Tag: Sandwich Tern

Early Spring; Bespoke Cheviots/Druridge Birdwatching 10/04/17

by on Apr.11, 2017, under Cheviot Valleys, Druridge Bay

I collected Adrian and Ruth from Seahouses for the first of their two days out with us this week; a Cheviots-plus Bespoke tour…

We started at Bamburgh, with Oystercatcher, Redshank and Purple Sandpiper along the edge of the breaking surf, Common Eider, Common Scoter, Red-throated Diver and a lone Puffin surfing the waves just beyond and distant Gannets breaking the horizon above a sea that had been whipped into a mass of whitecaps by a stiff northerly breeze.

Heading inland, it was starting to look cloudier and the forecast deterioration in the weather seemed to be on its way.  You can’t necessarily trust the forecast though, and the spectacular landscape of the Cheviot valleys was bathed in sunlight.  The triumvirate of nervously bobbing riverside dwellers all put in very obliging appearances; Dipper, Grey Wagtail and Common Sandpiper have so much in common, and are always great to watch.  Sand Martins and Swallows, always a sign that things are changing, were hawking insects overhead as a Raven flew by, the eerie cries of Curlew revealed their presence as they displayed high over the valley, Red Grouse chuckled from the surrounding heather, Chiffchaffs were singing their relentlessly onomatopaeic song from every clump of trees and Ruth spotted a stunning male Ring Ouzel hopping around on a fellside that was dripping with Mistle Thrushes and Wheatears.  Lunch was accompanied by 3 Common Buzzards high overhead, tussling and skydiving as partnerships and territories for the breeding season start to take shape.

Continuing along our planned loop for the day brought us to the coast of Druridge Bay and Avocet, Shorelark, Ringed Plover, Kestrel, Sanderling, a raft of at least 9 Red-throated Divers and then, as we headed back to the car at the end of the day, a Short-eared Owl quartering rough fields with deep slow wingbeats 🙂

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Dodging the showers; Lindisfarne Safari 09/08/16

by on Aug.10, 2016, under Holy Island

The unpredictability of the weather in northern England is one of the reasons I love living here.  Early August and you just don’t know whether there’ll be clear skies and sunshine, or something akin to the depths of the autumn…

I arrived at Kingston Park and met up with Chris (for his third trip with NEWT), Diane and Robin and we headed up the A1 to Berwick where we collected Gill (for her second trip with NEWT in a week).  Our first destination was the Holy Island causeway, where we found a Common Seal, Little Egret, Dunlin, Redshank, Curlew, Sanderling, Ringed Plover, a distant dense flock of Golden Plover and a few Whimbrel (including one bird that was obligingly standing next to a Curlew).  A sudden increase in wind strength heralded the arrival of the first rain shower of the day, and a noticeable drop in temperature.  Thinking that the poor weather was going to move through earlier than forecast I decided to switch around the plan for the rest of the day and we headed down the coast where we watched Sandwich Terns, Gannets and masses of gulls feeding as Fulmars soared past us on stiff wings, effortless in the breeze.  Rafts of Eider were just beyond the breaking surf as a female Goosander sat preening on the edge of a rockpool and Knot and Turnstone rummaged in the seaweed exposed on the falling tide.  Back to scanning the mudflats and Grey Plover joined the days wader list and Grey Seals called mournfully from exposed sandbanks before we crossed over onto Holy Island with the weather showing signs of improvement.  An adult Mediterranean Gull was an unexpected find in the car park and we set off to walk around the bits of the island that weren’t busy with visitors…

Grey Herons, Little Grebes and Moorhen were around the edges of the Lough as a Reed Warbler delivered it’s rhythmic chuntering song from a hidden perch in the reeds and the rest of our walk produced Stonechat, Meadow Pipit, a juvenile Kestrel, Cinnabar moth caterpillars and, probably the bird of the day, a Short-eared Owl quartering the dunes and fields with impressively slow deep wingbeats 🙂

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The departed; Farne Islands Bespoke Birdwatching 30/07/16

by on Aug.02, 2016, under Farne Islands

The Farne islands in late June are a chaotic place; huge numbers of birds on all of the cliff faces and around the boardwalks.  Late July is a very different experience though…

