Tag: Sparrowhawk

Planning; Bespoke Otter Safari 03/02/17

by on Feb.04, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Northumberland Coast, Otter, Red Squirrel

In glorious sunshine I arrived in Longframlington to collect Lisa and Lucy ahead of a day searching for Otters, Red Squirrels and Kingfishers around Druridge Bay and the Northumberland coast.  I was greeted by Ridley, Lisa’s cockerpoo, and it was quickly decided that he would be joining us on the trip 🙂

Our first Otter site had an obvious area of water that the Mallard, Teal, Gadwall, Tufted Duck and Little Grebe were all avoiding, and Greylag Geese left in a bit of a hurry, but no sign of the sinuous predator we were searching for.  A change to our usual picnic spot brought a brief glimpse of a female Merlin as she chased Lapwing and Wigeon, and then a Bittern flew between reedbeds.  Red Squirrels were next on our planned route for the day and I had 20mins dog-sitting while Lisa and Lucy checked the edge of the trees that I suggested.  Sure enough, they returned with photographs of Red Squirrel and we were on our way to the next Otter site 🙂  Through binoculars I could see dark shapes twisting and turning at the water’s surface and, with the additional magnification of our telescope, those shapes resolved into two Otter cubs in a play-fight 🙂  We went along to where they were, but by that time they were out of the water and running around on boulders and through the dense undergrowth before quickly vanishing.

We headed to our final Otter site to finish the day, and the weather was starting to deteriorate.  As the breeze whistled in our ears, the temperature dropped so our breath was condensing into lingering clouds, a cold damp mist took hold over the water and Red-breasted Merganser and Goldeneye were displaying, Starling arrived to roost, foregoing the elegant ballet of the murmuration in favour of quickly finding shelter, the eerie cries of Curlew echoed across the pool and Lapwing formed a tight panicked flock as a Sparrowhawk flew low over the reeds, a Bittern flew by in the gloom and Little Grebe scattered as an Otter swam across in front of us, tucked in to the reed edge and sheltered from the breeze 🙂

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Swirling; Otter mini-Safari 15/01/17

by on Jan.24, 2017, under Druridge Bay

Our first trip of 2017 was an Otter mini-Safari and I collected Fiona and Phil from Church Point in what didn’t really feel like January weather.  Our other participants for the afternoon had cancelled at the last minute, so the three of us set off for an afternoon around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland…

Roosting Redshank, diving Dabchicks and gorgeous Goldeneye were along the first stretch of water we checked, but most impressive of all was a Cormorant – fresh from a fishing trip and standing on a rock with it’s wings spread in heraldic pose it was quite stunning in the sunlight.  As the afternoon wore on, and dusk started to settle in, there was a stunning bright jewel in the darkening gloom; a Kingfisher, with it’s jaw-dropping coat of turquoise and orange, was suddenly on a rock in front of us.  None of us had seen it arrive, and it soon departed, then returned and perched even closer 🙂  While this was going on a Grey Heron stalked patiently in a gap between reedbeds, a female Sparrowhawk perched in a bare tree watching the wildfowl, all of the assembled Mallards, Gadwall, Teal and Wigeon were nervously eyeing one section of reedbed as a flock of Lapwings took flight and a small flock of Starlings flew through on their way to roost as the yapping calls of Pink-footed Geese cut through the evening air and discussion centred on which are the best pubs in Newcastle and Gateshead.  If there’s one thing I enjoy as much as watching wildlife, it’s the people that I get to meet on our tours 🙂

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“…and a Common Seal in a dead tree”; Otter Safari 02/12/16

by on Dec.04, 2016, under Druridge Bay, Otter, Southeast Northumberland

From the Fascinating ‘Life on Earth’ back in the 1970’s, through to the jaw-dropping ‘Planet Earth II‘ that’s currently showing on the BBC (2 episodes to go, ‘Grasslands’ this evening and ‘Cities’ next Sunday!), I’ve always enjoyed David Attenborough’s programmes.  Recent series have included a section at the end of each programme, detailing the planning and effort that went into capturing a particular sequence.  Those sections are really important, as they make it clear just how wildlife doesn’t work to a script…

