Tag: Sparrowhawk

A hard act to swallow; Otter Safari 20/11/18

by on Nov.21, 2018, under Druridge Bay

In March last year I was knocked off my bike by a car in Bedlington (which is our local town).  The day after the incident, I posted in our local Facebook group, thanking everyone who helped me.  “I don’t know if they’re in this group but I’d just like to say a huge thank you to the people who looked after me until the paramedics and police arrived after I was knocked off my bike opposite the market place, especially the lady who held my hand and talked to me...Laid in the road, unable to move your head and with one leg twisted painfully, is a scary experience so it’s hard to put into words how much it helped having people who stopped the traffic, held my hand, talked to me and kept me calm.”

I collected Stephanie and Gary yesterday, just up the road from the NEWT office and Stephanie said “My friend Leigh was the one who held your hand when you were knocked off your bike.” and told me that Leigh decided to train as a first-aider after helping me 🙂  Bedlington and it’s surrounding villages is a small world…and then we headed to Newbiggin to collect Susanne and Leanne.  As they walked across the car park towards us, Leanne looked familiar – one of my chemistry students from 14 years ago!  Small world indeed!

We headed out to explore Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland in search of Otters and, from the state of the sea crashing against the breakwaters of Newbiggin Bay it looked like the wind would present a challenge for the day.  The rest of the day was a series of squally showers, increasing in intensity as the day progressed.  Noisy flocks of Long-tailed Tits foraged in pathside trees and Cormorant, Little Grebe, Red-breasted Merganser and Goldeneye were diving in search of fish.

A Cormorant managed to generate a false alarm as it wrestled with a large Eel – the bird’s black body and the tail of the fish combining to do a remarkable impression of an Otter fishing with it’s tail up out of the water 🙂  Having managed to swallow the Eel, the Cormorant caught an even larger one a few minutes later and we were able to watch as it tossed the Eel until eventually grabbing it around the head and swallowing it in one go.  That was followed by a couple of minutes of watching the Cormorant’s neck bulging and writhing as it struggled to get the Eel down into it’s stomach.  Incredibly it started fishing again straight away and caught and swallowed a much smaller Eel.

A theme in the last couple of weeks has been Sparrowhawks causing consternation among roosting wader and wildfowl flocks, and yesterday was no exception.  Knot, Dunlin, Redshank, Lapwing, Golden Plover, Curlew, Teal, Mallard, Gadwall and Wigeon all took flight repeatedly before the Sparrowhawk eventually flew past us.  A dense flock of Kittiwakes flew along over huge rolling waves and foaming surf and as Starlings, Lapwings and Golden Plover struggled against the strengthening breeze and geese arrived to roost the next squall took the light levels from challenging to near dark in a matter of minutes and we headed back toward he bright lights of Newbiggin 🙂

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Easterlies; Druridge Bay Safari 19/11/18

by on Nov.20, 2018, under Druridge Bay

There was a gentle breeze as I collected Nigel, Corina, Victoria and Rob from Longframlington and we headed towards the coast for a day around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland…

Waders and wildfowl were in abundance, as they tend to be in the late autumn.  A huge roosting flock of Golden Plover and Lapwing were restless and vocal and Redshank, Dunlin and a lone Curlew were sleeping until disturbed by a marauding Sparrowhawk.  Drake Shovelers and a lone drake Scaup were still patchy, coming out of eclipse plumage, a flock of Eider flying north over white foaming surf on a strengthening easterly contained a mix of females, young males and a couple of pristine adult males and Mallard, Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Red-breasted Merganser and Teal drakes were all sporting their very best finery.

Our picnic spot was graced by a Kestrel hanging on the stiff breeze so close that we could see how he held his head stationary while making minor movements of wings, body and tail.  An apparent absence of small birds was suddenly broken by a noisy foraging flock of Great, Coal, Blue and Long-tailed Tits.  Hunched against the wind, a Grey Heron looked even more miserable than they usually do and, as Little Egrets shone in the gloom, at least 20 Little Grebes, including a group of 12 together, were along one stretch of river.  With dusk fast approaching a noisy mixed flock of Canada, Greylag and Pink-footed Geese arrived to roost as Starlings passed by in small groups, foregoing the murmuration in favour of a quick dash to the reeds and Whooper Swans trumpeted their own arrival and the light faded to a barely penetrable gloom.