I collected Ruth and Ann from Ponteland and we drove across to the coast before heading north for a day of bespoke beginners birdwatching, culminating in a trip across to Inner FarneCurlew, Redshank and a stunningly orange Black-tailed Godwit were all in the shallows as a female Red-breasted Merganser appeared to be delivering flying lessons to her little black-and-white ducklings who were still way too small to get airborne.  Sailing across to the islands after lunch we soon encountered rafts of Puffins and Guillemots, Grey Seals were lazing in the surf and the vertiginous seabird colonies were now reduced to only Kittiwake and Shag.  Landing on Inner farne, Puffins were whizzing by with beaks filled with small fish, and weren’t subject to the kleptoparasitic attention of Black-headed Gulls, in stark contrast to just a few weeks ago.  Terns were represented by single Arctic and Common Terns carrying fish to small chicks and a pair of Sandwich Terns engaged in courtship flight as a Lesser Black-backed Gull gave us a malevolent stare from the wall around the lighthouse.

A great day out with really lovely clients, and now I know what make and model of car Ann drives I can give her a wave when I’m cycling through Ponteland on a Sunday morning 🙂

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Summer…; Otter Safari 25/07/16

by on Jul.28, 2016, under Druridge Bay, Otter

July is a month when most of my time is spent at sea, either carrying out transect surveys or leading pelagic trips, so an afternoon and evening looking for Otters brings some welcome variation…

I collected Susan and Mike from Seaton Burn and then Frank, Gabrielle, Boudewijn and Odette from The Swan before heading to the coast.  Boudewijn’s sharp eyes picked out tiny insects as we made our way along footpaths with dense vegetation alongside as Swallows and House Martins swooped low over the fields, picking off flying insects that had strayed just a bit too far from safety.  Adult Swallows were feeding young in a nest just a few feet away from us and, out on the water, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Gadwall, Wigeon and Pochard were all decked out in the shabby chic of late summer and a Grey Heron caused alarm as it flew in, scattering Lapwings and Black-headed Gulls from the edge of the pool.  Cormorants dived, doing their best Otter impressions, Common Sandpipers bobbed nervously on the riverbank, a well-grown brood of Goosander were remarkably well camouflaged amongst piles of rocks and Little Egrets were stalking tiny fish in the shallows.  As the wind started to pick up and the first few drops of rain began to fall, Swifts scythed their way through clouds of insects overhead.  Whimbrel was a nice addition to the wader list for the day along with Curlew and Redshank which are much more expected.  Common and Sandwich Terns called as they flew by and Eider were rafting on a flat sea as we had our picnic.  Our final site for the day was where I was confident we’d find an OtterStarlings were murmurating, Reed Buntings and Meadow Pipits flicked through the vegetation just ahead of us, a roe Deer emerged from behind a reedbed to take a drink at the water’s edge…and then the sky turned dark rather quickly and the rain started hammering down 🙁 That did produce one entertaining moment though, as a rather large Great Crested Grebe chick took shelter on its parent’s back just before we admitted defeat to the weather.

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“I’m really scared of birds”; Farne Islands Safari 30/06/16

by on Jul.05, 2016, under Farne Islands

In late June, a big part of the Farne Islands experience is the aerial bombardment you’re subjected to as Arctic Terns defend their eggs and chicks…

I collected John from Bedlington, Colin and Martin from Morpeth and then Sue from Old Swarland (for her 4th trip with NEWT).  A breezy but warm morning brought Curlew, Yellowhammer, Grey Seal, Shelduck and a Brown Hare running though short vegetation right on the shoreline.  After lunch overlooking the Farne Islands we boarded the St Cuthbert and headed out of Seahouses Harbour.  We were soon being passed by Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills and Gannets and soon the unmistakeable sound, and smell, of the seabird colony reached the boat.  Landing on Inner Farne brought the expected mob of angry terns and we watched the tiny beak of an Arctic Tern chick as it chipped way at the eggshell surrounding it.  Fulmars arced along the cliff tops, Kittiwakes were hanging on the strong breeze just a few metres away from us, Sandwich and Common Terns flew by without molesting us and Puffins peeked from their burrows.  As we walked through the courtyard a lady walked by in the other direction; head down, hood pulled up and explaining to her friends how she’s really scared of birds.  Inner Farne probably wasn’t the best choice of visitor attraction then…