I collected Emma and Kevin from Newbiggin and we set off for a day in search of Otters around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  My interest was piqued fairly quickly, as Emma removed her camera from it’s bag with a Nikon 200-500mm lens attached – the same lens that I’m currently thinking about buying 🙂  It was a great opportunity to see the lens in action, and to see some of Emma’s stunning images from their safari in Tanzania, but would Northumberland’s wildlife perform for the camera?  As Emma said “You can’t just rock up and expect wildlife to be there in front of you”…

Arriving at our first site I caught a brief glimpse of something dark rolling at the surface and vanishing into the flat calm water.  Otter? or Cormorant?  A loud squawk from a Black-headed Gull caught my attention, and we turned to see two gulls circling over one patch of water.  Look under them, look under them…and there’s an Otter 🙂  Twisting, turning and diving, the adult Otter caught a fish and headed towards a fallen tree…and a small cub swam out to greet it!  Kevin quickly spotted a second cub, and once the adult was out of the water, it was obvious that she’d got three cubs.  The cubs were staying close to the bank as mum headed out into deeper water to catch fish and, each time she swam away from them they’d start calling to her.  Swimming in the shallows, clambering over boulders and fallen trees, scattering terrified Goldeneye, Goosander, Little Grebe and Cormorant as a Kingfisher flashed by, and eventually disappearing, presumably for a nap after a busy couple of hours, this was a strong contender for ‘best Otter sighting for NEWT’ 🙂  Another sighting late afternoon, at a different site (where we know there’s a female with three cubs), provided an interesting observation of Otter behaviour.  This time the female was catching food and taking it out of sight, presumably to her cubs.  While she was still hunting in front of us I noticed Goldeneye and Teal scattering from another part of the pool…and there was an Otter cub.  Eventually the female stopped feeding and headed towards the cub before escorting it back to where we suspected it’s siblings were hiding. passing right in front of us on the way 🙂

A mind-blowing Starling murmuration and Roe Deer drinking at the water’s edge at dusk finished off a day of highlights so, with a certain amount of artistic licence, and to be sung to the tune of the ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’…

20,000 Starling swirling, 9 Sanderling scurrying, 8 Pink-footed Geese yapping, 7 Shorelark shuffling, 6 Otters swimming, 5 Eiiiiddderr Ducks, 4 Cormorants fishing, 3 Sparrowhawk hunting, 2 Lions dozing, and a Common Seal in a dead tree.

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Wax(w)ing lyrical about wildlife; Otter Safari 09/11/16

by on Nov.10, 2016, under Druridge Bay

There are a few species that really epitomise winter wildlife-watching, and they include my favourite bird, one of my favourite mammals, and another bird that never fails to excite…

I collected Andy from Whitley Bay (it’s great to have him back from Mull for a few months over the winter!) and we had an interesting chat about plankton sampling and microscopy as we drove up the coast to collect Genine from Newbiggin.  Genine’s last trip with NEWT was a breathtaking pelagic in early September, and now we were out in search of Otters and any other birds and wildlife that we could find around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  I suggested that we started with a quick search for Waxwings, just a few minutes down the road.  As we approached where they’d been seen the previous day, a flock flushed from a rowan tree where they were gorging themselves on berries.  We watched them land in the bare branches of a tall tree nearby and counted at least 120 birds, with another 60 flying around and landing in trees just along the road.  In the cold and damp, we started our search for Otters, and were soon watching one as it fed on small fish.  With hardly a breath of wind, the water was flat calm and we tracked the Otter‘s movement by the trail of bubbles it left each time it submerged before, after around half an hour, it left the water and vanished up the bank and behind a fallen tree.  Curlew, Lapwing, Common Redshank and Oystercatcher were probing the mud along the water’s edge and a flash of electric blue heralded the arrival of a Kingfisher, which played a game of hide and seek with us as Goldfinch and Bullfinch perched in the tops of trees, the disembodied weak winter song of a Robin came from the depths of a hawthorn and two Sparrowhawks tussled in mid-air overhead before one gave up the fight and flew well away.  Long-tailed Duck, Common Scoter, Common Eider, Goldeneye, Wigeon, Mallard, Red-breasted Merganser and Tufted Duck were a nice haul of wildfowl as Little Grebe warily watched the spot where the Otter had vanished and Long-tailed Tits called unseen from nearby bushes.

