Tag: Skylark

A swift return; Druridge Bay birdwatching mini-safari 23/05/17

by on May.25, 2017, under Druridge Bay

I arrived at Newbiggin to collect Brendan for a mini-Safari around Druridge Bay, in weather that was little short of glorious…

Brendan lives just a few miles from the village where Sarah’s parents still live; an area that’s historically similar to southeast Northumberland – although we’ve got the North Sea, beaches etc. 🙂  Our first stop was a search for waders, and Oystercatcher, Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Lapwing, Redshank, Ringed Plover and Little Ringed Plover were all pottering around on the mud and we concentrated on the differences between the two plovers and the subtle distinctions that allow them to be identified at some distance.  We were discussing the difficulties of identifying birds by their songs and calls, and the loss of high-pitch hearing with age, when one of those high-pitched birds started calling from the trees above us – Goldcrests are great at hiding but they persistently give themselves away by being so vocal.  Avocets, including one bird with a single chick, were lazing in the sunshine and occasionally calling in agitation when anything they didn’t like the look of flew over.  Grey Herons and a Little Egret stalked through the edges of the calm water and Skylarks and Meadow Pipits displayed overhead as a Lapwing returned to her nest right in front of us.  More songs from hidden birds enhanced the discussion about ID by sound; Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler and Common Whitethroat were all delivering their serenades from deep cover.  Gadwall, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Shoveler, Moorhen, Coot and Great Crested Grebe were all on the water as Sand Martin, House Martin and Swallow gathered flying insects, an underwhelming Starling murmuration passed by and 2 Common Swifts flew over – a real sign that the summer’s here…

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Larking about; Druridge Bay bespoke birdwatching 22/05/17

by on May.23, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Northumberland Coast

Yesterday was Pete and Jan’s 10th trip with us, and we were heading for NEWT’s local patch…

Travelling south from Embleton we stopped off to enjoy cliffs covered in Fulmar and Kittiwake before stopping off at Boulmer to search for the Shorelark.  We watched a small flock of these fantastic birds during the winter, but this loner was just stunning.  Overhead  the songs of several Skylark drifted on what was turning into a chilly breeze and four Brown Hares were in a nearby field.  Heading further south, the songs of Sedge Warbler and Whitethroat were accompanied by brief appearances from the songsters, a Roebuck watched us warily before deciding we weren’t a problem and returned to grazing as a Great Spotted Woodpecker demonstrated unexpected behaviour at it started launching short flycatching flights.  A subadult male Marsh Harrier was quartering the crops as a Kestrel hovered nearby and a flycatching Grey Wagtail jumped from rock to rock as we continued on our way.

A cracking male Stonechat progressed from post to post in pursuit of insects, while Grey Heron and Little Egret stalked the shallows, but the afternoon was dominated by waders and wagtails.  Ringed Plover, Ruff, Common Snipe, Dunlin, Wood Sandpiper, Curlew, Redshank, Oystercatcher, Black-tailed Godwit and no less than 12 Avocets represented this diverse group and the Avocets were particularly entertaining as they mobbed Grey Herons and ShelduckYellow Wagtails are stunningly bright birds and 2 or 3 bright yellow males were aggressively chasing a female, who eventually grew tired of the harrassment and flew off high to the west as we ended the day and headed back north.  Driving through an area of dense woodland, a Common Buzzard appeared from the left and flew across the road just a few metres in front of us as we approached Embleton.

Another great day birdwatching, with great company.  See you at the Bird Fair 🙂

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Chorus of the valleys; Bespoke Cheviot Valleys Safari 12/05/17

by on May.16, 2017, under Cheviot Valleys

I collected John and Kate from Church Point at 06:00 and we headed westwards towards the Cheviot massif…