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Never trust a weather forecast; Farne Islands Safari 15/06/16

by on Jun.16, 2016, under Farne Islands

With a Farne Islands Safari on Wedneday, I’d been keeping an even closer eye than usual on the weather forecast and particularly the forecast sea state and swell height.  1m waves, strong NE winds and heavy rain wasn’t the most promising of forecasts…

I collected Paul and Rose from the Dunstanburgh Castle Hotel and we headed north of Seahouses for a few hours birdwatching before our sailing across to the Farnes.   A singing Reed Bunting was eventually located, and finally came out obligingly into the open, as Meadow Pipits displayed overhead and Sand Martins hawked back and forth low over the water.  Gulls aren’t everybody’s cup of tea, but Black-headed, Common, Lesser Black-backed and Herring all lined up obligingly next to each other for a mini-ID masterclass.  A Shoveler escorted her ten ducklings across the pool as Coots fed young, Moorhens crept around in bankside rushes, Lapwing roosted in nearby fields and a Skylark, just a tiny dark speck against the clouds overhead, sounded inconceivably loud at the height it had reached.

Sitting and eating lunch overlooking the islands, the one thing that was really obvious was that the sea was calm, it wasn’t really windy and it wasn’t raining – so much for those forecasts then 🙂  We boarded Glad Tidings VII and headed towards the inner group of islands.  Puffins, Guillemots and Razorbills were all heading back to their nests with food, Grey Seals were lazing around on the rocks and the sound, and smell, of the islands intensified.  The onomatopaeic calls of Kittiwake echoed off the cliffs and a leucistic Guillemot caught my eye as it sat on the rocks amongst all of it’s regular-coloured relatives.

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Once we landed on Inner Farne, the Puffins took centre stage.  We watched as they headed back towards their burrows, only to be harried by Black-headed Gulls.  One Puffin dropped it’s load of small fish right next to us, it’s wingbeats whirring audibly just over our heads as it tried to evade it’s pursuers.  Large, ungainly, and very, very fluffy Shag chicks had grown to big to be contained in their nests and the grumpy moaning of the assembled auks added to the wall of sound.  Sandwich, Common and Arctic Terns were all tending eggs or chicks, with the Arctic Terns being as feisty as ever, and a couple of them taking a particular dislike to Rose’s hat!  As we walked back down the jetty to sail back to the mainland, Rose’s sharp eyes spotted one of those birds that are so cryptic in some habitats as a Ringed Plover dashed around between pebbles and rocks on the shore line.

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Mini-beasts in the mist; Lindisfarne Safari 14/06/16

by on Jun.16, 2016, under Lindisfarne

I met up with Malcolm and Jill and we headed across the causeway onto Holy Island, in conditions that looked slightly misty…

The simple song of a Reed Bunting echoed in the mist as the curious hypnotic ‘sharming’ of a Water Rail came from deep in the reeds.  As the mist thickened, visibility dropped and we walked around the north of the island, where swathes of orchids added a splash of colour to the grey of the morning.  Garden Tiger caterpillars trundled across the paths in front of us and tiny hoverflies settled on flower petals.  The mist cleared, warm sunshine broke through the thin veil…and then it got even mistier 🙂  Roe Deer watched us from long vegetation before bounding away across the fields as we continued our exploration of the ground around our feet. Reed Buntings, Linnets, and Stonechats were perched atop hawthorn bushes as Skylarks sang from high overhead and Meadow Pipits parachuted back to ground in their display flight.  With the tide falling and uncovering the road back to the mainland, and leaving Grey Seals hauled out on sandbars, we headed back towards the car through as Sandwich Terns suddenly appeared from the mist taking a shortcut over the island and back out to sea.

So much to see, whatever the weather 🙂

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Dolphins; Farne Islands Bespoke Photography 07/06/16

by on Jun.09, 2016, under Farne Islands

Tuesday was a trip I’d been looking forward to for a long time, a bespoke photography trip to the Farne Islands, for the parents of one of our Seal Safari clients from back in 2009.

