Tag: Slavonian Grebe

Seabird Spectacular; Birdwatching magazine Reader Holiday 25-28/06/17

by on Jun.29, 2017, under Coquet Island, Druridge Bay, Farne Islands

Day 1 25/06/17

After collecting Malcolm, and then John, from Alnmouth railway station we headed to Seahouses and the Bamburgh Castle Inn for the start of a short break concentrating on the seabirds of the Northumberland coast.  Nigel, Janice and Cliff and Lesley had already arrived and at dinner we discussed the plan for the next two days.  I’d brought our Farne Islands day forward from Tuesday to Monday, and moved Coquet Island and Druridge Bay to Tuesday, and had my fingers crossed that it was the right decision…

Day 2 26/06/17

We boarded Glad Tidings IV after breakfast and headed across to Staple Island at the start of an all-day trip to the Farne Islands.  Staple doesn’t have any breeding terns, and has fewer visitors than Inner Farne, so is altogether a much more relaxed experience 🙂  Puffins, Fulmars, Guillemots, Razorbills, Rock Pipits and Lesser Black-backed Gulls were all coming and going as, just north of the island, Gannets were plunging into the sea.  Transferring across to Inner Farne for the afternoon, we made our way past Arctic, Common and Sandwich Terns and up to Lighthouse Point  where, alongside Razorbills, Guillemots, Shags and Kittiwakes, Rock Pipits were carrying food into nests tucked away out of sight in narrow crevices in the cliff face.  At the base of the cliffs the water was so clear that we could watch Guillemot, including a parent joined by a jumpling as we watched, and Razorbill as they swam with slow-motion effort under the water.  Back on the mainland we walked along the edge of the rising tide and watched Little Terns, Dunlin and Ringed Plover as Meadow Pipits song-flighted from the dunes and a maelstrom of Arctic Terns responded to marauding Lesser Black-backed, Great Black-backed and Herring Gulls and a real bonus bird came in the form of a 2cy Glaucous Gull.

Day 3 27/06/17

I woke up to the sound of a stiff breeze and rain, and breathed a sigh of relief that we’d moved our Farne Islands day to Monday.  We headed south along the coast towards Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland and our first stop was to look for 3 Spoonbills which had been reported.  Just before we reached them, Nigel spotted a Cuckoo perched on a tree protector and we quickly found the Spoonbills.  Next stop was for a bird that’s straightforward to find in Northumberland during the winter, but a rare thing indeed in breeding plumage in late June.  The Slavonian Grebe was asleep, tucked up against the wind and rain but soon roused itself from slumber and started feeding.  Sedge and Reed Warblers were playing hide-and-seek with us in reedbeds, Tree Sparrows were feeding on the paths ahead of us and we spent some time watching an entertaining dispute between a Little Gull and a 1st summer Arctic Tern.  The tern seemed to have a case of angry little man syndrome and, as well as persistently harassing the gull, it took umbrage at the presence of Avocet, Moorhen, Oystercatcher, Carrion Crow and ShelduckBlack-tailed Godwits were probing in the shallows, Curlew were in newly-mown fields and the air was filled with Swallows, Sand Martins, House Martins and Swifts.  Soon after lunch the weather deteriorated and as we could hear the sea crashing against the shore is was obvious that our planned sailing around Coquet Island wouldn’t be happening.  There’s always the telescope though, and although distant, we could identify Roseate Terns as Bar-tailed Godwits pottered along the shoreline below us.  As Great Crested Grebes somehow managed to look elegant even in the stiffening breeze and increasingly heavy rain we headed back to Seahouses.

Day 4 28/06/17

After breakfast together, everyone headed their separate ways.  I dropped Malcolm and John back at Alnmouth, and then I was on my way to a physio appointment – really not as much fun as watching Northumberland’s stunning wildlife 🙂

We’ll be adding more holiday dates to our online calendar in the next week, so make sure you book your place early before they’re all gone!

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Summer days; Cheviot Valleys Bespoke birdwatching 18/06/17

by on Jun.20, 2017, under Cheviot Valleys

An early start on Sunday saw me collecting Jill and Steve for their 4th day out with NEWT (and Steve’s 5th trip with us as he was on this memorable pelagic!)…

Our destination was the Cheviot valleys, but we headed to Bothal first to search for the Ruddy Duck that had been there the day before.  There was no sign of it, but consolation came in the form of a stunning summer-plumaged Slavonian Grebe before we continued on our way north west.  Red-legged Partridge and Pheasant were wandering along the roads and sitting on the tops of walls and we were soon searching for Ring Ouzel and Whinchat – the two target species for the morning.  Curlew called from the moors high above, Meadow Pipits were song-flighting and Pied Wagtails were picking insects from the grass as Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler were singing, Mistle Thrushes flew back and forth and Oystercatchers were probing the soil under short vegetation.  Persistence is often the key and I finally spotted a Whinchat perched on a small bush, and then 2 Ring Ouzels foraging on a small rocky outcrop.

