Tag: Sparrowhawk

Swirling; Otter mini-Safari 30/12/17

by on Dec.31, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

Yesterday’s mini-Safari was rearranged from Friday, when the ice on the roads would have made it a foolhardy exercise to head out.  I collected Jo, Chris, Lauren and Dilly from Church Point and we headed off for a few hours exploring Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland…

At the start of the afternoon there was no breeze, and the water was almost mirror-flat, with the swirls of diving Goldeneye, Little Grebe and Cormorant patterning the surface.  Cormorants that weren’t feeding sat on fallen trees, shoulders hunched and looking thoroughly miserable as a Grey Heron flew from one side of the river to the other and perched briefly before flying away upstream.  As light rain pattered on the calm water a Great Black-backed Gull flew by, always an impressive bird in the right light, and then the clouds parted and blue sky and warm(ish) sunshine marked the start of the sky clearing.  Out on to the coast and a dense flock of Golden Plover were swirling on the rising breeze as Pink-footed Geese rose from a distant field and speckled the sky and a charm of Goldfinches flew over the car before disappearing into rank vegetation next to the road.  Long-tailed Tits were moving between trees and a Sparrowhawk flew so low across the road ahead of us that it only narrowly avoided the car.  Mute Swans, including one scruffy looking youngster, were feeding alongside a group of displaying Red-breasted Mergansers.  At least 10 drakes were vying for the affection of just one female, but she was having none of it and any of the drakes who ventured too close, no matter how impressive his head-bobbing and mohawk-waving, was driven away.  As the Moon rose in the east, providing an impressive sight through the telescope, all of the ducks were getting agitated; Goldeneye, Gadwall, Teal, Wigeon and Mallard all moved purposefully away from one edge of the reeds, then more Mallard appeared from the reeds and flew across the pool and suddenly the distribution of birds on the water, which had been quite even when we first arrived, was very polarised.  Whatever was in the reeds wasn’t revealing itself though, and in a now stiffening cold breeze who could blame it?

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Winter; Otter mini-Safari 28/12/17

by on Dec.31, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

I collected Stephen from Church Point and we set out for an afternoon around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland…

One thing that has stood out in the last few weeks is the great number of Goldeneye and Little Grebe that are wintering here, and this trip was no exception.  Cormorants were diving alongside them in pursuit of small fish.  A Barn Owl quartered over reedbeds, harassed by corvids and a Sparrowhawk and Teal, Wigeon, Mallard and Gadwall were all dabbling in shallow water as Starlings arrived to roost.  39 Whooper Swans arriving together were an impressive sight, then they drifted close to a reedbed before beating a hasty retreat…what was lurking in the shadows of the reeds as the strengthening and biting wind drove us back to the car and towards Newbiggin?

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Lurking; Otter Safari 06/12/17

by on Dec.07, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

I collected Steph for her 4th day out with NEWT and we headed toward Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland for a day searching for Otters

Great Northern Diver, Long-tailed Duck and squealing Water Rails started the day, as three Mute Swans hissed and grunted while staring into a reedbed, although whatever was provoking their ire remained hidden, and Steph spotted a Bittern labouring into the wind.  Lapwing and Curlew flocks flushed from nearby fields and were struggling in the air with a very stiff westerly breeze tossing them around.  At our next site, Goldeneye and Little Grebes flushed in panic from one edge of the water and then turned to stare at where they’d come from…and again the cause of consternation remained hidden.  Sparrowhawks flew low over the water causing momentary ruffling of feathers and a pair of Stonechat performed well in front of Steph’s camera.  Noisy Long-tailed Tits were battered by the breeze whenever they ventured out from cover, Common Buzzards were sitting on fence posts and then Shoveler, Mallard, Gadwall, Wigeon, Teal, Tufted Duck and Coot made a hurried getaway from one reedbed…and the cause of their concern remained hidden yet again.

One of those days, but a great day birding with Steph that was rounded off incredibly as we headed back towards the A1 when a Goshawk flew across the road and headed to a nearby plantation!

