Tag: Starling

Fireworks; Bespoke Druridge Bay Safari 04/11/18

by on Nov.07, 2018, under Druridge Bay

If there’s one thing that’s even less predictable than wildlife it’s the weather, so when I collected Ted and Elaine for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay searching for Otters, with stargazing planned for the end of the trip, we were at the mercy of both…

Dense flocks of Golden Plover and Lapwing were roosting, and alternating between unremarkable under overcast skies and stunning whenever the sun broke through the cloud.  They repeatedly flushed in panic and a Sparrowhawk eventually revealed itself as the cause of their consternation.  Once that had gone they settled back down before taking off again, this time deserting completely as a large falcon came through.  Maybe a Lanner, maybe a Gyr x Saker hybrid, whatever it was it was big and the waders were really not happy about it.  We’re moving to the time of year when male ducks start to out on their finery and Mallard, Wigeon, Teal, Goldeneye and Tufted Duck were looking very smart as a Long-tailed Duck played hide and seek with us.  Among a group of Common Snipe roosting close by a Jack Snipe revealed itself with rhythmical bobbing before it shuffled off and out of sight.

As dusk approached, thousands of Starlings streamed out of one reedbed and in front of us before settling into a different one and the three Pink-footed Geese on the mud in front of us became 3000 as the sky was suddenly filled with dark shapes and high yapping calls, leaving a dark impenetrable mass of birds in the gloom with fireworks illuminating the sky behind them and a break in the clouds revealing Cygnus, the Summer Triangle, Cassiopeia and a faint glow of the Milky Way overhead 🙂

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Deluge; Otter Safari 06/09/18

by on Sep.07, 2018, under Druridge Bay, Otter

Our second Otter Safari in 2 days looked as thought it was unlikely to be blessed with the same good weather as Wednesday…

I collected Alison and then Amanda and David from Newbiggin and we set off for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland searching for Otters.  When the Otters eluded us on Wednesday I’d seen enough at each site we checked to be confident that we’d find Otters this time, and thought that changing the order we visited each site would do the trick…and within a minute of arriving at our first site I’d picked a likely spot for an Otter – and there was one 🙂  In fact there were two, and they caused some consternation among Little Grebes, Tufted Ducks, Mallards and Greylag Geese before vanishing.  Alison hadn’t managed to spot either of them through the ‘scope so I pointed it in the direction of a Water Rail and let everyone marvel at the odd-looking denizen of the reedbed while I scoured the entire pool trying to relocate the Otters.  Amanda beat me too it though, about ten minutes after we lost sight of the Otters one appeared right in front of us!  It slowly made it’s way across the pool, scattering Mute Swans, Little Grebes, Cormorants, Gadwall, Wigeon, Teal, Mallard and Canada Geese before finally vanishing into the dark depths of a distant reedbed.  All of this was going on with a noisy backdrop of Lapwings, Common Redshank and geese as Starlings swirled overhead and 3 Spotted Redshank, dashingly elegant, raced through the shallows.  We could see heavy rain away to the north, and the first few drops began to disturb the calm water.  Up to that point there hadn’t even been a hint of a breeze but that changed and suddenly the wind was very noticeable, as was the arrival of the heavy rain; torrential rain that flooded the roads along the coast and made observing anything quite difficult although three Spotted Redshank, looking remarkably like the same three from earlier in the afternoon dropped in – were they making their way south down the Northumberland coast the same way we were?  A remarkable 123 Mediterranean Gulls settled on the water as the rain intensified, and as we continued down the coast there were more in fields and along the shoreline.

Dusk began to creep up sooner than expected under a leaden grey sky with a remarkable fiery orange sunset on the western horizon as a Grey Heron caught an impressive fish in shallow water, a Kingfisher flew by, Little Egrets stood out in the deepening gloom and it was time to head back to Newbiggin.

