Tag: Siskin

Lightning strikes twice

by on May.11, 2012, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Harwood, Northumberland

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

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A trip within a trip

by on May.09, 2012, under Birdwatching, Kielder, Northumberland

“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…

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Kielder Safari 05/04/2012

by on Apr.07, 2012, under Birdwatching, Kielder, Northumberland

After Tuesday’s snow, sleet and general murk, and Wednesday’s icy breeze, I prepared for Thursday’s Kielder Safari by loading as many layers of technical clothing as I could into the back of the car…but, as I headed north to Felton to collect Lindsay and Abbie, I was glad that I’d included sunglasses in my kit list for the day 🙂

We drove west through Rothbury, Elsdon and Otterburn, in absolutely stunning light that really showed Northumberland at it’s best, along roads where the verges were still snow-covered and the temperature was sub-zero, past flocks of Fieldfares and Redwings gathering pre-migration, to collect Victoria and Paul from Bellingham before heading along the forest tracks towards Hawkhope.  Only a few hundred yards from the public road we were soon watching a stunning male Common Crossbill.  More Crossbills followed, then some outrageously bright Siskins. Common Buzzards were soaring over the plantations (it turned out to be a excellent raptor day – although the ‘Phantom of the Forest’ eluded us), Chaffinches seemed to be along every step of the way, Great Spotted Woodpeckers played their usual game of hide-and-seek and even the humble Meadow Pipits were subjected to great scrutiny.  As Lindsay commented as we watched one pipit, elevated above it’s usual status of LBJ by the superb light, “it’s nice to have views in the field, of a feature that you’ve read about in a field guide”.  He was referring to the long hind-claw of the pipit and, with our subject perched just a few metres away and very obliging, this led on to a discussion of pipit identification.  When we finally returned to the C200 we’d been off-road for over two and a half hours – a new longevity record for that 10 mile section of our route, and an excellent measure of just how many birds we’d stopped and studied.

Up over the border our lunch break, after watching a pair of Curlews as they called on a bit of high moorland, was accompanied by a pair of Ravens chasing off a Kestrel that had strayed over their nest site, a territorial skirmish involving 2 pairs of Common Buzzards, Pied Wagtails flycatching over the stream and 3 Goosanders looking resplendentOur post-lunch walk produced more Common Buzzards, another Kestrel, a Peregrine powering it’s way down the valley and a small group of Wild Goats including a tiny kid.  As we returned to the car a pair of Ravens appeared along the ridge, soared up against the sky and then began tumbling and calling.

Our final section of the trip was the Forest Drive between Kielder and Byrness; currently closed to the public because of forestry activity, and the state of the road surface, we’d been given permission by the Forestry Commission to use the track, which we had to ourselves for the afternoon.  A Raven soared close to a Common Buzzard, a pair of Stonechats were next to the road at Kielderhead and we came across an excellent mixed flock of finches; Common Crossbills, Siskins and Lesser Redpolls (which we’d earlier heard but not seen) in one small area of spruce, pine and birch.

We dropped Victoria and Paul back in Bellingham, and headed east towards the coastal plain as the light faded at the end of a 12 hour Safari Day.  12 hour days as a birdwatching guide, in some extraordinary landscapes with stunning wildlife, leave you feeling energised…don’t think I would have said the same while I was a teacher 🙂

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Birding with a touch of luxury

by on Mar.31, 2012, under Bamburgh Castle, Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Kielder, Northumberland

Delivering a birding package for the first time with a new partner is always a mixture of excitement and worry; will the experience we deliver to our clients blend well with the standards of service, accommodation and food that are provided?  Our exclusive Doxford Hall birding break on Thursday and Friday didn’t hold too many worries though – I’ve attended conferences and other events there before and, having known David Hunter since he was at Matfen Hall, I knew that the entire Doxford experience would be a memorable one for all the right reasons.

