Tag: Sand Martin

Early Autumn mist; Bespoke Otter Safari 05/09/18

by on Sep.06, 2018, under Druridge Bay

I collected David and Jean from Holystone in warm sunshine, ahead of an afternoon and evening around our favourite spots for Otters in Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland

Little Egrets were patrolling the shallows, darting at small fish, Redshanks were calling noisily and the hedgerows, with plump sweet blackberries, were playing host to lots of Speckled Wood butterfliesLong-tailed Tits were calling but stayed out of sight and a fisherman told us he’d seen 4 Otters on Monday.  With Otter activity this week at two other sites we were planning to visit it was looking promising…

A Merlin launched an extraordinary agile pursuit of a Sand Martin, as House Martins, Sand Martins and Swallows gorged themselves on an impressive hatch of flying insects that had also attracted the attention of a Little Gull, delicate and no less agile than the Merlin.  Waders and wildfowl were present in big numbers on the coastal pools; Mallard, Tufted Duck, Teal, Wigeon, Canada Geese, Redshank, Greenshank, Dunlin, Curlew and Lapwing were all roosting or feeding and, as dusk approached and the squeals of Water Rail cut through the ethereal mist that was suddenly lifting from the water’s surface beneath a murmuration of Starlings preparing to spend a night in the reeds, Greylag Geese began to arrive. dozens and dozens of them noisily heralding their approach as they tumbled out of the sky to the shallow water below.  With Mars shining red in the sky away to the southeast, ripples of panic started spreading through the birds as they made a sharp exit from the two spots where I would have expected an Otter to appear…

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Waiting for the weather; Druridge Bay Bespoke Birdwatching 13/08/18

by on Aug.15, 2018, under Druridge Bay

With a fairly awful weather forecast for Sunday, we’d rescheduled Linda and Peter’s day with NEWT around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland for Monday, where the forecast suggested it would rain until lunchtime and then improve after that…

Pre-lunch it was indeed lovely weather for ducks and Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Shoveler and Tufted Duck all provided slightly more of an ID challenge than usual with the drakes now in eclipse plumage.  Hundreds of Greylag Geese were roosting as an assortment of waders fed around them; Avocet, Lapwing, Dunlin, elegant Black-tailed Godwit, Ruff, Knot, Curlew, Common Redshank and a Greenshank that heralded it’s arrival with a strident “tyeu tyeu tyeu”.  Water Rails were nervously dashing in and out of the reed edge as Moorhens fed more boldly away from the edge, Coots demonstrated that they have none of the nervousness of their relatives and Sand Martins, House Martins and Swallows enjoyed a feast of flying insects in the warm, humid air..  Lunch overlooking the North Sea brought Gannets and Fulmars soaring effortlessly over the water.  Walking along a narrow hedge-lined track a Sparrowhawk burst through the bushes, carrying a hapless bird as Tree Sparrows delivered a noisy lament for the fallen.

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Feels like autumn ;-) Druridge Bay Safari 19/08/18

by on Jul.21, 2018, under Druridge Bay

Collecting Rosie and Ben for an afternoon and evening around NEWT’s local patch, Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland, the weather looked ever so slightly murky…

Ben was armed with his D500 and 200-500mm lens (I’ve seen several copies of that lens in action now but still not pulled the trigger on purchasing one myself yet…) and we started with a search for a bird he was very keen to see on this trip north.  Patience and persistence paid off, as they so often do, and a juvenile Dipper was quite approachable as it paddled tentatively in very shallow water without taking the plunge into full ‘Dipper mode’.  An impressive flock of Dunlin, resplendent with black bellies, was a very obvious sign that migration is well underway and Curlew, Lapwing, Black-tailed Godwit, Ringed Plover, Redshank and Knot were also in a couple of impressive flocks of waders before we came across a well grown juvenile Great Crested Grebe that was calling incessantly to its parent and only pausing briefly when the adult submerged in search of food.  Grey Herons stalked through the shallows as Sand Martins, House Martins, Swifts and Swallows were joined in their aerial pursuit of insects by a Little Gull and two Barn Owls quartered the reedbeds and rank vegetation.  Another target species for the afternoon put in a cameo appearance as I noticed the tell-tale ‘ring of bright water’ in the shadow of a distant reedbed and we watched an Otter through the ‘scope 🙂

