We met up in Newbiggin and set off on our search. Our first site had plenty of birds but no Otters, so we headed on to the site where I thought it would be good to be at dusk. A Kingfisher provided a splash of iridescent brilliance in the fading light of mid-afternoon and a group of Teal, Goldeneye, Mallard and Tufted Duck drifting away from a reedbed caught my attention. Scanning the reed edge with our telescope revealed a dark shape, twisting and turning but mainly hidden from view in the reeds. It soon vanished, but the ducks were still wary, so I continued scanning that area. After 20mins the Otter finally came out into open water and each time it dropped out of sight we tracked it by the current location of agitated wildfowl 🙂 It was clearly making it’s way towards us and, after a few minutes without a sighting, it was suddenly running along the bank right in front of us! It quickly disappeared into another reedbed, triggering the begging calls of it’s cubs, before reappearing in the water with one cub, as two more continued calling, drowning out the calls of Snipe and Water Rail 🙂 As a Starling murmuration began to develop, the calls of Whooper Swan and Pink-footed Goose cut through the gloom as they arrived to roost and eventually it was too dark to see anything out on the water.
A fantastic end to the year, and a welcome break from mince pies 🙂
Through the thickening mist, just inches above the ground, the Sparrowhawk maneuvered it’s way at speed around bushes and the edge of a reedbed. From that position it couldn’t see any possible targets. Of course, that meant it couldn’t be seen either…
I’d collected Laura and Barry from Church Point at midday. for an afternoon birdwatching around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. Unlike the stunning sunshine and warmth of Monday, conditions were rather overcast. On a walk through woodland, we came across a roving tit flock. Goldcrests could be heard high in the trees, and a quick session of pishing soon had one just a few feet away from us as it descended to investigate where the squeaking noise was coming from. Our lunch stop, overlooking the length of Druridge Bay, gave us the opportunity for a spot of seawatching although, with the lack of any substantial breeze, there wasn’t a great deal of movement offshore. Eider were dotted here and there, Cormorants were flying along the coast, a few Swallows were catching insects low over the clifftop vegetation and flocks of Goldfinch and Linnet were noisily flitting about. Lapwings, Curlew, Dunlin, Ruff, Snipe, Ringed Plover and Redshank, the latter in what seemed to be a state of perpetual motion, were working their way along exposed mud as Grey Herons stalked with an imperceptibly slow motion that spells danger to fish, frogs and ducklings everywhere. As the afternoon continued, we were suddenly confronted with heavy mist. Then the rain started. Thinking this would clear the mist proved a forlorn hope, and we watched a flock of Dunlin make several low passes over the mud in front of us before they vanished into the mist. Eiders and Cormorants were diving repeatedly on the River Coquet near Amble and Salmon were leaping from the water – a real joy to watch when all three of us in the car are keen flyfishers. With dusk approaching, although this wouldn’t differ too much from the rest of the afternoon, the yapping of Pink-footed Geese could be heard from behind the grey impenetrable curtain of mist. Growing louder, and with the calls of Greylag and Canada Geese intermingled, the flock appeared on the edge of the mist. Just beyond the limit of clarity, the amorphous mass of several hundred geese dropped onto the water and then upped the volume of their calls. As another flock arrived they were greeted noisily by the birds already on the water.
…accelerating on powerful wings, following an approach of supreme stealth, the Sparrowhawk exploded from a gap in the reeds, still just inches from the ground. Lapwings and Starlings took to the air in panic, but the predator quickly fixed it’s baleful stare on the three closest birds to the edge of the reeds. The Dunlin took flight, but the concealed approach by the Sparrowhawk had given it the edge that it needed in the game of life and death that was playing out in front of us. With lightning quick reflexes it plucked the Dunlin deftly from the air, turned back through the channel in the reeds, and settled to devour it’s catch out of sight. Not out of sight from us though 🙂
After a damp morning around Druridge Bay on Thursday, Friday looked much more promising. I collected Simeon and Kathy from their holiday accommodation in Warkworth and we set off down the coast for an afternoon around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. Late summer/early autumn trips often feature plenty of waders and wildfowl and this was no exception. Common Snipe were playing ‘hard-to-spot’ as they slept in sparse clumps of reed, Dunlin, Ruff, Ringed Plover, Black-tailed Godwit, Lapwing and Golden Plover were all either roosting or sticking their beaks into the mud and a lone Greenshank was sitting on the periphery of a big flock of Lapwing. On slow deep wingbeats a Sparrowhawk flew low across the water towards us, pulling sharply up and over us at the last minute. Over a coastal reedbed a juvenile Marsh Harrier drifted lazily along, swooping down towards the water and scattering the Mallard and Teal that had been dozing contentedly there.