I arrived first thing Thursday morning to collect Paul and Sue, who had won their exclusive birding break in a competition that ourselves and Doxford Hall ran recently in Birdwatch magazine.  Our original plan of Druridge Bay on Thursday, Lindisfarne on Friday, had been altered following a ‘phone call during the week from Sue – there was one species they particularly wanted to see, and our recent blog posts had revealed that now might be a good time…so, after a day of hectic communication with the Forestry Commission to arrange access through Kielder, and check where along our route there would be any forestry activity, our first trip headed inland.  We started at Harwood in near-perfect weather conditions; warm, sunny and with a good breeze.  Common Buzzards, Common Crossbills, Siskins and a very vocal Raven were all seen but no Goshawk so we continued west.  Once we were in Kielder another Raven entertained us, tumbling and cronking over a remote farmhouse in the warm afternoon sunshine before soaring heavenwards and then dropping back out of the sky alongside its mate.  We stopped to scan over another plantation, where I’ve watched Goshawks previously, and I soon spotted a bird just above the trees. He quickly got into a thermal and rose until we lost sight of him.  I suggested that we just needed to wait for a Common Buzzard to drift over the Gos’ territory, and we began a patient vigil.  Eventually a Common Buzzard did appear, we all lifted our binoculars to focus on it…and a distant speck in the binoculars above the buzzard grew rapidly larger as the Goshawk dropped out of the sky.  The intruder thought better of hanging around and quickly folded it’s wings back and crossed the valley like an arrow.  Having shepherded the buzzard away, the Phantom of the Forest rose quickly again to resume his sentinel watch.  More Common Crossbills and Common Buzzards followed as we travelled down the valley back towards civilisation, and 2 pairs of Mandarin brought a touch of stunning colour to the afternoon.

Dinner at Doxford Hall on Thursday evening was exceptional (outstanding food and outstanding levels of service throughout the 2 days), and having clients with such an enthusiasm for birding, and fantastic sense of humour, made it even better.  After dinner conversation did reveal that there was an obvious gap in their life-lists though…

Friday’s plan was simple; head to the coast and then bird our way down it to finish in Druridge Bay late afternoon.  We started at Harkess Rocks, in the shadow of Bamburgh Castle, with a very nice flock of 79 Purple Sandpipers.  In the heavy swell a flock of Common Scoters proved elusive, Common Eiders dived through the surf, small rafts of Common Guillemot and Razorbill bobbed about, Gannets soared effortlessly, Sandwich Terns were feeding just offshore and Long-tailed Ducks and Red-breasted Mergansers in breeding finery were a reminder that our winter visitors are about to pack their bags and head north.  Red-throated Divers, including one bird with a very red tinge to it’s throat, were typically elusive, diving just as we got onto them.  I’d got another species in mind though and, when I found one, it was sitting obligingly next to a Red-throated Diver.  Soon, Paul and Sue were admiring the elegant structure, neat contrasty plumage and white flank patch of their first Black-throated Diver. 2 days, 2 lifers 🙂

We headed south and, after watching an adult Mediterranean Gull, and two 2nd calendar year birds, winter and spring came together with flocks of Greylag and Pink-footed Geese, and a Short-eared Owl, being characteristic of the last 5 months of our coastal trips, Green Sandpiper and Whimbrel on passage and a male Marsh Harrier drifting over a coastal reedbed.

In beautiful afternoon light, with the sound of the roaring surf of the North Sea crashing into the east coast, the Short-eared Owl quartering a nearby reedbed and a pair of Great Crested Grebes displaying on the pool in front of us, a couple of comments by Sue – two of many memorable ones during the trip 😉 – summed things up nicely “chilled-out birding” and “we like the view from Martin’s office” 🙂

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Creatures of habit

by on Mar.26, 2012, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Harwood, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

After our first ever Harwood Safari on Saturday, our second came quickly 0n it’s heels.  I’d driven through some patchy, but dense, fog on the way to collect Judith and Kevin but as headed towards Harwood we found ourselves in some extraordinarily good weather.  The view from the Gibbet was better than on Saturday, and a male Goshawk was seen briefly as he passed along the top of the plantation in the distance.

Crossbills and Siskins were again in evidence as we drove the forest tracks and a Grey Wagtail  was catching flies on the surface of a ditch as we watched a Common Buzzard soaring overhead, and a pair of Common Toads, the male clasped tightly to the female’s back, crossed the track ahead of us. We stopped to watch over the plantation where we’d had 2 Goshawks on Saturday, and soon a Common Buzzard soared into view.  Almost immediately the male Goshawk rose out of the trees and began displaying high overhead, before finding a thermal that was obviously to his liking and ascending rapidly out of sight, presumably to keep a close eye on his territory.

The second half our our day was spent around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  As we checked rivers and pools, the assembled birdlife wasn’t disturbed by anything other than more birds; Black-headed Gulls were harassing a Grey Heron, Goldeneye, Mallards, and Teal were following other Goldeneye, Mallards and Teal, full of the joys of spring, and Canada Geese were busy showing that even Canada Geese don’t like Canada Geese 🙂  As we left Druridge Bay behind and headed towards Blaydon, the countryside was bathed in an almost sublime light.  10 hour working days have never seemed so attractive 😉

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Breaking new ground

by on Mar.26, 2012, under Birdwatching, Harwood, Northumberland

Since we started NEWT we’ve always tried to innovate and keep our tours refreshed.  Saturday gave me the opportunity to do something that really was innovative – our first Harwood Safari.  We’ve walked the route 5 times during the last 3 winters, but driving it was something of an unknown quantity.

