Tag: Starling

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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Breezy with a chance of Otters :-) Otter Safari 21/03/18

by on Mar.22, 2018, under Druridge Bay, Otter

Yesterday morning was glorious; blue sky, fluffy white clouds, not much a of a breeze.  By the time I collected Jon and Lesley from Church Point ahead of an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay searching for Otters it was cloudy, cold, breezy and the first few drops of rain had patterned the car windscreen…

The wintry weather that brought travel chaos to much of Britain in February and the first half of March meant that it had been a month since our previous Otter Safari but I was confident that I could find an Otter and prove to Lesley that not having seen one in several attempts wasn’t due to her being a jynx.  As the breeze strengthened we arrived at our first site for the afternoon and a few seconds later we were watching an Otter 🙂  We had nearly an hour of it feeding before it surfaced with a fish that was too big too handle in the water and headed back to the holt to enjoy it’s catch.  By now the rain was coming down heavily and we had lunch in the car, watching a raft of Common Eider out on the calm sea, before exploring more coastal pools.  Wigeon, Teal, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Gadwall, Goldeneye, Shelduck, Greylag Goose, Canada Goose, Pink-footed Goose, Mute Swan and Whooper Swan was a nice contingent of wildfowl as a Grey Heron sat hunched, looking miserable in the cold and wet and a Common Buzzard perched obligingly at the end of a row of trees.  Cormorants were fishing and doing their very best Otter impersonations as we scanned through a wader roost.  Knot, Dunlin, Curlew, Redshank, Lapwing, Black-tailed Godwit and a single Avocet were all studied through the ‘scope before we headed to our final site for the afternoon, passing Kestrels hovering by the roadside on what was now a very stiff, icy cold, breeze.

For over an hour until it was too dark to see clearly we were entertained by a Starling murmuration.  Flock after flock joined the twisting, swirling amorphous mass that repeatedly came so close that we could hear their wingbeats.  A female Sparrowhawk passed through the murmuration a couple of times, causing it to bunch so tightly that it cast a dense shadow on the water below them as Whooper Swans arrived to roost and the light of day faded to the near darkness of dusk.

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Omens; Focus on Northumberland Day 1 and 2 17-18/02/18

by on Feb.18, 2018, under Uncategorized

Day 1 17/02/18

After collecting John and Dani from Hexham we headed to The Battlesteads; our base for the next three days.  Saturday’s evening session at the observatory featured some clear sky and we managed a quick binocular tour of Orion, Leo, Gemini, Cassiopeia, Auriga and the Plough before the rain eventually drove us back to the warmth of the dry room.

Day 2 18/02/18

Today was our inland wildlife/landscape photography day and we headed south into the North Pennines.  The road sides still had a fair amount of snow and a couple of the minor roads that we would have used to cross some of the higher hills weren’t safely passable but a brief detour soon had us next to flocks of Lapwing, Starling and Common GullRed Grouse were their usual obliging selves, sitting well within camera range and chuckling away at us before delivering an ominous ‘go back, go back, go back’ – perhaps they’d had a look at the road conditions already?  The avian specialty of the hills was there in good numbers too; 51 Black Grouse during the day included a single flock of 40 birds before drizzle and fog closed in around us.  Flocks of Rook and Jackdaw flew in front of us on their way to roost, dark birds against a darkening sky as the weather followed us down from the hills and we headed back to civilisation and The Battlesteads.

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Ravenous; Otter mini-Safari 13/02/18

by on Feb.14, 2018, under Druridge Bay

As I collected Simon, Judith, Susanna and Phoebe from Newbiggin ahead of an afternoon searching for Otters around Druridge Bay the sky darkened and rain turned to sleet turned to snow…

Under an overcast sky with barely a hint of a breeze, the uniform colour of the water made it easy to spot any movement.  Goldeneye and Little Grebe were diving and I was watching regular ripples emanating from a small bay in the reeds, just below two Roe Deer, as a Water Rail poked around another bay.  Whatever was causing the ripples remained hidden though, and after admiring a handsome drake Long-tailed Duck our attention was drawn to Goldeneye displaying.  Head thrown back, bill pointing skywards and then neck outstretched and dipped dramatically, one drake Goldeneye caught the eye of a duck and they swam along, closely paired.  Just beyond them a Coot wing appeared on the surface of the water.  Was it fighting with another Coot?  It vanished below the water’s surface before reappearing and heading rapidly across the pool like the sail of a yacht.  A closer look revealed that it was on it’s back, feet in the air and moving quickly.  It sank again and then when it surfaced we could see the head of the Otter that was carrying it!  As the Otter neared the reeds her two cubs came out to greet her and they all disappeared into the reeds with the Coot.  After a little while, and as Canada Geese, Greylag Geese and Whooper Swans arrived noisily, the cubs were visible as they chased around in the reeds.  Then all three Otters swam across the pool, with the cubs pausing to engage in a play fight before vanishing into the reeds again as the low angled sunlight cast a golden glow over the landscape.

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