Mid-afternoon we were treated to the spectacle of the sky filled with skein after skein of geese; mainly Pink-footed, but with small groups of Greylag and Canada interspersed amongst the yapping flocks of one our favourite Icelandic winter visitors. Our next magic moment came courtesy of a mustelid. Not the Otter that we were searching for, but instead the beautiful little predator that has featured on so many of our trips in the last few weeks. For several minutes we watched as a Stoat ran backward and forwards along the water’s edge, perched on rocks, had a good look at a Moorhen and finally bounded away through the poolside vegetation. Another small predator provided the next wildlife experience. Lapwing, Golden Plover, Ruff, Black-tailed Godwits, Dunlin, Teal, Mallard, Gadwall and Starling all took to the air; had they spotted an Otter lurking in the reeds? maybe a Fox? No, what was coming was the Grim Reaper on tiny pointed wings. A Merlin was suddenly amongst the scattered birds in the air. Twisting and turning, the tiny falcon had singled out a Dunlin from the multitude of possible targets in front of it. The chase was on and could be easily followed by watching the path carved through the tightly bunched Lapwings that had taken to the air in alarm. As the Dunlin made a final bid for freedom, the Merlin gave up the chase and settled, out of sight, in a hawthorn bush in the dunes. It didn’t have long to catch it’s breath before it was disturbed by a dog walker and flew into a dune slack away from disturbance. Simeon’s comment after this life and death chase echoed those of many of our clients previously “it’s gripping, but I was really willing the Dunlin to get away”.
As the evening progressed and the Sun dropped below the western horizon, geese began arriving to roost, bats were flitting back and forth across our field of view and, as the light finally faded to black and we headed back to Warkworth, a Barn Owl flew low over the car.
Looking out of the office window, it was hard to reconcile the actual weather with the forecast. I packed the car and set off for Newbiggin to collect Dan and Mary for a Druridge Bay mini-safari…and, just as I reached Church Point, the heavens opened 🙁 Not to worry – even in inclement conditions we can usually find somewhere to shelter and watch the wildlife.
This was surely going to be a morning to enjoy the bird’s that are comfortable in wet weather, seemingly unconcerned by wind and rain. Close views of Dunlin, Ruff, Curlew, Redshank and Snipe were possible, and a group of Pintail were wandering around with the Teal, Mallard, Wigeon and Tufted Ducks. After a morning that just seemed to fly by, and a fascinating one with the opportunity to chat with a professional photographer, we headed back to Newbiggin…as the weather improved 🙂
Late August/early September is an exciting time on the Northumberland coast; wader passage is still ongoing, wintering wildfowl are arriving and you just never know what could turn up…
I collected Andy and Lia from Alnwick and we set off for a day birdwatching on the Northumberland coast from Bamburgh to Druridge Bay. Knot, Turnstone, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Sanderling and some very elusive Purple Sandpipers started the day for us, as Linnets fluttered around in the long grass, Meadow and Rock Pipits were around the tideline, Gannets were soaring majestically by and Eider and Common Scoter were bobbing around just beyond the surf and a mixed flock of Common and Sandwich Terns were flushed by walkers before settling back on the rocks close to the breaking surf. Offshore a small flock of birds grabbed my attention, and through the telescope resolved into one of Northumberland’s winter specialities; seven Pale-bellied Brent Geese steadily heading north were our first of the autumn.