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Mesmerising murmuration; Druridge Bay Bespoke birdwatching 15/11/18

by on Nov.17, 2018, under Druridge Bay

A lot of our clients muse on the possibility of retiring and moving to Northumberland, and John had done just that and booked a bespoke day out with us to explore some of the lesser-known birdwatching sites around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland

With an almost cloudless blue sky and a chill wind we set out and were soon watching Common Redshanks as they probed the mud along the waterline with Red-breasted Mergansers in the background, a Grey Wagtail flycatching from rocks amidst fast flowing water, and a Sparrowhawk against the azure sky mobbed by a swarm of JackdawsBullfinches and Goldcrests called from hidden positions in hawthorn bushes and a Short-eared Owl quartering rough grassland plunged out of sight after prey repeatedly without ever appearing carrying anything.  The plan for dusk was a visit to (hopefully) a Starling roost.  With Water Rails squealing from reedbeds, and Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Gadwall, Goldeneye, Mute Swan and Whooper Swan on the water around roosting Lapwings, Golden Plovers and Cormorants, Starlings started to arrive.  Cloud after cloud of birds landed in a small section of reeds before leaving again in groups of a few hundred birds every few seconds.  A sudden panic ran through the flock and as they bunched tightly, twisting and turning, a Sparrowhawk came through before settling on the ground before reappearing around the end of the reeds and flying past us carrying a Starling.  With dusk descending to darkness the murmuring rustle of birds in the reedbeds faded to silence as we walked back to the car.

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A walk in the woods 01/11/18

by on Nov.02, 2018, under Choppington Woods

It’s been a difficult couple of weeks in the NEWT household.  We’d had a week away in and around Glencoe checking locations for a landscape photography holiday I’m leading over Christmas, then a couple of days after we got back home I wasn’t feeling well.  Sarah took me to see our GP and they sent me straight to the excellent Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital in Cramlington.  Four days later I was discharged, limited to a liquid-only diet and with surgery scheduled for early January.  Luckily I’m well enough to work, as we’ve got a very busy November ahead of us.  This week has been mainly recuperation at home, but I need to keep my mind and body active and daily walks in the woods behind our house are the best medicine…

With the light of day fading to dusk, the harsh ‘chek’ calls of Jackdaws and deep ‘rawk’ of Rooks gathering together to roost were layered with the staccato ratting of Magpies.  The woods are familiar and comforting, and a place to clear my mind.  We’ve walked them countless times over the last 18 years and the benches, interpretation boards, boardwalk/dipping platform and well-surfaced paths were the result of a successful funding bid that I presented back in 2009.  We know which intersections of the footpaths and tracks will produce the pungent scent of Red Fox, temporarily overwhelming the sweet earthy smell of Autumn decay and the heady perfume of Himalayan Balsam, which areas of the wood will have Goldcrest and Long-tailed Tit and where to search for Red Squirrel and the other inhabitants of this reclaimed colliery site.  Woodpigeons were gathering in treetops frosted orange by the setting Sun and, applying the shape, shadow and shine elements of concealment I chose a position on the shaded side of an Ivy-covered hedge.  Willow Tits and Coal Tits gave quiet alarm calls as a Sparrowhawk flew along the hedge and a Kestrel hovered over the field in the half-light.  Jays were crossing between plantations, Roe Deer ventured out from cover to forage close to the field edge, Redwings arrived to roost and the chacking calls so typical of pre-roost Blackbirds penetrated the crisp, cold air under a clear blue sky layered over the pastel pink of the Belt of Venus away to the east as I had a feeling that there was something close by.  A brief whirr of wings so I turned my head slowly…and found myself eye to eye with a handsome cock Pheasant 🙂

A connection with nature allows us to disconnect, even if only for a short while, from our connection with everyday life.  It’s good for body and soul and so many of our clients comment that one of the things they most enjoy about their days out with NEWT is just how relaxing it is to be taken away from work and the stresses of life.  Applying that to myself is working well too 🙂

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Shifting breeze; Bespoke Druridge Bay Safari 17/09/18

by on Sep.18, 2018, under Druridge Bay

Yesterday was a Bespoke Druridge Bay Safari for Russell and Elena and I was glad it was happening before the forecast deterioration in the weather over the next few days.  I collected them from Rothbury and we headed towards the coast and an afternoon and evening around NEWT’s local patch, which turned into an enlightening discussion about photography, food, fly fishing and Sea Buckthorn…

Tufted Ducks, Mallards and a very smart Wigeon were all illuminated by some very nice light and, as we watched a Little Stint scurrying around between Curlew, Lapwing, Common Redshank and Spotted Redshank there was obviously some unease among the waders.  Canada Geese and a Cormorant were looking very alert and the Lapwings took flight before settling again.  Then the cause of all the agitation appeared and we watched the Otter on and off for around 90 minutes before it disappeared next to a reedbed 🙂  Little Egrets were roosting in riverside trees and there was another outbreak of consternation as Mallards all hurried off and a flock of Black-headed Gulls circled something swimming across the river.  It was long and sleek like an Otter, but there was something about the way it was holding its head at an angle that just didn’t seem right…then the Grey Squirrel got out of the water and ran towards the trees!

