Sunday was a second day out for Edward and Isabel, although this time a bespoke trip. I collected them from Greycroft and we headed south. Brambling was the first target on our list for the day and an impressive flock was alongside Nuthatch, Chaffinch, Coal Tit and a male Siskin. Red Squirrel was another target species for the day, and we enjoyed prolonged views of one, as another male Brambling called from a treetop nearby and Goldfinches plundered a feeding station. Long-tailed Tits fed just above our heads and Fulmar found themselves in range of Edward’s camera as we had lunch overlooking the North Sea. Twite, Pied Wagtail and Sanderling on the beach were our first post-lunch stop and then we headed further north to our last site for the day, with a brief glimpse of a Stoat as it ran across the road in front of us.
Dusk often brings the best of the day and, as Whooper Swans swam across the reflection of the setting Sun, a Kingfisher dived from the reeds, a Water Rail flew between reedbeds, Grey Herons squabbled over prime feeding spots and the assembled wildfowl followed the progress of a Red Fox as it trotted along the bank. Once it was too dark to see anything in front of us we headed back to Alnwick.
Another great day out with clients who were really good company. It’s never really any other way 🙂
There’s a lot of very impressive wildlife in and around Kielder, particularly if you extend your visit across the border into Scotland, and we always hope for bright clear weather with a bit of warmth and a breeze…
I collected Brian from Bellingham and we headed up the valley in just the sort of weather conditions that I was hoping for 🙂 Our day followed the typical pattern of one of our Kielder Safaris; some time in Kielder, some time over the border into the hills and moors of southwest Scotland, some more time back in Kielder. With the descending silvery cadence of Willow Warbler dripping from what seemed like every tree, the swee-wee-wee-wee-wee of Common Sandpiper around the water’s edge and Siskin, Chaffinch and Goldcrest all singing enthusiastically, the aural backdrop to the day was a canvas on which the raptors danced. Common Buzzards soared and mewed as Wild Goats trotted along a narrow valley with Hen Harriers, ringtail females and ghostly pale males, patrolling the fells above, Sparrowhawk soared just over a small plantation and then, the big three; Osprey, the stunning ‘fish eagle’ hovering over the water before plunging, unsuccessfully, in search of fish, Goshawk, the ‘phantom of the forest’ rising from a nesting plantation that we’ve been watching for a few years now before soaring up on a thermal to take station high over his mate and their nest and, the most surprising find of the day, dwarfing the Common Buzzards it was sharing a thermal with, a Golden Eagle casting it’s majestic shadow over the hills. One day it may be a common sight, but it still won’t lose the magic of a chance encounter 🙂
I collected John, Graham, Andy, Sue, Sue and Lesley from their cottage in Shilbottle and we set off inland towards the imposing landscape of the Cheviot massif. As we got out of the car and donned waterproofs we had the first rain shower of the day, but it quickly passed and the path began gaining in altitude as Oystercatchers perched on fence posts, swallows and martins hawked back and forth through air buzzing with insects in the warm, humid conditions and Willow Warblers and Chaffinches competed with their congeners in a singing contest. The plaintive cries of Curlew echoed around the steep valley sides, the high calls of Siskin and the buzzy rattle of Lesser Redpoll came from overhead and one of the archetypal valley birds put in an appearance as we found a succession of adult and juvenile Dippers. A lone Common Buzzard hovered high over the moors in search of prey and a Peregrine repeatedly rose above the skyline before dropping back down in a prolonged attack on an unfortunate, and unseen, victim.
