and Saffy (an adorable Whippet) from Church Point at 09:00, ahead of a morning around Druridge Bay and Southeast Northumberland

Sand Martins and Swallows were feeding low over the water, a Grey Heron stood motionless as 7 Little Egrets engaged in the favourite heron pastime of wasting energy chasing each other from feeding spots, Mute Swans fed serenely and Little Grebes were diving constantly in search of small fish before being disturbed by one of the egrets.  Flocks of Tufted Duck, Mallard and Teal are building and the one remaining Great Crested Grebe chick that we see regularly is now almost the same size as it’s parents.  Canada and Greylag Geese are in noisy flocks that will be bolstered when more Greylags, and Pink-footed Geese arrive for the winter and a small Starling murmuration swirled in front of us before executing a rapid descent.  Black-tailed Godwits, Ringed Plover, Redshank and Common Snipe represented the waders but a real highlight of the morning was two species that I don’t think I’ve ever seen in one ‘scope view.  Cormorants were feeding, often just dipping their heads under the water and catching what looked like snails, and as I scanned the area where the water had just swirled, just to be sure it was a Cormorant, I spotted a Kingfisher.  I set the ‘scope up so that everyone could have a closer view of the ‘halcyon bird’, and Wendy looked through the ‘scope and described another bird that was in the reeds just behind the Kingfisher…and there was a Water Rail 🙂  That odd-looking secretive denizen of the reeds stayed in view just long enough for everyone to see before it vanished back into the impenetrable density of the reedbed.

I could get used to earlier starts for our Druridge Bay trips 🙂

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Persistence; Otter mini-Safari 22/08/17

by on Aug.23, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

Warm and foggy is a slightly ethereal combination of weather conditions, but that was just what we had when I collected Mark and Rachel and Phil and Katrina and Debbie and Neil from Church Point, ready for an evening searching for Otters around Druridge Bay and Southeast Northumberland

We may still be in August but there was a definite feeling of change; Sand Martins. House Martins and Swallows were nowhere to be found, Goldfinches were gathering in impressive flocks and a Starling murmuration began to hint at the spectacle that we’ll be enjoying in a couple of months from now.  Grey Herons were stalking along the edge of reedbeds, and moving each other on from the prime feeding spots, Mallard, Teal and Shoveler scattered in alarm a couple of times but we couldn’t see what was making them so edgy and a distant Cormorant had me thinking ‘Otter!’ for a few seconds before it lifted it’s head high after one feeding dive as Little Grebe and Great Crested Grebe caught tiny fish after tiny fish.

Our final site for the evening brought more panicked birds, with an impressive flock of Black-headed, Common, Herring, Lesser Black-backed and Great Black-Backed Gulls all taking to the wing as Canada Geese alarmed noisily below a tree speckled with the bright dots of roosting Little Egrets.  I was here two weeks ago, unsuccessfully, but this time I was sure we’d find an Otter.  In the gloom I scanned through a distant group of Mute Swans with my binoculars.  Tufted Duck and Little Grebe were sleeping next to them, but what was much more interesting was a low dark shape in the water that was there…and then wasn’t.  Switching to the higher magnification, but duller view, of the telescope revealed an Otter in full-on feeding mode 🙂  Dive after dive after dive, in a fairly small area of water, enabled everyone to see it through binoculars or the ‘scope before we headed back through the darkening twilight with the disembodied calls of Canada Geese, Redshank and Curlew accompanying us and pipistrelles flitting by just above our heads.

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Owling; Otter Safari 17/07/17

by on Jul.19, 2017, under Druridge Bay

I collected Una and then Verna from Church Point and we set off for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and South East Northumberland searching our favourite Otter spots

The heat of the afternoon was tempered by a gentle breeze as we came across 8 Little Egrets and a Kingfisher put in a brief but brilliant appearance with flash of dazzling azure as it landed on a rock in front of us before flying across the river and reappearing a few minutes later.  More azure blue flashed towards the extremity of Blue-tailed Damselflies and a Red Admiral took a real liking to Verna, flying around for a few seconds before settling on her arm 🙂  As the evening progressed the light suddenly switched from dazzling and contrasty to sublimely beautiful.  A small Starling murmuration hinted at the spectacle we’ll be enjoying by the winter, 2 Roe Deer were in deep vegetation, a Kestrel was flitting from tree to tree along the roadside ahead of the car and a Barn Owl flew over the reeds carrying a Short-tailed Field Vole as Common Swift, Barn Swallow, House Martin and Sand Martin plundered the dense clouds of insects rising above the ethereal mist drifting over the water.