As a business we’re happy to support the Northumberland Wildlife Trust.  As well as being a corporate member of the trust, we sponsor the under 13 and 13-18 age categories of the NWT Annual Photography competition.  Saturday’s Harwood trip was the prize for last year’s 13-18 winner and his dad.  When I collected them from Newbiggin it was worryingly misty, but as we headed inland the mist began to lift.

We started at the viewpoint near Winter’s Gibbet, where Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Crossbill, Siskin, Goldcrest, Lesser Redpoll and Chiffchaff were all calling or singing.  As the mist over the forest lifted, it was time to break new ground as we headed off along tracks with no vehicle access to the public.  More Crossbills and Siskins were in the trackside trees and Common Buzzards were soaring high overhead giving their mewing calls.  Soon after lunch we stopped to check out a distant raptor over the plantation on the opposite side of a clearfell area.  Within a minute we were watching 3 Common Buzzards…and a pair of Goshawks that had risen out of the trees to shepherd the buzzards away!  As the buzzards moved on the Goshawks quickly melted back into the obscurity of the trees.

A stop to search for Adders didn’t produce any of these fearsome reptiles, but we did find a dozen Common Lizards, lazing in the sunshine and then scuttling out of sight.

Our first Harwood Safari, the air filled with raptors, trees filled with Crossbills…looks like a winner 🙂

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Shining in the gloom

by on Mar.17, 2012, under Birdwatching, Kielder, Northumberland

The most memorable wildlife on a tour with clients can come in many forms; it may be the common, the uncommon, the localised, or just the way that it fits in its habitat, and the landscape and weather blend it in to the experience.

I arrived at Hexham railway station to find Steve and Jill already there, and a few minutes later Catherine arrived on the train from Windermere (via a few changes!).  We headed northwest along the North Tyne valley for a day birdwatching around Kielder and the borders and, just before Bellingham we left the road and headed along the forest tracks.  A fine drizzle was falling as we found our first Crossbills of the day.  By the time we returned to the C200 (and civilisation!) 2 hours later, we’d had lots of sightings of small groups and family parties.  Perching on the tops of small spruce trees, flying over and giving that distinctive ‘chip, chip’ call, Crossbills are always a delight to watch.  The stunning luminosity of the males carmine red rump is incredibly striking, particularly in the gloom and drizzle of the border forests when everything else seems to be monochrome.  Kestrels and Common Buzzards were soaring around, Curlews and Lapwings were sitting in fields between the sheep, Skylarks and Meadow Pipits flushed from the track sides and Siskins almost rivalled the Crossbills with some stunning adult males demonstrating how a quite common bird can still take your breath away when you look closely at it.

By early afternoon the cloud level had dropped to somewhere below the altitude we were at and, as we crossed a remote moorland road with the icy cold wind whistling  eerily around us, driving waves of rain horizontally across the fells, Steve spotted a grouse at the roadside.  From our position I couldn’t see the bird, but Catherine, sitting in the back of the car, was able to photograph what I assumed would be a Red Grouse.  Then it flew…revealing the white wing-bars of an adult Blackcock!  That’s a species we’ve watched and photographed with clients in the North Pennines, but not one that we’ve ever recorded on a Kielder Safari.  Important lesson, that one; expect the unexpected 🙂

One of our commonest species provided one of the highlights of the day;  hundreds of male Chaffinches were swarming around feeding stations and, at one point, we had 3 sitting on the roof of the car, 2 on the wing mirrors and 2 in the boot!  With Blue, Great and Coal Tits, Greenfinches, more Siskins, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Nuthatches the feeders were a blur of activity.

As we headed back down the valley at the end of the day, a flock of Redwings and Fieldfares flew from a nearby field and filled the air above us, a pair of Mandarins flew upriver, calling, and we left Kielder behind to return to the bustling metropolis of Hexham 🙂

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Go(at) on, make my day

by on Aug.18, 2011, under Birdwatching, Kielder, Northumberland

Yesterday saw something we haven’t done before; a mid-August Kielder Safari.

Andrew, Nick (on his 3rd trip with NEWT), Stephen and Georgina all arrived at our starting point within minutes of each other.  Under a deep blue sky, with some big fluffy white clouds, conditions looked perfect and we set off for the western reaches of Northumberland.