Lunch overlooking the sea was accompanied by Fulmars gliding gracefully back and forth on stiff wings, before we switched our attention to waders, wildfowl and waterbirds. Little Egrets and Grey Herons were stalking menacingly along shallow pool edges, at least 50 Black-tailed Godwits were roosting, and a small group of Little Gulls looked diminutive alongside Black-headed Gulls (which aren’t all that big themselves!). Reed Buntings were singing their rather repetitive song, Sedge and Reed Warblers flew by before vanishing into the depths of the reedbeds and we enjoyed the sight of delicate and dainty, yet incredibly feisty, Avocets. Great Crested Grebes were feeding their stripy offspring, Arctic, Common and Sandwich Terns perched obligingly, allowing easy comparison, and the afternoon brought an unexpected surprise in the shape of no less than six Spoonbills. They did little more exciting than occasionally wake up and preen for a short while before nodding off again, but the sight of six of these impressive birds together wrapped up the day nicely 🙂
The alarm went off at 06:00 on Wednesday, and my heart sank as I looked out of the window…heavy mist, not ideal for any of our tours, but particularly not good for a day in Kielder. I drove to Kingston Park to collect Steph and we headed west in much more promising conditions; low cloud in some valleys, but some sunshine too. We collected Paul and Trish from Wark, and then Ivan from Tower Knowe and headed into the forest. It was a bit cool and misty for any raptors to be up and about, but two Common Crossbill flew by and the air around us was filled with the descending silvery cadence of Willow Warblers as Woodpigeons, Stock Doves and Carrion Crows caused a brief quickening of the heart rate as they flew between plantations.
A walk to the Bakethin reserve produced lots of Siskin, and Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Teal, Oystercatcher, Cormorant and Common Sandpiper were around the water’s edge. As we got back to the car park, which provided good views of Treecreepers, Paul spotted a raptor high overhead, and binoculars resolved it into the impressive shape of an Osprey.
Over the border into Scotland we were soon encountering Common Buzzards, lots of them, and a remarkable number of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits. We reached our picnic spot and, as soup, sandwiches and carrot cake were consumed, raptors began to appear above the skyline. First Common Buzzards, then a female Hen Harrier, followed soon after by a skydancing grey male 🙂 Then more Common Buzzards, and more Common Buzzards. At one point we had between four and six birds behind us, while higher up the valley at least ten were kettling in one thermal along with a Peregrine 🙂 Absolute heaven for any birdwatcher who enjoys raptors…and who doesn’t? Along the stream Reed Buntings were pretending to be Dippers, but we did eventually find the genuine article, which obligingly bobbed up and down on a rock before diving into the fast flowing water, and Wheatears were perched on old stone walls. On the hillsides high above the valley bottom, Wild Goats were grazing as we enjoyed close views of Common Buzzards both perched and flying, and Red Grouse were found as we crossed the moors back towards England.
We finished the trip with an uncountable number of Chaffinches and a real Northumberland speciality as a Red Squirrel ran around on the ground before deciding to hang upside down on a peanut cage, and it was time to reverse the route and drop everyone off.
One of the best bits of being outside and searching for wildlife is the how everything around you ties together to create an experience; the landscape, the wildlife and the weather all come together to produce whatever they may…
I collected Paul and Jeanette from their holiday accommodation in Warkworth and we started out down the coast towards Druridge Bay. Originally the plan had been Harwood and then the coast, but weather conditions suggested it would be better to reverse that. Then there was a sudden change from the poor conditions and it was looking like a glorious morning after all so we reverted to Plan A. The Northumbrian weather responded by throwing everything it could at us; sunshine, azure blue skies, fluffy white clouds, torrential rain and brutal biting winds all came, went and came again 🙂 There was no sign of any Goshawk activity in the good spells but you could hardly blame them 🙂 Eventually we retreated back down to the coastal plain…and had the same sequence of changeable weather all over again! Feeding stations were a hive of bird activity, with Chaffinches, Long-tailed Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit and a very bright male Siskin all entertaining us, but Red Squirrels weren’t to be seen. Some of our coastal ponds have been producing regular Otter sightings over the last few months…but the most notable thing was that the howling gale was generating waves that you could have surfed on! Tree Sparrows and Goldfinches were clinging on to branches as the wind buffeted them and, as Curlew, Lapwing and a nice mini-murmuration of Starlings were tossed about on the breeze, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye; Mallard, Wigeon, Teal, Shelduck and Slavonian, Red-necked, Great Crested and Little Grebe struggled in the waves.