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A tiding; Bespoke Otter Safari 27/11/17

by on Nov.28, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Otter, Southeast Northumberland

Yesterday was a rearranged trip from late March; Trevor had booked an bespoke Otter Safari for Linda’s birthday, then two days before the original date I was knocked off my bike by a car and had a heavy fall that saw me unable to work for a week (and is still causing some ongoing niggles).  I suggested then that we reschedule for the back end of the year, so I had my fingers crossed that my suggestion would work out as planned…

There was a slight spanner in the works though, an icy cold westerly ‘breeze’.  At our first site Mallards and Tufted Ducks were showing a lot of wary interest in one area of reeds but whatever had grabbed their attention remained out of site as Water Rails squealed, Teal, Gadwall and Wigeon slept, sheltered from the wind, and Cormorant, Little Grebe, Goldeneye and Red-breasted Merganser plundered the water of small fish.  As I scanned the edge of a reedbed that’s now so familiar I could probably sketch from memory every reed, stone and fallen branch along the water’s edge there was a small dark shape that shouldn’t have been there.  At distance and through binoculars I couldn’t be certain but I was fairly confident…and through the ‘scope there was a Kingfisher 🙂  A very excited Linda had got one of the three species on her bucket list right there in full view of the telescope, and once it had vanished we headed off in search of another one of those three.

Within seconds of scanning the water there was an Otter.  We watched it through the ‘scope for a few minutes and then headed along the bank to get a closer view, and while we were out of sight in the trees it did that typical Otter thing of vanishing completely!  In the icy breeze it had probably eaten it’s fill and headed off to a warm cosy sheltered spot in the trees on the opposite bank.  The second of Linda’s bucket list species was on the list, and I told her my favourite spot for the third (as it’s in the Scottish highlands, so quite a way from NEWT’s patch).

The bright light of early afternoon brought at least 6 Kestrels, hovering into the wind, with one of them being subjected to almost continuous harassment from a Carrion Crow, and three Sparrowhawks, including one that passed within a few metres of us as it battled into the wind and another that was being harassed by a crow.  More squealing Water Rails provided a discordant accompaniment to vocal Whooper Swans as Lapwings were tossed like leaves on the breeze and a dusk roost of Magpies, with at least 42 birds, raised the question of what the collective noun is.  By the power of mobile data and Google we ended up with charm, murder, gulp and – the one we thought most appropriate – a tiding 🙂

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Hide and Seek; Otters and Stargazing mini-Safari 18/11/17

by on Nov.19, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Otter

I arrived at Church Point to collect Sarah and Nessa, Alison and Mike, and Pat ahead of an afternoon searching for Otters around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland with a planned extension to take in the first hour or so of darkness if the sky was clear…

Little Egrets stood out shining white against the darker water, Grey Herons were motionless as they concentrated on the water beneath their feet and the loud flapping of a Cormorant drying it’s wings carried over the water as a busy, noisy, tribe of Long-tailed Tits hurriedly crossed the gap between bushes.  Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Gadwall, Shoveler, Goldeneye, Little Grebe and Slavonian Grebe all seemed calm and relaxed, but one drake Mallard lifted his head and stared intently at a reedbed, scanning side to side along one area of reeds….and out came an Otter with two cubs 🙂  We watched them for a few minutes as they got out of the water, perched on top of rocks and then they vanished for a while before reappearing right next to a Mute Swan that fixed them with the look of contempt that swans are so good at.  Starlings were gathering prior to roost and a Sparrowhawk caused a ripple of panic that tightened the swirling murmuration into a small dark amorphous shape-shifting patch against the dying embers of daylight in the west.  By the time the Otters finally vanished there were already three Barn Owls quartering over the reeds and rough grassland nearby and bright yellowy-white Capella was visible against the darkening twilight sky.  With hardly a cloud in any direction, and with the temperature dropping rapidly we had excellent views of Auriga, Cassiopeia, Cygnus, the Pleiades, an impressive satellite flare and then the Andromeda galaxy through the ‘scope 🙂

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Now you see it, now you don’t ;-) Otter Safari 09/11/17

by on Nov.09, 2017, under Druridge Bay

I collected Pauline and Paul from Newbiggin and we set out for a morning and afternoon searching Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland for one of NEWT’s favourite mammals

Little Grebe, Goldeneye and Mallard were all looking just too relaxed and we walked further on as a noisy tribe of Long-tailed Tits moved through the trees, the high-pitched calls of Goldcrest revealed tiny shapes flitting around in the canopy and four Mute Swans flew by with their wings making an impressive noise.  Little Egrets looked exotically out of place as they flapped by and then Pauline said “There’s one”…and right in front of us was an Otter 🙂  We watched it as it fed and porpoised for 50 minutes, including an attempt at catching a Cormorant,  then it was lost from sight and we couldn’t refind it.

