Tag: Starling

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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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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Ducks in the dark; Druridge Bay Bespoke 24/10/17

by on Oct.27, 2017, under Druridge Bay

I collected Nicola and Bill from Lesbury and we headed down the coast for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay

We’ve reached that time of the year where wildfowl numbers are starting to really grow, and Greylag, Canada and Pink-footed Geese were all heard and seen.  Whooper Swans remained aloof and apart from Mute Swans and a Long-tailed Duck was proving elusive alongside Pintail, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye, Wigeon, Shoveler, Mallard, Teal and Gadwall.  A wander down on to the beach produced Sanderling, racing against the edge of the incoming tide on clockwork legs, the eerie cries of Curlew haunted marshy fields and Common Redshank were picking and probing in shallow water.  Black-tailed Godwit were wading in deeper water and a Common Snipe was tucked in among clumps of rush as a juvenile Marsh Harrier caused chaos as it drifted over.  Handsome male Stonechats were adorning fence posts and a Spoonbill was rushing through the shallows, sweeping it’s bill from side to side without pause.

With dusk approaching Starlings dropped into a reedbed and their murmuring and chuntering went on until it was almost too dark to see.  A Water Rail was typically unobliging as it flew between reedbeds and we ended the trip with a ghostly pale Barn Owl quartering the reeds in front of us and the harsh calls of Tufted Duck and Mallard alongside the explosive whistling of drake Wigeon in the dark.

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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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Darkness descending; Druridge Bay mini-Safari 20/09/17

by on Sep.21, 2017, under Druridge Bay

I collected Ian and Julie from Hauxley and before we’d set off for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay things got off to a great start with Goldcrests and a Yellow-browed Warbler in the car park 🙂

Next up were two young Roe Deer, trotting along the edge of a field before stopping to watch us, and a Little Owl sitting on the end of the gutter of a cottage.  Waders occupied our attentions for the next hour and a large roosting flock of very vocal Lapwings were accompanied by plenty of Dunlin, a couple of Common Redshank and single Ruff, Curlew and Greenshank, as well as an elusive Common Snipe camouflaged in among reed stubble as Little Egrets squabbled over a prime feeding spot while practically glowing in late afternoon sunlight.  A Barn Owl flew by, carrying a Short-tailed Vole, before vanishing into a barn then reappearing only to be pestered by Jackdaws, Rooks and Carrion Crows.  With light levels falling, Starlings passed by in impressive flocks, but they’d decided to forego a prolonged murmurating display in favour of heading straight to roost in the reedbeds  out of the cold and wind.  With ducks in eclipse plumage it isn’t the best time of year to enjoy watching them but we could still identify Shoveler, Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Gadwall and Pintail in the fading light as Little and Great Crested Grebes alternated between sleeping and diving and Cormorants sat motionless as a Grey Heron flew over with heavy wingbeats.  As the light faded to the point where it was a struggle to see, the squealing of a Water Rail was followed soon after by a brief view of this strange little denizen of the reedbeds as it half-ran, half-flew across a gap in the reeds.

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Birds, birds, birds; Druridge Bay mini-Safari 12/09/17

by on Sep.13, 2017, under Druridge Bay

I collected Peter and Melanie from Cramlington ahead of a few hours around Druridge Bay and apart from a stiff breeze the weather was just about ideal…

Some impressively dense flocks of Swallows and Sand Martins were gorging themselves on flying insects, Little Egrets were stalking through the shallows with the feathers ruffled by the breeze, Goldfinches were foraging among the dried out heads of knapweed, Black-tailed Godwit, Ruff and Dunlin were wading in the shallows and Shoveler, Gadwall, Teal, Wigeon and Mallard were all far less impressive than they’ll be in a few months time with all of the drakes currently in eclipse plumage.  Grey Herons were sitting motionless along the edges of reedbeds and in among clumps of rush, Starlings and Lapwings were swirling on the breeze, Cormorants were submerging repeatedly in search of food, Little and Great Crested Grebes were sleeping in the afternoon sunshine and there were a few real quality birds throughout the afternoon. A Black-necked Grebe led us a merry dance as it made it’s way quickly across, and most of the time underneath, the water and a Little Owl was incredibly obliging, first perched on a feed trough, then a stone wall and finally right on the apex of a cottage roof.  Marsh Harrier and a typically zippy Merlin rounded out the afternoon and we finished before the rain arrived 🙂

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Stalking; Otter Safari 29/08/17

by on Aug.30, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

I collected Julie, Thomas, Steven and Mandy ahead of an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland searching for our favourite predator