Stepping out of the car in a cold breeze, the density of bird song was like a wall of sound.  Willow Warbler, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Robin, Chaffinch, Chiffchaff and Blackcap were all belting out their best tunes, while Oystercatcher, Greylag Goose and Canada Goose provided an accompaniment that was akin to a 3 year old banging a pan with a spoon.  The complex songs of Sedge Warbler and Skylark added to the aural backdrop and the buzzing trill of Lesser Redpoll overhead added an occasional background note.  Brown Hares were running along tractor tyre tracks through long crops and a young Roe Deer seeemd more puzzled than scared by the car.  Common Pheasant and Red-legged Partridge were a reminder of the main managed purpose of the valleys, while on the higher slopes Red Grouse were chuckling, Curlew were displaying and a Common Snipe was singing from the top of an isolated hawthorn as the valley bottom delivered the riparian triumvirate of Dipper, Common Sandpiper and Grey WagtailHouse Martins were gathering mud to add to their nests, Swallows were hawking insects as the air warmed slightly, Treecreeper and Tree Pipit were both, unsurprisingly, in trees, a Green Woodpecker was yaffling but didn’t show itself and a Cuckoo was singing persistently from a vantage point high in a bare tree.  As far as we could tell, he was singing constantly for at least 3 hours then, as we had lunch, a second Cuckoo flew over the hillside, pursued by a crowd of Meadow Pipits, and the singer flew from his perch to chase the interloper away down the valley.

I’m an evening person, but really enjoy early starts for our inland locations 🙂

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Breezy Black Grouse; North Pennines Bespoke Birdwatching 25/04/17

by on Apr.26, 2017, under North Pennines

Tuesday was my third consecutive 03:30 alarm call and, bleary eyed, I cleared the snow off the car ahead of a trip to the North Pennines with one specific aim – to watch Black Grouse lekking…

I collected Sylvia and Stephen from Corbridge and we headed westwards.  The first rays of sunlight illuminated the tops of the hills and the landscape was bathed in a sublime light that made it look like a completely different area to the one I’d visited three times in the previous week.  As we drove along, I could see a cluster of black dots standing out against the pale frosted grass, and there were the Black Grouse 🙂  At least 2o Blackcock and 5 Greyhens were concentrated in the small lekking arena, that will have hosted the gladitorial battles of their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and who knows how many generations of their ancestors.  We watched as they displayed and then rested, vanishing into the vegetation, then fought again.  The scenario was repeated time and again as Sylvia and Stephen came up with a list of intriguing questions about the breeding ecology of these extraordinary birds.  Lapwing, Skylark, Curlew, Redshank, Oystercatcher and Meadow Pipit were all displaying as 2 Skylarks sat obligingly at the roadside, a couple of Woodcock were bobbing along through the long grass, a Brown Hare raced by and a Dipper fought against the breeze, passing over the car as it cut a corner in it’s route along a river.

Flurries of snow passed by horizontally on the stiff breeze and Red Grouse were dotted along the moors as we came across a group of at least 6 Wheatears.  A walk to look for Spring Gentians was successful although the walk back to the car into a headwind was challenging, before we headed back towards Corbridge and the lush green landscape of the valley bottoms, a world away from the stunning bleak beauty of the hills.

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Springtime in the hills :-) North Pennines Bespoke Birdwatching 24/04/17

by on Apr.24, 2017, under North Pennines

This morning was another early start, and I crawled out of bed at 03:30 as the alarm disrupted my sleep…

I collected Daniel and Nigel from Ponteland and we headed towards the North PenninesCurlew and Lapwing were displaying over the fells, but in the icy cold stiff breeze, Red Grouse and Black Grouse were more of a challenge to find than they were yesterday.  Golden Plover, Oystercatcher, Common Snipe and Common Redshank were quickly found and we came across some much more obliging Red Grouse, and two Fieldfare, before heading even further to the southwest.  Nigel had just spotted a probable Common Redstart, in a plantation dripping with Mistle Thrushes, when the light drizzle, that had accompanied us for most of the trip, turned to sleet and then proper snow with large flakes speckling the windscreen of the car 🙂  We sat it out, and once the poor weather had cleared the hills produced the sort of birding that is jaw-dropping.  First a Short-eared Owl, quartering the fells with stiff, slow, wingbeats before dropping onto a vole in the grass and then obligingly taking it onto an open area where we could watch it through the telescope.  Soon after that we came across 14 Blackcock, who abandoned foraging, flew to a lek right in front of us and then all kicked off as a Woodcock shuffled through the grass, accompanied by an aural backdrop of calling Snipe.  In the bone-chilling cold, yesterday’s Spring Gentians were no longer displaying their finery and Black-headed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls were struggling against the breeze as Skylarks soared overhead and a Kestrel matched the success of the Shortie before we finished with lunch and a Dipper 🙂