The rest of the afternoon was dominated by ducks; Mallard, Gadwall, Shoveler, Wigeon, Teal, Goldeneye and Tufted Duck all featured, alongside a supporting cast of Little Grebe, Slavonian Grebe, Cormorant, Coot, Moorhen, Mute Swan and some very vocal Whooper Swans.  One of the Mute Swans was shadowed very closely by two Wigeon who were feasting on anything that had been disturbed by the swan’s progress but surfaced behind it 🙂   22 Common Snipe were flushed by a Sparrowhawk and a pair of Stonechat entertained us as they were flycatching above a reedbed before the final hour of the afternoon produced no less than six Kestrels.

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A stream of Starlings; Otter Safari 07/11/17

by on Nov.07, 2017, under Druridge Bay

I collected Karen and Angie, and Nick and Mel, from Newbiggin and we headed off in search of Otters around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.

I quickly changed our plan due to high levels of disturbance at our first site, and as soon we were at our alternative start point there was an Otter 🙂  We watched it for over an hour, with a noisy flock of Long-tailed Tits in the trees nearby, before it did that typical Otter thing of slipping beneath the surface and vanishing.  As we sat having lunch on the clifftop just south of Cresswell village a Fieldfare came low in-off after what must have been an arduous sea crossing against a WNW wind.  Flocks of Redwing and Fieldfare speckled the sky and, as Oystercatcher, Redshank, Curlew, Dunlin and Lapwing came to roost, and Pink-footed Geese dropped into a nearby field, yapping noisily as they descended, a Lesser Black-backed Gull was struggling with a large, dead flatfish.  The struggle ended abruptly as a Grey Heron chased the gull away and tried to swallow the fish itself before leaving it to a Great Black-backed GullLittle Egrets shone brightly white in the gloom of the late afternoon, before a break in the cloud away on the western horizon delivered a sublime sunset that bathed Mallard, Gadwall, Wigeon, Teal, Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Slavonian Grebe and Whooper Swan in jaw-dropping orange light.

As flock after flock after flock of Starlings streamed into a reedbed roost, still arriving when it was almost too dark for us to see, and two Roe Deer bounded along through deep vegetation, the day had one last surprise in store as a Long-eared Owl perched on a fence post in the dunes before attracting the attention of the local Carrion Crows 🙂

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mid-October birding; Otter Safari 19/10/17

by on Oct.21, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Otter, Uncategorized

There isn’t much that’s better than mid-October birdwatching.  The quiet periods of waiting and observing during an Otter Safari can be filled with all sorts of marvels at this time of the year…

I collected John and Stella from home in Cramlington and we headed to the coast.  The first of several flocks of Redwing flew over, and it was really feeling like mid-October 🙂  While sifting through the assembled mass of eclipse-plumaged ducks (Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Scaup, Shoveler, Gadwall, Tufted Duck and Pintail) and admiring a family of Whooper Swans that had dropped in to drink and bathe there was the unmistakable explosive song of a Cetti’s Warbler…and I’d added a bird to my Northumberland county list, something that doesn’t happen too often these days.  Then, suddenly, panic didn’t so much ripple through the wildfowl as explode from one side of the pool to the other as an unseen threat scattered ducks in every direction.  Whatever caused the panic stayed hidden from view behind a reedbed, which would have been sheltering it nicely from the stiff southerly breeze…

Next came, incredibly, a 2nd new bird for NEWT and another county tick for me – in the descending gloom of approaching rain the exotic jewel that is a European Bee-eater flew past just a few metres from us at Druridge Pools 🙂  Then the rain started, earlier and heavier than expected, Little Egrets stood out as glaringly white against the dark backdrop of the bushes they were roosting in, and we spent the last hour or so of the afternoon marvelling at a Starling murmuration that was being stalked and ambushed by a Sparrowhawk as a juvenile Marsh Harrier hovered on heavy wings and terrified the ducks right up to last light.

