Tag: Spotted Flycatcher

Heading for the hills; Birdwatching in the Cheviot Valleys 06/06/2013

by on Jun.10, 2013, under Birdwatching, Cheviot Valleys, Northumberland

Thursday brought a trip that I’d been looking forward to for some time; I first met Chris many years ago, while I was Field Trips Officer for the Northumberland and Tyneside Bird Club, so it was going to be a day out with a client who knew me several careers ago.

We met up at Church Point and headed inland towards the Cheviot Valleys, a location that features some stunning landscapes; steep-sided valleys, towering hills, mysterious sun-dappled woodland, heather moorland and all that goes with it.  As we approached the start of the higher ground, I suggested we check a damp area of an arable field.  It’s often good for wading birds and this was no exception; two broods of Lapwing chicks, as well as Oystercatchers and Redshank, were pottering around the edge of the now small puddle.

Perhaps the best thing about our forays into the Cheviots is the chance to stretch your legs, get some fresh air…and see hardly anyone else while you’re there 🙂  The time passes quickly and the cackling of Red Grouse, simple song of Spotted Flycatcher, silvery descending cadence of Willow Warbler, plaintive mewing of Common Buzzards and the eponymous songs of Cuckoo and Chiffchaff all accompanied parts of our walk.  Grey Wagtails, Dippers and Common Sandpipers were all occupying that particular ecological niche that they’re all so suited for, a Redstart delivered his distinctive song from a hidden perch, Curlews gave their haunting cries from high on the hillsides, Tree Pipits sang from treetops and a Kestrel was hanging in the air over the ridge at the top of a steep valley.  Away from civilisation, surrounded by wildlife, it was the relaxed enjoyable trip that I always knew it would be 🙂

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Returning

by on Jun.08, 2012, under Birdwatching, Kielder, Northumberland

Returning clients have been a bit of a theme this year, and I was really looking forward on Wednesday to be collecting Carolyn and Brian for a day of birdwatching in and around Kielder.  The weather was looking less than promising but, as I collected them from their holiday cottage in Cresswell with it’s stunning view out over the North Sea and Druridge Bay, we agreed that we’d make the best of the weather, whatever it was doing.

On the edge of the border forests a Roe Deer watched us with great interest and a Common Buzzard was perched at the top of a spruce tree that seemed barely able to support it’s weight.  As if that perch wasn’t precarious enough, the bird was hanging it’s wings out like a Cormorant, presumably trying to dry them during a lull in the rain.

As with many of our trips there was a species that was particularly sought after.  On this occasion it was our old favourite, the Dipper.  With several bits of excellent river, that could be viewed from the car if the showers returned, it wasn’t too long before we found one, then another.  With Sand Martins zipping in and out of nest holes, Common Sandpipers, Reed Buntings, Stonechats, Whinchats, Pied Wagtails, Oystercatchers, and Goosanders (another lifer for Carolyn and Brian) the rivers were a real hive of activity.  Curlew were flying up the valley and we headed across the border.  Red Grouse were a third lifer for the day, some majestic Wild Goats watched imperiously as we had a post-lunch walk, and a Peregrine was perched on a rock on the moorland high above us.  It launched from it’s vantage point and flew directly over our heads before dropping to the ground and furtively creeping around before disappearing into a nearby gulley.

As we made our way back east, we found ourselves in a patch of sunshine with a handsome male Siskin and a Spotted Flycatcher just ahead of us, and we continued our journey back to Cresswell.

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Go(at) on, make my day

by on Aug.18, 2011, under Birdwatching, Kielder, Northumberland

Yesterday saw something we haven’t done before; a mid-August Kielder Safari.

Andrew, Nick (on his 3rd trip with NEWT), Stephen and Georgina all arrived at our starting point within minutes of each other.  Under a deep blue sky, with some big fluffy white clouds, conditions looked perfect and we set off for the western reaches of Northumberland.

Common Buzzards were seen en route, a good sign that conditions were right for raptors.  The thing that makes our Kielder Safaris so special is the access we’ve been granted by the Forestry Commission, allowing us to take our clients on a drive along remote tracks that are not open to vehicle access by the general public.  With so little disturbance, the wildlife along the tracks is often very approachable.  A family party of Common Crossbills perched obligingly in trees just ahead of us, and kept flying down to the track to eat grit, Siskins, Chaffinches and a Spotted Flycatcher were all watched as they went about their business close by and a Sparrowhawk twisted, turned and swooped through the trees just a few metres away, hot on the tail of a flock of Siskins and Chaffinches.  Perhaps one of the most extraordinary moments of the trip was something I’ve never seen before, in over 40 years of birdwatching;  as we watched a juvenile Common Buzzard soaring above a remote steep-sided valley, Andrew noticed a second bird further along the valley.  The juvenile flew in that direction and the second bird, an adult buzzard, flew up towards it, rolled on it’s back in mid-air and passed prey up to the juvenile.  I’ve seen that happen so many times as courtship behaviour in all of our harrier species, but I’ve never seen a food pass between Common Buzzards, and to see it executed so gracefully by this broad-winged raptor was breathtaking.  We continued on our way with Wheatear, Stonechat, Kestrel, Raven, Pochard, Tufted Duck and Mandarin all joining the day list.