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Serenade; North Pennines Bespoke Photography 23/04/17

by on Apr.24, 2017, under North Pennines

Yesterday was an early start for David, who was the runner up in the junior category of last year’s North East Wildlife Photography competition, and his parents Helen and John.  We’ve sponsored the junior category since the inception of the competition and, for some reason, the winners of the prize that we offer usually choose to have their Bespoke photography trip in the North Pennines

With beautiful light soon after sunrise, Brown Hare, Lapwing, Meadow Pipit, Red Grouse and Black Grouse were soon subject to the scrutiny of David and his camera.  The Hares, in particular, looked stunning with natural rim-lighting.  After a few Red Grouse remained stubbornly tucked down in the vegetation we came across the star of the day.  This Red Grouse wasn’t hiding his light under a bushel, in fact he appeared to be auditioning for Britain’s (Moorland’s) Got Talent.  First he was on a fence post, pushing his breast out and watching us intently.  Then he dropped to the ground and had a couple minutes feeding before hopping back to the fence post.  Back to the ground for another feed and then he decided it was time to advertise his territory.  Stretching his neck and head high above the grass he started calling.  As well as the typical grouse call, he was making lots of churring, clucking sounds that we probably wouldn’t have heard if we were any further away from him.  What was really impressive though, was how his whole body quivered with each prolonged call.  I’ve never watched a grouse at such close range before so it was remarkable to see the physical effort that goes into his territorial song.

Fieldfare were hopping amongst clumps of rush, no doubt feeding up ready for their migration, and in bright sunshine we found, largely thanks to Helen’s sharp eyesight, dozens of Spring Gentian in flower 🙂  Over the moors, Curlew and Skylark were displaying, Common Snipe and Common Redshank were perched on fence posts and a Ring Ouzel flew by before 3 Dippers chased each other back and forth along a small stream while we were having our lunch.

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Game on; North Pennines Safari 19/04/17

by on Apr.19, 2017, under North Pennines

I collected Steph from her home in Gateshead, for the first of four North Pennines trips I’m guiding over the next week, and we headed westwards…

A Greyhen, hunkered down against the wind and rain in roadside vegetation, was fairly obliging as Snipe, Curlew and Lapwing displayed overhead and a Blackcock sat motionless in a nearby field.  Red Grouse, after Red Grouse, after Red Grouse, followed and offered great photo opportunities for Steph, although the Brown Hares we came across weren’t hanging around to have their picture taken!  Then it was the turn of Black Grouse, with a handsome Blackcock on the moor close to the car, soon followed by two more feeding out in the open.  Drumming Snipe and displaying Curlew took cover as the rain intensified, but each break in the weather was filled with birds; Black Grouse, Red Grouse, Common Snipe, Curlew, Common Redshank, Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Golden Plover, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Meadow Pipit, Skylark, Goosander and towards the end of the trip, a male Ring Ouzel perched on a fence post, a Grey Partridge on a dry stone wall next to the road and a pair of Peregrine engaged in a display flight 🙂

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Changing of the guard; Lindisfarne Safari 18/04/17

by on Apr.19, 2017, under Lindisfarne

I collected Luke and Louise from Alnwick, for the first of their three trips with us this week, and we headed north to Lindisfarne

Crossing the causeway, with hardly any water in sight, it was hard to believe that this has been the scene of so many attempts by the unwary and the foolish to drive through seawater that brings their journeys to an abrupt end and the ignominy of having to be rescued by the RNLI and RAF.  On the island, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff were singing from deep cover as foraging Lapwings were joined by a Fieldfare that was chancing it’s arm with repeated threat displays.  Meadow Pipits were sitting on fence posts and dry stone walls as the air all around seemed to be filled with singing Skylarks.  Eight Roe Deer were feeding in a grassy field and a buck near the village took umbrage at beeing watched and took off at pace, clearing fence after fence and wall after wall as he headed towards the dunes on the north of the island.  House Sparrows were chirping from what seemed like every bush on the island and Grey Herons blended in to the reeds around the Lough to such an extent that Louise’s sharp eyes picked one out and it took a while, and the heron suddenly moving it’s head, before myself and Luke could see it.