Further south, waders were still the main focus of our day; Dunlin, Redshank, Greenshank, Snipe, Whimbrel, Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit and Ruff were all pottering about in the water’s edge. When we arrived at East Chevington to look for the Spotted Crake, there were a few local birders already there. With an astonishing amount of luck, we’d arrived just as a White-rumped Sandpiper was being watched 🙂 Not the easiest of birds to identify, but as it wandered around a flock of sleeping Teal with Dunlin and Snipe alongside for comparison it stood out quite well.
Another cracking day’s birdwatching, with a proper rarity to add a touch of the unusual 🙂
One of the species that our clients are always keen to see is the Otter. From my own perspective though, one of it’s smaller relatives is a much more attractive mustelid.
I collected Jackie, and Steve and Karen, from Church Point, and we set off on an exploration of Druridge Bay and the Northumberland coast. As we sat scanning a coastal pool, watching for any sign of agitation among the assembled Mallards, Gadwall, Tufted Ducks, Little Grebes, Teal and Mute Swans, there was a rustling in the grass just in front of us and a Stoat popped it’s head out. I started making quiet squeaking noises, and soon it peered out at us, then came out in the open and reared up on it’s hind legs – presumably fooled by my pishing into thinking that a small rodent was in trouble and in need of a Stoat to do it’s good deed for the day and end it’s misery 🙂 The Stoat is one of those species that are fairly common and widespread, but rarely seen. When you do get one sitting out in full view though it really is a quite beautiful creature; lithe and muscular, inquisitive and deadly, it was a real treat to have this little predator right in front of us.
As the evening wore on, small groups of Starlings were gathering ready to roost, Snipe seemed to be everywhere that we went and the eternal game of cat and mouse, between predators and prey, that is the natural world was still all around us as the sun dropped below the horizon away to the west.
After the heavy rain of Monday, it was good to drive to Newbiggin, to collect Bryan and Zoe & Simon, in warm sunshine and broken cloud. Our evening Otter mini-Safari would take in the best of Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland…
One thing that I always enjoy is the response to bird names from clients who’ve never come across a particular species before. Godwit is a name that always raises a chuckle, and both Bar-tailed Godwit and Black-tailed Godwit, resplendent in their breeding finery, were among the noisy flocks of Redshank and Curlew. Turnstones were also looking particularly stunning, two juvenile Marsh Harriers were drifting over reedbeds, a particularly dark male Pheasant couldn’t make his mind up which way to run when we stopped to admire him and a Stoat poked it’s head out of the grass, then back in, then out again, before finally running across in front of us. Gadwall and Wigeon invoked more bemusement at bird names and we added Red Admiral, Meadow Brown and Magpie Moth to the trip list. Small groups of Starlings were heading to roost and it was time for us to head to our final site of the evening.
As the sun dropped towards the horizon we settled to scan for any indication of Otter activity. A Sparrowhawk passed through, causing consternation in the Swallows, Sand Martins and House Martins and a Common Snipe was illuminated by a patch of sunlight, raising it from the level of ‘brown bird with long bill that pokes it’s face in mud’ to something quite sublime. Then, a sudden panic among the ducks. Females with ducklings were fanning out rapidly from one edge of the pond and we intensified our scanning of the reedy margins. Nothing, but the birds weren’t settling. Then a pair of Mute Swans gave a call that we’ve come to associate with one thing, and it was only a matter of time…in the dark shadow of a reedbed, I saw a line of bright water appear. Everyone’s attention turned to that edge of the pool and then the Otter popped up at the surface 🙂 For 20 minutes it made it’s way steadily across the water, including a stunning few minutes in the reflection of the sunset, before finally vanishing into the darkening gloom.
As we headed back towards Newbiggin, the discussion turned back to bird names and led to one of my all time favourite things that any client has said “I am Gadwall, a wizard of the elven kingdom, and you are Turnstone, a Dwarf” 🙂
The ‘quality over quantity’ birdwatching in the North Pennines has been the predominant feature of our days out with clients in the last two months, and a ‘phone enquiry on Tuesday saw me collecting David and Margaret on Wednesday morning for a day birdwatching in the hills.