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Early Autumn mist; Bespoke Otter Safari 05/09/18

by on Sep.06, 2018, under Druridge Bay

I collected David and Jean from Holystone in warm sunshine, ahead of an afternoon and evening around our favourite spots for Otters in Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland

Little Egrets were patrolling the shallows, darting at small fish, Redshanks were calling noisily and the hedgerows, with plump sweet blackberries, were playing host to lots of Speckled Wood butterfliesLong-tailed Tits were calling but stayed out of sight and a fisherman told us he’d seen 4 Otters on Monday.  With Otter activity this week at two other sites we were planning to visit it was looking promising…

A Merlin launched an extraordinary agile pursuit of a Sand Martin, as House Martins, Sand Martins and Swallows gorged themselves on an impressive hatch of flying insects that had also attracted the attention of a Little Gull, delicate and no less agile than the Merlin.  Waders and wildfowl were present in big numbers on the coastal pools; Mallard, Tufted Duck, Teal, Wigeon, Canada Geese, Redshank, Greenshank, Dunlin, Curlew and Lapwing were all roosting or feeding and, as dusk approached and the squeals of Water Rail cut through the ethereal mist that was suddenly lifting from the water’s surface beneath a murmuration of Starlings preparing to spend a night in the reeds, Greylag Geese began to arrive. dozens and dozens of them noisily heralding their approach as they tumbled out of the sky to the shallow water below.  With Mars shining red in the sky away to the southeast, ripples of panic started spreading through the birds as they made a sharp exit from the two spots where I would have expected an Otter to appear…

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Owling; Druridge Bay Safari 10/07/18

by on Jul.13, 2018, under Druridge Bay

Tuesday was Roger’s 3rd day out with NEWT and this time Mandy was joining him for an afternoon and evening exploring NEWT’s local patch – Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland

After a run of very hot days the weather had relented, although only slightly, and we started the trip with a woodland walk beside the river Blyth.  Family parties of Nuthatch and Treecreeper were chattering away among themselves as they explored tree trunks, branches and the sun-dappled canopy and our target bird for the walk appeared, as a juvenile Dipper tentatively poked it’s face in the river while keeping it’s feet on drier ground.  Fulmars were arcing along the clifftop at our picnic spot overlooking the North Sea and a small flock of Common Scoter passed by.  Avocet, Dunlin, Lapwing, Curlew, Common Snipe and a Whimbrel were all on mud freshly exposed by the heat of the Sun and Starlings were starting to murmurate.  As we moved through the evening, the beautiful low angled sunlight was simply sublime, and illuminated Brown Hares, juvenile Water Rails and three stunning Black-tailed Godwits.  A Little Owl perched on a stone wall by the roadside gave us the withering ‘angry little man’ glare that they’re so good at and three separate Barn Owls graced us with their presence; one carrying a mouse back to the nest, one quartering a long hedgerow, and the final one, as we drove back towards Warkworth, nearly hit the car before taking evasive action and flying up over the roof 🙂

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The sublimity of evening; Bespoke Otter Safari 05/07/18

by on Jul.06, 2018, under Druridge Bay, Otter

I’ve never been great in hot sunny weather so as I collected Mike and Moira, for an afternoon and evening searching for Otters around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland, I was hoping for an increase in cloud cover…

In the heat of the afternoon, Avocets were harassing Grey Herons and Shelduck ducklings were skittering about on the surface of coastal pools as a Roe Deer ghosted through the reeds at the water’s edge and Lapwings squabbled nearby.  A Little Owl glared down from it’s perch between chimney pots as cloud began to roll in and Canada and Greylag Geese were looking alert but there was no sign of the cause of their concern

As daylight turned to dusk there was little sign of the Sun and that improved visibility substantially 🙂  Swallows, Swifts, House Martins and Sand Martins were plundering the rich feast of flying insects and a spectacular dense flock of 39 Black-tailed Godwits twisted and turned in the air in front of us as the distinctive call of Whimbrel failed to betray their location.  Water Rails were running nervously in and out of the reeds as another Roe Deer appeared, trotting through the shallow edge of the pool, and Tufted Ducks gathered their ducklings into tight groups as Cormorants took off, Mute Swans began staring at the reeds and a Little Grebe suddenly froze in position.  Then an Otter appeared just in front of us 🙂  We watched it for 45 minutes, including a remarkable tableau of hunting Otter beneath murmuration of Starlings with a Barn Owl quartering the reeds just a few metres away from us, before it vanished into the gloom of dusk and a distant reedbed.