As a cold north easterly breeze gathered pace, the eerie calls of Grey Seals and the shrill cries of Curlew carried across the mudflats.  Pink-footed and Barnacle Geese, surely getting ready to depart for northern climes, arrived with the rising tide and Little Egrets, Wigeon, Teal, Redshank, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Shelduck, Herring, Black-headed, Common, Lesser Black-backed and Great Black-backed Gulls were joined along the edge of the swelling water by three Whimbrel.

To enjoy my unedited views about Holy Island causeway strandings, why not join one of our Lindisfarne Safaris?  We run them throughout the year, although October (for migrants), November-February (wintering waders and wildfowl) and June-July (flora and insects) are the slightly better months to visit.

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Choppy; Otter Safari 14/04/17

by on Apr.17, 2017, under Druridge Bay

Friday was Adrian and Ruth’s 2nd day out with NEWT, after Monday’s Cheviots Valleys/Druridge Bespoke tour, and I arrrived at Church Point to collect them, as well as Sandra and Paco, and Rachel and Andy.  A torrential downpour passed mercifully quickly and we were on our way for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland searching for Otters

The transitional nature of mid-April was really obvious; Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Teal and Wigeon are typical birds of winter on the Northumberland coast, but now they were alongside displaying Great Crested Grebes and Avocets as a White Wagtail pottered along the edge of a shallow pool, Swallows and Sand Martins were hawking newly emerged insects as the songs of Chiffchaff and Sedge Warbler emanated from deep cover in trees and reedbeds and the descending silvery cadence of Willow Warbler trickled on the breeze.  A noisy flock of Long-tailed Tits were just above a male Blackcap who chacked angrily as we disturbed whatever it was that he’d been up to before we walked by and the peace and elegance of Little Egrets was shattered as a Great White Egret objected to their proximity to the rushes where it was hiding.  Grey Herons stalked the water’s edge as Skylarks ascended heavenwards, Meadow Pipits parachuted back down at the end of brief display flights and Reed Bunting and Stonechat perched at the tops of isolated bushes in the dunes.

With an icy cold breeze rippling the water’s surface and nipping at noses and fingers we finished at sunset with our quarry for the day having eluded us.

We’re often asked what the chances are of seeing an Otter on one of our trips, and it isn’t an easy question to answer.  They’re wild animals and they don’t run to a timetable that guarantees we’ll find them.  That’s something that makes wildlife watching so great – the unpredictability of it all 🙂  To put some numbers to it though…this was our 12th Otter Safari since the start of November 2016, and only the 2nd of those where we haven’t found at least one Otter!

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A glorious afternoon; Lindisfarne Safari 19/03/17

by on Mar.21, 2017, under Birdwatching, Grey Seal, Lindisfarne

I arrived in Berwick to collect Juan and Erika from the railway station for their tour of Lindisfarne and the North Northumberland coast and a first for NEWT – clients from Argentina!

We headed down the coast in some unforecast rain and in the mighty shadow of Bamburgh Castle we watched Purple Sandpiper and Turnstone as they picked their way through the rocks within inches of the frothing surf.  Common Eider, Common Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Guillemot and Puffin were all rising and falling in a deep swell and Kittiwakes were passing by as we set the telescope up on the side of the car that was sheltered from the wind and rain.  Heading north we came across lots of Shelduck, Wigeon, Teal, Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit and Lapwing, as well as smaller numbers of Shoveler, Goosander and Common Redshank, and a lone Kestrel hanging motionless facing into the wind, then over on to Holy Island where the sky was blue, the clouds were white and fluffy and the wind was still howling…

Grey Seals were hauled out on the mud at low tide and as their mournful calls carried on the breeze across the island Skylarks were singing, tiny black dots against the sky, Meadow Pipits were song-flighting and there were at least 21 Roe Deer feeding in a remarkably dense herd.  Red-breasted Merganser were having their crests ruffled by the wind, Pied Wagtails were searching for insects around the car park and panic rippled through the birds out on the mudflats.  Grey Herons stalked through marshy edges, the eerie cries of Curlew drifted through the dunes and, as we made our way back across the causeway with the tide rising and the sun setting, Common Eider were displaying, Common Redshank and Pale-bellied Brent Geese were on the edge of the rising water and a Curlew decided to sit on the road right in front of us 🙂

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