Perhaps the best of the day though came near the end; as we drove across the Forest Drive, a large mammal crossed the track ahead of us.  Looking like a dark Roe Deer on steroids, the nanny Wild Goat was soon followed by a billy goat and 2 kids.  We’ve seen Wild Goats with clients on our trips before, but never at such close quarters.

We’ll be visiting Kielder again on 31st August and 2nd September, so give us a call on 07908 119535 to find out how you can share the experience of the border forests, and the unknown quantity of those remote tracks, with us.

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Comfort zone

by on May.03, 2011, under Birdwatching, Cheviot Valleys, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

I’ve been a general naturalist since an early age, but birdwatching has been the thing that has always gripped my imagination.  As a wildlife guide though, is that really enough?  That’s a question that seems to arise occasionally on internet forums.  I decided at an early stage of NEWT that I needed a much broader and deeper knowledge, so I spend a lot of time studying things that once upon a time (I’m ashamed to admit) I would have ignored, or even not noticed.  Every day that I spend with clients, I make an effort to learn from them, whilst imparting my own knowledge, skills and understanding of what we encounter.

On Thursday I led an afternoon of guided birdwatching around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  The blazing sunshine when I collected Karen from Newbiggin made it almost impossible to see anything in the bay but, as each small gull flew by, we checked for the identification features that would provide us with a Mediterranean Gull.  All proved to be Black-headed Gulls, and we headed north up the coast.  As we stood by the River Coquet, discussing how to separate Carrion Crow, Rook and Jackdaw in flight, I saw the tell-tale ghostly wings of a Med Gull as it drifted down towards the water’s edge.  Jet black hood, pristine white wingtips and, as perfect as if it was scripted, sitting next to an adult Black-headed Gull allowing easy comparison.  Some of our favourite birds followed; Marsh Harrier, Nuthatch, Heron and at least 17 Whimbrel.  During the afternoon I learned a feature of Wood Sorrel that will ensure I never misidentify it (again…).  Karen, you were right 🙂

Friday was something very different as we were headed inland to the Cheviots for a day searching for summer visitors.  After a few hours with a spectacular roll-call of the wildlife of the valleys, including Brown Hare, Roe Deer, Whinchat, Tree Pipit, Wheatear, Spotted Flycatcher, Red Grouse, Curlew and Lapwings (with chicks), we followed the track up a steep sided valley in search of a bird that Sue hadn’t seen before (and really wanted to).  As the sky darkened, the wind strengthened and chilled, and the first drops of icy rain began to fall, I spotted 2 distant birds flying down the valley.  I didn’t have any doubt about the identification so, when they eventually settled on the tops of the heather, I aimed the ‘scope in their direction and Sue enjoyed her first views of the ‘Mountain Blackbird’.  Ring Ouzels may often be seen on passage in the spring and autumn, but high in a remote valley, where you think the elements could give you a good working over at any time and the habitat supports so few species, is simply the right place to see them.  Another lesson learned; memorable sightings make you forget about the weather 🙂

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Busy birdwatching

by on Sep.13, 2010, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

Even though we live in southeast Northumberland, we’ll never tire of getting out and about searching for new experiences for our clients.  Days out with clients are always exciting as well, because we never know exactly what we’ll see or what it will be doing.

Last Thursday we had a Southeast Northumberland/Druridge Bay safari with clients from a fairly wide geographical area; Jeff and Jean from Huddersfield, Lawrie and Linda from Glasgow and Yvonne from southwest Northumberland.  Starting at Newbiggin we managed a brief view of a Mediterranean Gull on the beach, and a small flock of Sanderling.  These little grey, white and black ‘clockwork toys’ are always entertaining as they scurry back and forth along the water’s edge.  The River Wansbeck was our next destination.  As expected there was a good sized flock of Lapwing roosting and Cormorants and Herons were doing what they do; standing with their wings out and just sort of standing respectively.  All of a sudden a wave of panic spread through the Lapwings.  We all scanned backwards, forwards, skywards but couldn’t see any cause.  Perhaps it was just a false alarm?  The birds settled but were up again within a minute, gradually settling back down with a great deal of conversation between them all.  Greenshanks flew by calling and the Lapwings were becoming increasingly jittery.  Even birds from distant streams were high in the air, forming the quite tight flocks that indicate the presence of a predator, something that creates anticipation wherever we’re birdwatching.  Eventually we found a distant Peregrine, and a big female Sparrowhawk slid menacingly through the trees opposite our watchpoint.  One or both of them was presumably the cause for concern.  Even the Great Black-backed Gulls flushed and flew overhead, giving calls of consternation.