The approach of dusk brought thousands of Starlings in a swirling murmuration before they dropped into the reedbeds for the night as the high-pitched yapping of Pink-footed Geese and the discordant honking of Greylag Geese betrayed the presence of skein after skein arriving from feeding areas to the south of us.  Squealing Water Rails remained hidden and, as the last rays of daylight filtered through from the western horizon, Whooper Swans arrived.  Big, ghostly and quiet on their approach, as they hit the water they began whooping and their haunting voices accompanied our walk back to the car in the dark.

Proper wintry cold, almost continuous drizzle, stunning wildlife and lovely clients – just a great way to spend a day in mid-November 🙂  We’ll be running Otter Safaris, Druridge Bay Safaris and Lindisfarne Safaris right through the winter, so get in touch, wrap up warm and come and join us for a day searching for Northumberland’s fantastic wildlife!

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Searching; Otter Safari 18/10/16

by on Oct.21, 2016, under Druridge Bay

A day around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland was in store as I arrived at Church Point to collect Sam, Luke, Perdi and Georgina.

Ghostly white Mediterranean Gulls were drifting through the assembled cloud of Black-headed Gulls as we prepared to head a few miles inland, and a Swallow over the caravan park was an unexpected find.  A Long-tailed Duck on the river Wansbeck was a nice surprise, alongside Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Goosander, Red-breasted Merganser and Mute Swan.  Skeins of Pink-footed Geese passed overhead, making their way south, as Little Egret, Grey Heron and Little Grebe feasted on what seemed to be a never-ending supply of tiny fish, Common Redshank flew back and forth and a Sparrowhawk panicked Woodpigeons in the riverside trees as it flew through.  In the dunes along Druridge Bay Stonechat, Reed Bunting and Meadow Pipit flicked between bushes and fence posts.  The recent wet weather, accompanied by easterly winds has left the coast dripping with Goldcrests, and a feeding flock of around a dozen of these tiny gems was scrutinised for anything different.  Lapwing and Curlew were calling over the fields and a Common Scoter offered views that were vastly different to the usual dark dots riding the crest of waves offshore that typify the species.  An incredibly pale grey Chiffchaff joined them briefly before diving into deep cover and not being as obliging as we hoped.  As we neared the end of the afternoon one of the species that always enlivens a day birdwatching on the Northumberland coast through the autumn and winter put in an appearance.  Dashing and elegant, the Merlin zipped along the dunes before flicking up, over and out of sight, in pursuit of an unidentified small bird.  A handsome bird to end a fine day on the coast 🙂

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A raptor day; Bespoke Kielder Safari 28/03/2016

by on Mar.30, 2016, under Kielder, Otter

I love the Northumberland coast, and my obsession with the North Sea and it’s wildlife is well documented, but I always look forward to the drive west – away from the sea and into forests and remote moorland…