Our picnic spot beside a fast flowing stream produced an obliging Common Sandpiper and more Whinchats as the buzzing trill of Lesser Redpolls drew our attention to small dark specks travelling between plantations and the scratchy song of Common Whitethroat grumbled from nearby bracken.  A Great Spotted Woodpecker sitting in the road was an unexpected encounter before we finished the day with an hour of woodland birding.  In the hot afternoon sunshine the birds seemed to be keeping their heads down, other than a very obliging Spotted Flycatcher as Speckled Wood butterflies rested in the sun-dappled edges of the wood and a Giant Pied Hoverfly Volucella pellucens made a couple of flyby inspections as we walked back to the car.

Another really enjoyable day out with Jill and Steve, in very summery weather!

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Winter’s Icy Grip; Bespoke Lindisfarne Safari 25/02/2016

by on Mar.02, 2016, under Lindisfarne

There’s a special quality to the winter; stark, icy landscapes filled with vast flocks of wintering birds grip the attention and leave you marvelling at the inhospitable conditions our winter wildlife contends with.  We can wear a range of incredibly technical clothing, and head back to the car, or even indoors, if conditions deteriorate but wildlife just has to get on with surviving…

I arrived at Middleton to collect Lesley and Andrew, who were enjoying a week in Northumberland that included their wedding, for their second trip with NEWT (following a successful Otter Safari in May last year) and we headed towards Holy Island.  As we walked out to The Lough, flocks of Pale-bellied and Dark-bellied Brent Geese flew in off the mudflats heading towards the flooded fields where we’ve seen them roosting and bathing over the last couple of weeks.  The flooded fields were frozen fields though, and the geese circled over them before heading back out onto the mud.  Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Gadwall, Goldeneye and Shoveler were all very skittish and we could even track the progress of whatever was disturbing them by their movements, although whatever it was remained unseen by us.  Vast flocks of Golden Plover filled the air and Skylark song carried on the icy breeze.  Back on the mainland the rising tide brought Curlew, Knot, Dunlin, Turnstone, Bar-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover and Common Redshank closer and closer to us.  Then, as the encroaching tide lapped at their toes in the grass at the edge of the mudflats, 12 Skylark suddenly rose in front of us as a flock of Lesser Redpoll sat in bushes behind our viewing point.

Eider, Long-tailed Duck, Common Scoter, Red-breasted Merganser, Slavonian Grebe and Red-throated Diver were on the sea just beyond the rocks where Purple Sandpipers were engaging in their daily dance with the breaking surf and it was time to head back after an enjoyable day with clients who have a great love for Northumberland, and an extraordinary knowledge of great places to eat – we’ll be trying out their recommendations over the next month or so 🙂

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Winter Wonderland 21-24/02/2016

by on Mar.01, 2016, under Druridge Bay, Lindisfarne

Our Winter Wonderland holiday started on Sunday evening with Ben and Diane, and David, arriving at the Bamburgh Castle Inn.

Day One 22/02/16.  Our first full day was around Lindisfarne and the North Northumberland coast and everything that makes the area so good in the winter put in an appearance.  Purple Sandpiper, Oystercatcher, Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Common Redshank, Turnstone, Grey Plover, Golden Plover, Dunlin and Knot represented wading birds, Common Scoter, Eider, Red-breasted Merganser, Long-tailed Duck and Slavonian Grebe were just offshore, Grey Seal and at least 16 Roe Deer provided some mammal interest and there were lots and lots of geesePale-bellied Brent, Dark-bellied Brent, Pink-footed, Greylag and Barnacle filled the air, the fields and the mudflats as Skylarks sang and fought, heralding the arrival of spring 🙂

Day Two 23/02/16.  Our second day was spent around NEWT’s local patch, Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  One of our favourite mammals was soon on the trip list as an Otter cub appeared from its hideaway in a pile of boulders and spent a little while feeding close by 🙂  The long-staying Long-billed Dowitcher joined the trip list too, feeding alongside Knot, Common Redshank and Bar-tailed Godwit and unexpected birds included Marsh Tit and Treecreeper.  As the afternoon light faded, we watched a family group of Whooper Swans and a pair of Dippers sat almost motionless on a mid-stream rock as the water rushed around them and a Barn Owl was a welcome addition to the trip list just before an incredibly brief sleety shower reminded us that this is the winter 🙂

24/02/16.  Departure day dawned bright, cold and encased in frost at the end of the holiday.  Just the way the winter should be!

