Tag: Starling

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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Evening activity; Otter mini-Safari 10/08/17

by on Aug.11, 2017, under Druridge Bay

I arrived at Church Point to collect Andy, Teresa and Katharine, and Richard, Belinda and Julia, for an evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland searching for Otters, under a glorious blue sky with just a gentle breeze.  Almost like the summer had arrived…

Grey Herons were stalking patiently through the shallows in the shadow of the reed edges and Mute Swans, Greylag Geese, Mallards, Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Teal and Great Crested Grebes, with a chick that’s probably too big to be hitching a ride on it’s parents’ back, were all getting on with life, and way too relaxed for there to be an Otter about, and then Lapwing and Starling flushed in a sudden panic.  We couldn’t see what had caused the alarm though and, as everything settled back down we headed on.

At our next stop we had a long chat with a fisherman, who told us where he’d seen an Otter the previous night…which just happened to be where we were heading for dusk.  A small group of Canada Geese were clearly on high alert then, as a Little Egret provided a touch of luminosity in the deepening gloom of dusk, Tawny Owls called from the trees on both sides of the river, skein after skein after skein of Canada Geese flew noisily overhead, pipistrelles around trees and buildings were picked up by Julia’s bat detector and the majestic Summer Triangle of Vega, Altair and Deneb appeared against the night sky overhead…the evening finished as Otters 1 NEWT 0.  Fantastic ottery habitat, geese clearly agitated and a sighting the previous evening…but you just can’t be certain what will turn up.  That’s why every day spent searching for any of our local wildlife is just so much fun 🙂

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A Little Spoonful; Otter Safari/mini-Safari 01/08/17

by on Aug.02, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Uncategorized

When the Otters fail to perform during an Otter Safari, there’s always something else to take centre stage…

I collected Eileen from Warkworth and the first half of the afternoon was spent intently studying the behaviour of birds along a river, looking for any indication that they were concerned about something. The cries of Oystercatcher and Curlew drifted on the breeze as Little Egrets stalked through the shallows or roosted in trees overlooking the water.  A stop off at Cresswell produced lots of Lapwing, Oystercatcher and Curlew, a dozen or so Dunlin and a summer-plumaged Knot.  We’d managed to just miss a Spoonbill though, although back to that later…

After a picnic overlooking Druridge Bay we collected Tony and Norma, and Alicia and Emmie for the second half of the trip.  More Curlew, Lapwing and Dunlin followed, with some Black-tailed Godwit still sporting their breeding plumage, an elegant Wood Sandpiper patrolling the muddy edges, Tufted Ducks with ducklings, a female Marsh Harrier and a dense cloud of Sand Martins.  Then Little Owls; one, then two, then three, then two, then three, then one as they shuffled position along a fence and a stone wall.  One of the owls even found itself sitting on the apex of a roof alongside a Magpie, before deciding the black and white corvid needed seeing off.  Norma had spotted a white bird tucked away in the rushes and it took off, flying directly towards us…and there was the Spoonbill 🙂

As dusk approached Great Crested Grebes offered small fish to their well-grown chick as Grey Herons squabbled over prime feeding spots, Common Terns took a bath, Starling flocks swirled by and Emmie spotted her first Roe Deer – first a doe and then a buck sporting a fine pair of antlers as the light faded to the point where everything was shadow.

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Owling; Otter Safari 17/07/17

by on Jul.19, 2017, under Druridge Bay

I collected Una and then Verna from Church Point and we set off for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and South East Northumberland searching our favourite Otter spots

The heat of the afternoon was tempered by a gentle breeze as we came across 8 Little Egrets and a Kingfisher put in a brief but brilliant appearance with flash of dazzling azure as it landed on a rock in front of us before flying across the river and reappearing a few minutes later.  More azure blue flashed towards the extremity of Blue-tailed Damselflies and a Red Admiral took a real liking to Verna, flying around for a few seconds before settling on her arm 🙂  As the evening progressed the light suddenly switched from dazzling and contrasty to sublimely beautiful.  A small Starling murmuration hinted at the spectacle we’ll be enjoying by the winter, 2 Roe Deer were in deep vegetation, a Kestrel was flitting from tree to tree along the roadside ahead of the car and a Barn Owl flew over the reeds carrying a Short-tailed Field Vole as Common Swift, Barn Swallow, House Martin and Sand Martin plundered the dense clouds of insects rising above the ethereal mist drifting over the water.