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In the wake of Hector; Bespoke Druridge Bay Safari 15/06/18

by on Jun.18, 2018, under Druridge Bay

I collected Alison and Paul from Amble and we set out for an afternoon and evening exploring Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland, in search of Otters and Badgers

One Otter site had to be removed from our itinerary after a walk along it on Thursday, following the passing of Storm Hector, had revealed a path deep in leaves, branches, twigs and, in some places, blocked by fallen trees 🙁  There was still a keen breeze and Otters seemed to be keeping their heads down although a commotion at one corner of a pool saw sheep scattering and Canada Geese taking to panicked flight.  Goldeneye and Tufted Duck were diving and offering an interesting ID comparison, Black-tailed Godwits were probing the mud beneath shallow marshes as Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler and Reed Bunting only put in brief cameo appearances before diving back into cover and 2 Spoonbills were doing that typical Spoonbill thing of having an afternoon nap.  A Grey Heron, approaching with lumbering flight, triggered an extraordinary response from Lapwings, Common Redshank, Dunlin and no less than 19 Avocets who all took to the air and subjected it to an onslaught from all sides.  As calm began to settle, minor skirmishes involving Avocets and Shelduck began to break out and a Brown Hare loped across a distant field with an ever-growing Starling murmuration above it.

With dusk approaching we headed off to our regular Badger sett, and more post-storm destruction.  Broken branches, twigs and leaves littered the footpath, bushes and trees were bent over and the whole area around the sett looked as though it had taken a real pounding.  Song Thrushes were singing, Blackbird, Robin and Wren were alarm calling as light levels continued to fall and pipistrelles flew back and forth in front of us, and an unidentified mammal ran across in front of us, then suddenly all was silent for a few minutes until the tremulous hooting of a Tawny Owl cut through the gloom beneath the woodland canopy and we could hear twigs snapping as something explored the undergrowth close to the sett entrance but remained frustratingly hidden from view.

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Lovely afternoon, murky evening; Druridge Bay Bespoke Birdwatching 13/06/18

by on Jun.14, 2018, under Druridge Bay

Yesterday was Mike and Maggie’s 5th day out with NEWT and we were heading to Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland

Days out with returning clients are always a pleasure; catching up with what’s been going on since we last met and sharing notes on our local wildlife is much more an afternoon with old friends, and in this case doubly nice as Mike’s a photographer and uses Nikon gear 😉  I’d just had 3 days leading a photography holiday and getting a good look at a Sigma 150-600mm lens on a Nikon body, and Mike arrived with a Nikon 200-500mm lens on the same body that I use for wildlife photography so I’ve enjoyed some hands-on experience of the lenses that I’m (still) trying to decide between, as well as getting first-hand opinions on the lenses from photographers using them 🙂  First stop was for an obligingly still subject, and Mike and Maggie both had Bee Orchids in front of their cameras.  Our riparian woodland walk brought flycatching Grey Wagtails, Great Spotted Woodpeckers calling from the trees and a family party of Blackcaps with both adults feeding recently fledged young.  A Common Buzzard was soaring over the trees as we headed on to our picnic spot and the first very light spots of rain started to fall…

As we had our picnic, overlooking the North Sea with Gannets and Fulmars soaring over it and Grey Seals bottling just offshore the rain started to intensify and the breeze was strengthening.  Heading on we watched at least 19 Avocets, as Shelduck babies seemed intent on doing their own thing and wandering away from the protective aggression of their parents.  Then the Grey Herons began to arrive and were lining up on the bank and watching the ducklings.  Each time a heron flew it was mobbed by Avocets and Lapwings until eventually they all flew off together and disappeared behind a reedbed.  Still the rain and the breeze intensified until finally we decided that trying to see anything in the gloom of dusk was a losing battle, although not as much of a battle as it would have been if we’d been out today and wrestling with Storm Hector…

 

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Persistence :-) Otter Safari 27/04/18

by on May.01, 2018, under Druridge Bay, Otter

I collected Paul and Jenny from The Swan and we set off for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland, searching for Otters

So far, 2018 has been another one of those years where we should be adding our regular Little Owls to the payroll, and the tiny predator scowling at us from a bare tree was like a toddler trying to look fierce while not really being very tall and scary at all 🙂  Fulmars soared over the North Sea, which was looking remarkably calm, as Eiders rafted just offshore and Grey Seals dived languidly before resurfacing a short distance away.  While Teal, Mallard, Gadwall, Goldeneye and Tufted Duck all looked pristine in their breeding finery, two other ducks really stole the the mid-afternoon show; Garganey and Pintail are both incredibly attractive, and both unusual enough in Northumberland in late April to be elevated above other wildfowl 😉  A Little Egret flew by and a Spoonbill was, very typically, asleep in the rushes as a White Wagtail stood out as pale and strikingly marked compared to Pied Wagtail.  As the Sun sank towards the horizon in the north west a Barn Owl flew by, radiantly golden in the sunlight, and Starlings began to gather in small numbers compared to their winter murmurations.