As the light faded and we headed back a Brown Hare loped along the road ahead of us, pausing on the track into a field and I suggested that owls should be on the target list for the next 10-15 minutes of the drive.  Two separate telegraph poles were adorned with Little Owls, with the tiny predators giving us their very best withering stare, before a third Little Owl flew alongside the car briefly and a Barn Owl drifted across the road ahead of us 🙂

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Localised weather systems; Cheviot Valleys group birdwatching 11/07/17

by on Jul.13, 2017, under Cheviot Valleys

Watching the weather forecast on the breakfast news, I was confident that any rain we encountered on our day in the Cheviot Valleys would be quickly passing showers…

As I collected Mike and the other 12 members of his group from Belford there was a steady drizzle, and I was questioning the forecast already 😉 Heading into the hills we were soon watching Pheasant, Red-legged Partridge and a Brown Hare that loped across the road in front of us before heading up a rough track and out of sight.  The air was damp and warm; perfect conditions for midges and the Sand Martins, House Martins and Swallows that were busy hoovering them up.  Lesser Redpoll were trilling overhead, the high-pitched calls of Siskin pierced the damp air and a female Red Grouse was leading her chicks through the heather as we headed along the path to higher ground.  You should be careful what you wish for, and I’d just mentioned that a slightly stiffer breeze would suppress the degree of annoyance that the midges tend to bring, when the breeze did start to pick up a bit.  Eventually the stiff easterly was driving rain into the valley and the forecast was looking like a wild guess at what the weather was actually going to do.  I suggested that we retreat to the lower reaches of the valley and see what the weather was like down there.  It was better, much better in fact and our second walk of the day, following a lunch stop that was accompanied by a very obliging Yellowhammer, brought Common Buzzard, Common Sandpiper, Grey Wagtail, Curlew, a family of Whinchat and, after a lot of effort, the two target species for the afternoon – Dipper and Ring Ouzel – as a young Roe Deer watched us from the other side of the valley.  Just a few miles back along the road on our return journey to Belford the roads were dry, bone dry and it seemed that we’d been enjoying a remarkable bit of micro-climate 🙂

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Contrast and compare; Bespoke Photography holiday 02-05/07/17

by on Jul.06, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Farne Islands, Northumberland Coast

I collected Joy from Morpeth railway station ahead of two days enjoying the best photographic opportunities that the Northumberland coast has to offer in early July, and I outlined the plan for the next two days as we drove to The Swan.  Like last week’s Birdwatching magazine reader holiday, the forecast suggested that Monday would be ok…

Monday 03/07/17

An early start saw us boarding the St Cuthbert III and heading towards the Farne Islands.  Landing on Staple Island was an interesting experience, as the swell was washing against the landing platform, and once on the island Joy demonstrated an excellent eye for spotting a photographic opportunity.  Puffin, Shag, Guillemot, Razorbill, Kittiwake and Fulmar all posed in front of the lens and I took a few shots with my dSLR as Joy has been thinking about upgrading from her bridge camera to something a bit heavier 🙂  Crossing to Inner Farne early afternoon brought the birds that aren’t present on Staple; Common, Sandwich and Arctic Terns.  Lots more photographs and by late afternoon we were on our way back to Seahouses and then south along the coast.

Tuesday 04/07/17

The forecast had suggested rain from late morning onwards, so waking up at 06:00 and hearing it hammering down on our roof came as an unpleasant surprise.  A tour of the best birdwatching spots on the Northumberland coast, from Bamburgh to Cresswell, brought Great Crested Grebe, Cormorant, Tufted Duck, Shoveler, Mallard, Teal, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Sandwich, Arctic and Common Terns, Sedge Warbler, Rock Pipit, Lapwing, Curlew, Sand Martin, Swallow and Swift and, surprisingly for the middle of the day in July, Otters at two separate sites 🙂

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