Our final destination for the day was one of our favourite Badger setts. There was rustling in the scrub on the valley sides, but no stripy black-and-white head appeared, at least not before it was too dark to see. What did come along though was a Red Fox. Unusually obliging, this one trotted along just above the sett before stopping and fixing us with a stare. It didn’t bolt, as foxes so often do, but watched us, and some passing dog walkers, before continuing with its exploration of the hillside. Often underrated, undervalued, frequently despised…but a thoroughly engaging animal if you take time to watch the almost feline grace of this wild canine.
As I drove to Peth Head Cottage on Thursday afternoon, the rain was hammering against the car windscreen. Friday’s forecast was good though so, after a meal at The Travellers Rest in Slaley, I reminded Derek and Deirdre that we would have an early start the next morning.
19/04/2013 05:00…the incessant ringing of the alarm pierced the depths of my sleep and I jumped out of bed, showered and opened my bedroom window. The dawn chorus, mainly Blackbirds, Robins and Song Thrushes, was deafening, and the last remnants of rain were pattering down as we set off across the moors to a Black Grouse lek. Roe Deer were watching us from a roadside field and a Tawny Owl flew across in front of us, no doubt heading for a secluded daytime roosting site. First lek site, no birds, second lek site two Greyhens and a distant altercation between two Blackcock along a drystone wall as Curlew, Snipe, Oystercatcher and Lapwing displayed nearby and a Common Buzzard lumbered its way across the horizon. A third site produced the goods though as, adjacent to a field filled with summer-plumaged Golden Plover, two Blackcock were strutting their stuff for the benefit of three Greyhens…who watched them with what appeared to be complete indifference 🙂
After returning to Peth Head for a delicious, and very filling, breakfast (accompanied by Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Siskins, Robins, Dunnocks and a Reed Bunting on the feeders just outside the dining room window) we set out again. By now, the sun was up, bathing the moors in sublime warm tones, and Derek spotted the tell-tale white flash of a displaying Blackcock. This bird was strutting around next to two Greyhens, head down, tail up, pausing occasionally to stand bolt upright before jumping in the air and singing. Just beyond the lekking lothario, a Short-eared Owl was quartering the moor. Backwards and forwards on long narrow wings, the owl flew closer to our position, until eventually binoculars were put down when the field of view was completely filled with yellow-eyed menace as the owl flew over the bonnet of the car before veering away just inches from the windscreen.
Deeper into the North Pennines AONB, over moorland liberally sprinkled with pairs of Red Grouse, flocks of Golden Plover flying around and giving their plaintive call, with a Dunlin easily picked out in one flock by it’s small size, and farmland with Brown Hares chasing each other, Derek’s sharp eyes picked out a bird on telegraph wires…and we had our first Ring Ouzel of the trip. Singing it’s simple song, this could well have been the bird that I watched with Sarah in late March. A pair of Ring Ouzels followed soon after, staying just ahead of the car as we traversed a narrow road high above Weardale. Deirdre spotted several displaying Blackcock and we passed from Weardale into Upper Teesdale. Walking the remote moors produced close views of Red Grouse, Golden Plover, Wheatear, Skylark and Meadow Pipit before a completely unexpected find; for a second I wasn’t sure what I was watching, as a large brown and white bird drifted over the moor with deep lazy wingbeats, but as I lifted my binoculars I could barely contain my excitement as I let Derek and Deirdre know that there was an Osprey flying by! We watched the bird as it hovered and then dived into a nearby reservoir, but it’s departure route took it out of sight so we didn’t see if it was successful in its hunt. A pair of Goosander were feeding along the reservoir edge and, as they eventually crossed the open water, they picked up a Tufted Duck for company.