Our picnic spot overlooking a fairly calm North Sea brought Fulmars and Gannets, and a walk along a well vegetated track produced lots of bees, relatively docile in the cooling evening air, and a Red Admiral as well as plenty of Speckled Wood butterflies.  As dusk approached Swallows and House Martins were gorging themselves on a myriad of flying insects and there was more unrest among roosting birds.  First a sudden departure of Cormorants, then ducks scattered and an Otter appeared briefly before vanishing into the reeds next to a group of Mute Swans.  A female Marsh Harrier caused even more panic then, with Water Rails squealing all around us, a Sparrowhawk was harassed by Carrion Crows and Pink-footed Geese arrived in noisy yapping flocks against a darkening sky with Mars, Saturn and the Moon all bright away to the south there was another kerfuffle against the reeds and not one, not two, not three, but four Otters feeding in the shallows as the light levels dropped to ‘challenging’ 😉  Fade to black…

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Between a rock and a hard place; Druridge Bay Safari 25/08/18

by on Aug.28, 2018, under Uncategorized

I collected Barbara and Jeff from Newbiggin and we set off for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland in conditions that felt slightly cooler than of late…

A walk along the Wansbeck brought 2 Green Sandpipers, 2 Greenshank, Mute Swans, Canada Geese, Mallard, Lapwing, Curlew, 2 Little Egrets and some delicious blackberries and sea buckthorn 🙂  Grey Herons were tussling over favoured feeding spots and our picnic stop overlooking the North Sea produced lines of Gannets heading north, distant Manx and Sooty Shearwaters, a raft of Eider in the gentle rolling swell just offshore and a feeding frenzy around the edge of the rising tide were startled by a skua; Turnstone, Ringed Plover, Common Redshank, Dunlin and a noisy swirling flock of Black-headed Gulls were accompanied by at least 8 Mediterranean Gulls as Fulmars soared by on stiff wings.

More waders and more herons followed, and then Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe and Tufted Duck, in sublime low angled sunlight, and a variety of bumblebees and hoverflies becoming slower as the temperature started to really drop.  A Barn Owl quartered the dunes before settling first on the ground, then a telegraph pole then a fence post, offering great views in flight and then through the telescope when it was perched.  A Sparrowhawk hedge-hopped just ahead of us and 2 Little Owls had made their way out on to the edge of a roof and a stone wall as dusk approached and our final stop saw us watching a dense roosting flock of geese and some very vocal Black-tailed Godwits as hundreds of Greylag Geese suddenly appeared out of the gloom and settled in for the night and the bright triumvirate of Jupiter, Saturn and Mars were spread across the southern sky.

Probably the best moment of the day was when a Brown Hare leveret loped along the track ahead of us before darting up a narrow tree-lined footpath, only to come back out and sit just a few feet from the car!  What could be scarier than a car bearing down on you?  The answer, in this case, was a Woodpigeon that was blocking the hare’s escape route 🙂

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Waiting for the weather; Druridge Bay Bespoke Birdwatching 13/08/18

by on Aug.15, 2018, under Druridge Bay

With a fairly awful weather forecast for Sunday, we’d rescheduled Linda and Peter’s day with NEWT around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland for Monday, where the forecast suggested it would rain until lunchtime and then improve after that…

Pre-lunch it was indeed lovely weather for ducks and Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Shoveler and Tufted Duck all provided slightly more of an ID challenge than usual with the drakes now in eclipse plumage.  Hundreds of Greylag Geese were roosting as an assortment of waders fed around them; Avocet, Lapwing, Dunlin, elegant Black-tailed Godwit, Ruff, Knot, Curlew, Common Redshank and a Greenshank that heralded it’s arrival with a strident “tyeu tyeu tyeu”.  Water Rails were nervously dashing in and out of the reed edge as Moorhens fed more boldly away from the edge, Coots demonstrated that they have none of the nervousness of their relatives and Sand Martins, House Martins and Swallows enjoyed a feast of flying insects in the warm, humid air..  Lunch overlooking the North Sea brought Gannets and Fulmars soaring effortlessly over the water.  Walking along a narrow hedge-lined track a Sparrowhawk burst through the bushes, carrying a hapless bird as Tree Sparrows delivered a noisy lament for the fallen.