I collected Jeanette and Simon for their second trip with NEWT, following the Otter mini-Safari on Sunday, and we headed across through Alnwick, Rothbury, Thropton, Elsdon and Otterburn.  As we approached the dam at the southern end of Kielder Water I could see a bird ahead of us flying towards the reservoir.  It was flying directly away from us but it’s a fairly distinctive bird from any angle…and the Osprey hovered over the water, plunged, surfaced with a large fish and flew along the dam wall, pursued by an angry mob of Common Gulls as 6 Roe Deer grazed just outside the cover of woodland beside the North Tyne 🙂  With occasional breaks in the cloud, and brief interludes of warm sunshine, it seemed a good time to find a suitable spot to sit and look over the forest…which worked just as planned with Common Buzzard, Sparrowhawk and Goshawk all making it on to the day list as a flock of Redwing called overhead 🙂

The drive from forest to moorland produced excellent views of a Dipper as it submerged in a fast-flowing stream, and then the moors produced another excellent crop of birds.  Ravens, big impressive and noisy flew overhead, pairs of Common Buzzard seemed to be everywhere we looked, Red Grouse played hide-and-seek with us as they emerged from cover only to vanish again within a few seconds and three more raptors made it seven species for the day.  Kestrel is still a regular bird on many of our tours but the other two were real scarcities; a pair of Merlin were calling noisily just behind us as a male Hen Harrier ghosted across the moor below us.  Then he started skydancing 🙂  That would be a treat enough, but the bird that had prompted his display came into view…not the female harrier we’d expected, but a second male!  The two tussled briefly in the air just above the heather before both drifting out of sight.  Wild Goats were remarkably confiding close to the road as we headed back towards lower ground and trees.

Back down in the forest and a female Common Crossbill was a nice find as the high-pitched songs of Goldcrest and Treecreeper pierced the air, Goldeneye displayed out on the water as a drake Mandarin sat quietly behind the bankside vegetation and Grey Wagtails bobbed along the muddy edge.  Another wildlife-filled day out with clients who were great company 🙂

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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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Here come the Scandinavians; Druridge Bay Birdwatching 26/10/2015

by on Oct.28, 2015, under Druridge Bay

October, mist, drizzle, winds off the sea…

I collected Bernard from Newbiggin and we headed north to begin a day birdwatching around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  A very obliging Dipper was singing from a mid-stream rock, before it started feeding.  If you’ve never seen a Dipper feeding, put it on your list of things that you really need to see!  As Common Redshank and Curlew probed in gooey estuarine mud, we could see a wave of panic spreading towards us from the north.  First, the air was filled with Greylag and Pink-footed Geese, Woodpigeon, Rook, Carrion Crow and Jackdaw. Then Wigeon, Mallard, Canada Geese and Curlew took flight and 20 Black-tailed Godwit passed overhead.  A few minutes later the cause of all the consternation put in an appearance – a female Sparrowhawk, menacing and muscular as she followed the coast southwards.  Then a sight, and sound, that always warms my heart as 20 Redwing and 6 Fieldfare, winter visitors from Scandinavia, flew over.  More waders and wildfowl featured during the afternoon; Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Gadwall, Little Grebe, Common Snipe, Dunlin, Lapwing and Golden Plover resplendent in low autumn sunlight.  A Water Rail wandered out of the reeds and our final new bird for the day was an elegant female Pintail, as the calls of Redwing and Fieldfare continued to cut through the afternoon air.

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Every cloud…; Otter Safari 30/09/2015

by on Oct.01, 2015, under Druridge Bay, Otter

The unpredictability of wildlife is part of the attraction.  You never know what you’ll see, whether the species you’re searching for will put in an appearance or something completely unexpected will show up.  I’d collected Judith and Robin from their holiday cottage in Embleton and we were in and around Druridge Bay for the afternoon.  It started well with a spectacular splash of colour as Judith spotted a Kingfisher while Common Redshank, Spotted Redshank and Curlew probed the gooey estuarine mud.  Gadwall, Mallard, Little Grebe, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Snipe, Dunlin and Greenshank all looked stunning in quite beautiful light and we settled into position overlooking one of our regular Otter spots, unaware of just how extraordinary the evening was going to be…