I had a hunch that Black Grouse would be lekking late afternoon, so we returned to a site that had held just one resting Blackcock earlier in the day. Sure enough, ‘the boys’ had gathered for a bit of a barney; 15 of them had turned up – seven obvious pairs of combatants and one bird sitting off to one side holding his wings, head and tail in the typical display posture but just standing still and watching the series of duels that were taking place in front of him. A couple of them broke out into physical fights, and all of the birds were calling as the lek reached a crescendo before, as if someone had flicked a switch, they suddenly lowered their undertail coverts, lifted their heads, folded their wings back in and started nonchalantly pottering around the gladiatorial arena as if nothing had happened. Just as exciting though, was what was going on above the lek. In my field of view I could see a Curlew drop almost vertically before heading skyward again. I raised my binoculars to follow it’s path and as it dropped again it was harassing, with the assistance of a flock of Black-headed Gulls, a male Goshawk! Open moorland may not be typical habitat for this fearsome inhabitant of our upland forests, but it isn’t the first time we’ve seen one out of context in late April.
Back across the moors to Hexhamshire we saw more Red Grouse, more Black Grouse and, after a quick stop back at Peth Head we headed out to eat at the Dipton Mill Inn. We followed that with a drive into Slaley Forest for Woodcock and Tawny Owls then, before retiring to bed, I stood in the dark outside the cottage and listened as at least four Tawny Owls called from close by. A superb end to an excellent day 🙂
Last weekend was the Big Garden Birdwatch and we followed tradition by sitting in our kitchen with a mug of coffee, and a bacon and tomato sandwich, having topped up all of the feeders the evening before. An hour later, we’d racked up a list of 21 species; Blackbird 3, Jackdaw 2, Collared Dove 2, Robin 3, Chaffinch 20, Great Tit 3, Coal Tit 3, Magpie 1, Blue Tit 2, Dunnock 1, Goldfinch 8, Jay 1, Bullfinch 1, House Sparrow 1, Greenfinch 1, Woodpigeon 2, Redwing 1, Tree Sparrow 1, Song Thrush 1, Sparrowhawk 1, Brambling 2. Quite a successful hour, although most species weren’t present in the numbers we would have expected and, as usual, several species that had been visiting the garden in recent days (Marsh Tit, Willow Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Siskin, Great Spotted Woodpecker) failed to appear during the 1 hour of the survey. Easy birding, and part of a huge national survey. If you didn’t do it this year, give it a go in 2014 🙂
Returning clients have been a bit of a theme this year, and I was really looking forward on Wednesday to be collecting Carolyn and Brian for a day of birdwatching in and around Kielder. The weather was looking less than promising but, as I collected them from their holiday cottage in Cresswell with it’s stunning view out over the North Sea and Druridge Bay, we agreed that we’d make the best of the weather, whatever it was doing.
On the edge of the border forests a Roe Deer watched us with great interest and a Common Buzzard was perched at the top of a spruce tree that seemed barely able to support it’s weight. As if that perch wasn’t precarious enough, the bird was hanging it’s wings out like a Cormorant, presumably trying to dry them during a lull in the rain.
As with many of our trips there was a species that was particularly sought after. On this occasion it was our old favourite, the Dipper. With several bits of excellent river, that could be viewed from the car if the showers returned, it wasn’t too long before we found one, then another. With Sand Martins zipping in and out of nest holes, Common Sandpipers, Reed Buntings, Stonechats, Whinchats, Pied Wagtails, Oystercatchers, and Goosanders (another lifer for Carolyn and Brian) the rivers were a real hive of activity. Curlew were flying up the valley and we headed across the border. Red Grouse were a third lifer for the day, some majestic Wild Goats watched imperiously as we had a post-lunch walk, and a Peregrine was perched on a rock on the moorland high above us. It launched from it’s vantage point and flew directly over our heads before dropping to the ground and furtively creeping around before disappearing into a nearby gulley.
As we made our way back east, we found ourselves in a patch of sunshine with a handsome male Siskin and a Spotted Flycatcher just ahead of us, and we continued our journey back to Cresswell.
Trips with existing clients are always a pleasure, not only because it’s very gratifying to get a booking from someone we’ve taken out before, but also because we already have shared memories. I had 3 things vivid in my mind from when I took Pete and Janet out in September 2008 – it rained, we saw 11 adult Mediterranean Gulls on the beach at Newbiggin and Janet found an Otter.