A lone Whooper Swan was with Mute Swans as Roe Deer grazed close to the edge of a pool and dusk descended.  Cormorant, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye and Great Crested Grebe all left ripples as they dived, but their were ripples from one edge of a reedbed with no obvious cause.  Then there were 2 Otters 🙂  We lost sight of one of them quickly, but the other could be seen, keeping low in the water and trying to sneak up on Mute Swans which were having none of it.  As the light faded to a point where we couldn’t seen clearly anymore, the Otter was still swimming back and forth in it’s incessant search for food.

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Mist, murk, mud and mergansers; Otter Safari 12/04/18

by on Apr.13, 2018, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

I collected Stephen and Soraya from The Swan, then Martyn and Colin, and Jo, from Church Point, ahead of an afternoon around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland searching for Otters

On a stiff easterly breeze with drizzle, mist, murk and heavy rain showers, spirits could have been dampened but having a car filled with cheerful enthusiastic guests with a great interest in conservation was just the right thing to keep everyone going.  Fulmars were arcing along the clifftops and a Kestrel impressed with it’s geostationary approach to hunting, facing directly into the wind and hanging near motionless.  A Little Owl perched on a low horizontal branch, in the lee of the tree trunk where it would have had some respite from the cold, and occasional groups of Starlings rushed by like mini-murmurations taking a quick route to roost.  A male Stonechat perched at the top of a clump of rushes before a sallying flycatching flight and then back into cover.  As the deafening clamour of hundreds of Black-headed Gulls added a surreal touch of discordance to the sight of Great-crested Grebes drifting elegantly across the water, and Goldeneye engaged in some less than enthusiastic display, Curlew, Lapwing, Dunlin, Redshank, Turnstone and 5 pairs of Avocet were all wading in the shallows as a group of Common Snipe, unusually out in the open, were flushed by a Grey Heron stalking along the edge of the reeds.  The menacing dark shapes of Cormorants sank from view as they hunted the myriad small fish that were dimpling the water’s surface and a Great-crested Grebe very obligingly decided to start hunting just a few metes away from us.  We might have expected all of the birds to be keeping their heads down in the wind and rain, but if there’s one species that you can rely on to provide a spectacle, it’s Red-breasted Merganser; shaggy crests waving in the breeze, the males were engaged in their comical ostentatious posturing.  Necks outstretched and dipping with a theatrical bow that looks like they’re trying to upend themselves, they were completely unconcerned by either the weather, or that fact they they’re not anywhere near their breeding grounds yet 🙂

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Waders in the wet; Druridge Bay Bespoke Safari 03/04/18

by on Apr.06, 2018, under Druridge Bay

Tuesday was forecast to be a nice day but when I collected John and Sue from Newbiggin, for a day around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland, I wasn’t entirely convinced…

It didn’t take too long for the rain to arrive, while we were watching a flock of 22 Goldeneye who were presumably wishing they’d chosen somewhere warmer to spend the winter 😉  With water levels high from snowmelt and rain, space around muddy edges was at a premium.  Lapwing, Curlew and Dunlin were all wandering around the interface of mud and water and a flock of 22 Black-tailed Godwits circled repeatedly before finally pitching in to the shallows to feed and bathe.  Fulmars were soaring along the clifftops on a stiff breeze and a Meadow Pipit came in-off and settled in the grass nearby.  An obliging Little Owl stared at us from it’s not so hidden perch in a bare tree and every hedgerow seemed to be alive with Blackbirds and Robins as a real bonus bird popped up in front of us – Black Redstarts are fantastic birds and the flash of red as it dropped from a fence to the ground, and then back again, really stood out against the rest of it’s sooty-grey plumage.  Spring was clearly in the air and we were treated to the remarkable comical displays of drake Goldeneye and Red-breasted Merganser as a Starling murmuration began to develop and the light began to fade.

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