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Another raptor day :-) Kielder Safari 05/04/18

by on Apr.06, 2018, under Hen Harrier, Kielder

When we’ve got a day in and around Kielder and the Scottish Borders ahead of us what I’m hoping for is blue sky, not too much cloud and a nice breeze…exactly what we’d got as I collected Ian and Ian from Newbiggin, Joan and Jerry from Hexham and Duncan and Laura from Bellingham…

As Chaffinches belted out their song from the treetops, Coal Tits sang, a Green Woodpecker yaffled and a small flock of Common Crossbills plundered the cones of a Larch tree nearby a male Goshawk flew along the treeline opposite our watch point.  Common Buzzards began displaying as 2 more Goshawks put in a brief appearance and a Sparrowhawk provided a nice comparison with it’s much larger, and really rather different relative.  A very obliging Goldcrest was just a few metres away from us as Ian spotted an Osprey which spent a couple of minutes hovering over the water before deciding there wasn’t anything worth pursuing.

The afternoon managed to equal, if not surpass, the morning’s raptor watching.  Shaggy Wild Goats grazed close to the road, Skylark and Meadow Pipit flew across the narrow road ahead of us as we crossed the moors, more Common Buzzards, including 8 in the air at the same time along one ridge, Merlins angrily buzzing Common Buzzards and Ravens and then, just about the best raptor-watching experience there is…as Red Grouse cackled from the heather nearby a male Hen Harrier drifted along the skyline before rising and falling on deep deliberate wingbeats.  Then a female rose from the heather and mirrored his skydancing display.  The exuberant glorious synchronised dance of the grey male and ringtail was repeated every few minutes before they both raced angrily across the fell to see off a Common Buzzard that had drifted just too close for their liking, and we headed from the hills down through Kielder and back to civilisation 🙂

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Breezy with a chance of Otters :-) Otter Safari 21/03/18

by on Mar.22, 2018, under Druridge Bay, Otter

Yesterday morning was glorious; blue sky, fluffy white clouds, not much a of a breeze.  By the time I collected Jon and Lesley from Church Point ahead of an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay searching for Otters it was cloudy, cold, breezy and the first few drops of rain had patterned the car windscreen…

The wintry weather that brought travel chaos to much of Britain in February and the first half of March meant that it had been a month since our previous Otter Safari but I was confident that I could find an Otter and prove to Lesley that not having seen one in several attempts wasn’t due to her being a jynx.  As the breeze strengthened we arrived at our first site for the afternoon and a few seconds later we were watching an Otter 🙂  We had nearly an hour of it feeding before it surfaced with a fish that was too big too handle in the water and headed back to the holt to enjoy it’s catch.  By now the rain was coming down heavily and we had lunch in the car, watching a raft of Common Eider out on the calm sea, before exploring more coastal pools.  Wigeon, Teal, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Gadwall, Goldeneye, Shelduck, Greylag Goose, Canada Goose, Pink-footed Goose, Mute Swan and Whooper Swan was a nice contingent of wildfowl as a Grey Heron sat hunched, looking miserable in the cold and wet and a Common Buzzard perched obligingly at the end of a row of trees.  Cormorants were fishing and doing their very best Otter impersonations as we scanned through a wader roost.  Knot, Dunlin, Curlew, Redshank, Lapwing, Black-tailed Godwit and a single Avocet were all studied through the ‘scope before we headed to our final site for the afternoon, passing Kestrels hovering by the roadside on what was now a very stiff, icy cold, breeze.

For over an hour until it was too dark to see clearly we were entertained by a Starling murmuration.  Flock after flock joined the twisting, swirling amorphous mass that repeatedly came so close that we could hear their wingbeats.  A female Sparrowhawk passed through the murmuration a couple of times, causing it to bunch so tightly that it cast a dense shadow on the water below them as Whooper Swans arrived to roost and the light of day faded to the near darkness of dusk.

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A raptor day :-) Bespoke Kielder Safari 20/03/18

by on Mar.21, 2018, under Uncategorized

I collected Sue from Old Swarland for her 7th trip with NEWT and we headed west towards Kielder as the clouds started to break and the blue sky, excellent visibility and light breeze suggested it would be a good day for raptors…

A Goosander flew along the course of tiny stream before our first raptor, a male Merlin cloaked in beautiful blue, dashed low over the road ahead of us as we crossed the moors.  Common Buzzards were either perched or soaring almost everywhere we went during the day and a Sparrowhawk flew by, pursued by an angry mob of passerines.  Carrion Crows breaking the skyline provided their usual share of false alarms before a tight group of three crows betrayed the presence of the ‘Phantom of the Forest’.  Menacing, muscular and purposeful, the Goshawk flew just above the tree tops, apparently unfazed by the yelling crows in hot pursuit.  Kestrel made it raptor #5 for the day as Raven, the honorary raptor, tumbled distantly before another male Merlin, this time perched on a rock, held our attention as Wild Goats grazed nearby and then Sue spotted a male Hen Harrier drifting along a heather-clad ridge above us.  The journey home produced raptor #7 as a Peregrine kept pace with us as it flew along a ridge before perching on a dry stone wall.

Definitely a good raptor day 🙂

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