I collected Pete and Janet from their holiday cottage in Embleton, and we headed across to Sharperton to collect David and Mary. They’re all members of the same Natural History Society, who were our first group booking, back in 2009, and we always enjoy catching up with them, and the other members of their group, at the Bird Fair each August. Tuesday was a bespoke trip, combining Harwood and Druridge Bay, and the weather forecast suggested that it wouldn’t rain…
As we approached Harwood a Roe Deer crossed the track, walked into the trees and then stopped to watch us. This was the first of 11 that we saw on our journey through the forest (well, it was about 11, and if I say 11, it’ll help the punchline to this post!).
Harwood again produced memorable sightings; Roe Deer, Tree Pipit, at least 3 Cuckoos, Siskins, plenty of Crossbills, more Roe Deer and a mouth-wateringly attractive male Common Redstart. A list of species can never really do justice to just how good encounters with wildlife can be though; as 2 Roe Deer bounded across the clearfell area beside the track, 2 Cuckoos were engaged in a frantic chase, calling frequently and mobbed by Meadow Pipits every time they left the safety of the trees, while the male Redstart flicked along the edge of a nearby plantation, red tail shivering as he perched on a tree stump, black face contrasting with his white forehead and supercilium, the subtle grey of his crown and mantle and the orangy-red of his breast.
As we tucked in to our picnic lunch, overlooking a very calm North Sea, the first drops of icy rain began to patter down. Then, a comment from Janet to set the pulse racing “I’m sure I just saw a fin”. With such calm water the sudden appearance of black shapes at the surface stood out, and Janet had found yet another exciting mammal on a NEWT safari. This time it wasn’t the sleek, sinuous predator of our lakes and rivers, but another sleek, sinuous predator. We watched for several minutes as the pod of Bottlenose Dolphins moved slowly south. At least 6 animals, including a very small calf, they surfaced lazily every 30seconds or thereabouts as I texted observers further south to let them know what was coming.
Avocet, Garganey (2 handsome drakes), Common Sandpiper, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, clouds of Swifts, Swallows and martins, and weather best described as changeable, all contributed to an excellent afternoon around Druridge before I completed our circular route, dropping Pete and Janet, and then David and Mary. See you at the BirdFair 🙂
So, it rained, we saw 11(ish) Roe Deer in Harwood and Janet found some Bottlenose Dolphins…
“Is Sarah keeping you organised and under control?” – that was a question I was actually asked by a client who I took out, for their second trip, recently. Now, I’m the first to admit that organisation isn’t really one of my strengths, but the other owner of NEWT encourages me 😉
With four clients, and three separate pick-up locations, for our Kielder Safari last Friday, there was plenty of opportunity for the plan to not go smoothly. However, with Neil collected from his accommodation at The Swan, and Ken and Paddy collected from Low Hauxley, we pulled into the car park at The Pheasant Inn in Kielder at 10:00 – exactly the time I’d said I would be there to collect Roger, our fourth participant for the day.
As we drove through the forest, home of Roe Deer, Red Squirrel and Goshawk, on rough tracks we stopped to watch a Great Spotted Woodpecker perched at the top of a very flimsy spruce, Common Buzzards soared over nearby plantations, Meadow Pipits flitted across the track ahead of us, Chaffinches were singing from what seemed like every tree and a flock of 20 or so Common Crossbills moved through the trackside trees, pausing to nibble at cones, and constantly giving their ‘chip, chip’ calls. As we continued, a mixed flock of Common Crossbills and Siskins suddenly erupted from the trees. These two colourful denizens of the dark forests often seem outrageously bright against the dark green foliage, and are always well appreciated by our clients.
Other moorland and upland specialities followed as we headed through the afternoon; Red Grouse, picking their way through the heather, Goosander flying upstream in remote narrow valleys, Ravens – tumbling, cronking and having a real battle with Carrion Crows – and one of my personal favourites, Wild (Feral) Goats. The collective noun for them is a ‘trip’, coincidentally the same as for one of our favourite birds, the Dotterel – a mountain and moorland specialist that we’ve yet to find on a NEWT Safari 🙂
With shared interests including photography, fly fishing and, of course, a deep love of Northumberland there was plenty of discussion amongst everyone during the day. Vast forest, small world…