There was an ‘oddest moment of the trip’ award for a 2 year old female Grey Seal who hauled herself out of the sea and started following people up the beach towards the dunes!  A quick exchange of messages with British Divers Marine Life Rescue and we were able to reassure people who were gathering on the beach that the seal was fine and just needed a bit of space to rest before continuing her journey north.  Everyone backed off and watched her from a sensible distance and she rolled over and stretched out in the evening sunshine 🙂

With the sky clearing, and dusk approaching a Little Owl flew from a roadside telegraph pole and our 3rd Barn Owl was over a field below the Moon, Jupiter and Venus, with the two planets both looking impressive through the ‘scope as we headed back towards Newbiggin.

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The sublimity of evening; Bespoke Otter Safari 05/07/18

by on Jul.06, 2018, under Druridge Bay, Otter

I’ve never been great in hot sunny weather so as I collected Mike and Moira, for an afternoon and evening searching for Otters around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland, I was hoping for an increase in cloud cover…

In the heat of the afternoon, Avocets were harassing Grey Herons and Shelduck ducklings were skittering about on the surface of coastal pools as a Roe Deer ghosted through the reeds at the water’s edge and Lapwings squabbled nearby.  A Little Owl glared down from it’s perch between chimney pots as cloud began to roll in and Canada and Greylag Geese were looking alert but there was no sign of the cause of their concern

As daylight turned to dusk there was little sign of the Sun and that improved visibility substantially 🙂  Swallows, Swifts, House Martins and Sand Martins were plundering the rich feast of flying insects and a spectacular dense flock of 39 Black-tailed Godwits twisted and turned in the air in front of us as the distinctive call of Whimbrel failed to betray their location.  Water Rails were running nervously in and out of the reeds as another Roe Deer appeared, trotting through the shallow edge of the pool, and Tufted Ducks gathered their ducklings into tight groups as Cormorants took off, Mute Swans began staring at the reeds and a Little Grebe suddenly froze in position.  Then an Otter appeared just in front of us 🙂  We watched it for 45 minutes, including a remarkable tableau of hunting Otter beneath murmuration of Starlings with a Barn Owl quartering the reeds just a few metres away from us, before it vanished into the gloom of dusk and a distant reedbed.

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In the summertime…Druridge Bay bespoke birdwatching 26/06/18

by on Jun.27, 2018, under Druridge Bay

Yesterday was Sue’s 8th day out with NEWT and after I collected her from Old Swarland we headed south east towards NEWT’s local patch, Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland

We’re now starting our Druridge Bay trips with a riparian woodland walk, and Nuthatches were feeding noisy fledglings in the branches overhead, Blue, Great and Coal Tits were all busily gathering mouthfuls of insects, a Common Buzzard was soaring just above the treetops in the bright sunshine and Bullfinches betrayed their presence by calling and drawing attention to themselves.

Avocets proved to be the star of the show again but a good selection of other waders included Ringed Plover, Black-tailed Godwit, a very white Ruff, Dunlin, Curlew, Lapwing and a Wood Sandpiper delicately picking its way along the edge of a muddy puddle as Brown Hares loped along at the other side of the marsh.  Speckled Wood, Common Blue and Small Skipper butterflies and a selection of dazzling damselflies added invertebrate interest to the afternoon but they were outshone by a micro-moth.  Nemophora degeerella isn’t exactly a name that trips off the tongue, but it’s a strikingly marked little moth and, in the case of the male, has what look to be unfeasibly long antennae.  Shelduck ducklings were wandering off and ignoring their parents and Great Crested Grebes demonstrated remarkable prowess, surfacing with fish after every dive, only to be pestered by Black-headed Gulls looking for an easy meal.  Strikingly yellow and seasonally appropriate, both Yellow Wagtail and Yellowhammer flew by and Reed Bunting as well as as Sedge and Reed Warblers sang from nearby reed beds as Swifts, Swallows and both House and Sand Martins carved their way through the dense clouds of flying insects in the afternoon heat haze.

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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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