Red Grouse was the first of the upland specialities we encountered and, after a few single birds scattered across the moors we came across a pair with a brood of 10 chicks. The adults watched us carefully as their offspring wandered about, completely unconcerned by our presence. Lapwing and Curlew seemed to be everywhere and one Lapwing provided our only sighting of Snipe for the day, as it chased one over the road in front of us. Oystercatcher, Redshank and Golden Plover were noisily displaying, Kestrels were stationary in the strong breeze and our first three Black Grouse were all seen distantly. I was sure that we’d get much closer views of Blackcock and, sure enough, at the same spot where I photographed a displaying bird earlier this month, we came across what were probably the same two birds from that trip.
A walk at Cow Green reservoir brought a non-avian highlight as Spring Gentians were in bloom. If you’ve never seen one, this is what they look like 🙂
After our walk we watched a small group of Blackcock as they engaged in their, slightly comical, lekking behaviour before heading back north east after another excellent day in the hills.
Towards the end of a day in the North Pennines with Tony and Caroline, I suggested that we should head back to a Black Grouse lek where we’d watched two Blackcock pottering about in the early afternoon…
Everything had been performing well. Red Grouse and Black Grouse playing hide-and-seek-and-run-away-a-bit, Curlew, Redshank, Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Golden Plover and Snipe all displaying, Skylark and Meadow Pipit singing as they ascended skywards, a Wheatear on a midstream rock doing a credible impersonation of a Dipper and the mystery bird of last week’s trip revealed to be a Starling…with a pale crescent on it’s breast!
Now, we were overlooking a lek site that we regularly visit on our North Pennines trips. Two hours earlier there had been just two Blackcock visible, now there were nine, or ten, or five, or two…every scan produced a different total as birds stopped feeding, sat down in the long vegetation and simply vanished. A few minutes later they all stood up, started feeding and wandered about for a little while before repeating the process. After another cycle of ‘feed-hide-reappear’, a minor skirmish developed in amongst the feeding birds. Two Blackcock squared up to each other; wings spread, tails raised, leaping into the air and lashing out at each other. All of the other birds suddenly became very alert, and then the fight stopped and they took flight to the nearby area of low vegetation where we’re used to seeing them display. Other birds, previously unseen, arrived and soon there were 14 of them; arranged in pairs they began the dance that characterises the early mornings of the North Pennines, each bird facing one adversary, strutting around, leaping and cooing (although the wind was carrying that evocative song away from our ears). Four pairs stopped, and adopted a much more relaxed posture, then two more pairs followed suit. Soon only two birds were still displaying…and, bizarrely, the other 12 were standing in the exact positions where they’d been when they gave up, like an odd game of musical statues. Finally one of the remaining combatants pulled his wings in, lowered his tail and raised his head. The final lekking bird stopped soon after, and we assumed that he was the afternoon’s winner. As the gladiatorial contest ended, all of the other birds came out of the trance that they appeared to be in and began feeding. The defeated bird from the final pairing made a half-hearted attempt at resuming the battle, but soon desisted when the reigning champion headed menacingly in his direction.
Sometimes a wildlife experience is just breathtaking, and watching the lek, from the trigger that kicked it all off to the final mystifying tableau, has crashed into my all-time Top 5 🙂
As I collected Jenny and Rob for a day in the North Pennines, the weather looked promising, although a little breezy, and we were quickly in the hills. The song of Lapwing, Curlew, Snipe, Redshank, Golden Plover and Oystercatcher carried on the breeze as we found our first Black Grouse of the day – a Blackcock and two Greyhens. Red Grouse seemed to be filling every available bit of moorland and we had an ‘is it or isn’t it?’ moment with an upright, backlit, black bird on an old barn that seemed to show a pale crescent on the throat/breast. It flew out of sight and we were left wondering (I’ve been back and do know what it is, but you’ll have to wait for my next blog post…).
Our afternoon finished with eight Blackcocks lekking, but probably the stars of the day were one of our smaller moorland birds, as we came across a succession of Wheatears. Strikingly handsome male, and subtly beautiful female, Northern Wheatears are always a pleasure to see, but the real surprise was a group of six birds together. Big, upright, and flushed underneath with pinky-orange, these birds were Greenland Wheatears. Migration doesn’t happen only on the coast 🙂