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The hunter, hunted; Lindisfarne Safari 19/02/2016

by on Mar.01, 2016, under Lindisfarne

Our second successive day on and around Lindisfarne was accompanied by an incredibly stiff breeze, which contributed to a fascinating encounter…

I collected Andy, Jill and Catherine from The Swan and we collected Alison en route to the north of the county.  Waiting for the tide to clear from the causeway, we spent the first part of the day on the mainland.  Bar-tailed Godwit, Oystercatcher, Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone, Curlew, Common Redshank and Knot were all close to the edge of the breaking surf as Long-tailed Duck, Common Scoter, Eider, Razorbill and Slavonian Grebe braved the icy bite of the wind out on the exposed sea.  Teal, Wigeon, Pale-bellied Brent Geese and Dark-bellied Brent Geese grazed on the newly-exposed areas of mudflat as the tide fell and a stunningly handsome drake Pintail flew by.  Grey Seals hauled out on exposed sandbars and, over on the island, we watched a Kestrel, holding position in the breeze, as another raptor found itself in a bit of difficulty…

Between the island and the mainland, a Sparrowhawk was beating a desperate path into the wind.  Struggling to make headway, its task was made all the more difficult by the attention of a Herring Gull.  Exposed, and really not in its element, the Sparrowhawk was driven back by the wind as the mob of gulls began growing.  Time and again it flew towards the mainland only to be brought almost to a standstill by the breeze and harassed by the gulls into turning back towards the island.  Eventually it dropped towards the sea before accelerating across the gap, just a few feet above the deadly waves, and was lost from sight as it neared the relative sanctuary of the mainland.  If there’s a rule when watching wildlife it should be ‘expect the unexpected’ 🙂

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Rain song in beautiful light; Northumberland Birdwatching 12/03/2014

by on Mar.17, 2014, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

Last Wednesday was a trip I’d been looking forward to for some time.  Janice and David have visited Northumberland annually for many years and it was David’s 50th birthday so Janice had arranged an afternoon out for him 🙂

Arriving at Cresswell, I was impressed by the naked-eye view of a Red-throated Diver from the window of the cottage, and we were soon on our way up the coast, for an afternoon’s birdwatching concentrating on locations where there is a better than average chance of seeing an Otter.  David is a keen reader of some of our local birdwatching blogs and it wasn’t long before we bumped into a familiar name as we enjoyed East Chevington’s quartet of grebes Little, Great Crested, Slavonian and Red-necked – in the company of Alan Gilbertson, who showed us an image he’d taken of Bean Geese at HauxleyGoldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Long-tailed Duck, Tufted Duck, Teal, Wigeon, Mallard and Gadwall were all stunning in the beautiful afternoon light and we continued on our way.  The closure of one of the footpaths at Hauxley was going to make viewing the geese slightly tricky, as we’d have to be looking into the sun.  We managed to find one spot that gave us a good view of the birds and, after we’d sifted through plenty of Greylag, Canada and Pink-footed Geese, which were obligingly on the pool rather than on a distant field, I spotted the brown wings and orange legs of a Tundra Bean Goose, which was asleep but woke to allow excellent comparison with the Pinkfeet.

On to a delightful spot that we’ve been checking recently for Otter, and the songs of Wren, Greenfinch and Goldfinch filled the air, as well as the persistent ‘rain song’ of a male Chaffinch, a Dipper came along the river, calling, and secreted itself away from view under the bridge we were standing on, a Grey Wagtail flew over calling, a Common Buzzard glided low over the trees and a flock of Curlew rose noisily from nearby fields.  The Chaffinch and his mate were busy helping themselves to flies that were trapped in spider webs, and a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers really looked at their best in the sublime low sunlight.

Our final port of call was Cresswell Pond, which was bathed in warm orange sunlight with the tops of the reeds appearing to be aflame as the sun sank closer and closer to the horizon.  Common Snipe were roosting at the water’s edge and a Starling murmuration twisted and turned above the skyline to the north as the light faded and I returned David back to the cottage.  Incredibly, five hours had quite simply flown past as we enjoyed an afternoon birdwatching and chatting about wind farms, raptor persecution, marine conservation and Scottish independence.  Do you know, you can easily tie all of those topics together 🙂

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Fantastic Mr Fox; Moorland and Coast 07/03/2014

by on Mar.14, 2014, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Harwood, Northumberland

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.

