Tag: Starling

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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Crashing waves; Druridge Bay Safari 01/02/18

by on Feb.02, 2018, under Druridge Bay

Arriving at Church Point to collect Jenny and Peter, and Lynne, it was looking like we’d have a dry, but cold and windy day around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland…

With a stiff breeze, every bit of water we looked at, whether river, pool, pond or roadside flash flood was being whipped up into a series of white-capped peaks.  Bullfinches and Robins were very obliging as we walked through woodland, although Goldcrest remained heard but not seen, and on the nearby river Little Grebe, Cormorant and Goldeneye were all diving in search of food.  Red-breasted Merganser had their spiky crests ruffled comically by the wind and a drake Long-tailed Duck was looking superb – as were all of the Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye, Gadwall and a drake Goosander.  A herd of Whooper Swan were grazing in a coastal field and noisy flocks of Canada and Greylag Geese flew by in skeins scattered on the breeze.  Six Grey Herons had discovered a nice sheltered spot to sit and a Little Egret stalked delicately along the water’s edge.

Our exposed clifftop lunch spot was like a wind tunnel with waves cashing below a flock of Great Black-backed, Black-headed, Common and Herring Gulls hanging in the breeze, accompanied by a beautiful ghostly pale adult Mediterranean Gull which settled on the narrow strip of exposed sand that remained and found itself surrounded by scurrying Sanderling.

The rapidly rising tide of the early afternoon was pushing waders up off the beach and rocks with Curlew, Oystercatcher, Redshank and Dunlin all arriving to roost.  Lapwing were tossed on the breeze and, along with dense twinkling flocks of Golden Plover rising from a nearby field with geese and Starlings, peppered the sky.  The reflections of grey clouds darkened the water as low-angled sunlight illuminated the reeds and the contrast between dark grey and glowing gold was just sublime and as we headed back down the coast towards Newbiggin we paused to admire a flock of noisy yapping Pink-footed Geese.

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Winter; Otter mini-Safari 28/12/17

by on Dec.31, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

I collected Stephen from Church Point and we set out for an afternoon around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland…

One thing that has stood out in the last few weeks is the great number of Goldeneye and Little Grebe that are wintering here, and this trip was no exception.  Cormorants were diving alongside them in pursuit of small fish.  A Barn Owl quartered over reedbeds, harassed by corvids and a Sparrowhawk and Teal, Wigeon, Mallard and Gadwall were all dabbling in shallow water as Starlings arrived to roost.  39 Whooper Swans arriving together were an impressive sight, then they drifted close to a reedbed before beating a hasty retreat…what was lurking in the shadows of the reeds as the strengthening and biting wind drove us back to the car and towards Newbiggin?

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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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