Among the coastal waders, perhaps the best were three Common Snipe, unusually confiding and just a few metres away from us.  The fall of passerine migrants earlier in the week had left a few goodies behind.  Spotted and Pied Flycatchers were quite elusive, sallying forth and then back into cover, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs were picking their way through willows beside the path and, providing a visual feast to rival the gaudiest of birds from elsewhere in the world, six male Common Redstarts were along one short stretch of hedge.  There really is little to rival the beauty of these birds.

At the conclusion of our journey up the coast a bird as lacking in colour as the Redstart is bathed in it was a final wonderful sighting.  As we watched two Grey Herons perched in trees overhanging the River Coquet, a Little Egret flew by before returning and perching high in the treetops in a spot where we could watch it through the ‘scope.  There can’t be many better places to be birdwatching than the Northumberland coast in September 🙂

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Valley of tranquility

by on Sep.06, 2010, under Birdwatching, Cheviot Valleys, North Pennines, Northumberland

Although our Cheviot Valleys and North Pennines safaris are concentrated in the springtime, we run a few trips to those inland areas in the late summer and early autumn.  The final day of August was a trip to the Cheviots, and it could hardly have been better; the weather was wonderful, there were hardly any other people to be seen anywhere and the wildlife was, well, as good and varied as we would expect.

After collecting Hamish and Vanessa we drove past Morpeth then up the A697 and through the ford at Coldgate Mill.  The Happy Valley was deserted and peaceful; a Slow Worm was basking in the dappled light between gorse bushes, Small Copper butterflies (a personal favourite) were feeding and sunning themselves and there were even a few Silver Y moths.  We get these migrants in our trap occasionally, and I’ve seen them in profusion on the coast, but these were well inland.  

Camera-shy Silver Y

Goldcrests were calling, and eventually spotted, Spotted Flycatchers, Treecreepers and Long-tailed Tits were all found in one tree, Robins seemed to be everywhere we went and the first of the day’s Common Buzzards, rising rapidly in a thermal, suggested that searching skywards could be productive for birdwatching.

After lunch we walked along the far end of the valley.  Red Grouse were cackling hysterically on one side of the valley, at the same time as we could hear a shooting party on the other.  Siskins and Lesser Redpolls were feeding around the treetops, although they did pause briefly so we had a chance to look at them.  The warm sunshine and excellent visibility mean that it did turn out to be a raptor day; as well as Common Buzzards there were regular Common Kestrels and a Sparrowhawk then, as we walked back to the car park, a Peregrine  soared majestically and menacingly against the blue sky overhead.  Sadly our only Adder of the day was roadkill, although it had gathered an interesting collection of flies and beetles.

One thing that our safaris have proved to be is a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.  If you need to get away from it all then give us a call, or if you know somebody who would benefit from a day of chilled out wildlife watching then our gift vouchers could be just the thing they need 🙂

Hamish kindly provided some images from the day (including the Silver Y that really didn’t want to be photographed) and my own favourites are here;

Mother Nature ages trees better than any bonsai artist can!

 

Northumberland heather in bloom

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Setting the scene

by on May.31, 2010, under Birdwatching, Northumberland

Sunday started with a journey to inland Northumberland, birdwatching on some heather moorland in order to complete our final 2 ‘early season’ visits for the BTO Bird Atlas.  Contrary to the forecast weather, it was cold, windy and drizzly.  However, we set off and were eventually rewarded with a dramatic improvement as the sun came out and so did the birds.  Alongside all of the Willow Warblers, Chaffinches, Skylarks and Meadow Pipits the highlights were at least 3 Spotted Flycatchers and a stunning male Whinchat.  A pair of Curlew began alarming as we crossed the moorland, constantly changing position to draw us away from their nest location.

After a walk of just over 5 miles we headed home and decided that we would venture out towards dusk in search of badgers.  We’ve got an Otter and Badger trip on Thursday so we needed to check on the current status of a couple of setts that we’ve been watching for some time.  As we settled into position, with what appeared to be a horde of bats flying around, Blackbirds and Mistle Thrushes were alarming (as they often do late in the day).  Soon, movement on the hillside opposite revealed our first badger of the evening.  Very grey, with cream stripes, it came out of a sett, squatted on a patch of bare earth and then vanished into the undergrowth.  A second animal quickly followed, much more gingery than the first, and then a third, starkly black and white.  It really is a privilege to sit and watch these magnificent animals as they go about their business (no pun intended).

After such a successful evening, getting a ‘phone call earlier today “can you take us out to look for Red Squirrels, Otters and Badgers tomorrow please” was exactly what we wanted.  Once upon a time I wouldn’t have been happy working on a Bank Holiday weekend, now it’s an enjoyable part of my career choice.  Just over 2 years in, and I don’t regret even a tiny part of that decision.

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