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More five star birdwatching; Northumberland coast 24/02/14

by on Feb.25, 2014, under Birdwatching, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

Yesterday continued to lay to rest the myth that February is a quiet month…

Starting in the north of the county, overlooking the iconic landscape of Holy Island, brought the expected waders and wildfowl, and three lifers for Paul and Katie, who were back for another day out with us, following a trip in 2009; Common Scoter, Long-tailed Duck and Twite. A Peregrine muscled its way menacingly through the air above a flock of Dunlin, Grey Seals were ‘bottling’ at high tide and Bar-tailed Godwits, Redshank and Curlew were probing the soft exposed mud as the tide began to drop.  Eider, Shelduck, Red-throated Divers, Wigeon and Teal were all at or near the water’s edge and the songs of Skylark and Yellowhammer reverberated in the warm sunshine.  Perhaps the highlight of the morning was a bird that is always breathtaking; sailing elegantly into the stiff breeze, a male Hen Harrier was tracking along a hedgerow heading inland 🙂

The afternoon brought Paul and Katie’s fourth lifer of the day, a Red-necked Grebe, with Little, Great Crested and Slavonian Grebes all close by for comparison.  Two Avocets were rather unseasonal, a pair of Pintail exuded elegance, drake Goldeneye looked very smart in their contrasty breeding plumage, Red-breasted Mergansers looked quite, well, comical as they always do and two Brown Hares were sitting motionless in a nearby field.  With 30 minutes until sunset a small flock of Starlings flying in from the north led to me suggesting that we go and see where they’d gone, and to check if there was going to a significant murmuration…

What followed was, quite simply, one of the most remarkable things I’ve ever witnessed.  Initially the Starlings were about a mile south of where I expected them to roost, and there were a lot of them.  Soon two other large flocks merged with them and they moved slowly north, eventually passing directly overhead with the sound of wingbeats like a gentle breeze rustling through a forest.  The murmuration drifted away to the south again, then back north.  Almost an hour had passed when the activity levels within the flock were ramped up.  Twisting and turning with more urgency, the density of birds in different parts of our view coalesced to form writhing shapes from the previously uniform oval.  With light levels fading, the birds vanished from sight, only to betray their presence in a series of shapes that resembled a slug, then a snail, then a car.  We soon lost them in the gloom again, only for the finale to the evenings proceedings to take us all by surprise as the flock compacted over the reedbed where they were going to roost, forming a dense arrowhead as they funneled into the reeds.  With the first birds down in the reedbed, the rest of the flock wheeled slightly higher, then repeated the maneuver, a second arrowhead driving into the reeds.  A third, then a fourth, cohort entered the roost and all was quiet.  Fade to black…

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Five star birdwatching; Northumberland Coast 20/02/14

by on Feb.23, 2014, under Birdwatching, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

Our fourth trip this week was a day birdwatching with Simon, who was back again after previous trips including a stunning Farne Deeps pelagic in 2012.  We’d spoken in advance of the trip and Simon was keen to add a few of Northumberland’s wintering birds to his life list; divers, grebes, Purple Sandpiper and Brambling were all mentioned as desirable.

When I arrived to collect him on Thursday morning, I was still wrestling with the challenge of heading inland for Brambling, yet leaving plenty of time to explore the Northumberland coast.  That worry was quickly taken away, as putting a feeder up outside the holiday cottage meant that Simon had found one of the species on his wish list himself 🙂  Covering most of the coast from north to south produced five lifers;  Red-throated Divers just beyond the surf, Long-tailed Ducks including a breathtakingly beautiful drake, Purple Sandpipers unobtrusively poking around in rock pools, displaying Goldeneye rivaling the attractiveness of the Long-tailed Ducks and, as the afternoon light faded and the rain finally arrived, a very obliging Water RailTwite, Stonechat, Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting, Skylark, Marsh Harrier, Slavonian, Little and Red-necked Grebes, Shelduck, Bar-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Grey and Golden Plover, Lapwing, Gannet, Curlew, Teal, Mallard and Wigeon may have been reduced to a supporting role for the day, but all combined to produce an excellent day’s birdwatching on the Northumberland coast 🙂

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A trio of Grebes and a splash in the gloom

by on Feb.20, 2014, under Northumberland, Northumberland Coast, Southeast Northumberland

Tuesday and Wednesday were mini-safaris for one family, but different participants each day; Sue, Phil, Sandra and Inez on Tuesday and Sue (again), Jacqui, Paul and Hannah on Wednesday.

Both days featured lots of waders and wildfowl; Redshank, Common Snipe, Curlew, Lapwing, Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwit, Goldeneye, Pintail, Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Mallard, Teal, Wigeon and Red-breasted Merganser were all very obliging, with the ducks particularly stunning, and the Goldeneye engaging in their quite captivating display.  Moorhens picking scraps off a skeleton at the edge of Cresswell Pond were described as ‘totally gross’ by Inez, and it isn’t easy to argue with that summation 🙂

Although the two days were similar, there were some notable differences; Tuesday produced Slavonian and Red-necked Grebes, alongside the Little Grebes that we saw on both days, and Wednesday featured Water Rail and Roe Deer.  Wednesday also produced a very brief Otter encounter, as a dark shape rolled at the surface in the deepening gloom, crossed the river and rolled again as the local Mallards stared in terror into the darkness.

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