Common Buzzards were seen en route, a good sign that conditions were right for raptors.  The thing that makes our Kielder Safaris so special is the access we’ve been granted by the Forestry Commission, allowing us to take our clients on a drive along remote tracks that are not open to vehicle access by the general public.  With so little disturbance, the wildlife along the tracks is often very approachable.  A family party of Common Crossbills perched obligingly in trees just ahead of us, and kept flying down to the track to eat grit, Siskins, Chaffinches and a Spotted Flycatcher were all watched as they went about their business close by and a Sparrowhawk twisted, turned and swooped through the trees just a few metres away, hot on the tail of a flock of Siskins and Chaffinches.  Perhaps one of the most extraordinary moments of the trip was something I’ve never seen before, in over 40 years of birdwatching;  as we watched a juvenile Common Buzzard soaring above a remote steep-sided valley, Andrew noticed a second bird further along the valley.  The juvenile flew in that direction and the second bird, an adult buzzard, flew up towards it, rolled on it’s back in mid-air and passed prey up to the juvenile.  I’ve seen that happen so many times as courtship behaviour in all of our harrier species, but I’ve never seen a food pass between Common Buzzards, and to see it executed so gracefully by this broad-winged raptor was breathtaking.  We continued on our way with Wheatear, Stonechat, Kestrel, Raven, Pochard, Tufted Duck and Mandarin all joining the day list.

Perhaps the best of the day though came near the end; as we drove across the Forest Drive, a large mammal crossed the track ahead of us.  Looking like a dark Roe Deer on steroids, the nanny Wild Goat was soon followed by a billy goat and 2 kids.  We’ve seen Wild Goats with clients on our trips before, but never at such close quarters.

We’ll be visiting Kielder again on 31st August and 2nd September, so give us a call on 07908 119535 to find out how you can share the experience of the border forests, and the unknown quantity of those remote tracks, with us.

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(Man-made) Wilderness

by on Apr.06, 2011, under Kielder, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

On Saturday I had the pleasure of guiding a visit to Kielder (I still can’t bring myself to write Kielder Water and Forest Park…) for a group of Landscape Architecture students from the University of Michigan.

After collecting the group from Saughy Rigg (which will be the base for our ‘Autumn Colours’ photography holiday and ‘Winter Wonderland’ birdwatching holiday later this year) we headed up the North Tyne valley and began our tour of Kielder at the dam wall.  With a stiff breeze blowing down the valley, we had a walk that would blow away any cobwebs.  As I described the 2 extraordinary achievements that were the planting of the forest and the creation of the reservoir we watched Oystercatchers  and Chaffinches and saw Crossbills and Siskins flying overhead.  Coal Tits and Goldcrests were calling from the trees and the students enjoyed looking at some of the sculptures around the lake.

I devised a route back to Saughy Rigg that took in some open heather moorland, so that the group would have a good idea of what the Kielder area would have been like prior to the planting.  Over that moorland we watched Curlews mobbing a Common Buzzard, and Lapwings were engaging in their apparently chaotic display flight.

After returning the group to Saughy Rigg, I drove eastwards, back towards southeast Northumberland, still birdwatching;  just a few miles from home a flock of 150 Fieldfares were a reminder that winter is only just behind us, contrasting with the Chiffchaff that was singing in our garden.

Our Kielder Safaris this year will again include driving along tracks that are ‘off-limits’ to the public.  With excellent views of Goshawk, Roe Deer and Red Fox along those tracks last year, and a real sense that you’re in a wilderness, it’s a very different wildlife experience.  We’ve got a few spaces left, so give us a call and join us on a Safari through the forest.

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Feeding time

by on Feb.10, 2011, under Birdwatching, Choppington Woods, Northumberland, Photography

I’ve never been good at sitting in the office and concentrating on one task for any length of time.  Having an office window that looks out over the 76ha of mixed woodland of Choppington Woods LNR is a real blessing, allowing me to mix work and birdwatching.  When I need to stretch my legs, a quick trip downstairs lets me open the patio door and turns the kitchen into a very comfortable and convenient bird photography hide.

Our garden is currently hosting at least 8 Bramblings, along with Greenfinches, Goldfinches, Chaffinches, Bullfinches, Blue, Great, Coal and Long-tailed Tits, occasional visits from Siskin, Redpoll and Treecreeper and regular fly-throughs by our local Sparrowhawks.

It’s a wonder I ever get any work done 🙂

European Goldfinch, bird photography, wildlife photography

Goldfinch

Chaffinch, bird photography, wildlife photography

Chaffinch

Bullfinch, bird photography, wildlife photography

Bullfinch

Brambling, bird photography, wildlife photography

Brambling

Brambling, bird photography, wildlife photography

Brambling

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