At this time of the year it’s fair to say that ducks aren’t really at their best and Mallard, Teal, Gadwall, Tufted Duck and Shoveler were all easier to separate based on size and shape than one plumage detail.  Little Grebe numbers seem to be higher and higher each time we’re out and about and the only thing separating Great Crested Grebe chicks from their parents now is the stripy face 🙂  Lapwings flushed in panic but the cause of their consternation remained unseen, as it so often does with Lapwings which seem to be really jittery all the time, and Starlings swirled on the breeze as Sand Martins, House Martins, Swallows and three Swifts were hoovering up flying insects ahead of the long journey south.  A Kestrel hovered over the dunes before dropping to the ground then quickly ascending again, empty-taloned. Regularly spaced along each water’s edge, Grey Herons were standing motionless as Little Egrets darted busily back and forth before heading to roost in riverside trees.  As dusk approached, Mute Swans drifted away from the water’s edge and that’s always a trigger to look at where they’re moving away from, but we couldn’t see anything along the bank in the rapidly deepening gloom as Canada Geese called noisily as they flew in to roost and a Long-eared Owl ghosted along the scrub just in front of us and the journey back saw a Barn Owl fly across the road in front of the car.

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Halcyon days; Druridge Bay mini-Safari 25/08/17

by on Aug.25, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

This morning saw me working at the opposite end of the day to usual, and I arrived to collect James, Wendy, Megan and Saffy (an adorable Whippet) from Church Point at 09:00, ahead of a morning around Druridge Bay and Southeast Northumberland

Sand Martins and Swallows were feeding low over the water, a Grey Heron stood motionless as 7 Little Egrets engaged in the favourite heron pastime of wasting energy chasing each other from feeding spots, Mute Swans fed serenely and Little Grebes were diving constantly in search of small fish before being disturbed by one of the egrets.  Flocks of Tufted Duck, Mallard and Teal are building and the one remaining Great Crested Grebe chick that we see regularly is now almost the same size as it’s parents.  Canada and Greylag Geese are in noisy flocks that will be bolstered when more Greylags, and Pink-footed Geese arrive for the winter and a small Starling murmuration swirled in front of us before executing a rapid descent.  Black-tailed Godwits, Ringed Plover, Redshank and Common Snipe represented the waders but a real highlight of the morning was two species that I don’t think I’ve ever seen in one ‘scope view.  Cormorants were feeding, often just dipping their heads under the water and catching what looked like snails, and as I scanned the area where the water had just swirled, just to be sure it was a Cormorant, I spotted a Kingfisher.  I set the ‘scope up so that everyone could have a closer view of the ‘halcyon bird’, and Wendy looked through the ‘scope and described another bird that was in the reeds just behind the Kingfisher…and there was a Water Rail 🙂  That odd-looking secretive denizen of the reeds stayed in view just long enough for everyone to see before it vanished back into the impenetrable density of the reedbed.

I could get used to earlier starts for our Druridge Bay trips 🙂

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Persistence; Otter mini-Safari 22/08/17

by on Aug.23, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

Warm and foggy is a slightly ethereal combination of weather conditions, but that was just what we had when I collected Mark and Rachel and Phil and Katrina and Debbie and Neil from Church Point, ready for an evening searching for Otters around Druridge Bay and Southeast Northumberland

We may still be in August but there was a definite feeling of change; Sand Martins. House Martins and Swallows were nowhere to be found, Goldfinches were gathering in impressive flocks and a Starling murmuration began to hint at the spectacle that we’ll be enjoying in a couple of months from now.  Grey Herons were stalking along the edge of reedbeds, and moving each other on from the prime feeding spots, Mallard, Teal and Shoveler scattered in alarm a couple of times but we couldn’t see what was making them so edgy and a distant Cormorant had me thinking ‘Otter!’ for a few seconds before it lifted it’s head high after one feeding dive as Little Grebe and Great Crested Grebe caught tiny fish after tiny fish.

Our final site for the evening brought more panicked birds, with an impressive flock of Black-headed, Common, Herring, Lesser Black-backed and Great Black-Backed Gulls all taking to the wing as Canada Geese alarmed noisily below a tree speckled with the bright dots of roosting Little Egrets.  I was here two weeks ago, unsuccessfully, but this time I was sure we’d find an Otter.  In the gloom I scanned through a distant group of Mute Swans with my binoculars.  Tufted Duck and Little Grebe were sleeping next to them, but what was much more interesting was a low dark shape in the water that was there…and then wasn’t.  Switching to the higher magnification, but duller view, of the telescope revealed an Otter in full-on feeding mode 🙂  Dive after dive after dive, in a fairly small area of water, enabled everyone to see it through binoculars or the ‘scope before we headed back through the darkening twilight with the disembodied calls of Canada Geese, Redshank and Curlew accompanying us and pipistrelles flitting by just above our heads.

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