Mirror-calm water, roosting Lapwing and Teal, an ever growing murmuration of Starlings and noisy Greylag Geese arriving to roost would be the ideal backdrop for an Otter.  Suddenly, unexpectedly, the murmuration plunged towards the reeds and birds funneled out of the swirling twisting mass down into the safety of the roost.  Starlings continued to arrive; ones, twos and groups of up to 50 had missed the display so just headed straight into the reeds.  Then the sussurating buzz stilled, and the birds left the reedbed en masse, joined in the air by Lapwings, as a Sparrowhawk flew low over their heads.  As they dropped back to the reeds, the far corner of the pool was shrouded in mist and the chilly tendrils of a sea fret were creeping over the dunes.  Soon the mist had enveloped everything around us, although it was barely reaching above head height.  The pinks and yellows of a 360 degree sunset added another touch of extraordinary to proceedings as the gloom was split by a noise not dissimilar to a car engine starting.  That was the Starlings again, leaving the reeds and suddenly bursting up out of the mist in front of us, a twisting writhing mass of birds trying to escape yet another fly-through by a Sparrowhawk.  Again they returned to the reeds, as a Barn Owl flew by above the mist, silhouetted against the sunset, and skein after skein of yapping Pink-footed Geese arrived for the night, dropping from the deep blue sky into the mist above the water.  After two unwelcome visits from the Sparrowhawk, the Starlings moved under cover of the mist into the reeds right in front of us,  For nearly five minutes, birds were streaming into their new roost site, as the whistles of Wigeon pierced the gloom and Teal and Lapwing departed for the night.

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Feeding frenzy; Farne Islands Safari 26/05/2015

by on May.28, 2015, under Farne Islands

Tuesday was our first landing trip to the Farne Islands this year, with the breeding season well underway for some species, and only just getting started for others.

I collected Sally, Ian, Ben and Hannah from Waren Mill (you’d be surprised at how well hidden a holiday cottage can be in such a small village…) and we headed up the coast towards Holy Island for the first part of our day out, soon encountering Sparrowhawk, Kestrel and Common BuzzardGrey Seals were ‘bottling’ offshore, Whitethroat were singing their scratchy warble from the tops of hawthorn bushes, Brown Hares were chasing each other in and out of dense crops and a group of Sandwich Terns feeding close to the shore were joined by a single Little Tern.

After lunch it was time to head across to the islands, onboard Glad Tidings IV, and we soon had lines of Guillemots flying past, Gannets soaring effortlessly by, Puffins on the water close to the boat, Ben and Hannah spotting jellyfish in the clear still water and the extraordinary experience of the cliffs on Staple Island, up close and personal with the sight, sound, and smell of a seabird colony.  Kittiwakes, Guillemots, Razorbills and Shags may be the staple (sorry, please excuse the pun!) fare of the islands precipitous cliffs, and Grey Seals always grab the attention of everyone on board, but the highlight for many of our clients over the last seven and a half years has been landing on Inner Farne.  Female Common Eiders, easily overlooked as they sit quietly on their nests, are remarkably approachable and Puffins are a firm favourite, particularly with clients who are taking photographs, but there’s little to compare with being dive-bombed by an angry Arctic Tern 🙂  Ben had his camera with him, so we spent a while watching the behaviour of the Puffins, determining what they were about to do just before they did it (the secret to great wildlife photography…) and Ben was soon taking some impressive flight shots as birds flew back towards their burrows after fishing forays out to sea.  After returning to the mainland, passing dense groups of terns and Kittiwakes as they plunged into shoals of small fish, we spent some time scanning the mudflats of Budle Bay, as Eiders with ducklings swan along the Waren Burn and Curlew probed in the soft gooey mud.

Always an impressive day out – we’ve lived up here for over 20 years and still marvel at the stunning wildlife spectacle of a trip to the Farnes each time we head across there.  It’s Thursday now, so we’d like to say “Happy Birthday Hannah” 🙂

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