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Waifs, strays and the gloom of dusk; Druridge Bay Safari 26/09/17

by on Sep.27, 2017, under Druridge Bay

I collected Richard and Liz from Whitley Bay and we headed north along the coast for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland

After a few breezy weeks, we’d got something different to contend with; dense, patchy fog all along the coast.  I don’t mind that too much though, it’s usually manageable, and the birdwatching can be exciting when you don’t know what’s lurking in the mist 🙂  Brambling and Tree Sparrow called overhead as we had lunch, and Redshank, Oystercatcher and Ringed Plover were on the beach below us.  A Little Owl, only revealing it’s presence as it flew quickly out of sight, and a much more obliging Little Owl a couple of minutes later were a great find early in the trip.  Teal, Wigeon, Mallard, Gadwall, Tufted Duck and Shoveler were sleeping and feeding and, particularly in the case of one female Mallard, being very vocal as Great Crested Grebes and Cormorants hunted with elegant menace, a Little Grebe demonstrated a remarkable aptitude for catching small fish and Lapwings were battling the breeze before settling to roost with Starlings and the disembodied voices of Curlew carried through the mist.

Given the cold foggy conditions, moths and butterflies were a surprise.  First a dozen or so Nettle-tap Moths, then the first of several Red Admirals and a Speckled Wood.  A Sparrowhawk was pursuing a small bird (possibly a Chaffinch) and passed just a few metres in front of the car windscreen in it’s pursuit and we set about one of the great joys of birdwatching on the Northumberland coast; wandering along a narrow track between Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Elder and Sycamore with the mist curling it’s cold tendrils around us.  Robins were ‘ticking’ from the bushes, and at least three were singing when they would be better of putting their effort into feeding.  Blackcaps were in the Elders and we tracked down our quarry, although it proved elusive before eventually offering confiding views.  First just a brief glimpse of a small warbler as it flitted between bushes, apparently settling in a Sycamore before vanishing again.  Then as we were looking where we thought it had gone it flew out from behind us and over our our heads, giving a remarkably loud ‘tsooeest’ call before diving back into cover.  Then it appeared at the top of a bush and just sat there, offering great views.  Yellow-browed Warbler is one of the real gems of east coast birding in the autumn and this little treasure eventually performed well for all of us.

With the mist making dusk even gloomier than usual, Grey Herons and a Little Egret flew by a noisy roost of ‘chacking’ Jackdaws as Soprano Pipistrelles hunted the leeward edge of a riverside tree and we listened to their calls with our bat detector before heading back towards the bright lights of Whitley Bay 🙂

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Evening activity; Otter mini-Safari 10/08/17

by on Aug.11, 2017, under Druridge Bay

I arrived at Church Point to collect Andy, Teresa and Katharine, and Richard, Belinda and Julia, for an evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland searching for Otters, under a glorious blue sky with just a gentle breeze.  Almost like the summer had arrived…

Grey Herons were stalking patiently through the shallows in the shadow of the reed edges and Mute Swans, Greylag Geese, Mallards, Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Teal and Great Crested Grebes, with a chick that’s probably too big to be hitching a ride on it’s parents’ back, were all getting on with life, and way too relaxed for there to be an Otter about, and then Lapwing and Starling flushed in a sudden panic.  We couldn’t see what had caused the alarm though and, as everything settled back down we headed on.

At our next stop we had a long chat with a fisherman, who told us where he’d seen an Otter the previous night…which just happened to be where we were heading for dusk.  A small group of Canada Geese were clearly on high alert then, as a Little Egret provided a touch of luminosity in the deepening gloom of dusk, Tawny Owls called from the trees on both sides of the river, skein after skein after skein of Canada Geese flew noisily overhead, pipistrelles around trees and buildings were picked up by Julia’s bat detector and the majestic Summer Triangle of Vega, Altair and Deneb appeared against the night sky overhead…the evening finished as Otters 1 NEWT 0.  Fantastic ottery habitat, geese clearly agitated and a sighting the previous evening…but you just can’t be certain what will turn up.  That’s why every day spent searching for any of our local wildlife is just so much fun 🙂

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