I arrived in Seahouse to collect Jill, Pete, Liz and Bernie and we had a couple of hours on the coast before heading back to the harbour and boarding Glad Tidings.  We were only just out of the harbour when the skipper slowed the boat almost to a halt…as a group of 5 Bottlenose Dolphins passed across our bow 🙂  We watched as they had a quick fly-by of another boat that was leaving the harbour and then they were gone.

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As lines of Puffin, Razorbill and Guillemot passed by, there was a notable change in the weather.  Blue skies and sunshine were replaced by cloud and falling temperatures, and a heavy mist was shrouding the islands.  The Farne Islands are a surreal place as it is, but when some of the islands were just dark shapes in the mist they took on a whole different persona.  The loud cries of Kittiwake echoed around the gullies, Sandwich, Common and Arctic Tern were all incubating eggs or chicks, a handsome male Red-breasted Merganser was sitting on the water just off the Inner Farne jetty and the whirling parade of Puffins carrying fish back to their nests was the focus of everyone’s attention, although female Common Eider sitting motionless on nests with small ducklings were greatly appreciated too.

With the first rain drops beginning to spatter on the car windscreen just after we returned to dry land we headed along the coast so I could reveal some of the better spots for wildife photography; what’s there? what time of day? what time of year?  Then it was time to head back to Seahouses.  Are the Farnes the best wildlife experience you can enjoy in England? Britain? the world? Possibly…

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When the north wind blows; Lindisfarne Safari 02/06/16

by on Jun.07, 2016, under Holy Island, Lindisfarne

Thursday was a Lindisfarne Safari where we had the option of either staying on the island over the high tide period, or concentrating on the mainland sites in the Lindisfarne NNR…

I collected Stephen and Kate from The Swan, and we headed up the A1 to collect Gordon and Mandy for their 4th day out with NEWT.  With a stiff chilly northerly breeze we decided that the mainland would be the better option, but we started on the Holy Island causeway.  Knot were hunched against the wind on the mud as the rising tide approached, flocks of Dunlin flew just inches above the road and we had the opportunity to compare the size difference between Sandwich Tern and Little Tern as both species hovered obligingly close to each other over the South Low, diving into the water in pursuit of small fish.  Curlew probed the mud on the periphery of the encroaching tide and Grey Seal were ‘bottling’ as they were lifted them from their low-tide haul outs by the water.  The simple song of Reed Bunting carried on the breeze from their exposed perches on hawthorns and fence posts as ‘parachuting’ Meadow Pipits displayed nearby.  Golden Plover were stunning in breeding plumage, and flocks of Ringed Plover were accompanied by Dunlin sporting the jet black bellies of the breeding season.  Offshore, Eider were riding the impressive swell as Gannet and Fulmar soared on the wind, Common, Arctic and Sandwich Terns were plunging into the water, Shag and Cormorant flew by and lines of Puffin, Guillemot and Razorbill flew to and from the Farne Islands.

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Bird of the Day; Lindisfarne Safari 10/05/16

by on May.13, 2016, under Lindisfarne

I can’t think of a species of bird that I don’t enjoy watching.  Every last one of them has something special, but some just have more than others…

I collected Steve and Carrie from the Bamburgh Castle Inn and we headed north towards Lindisfarne.  Starting with a walk along the Crooked Lonnen we’d soon found Spotted Flycatcher, Fieldfare and a stunning male Whinchat.  Surely the rest of the island would be dripping with passage migrants?  As it turned out that was pretty much it for migrants, but the rest of the day produced a wealth of great birds.  The male Whinchat was a clear leader in my own personal bird of the day competition, but a plethora of Meadow Pipits and Skylarks were pretty impressive.  Male Reed Buntings are always strikingly contrasty birds and Turnstone, Purple Sandpiper, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Red-breasted Merganser, Eider and Common Scoter are in really excellent condition at the moment.  Lines of Gannets flying south were impressive and Sandwich Terns were plunge-diving right in front of us.

Then, as we were about to leave the island (after all, it wouldn’t do to get stranded by the incoming tide…) Carrie spotted a Short-eared Owl.  I soon found a second one, as they hunted through the dunes, and the Whinchat had been unceremoniously kicked off the top step of the podium.  I find it hard to think of any time that an owl wouldn’t be my bird of the day…and then we came across a couple of breeding-plumaged Grey Plovers 🙂

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