As the light faded and we headed back a Brown Hare loped along the road ahead of us, pausing on the track into a field and I suggested that owls should be on the target list for the next 10-15 minutes of the drive.  Two separate telegraph poles were adorned with Little Owls, with the tiny predators giving us their very best withering stare, before a third Little Owl flew alongside the car briefly and a Barn Owl drifted across the road ahead of us 🙂

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The golden hour; Bespoke coastal birdwatching 07/06/17

by on Jun.09, 2017, under Druridge Bay

I collected Nicky and Mick from Newbiggin and we set off for an afternoon and evening exploring Druridge Bay and south east Northumberland.  The weather was somewhat nicer than it had been 24h earlier, in fact postively summery although with a fairly stiff breeze.  Sometimes I could write a blog post by skipping to the last hour or so of the trip and, after a challenging afternoon including a good look at Black-headed, Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Whitehroats song-flighting from bramble scrub and a couple of woodland walks with Jays playing hide and seek with us, Treecreepers creeping up the trunks of trees, Robins and Wrens singing from deep cover and Fulmars gliding on stiff wings along the clifftops that’s where we find ourselves…

Against a stiff northwesterly the Barn Owl was struggling; already bearing the heavy burden of a plump vole it was flying northeasterly and sideways to make progress to the north, forced out over the sea before battling it’s way back onshore and dropping from the remarkable height it had chosen to fly at as Great Crested Grebes radiated elegance on the choppy water in front of us and a Starling murmuration numbered a couple of hundred birds.  As the light levels dropped to absolutely sublime it was time for more owls to put in an appearance;  first another Barn Owl, then another, another and incredibly our fifth of the evening, with three of them in one binocular view 🙂  With an aural backdrop of Mallard, Gadwall, Wigeon, Curlew and Lapwing, and the air filled with Swifts the scene was set for another owl, this time a Long-eared hunting through the dunes, it’s dark plumage providing a stark contrast to the pale ghostly Barn Owls.  There was another surprise waiting for us too as Nicky asked “what are those birds along there?”.  I turned and looked through my binoculars and the impression was raptor-like, combined with a hint of thin, long-tailed Woodpigeon…a closer look therough our ‘scope, and there were two Cuckoos!  The final hour is often the highlight of a day watching wildlife, but this hour was just shoveling the quality in 🙂

 

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Last light; Otter Safari 24/02/17

by on Feb.26, 2017, under Otter, Red Squirrel

After some wild weather the blue skies and fluffy white clouds, as I set off for a day searching for Otters around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland with Jo, Pat, Rachel and Dave, came as a welcome sight…

Now that we’re in the late winter, wildfowl are looking at their finest and are starting to display with an impressive level of determination.  Red-breasted Merganser were strutting their stuff in their engagingly comical bowing display, Goldeneye were delivering their similar, though slightly less elaborate dance and Tufted Duck, Mallard, Wigeon, Scaup, Teal and Pochard were all clad in spring finery, but the long-staying Pacific Diver remains alone.  A pair of Common Buzzards were soaring against the clouds at a site where I’ve never encountered them breeding previously.  Huge clouds of Pink-footed Geese were replaced by an impressive Starling murmuration as dusk approached, and Common Snipe were uncharactersitically obliging as they fed away from cover amongst Redshank, Lapwing, Curlew and Black-tailed Godwit.  On a good day for mammal-watching we saw at least 2, possibly 3, maybe even 5, Red Squirrels and 3 Roe Deer.

With light levels dropping rapidly we had brief sightings of 2 Bitterns, as Water Rail squealed from deep in the reeds, and we were on the verge of admitting defeat to the Otters when Rachel said “what’s that in front of us?”.  I turned to look, and the first thing I noticed were the Mallards quickening their pace…as they headed away from the Otter that Rachel had spotted on the bank right in front of us 🙂  We watched it for 10mins, until it was too dark to see it as it twisted and turned in the water, before heading back to Newbiggin.

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“Keith Chegwin did what?”; Otter Safari 07/02/17

by on Feb.10, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

Watching wildlife tends to involve also having to spend some time waiting for it to appear, and conversations are occasionally slightly surreal…

I collected Jo and Crawford from Eshott ahead of a day searching for Otters around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  Heavy overnight rain had cleared but the roads were liberally strewn with deep puddles as we headed to the coast.  Crawford has spent a lot of time watching and photographing Otters in Shetland and it was great to compare observations, and discuss photography, as we scanned the water looking for any sign of the elusive predator.  Little Grebe, Goldeneye and Mute Swan all appeared unmolested, then I noticed three Mallard swimming slightly faster than all of the other ducks…and there was an Otter twisting and turning, surfacing to crunch whatever it had just caught before submerging again 🙂  We watched it for a little while but it was moving away from us so we moved along to a section of bank closer to where we’d last seen it.  Better views there, and then another shift of position saw us on the water’s edge, with the Otter performing around 20m in front of Crawford’s camera.  Our encounter lasted nearly an hour, and included several ‘porpoising’ dives with the Otter leaping almost completely clear of the water and diving near vertically.

The cold and damp of the afternoon brought views of a very obliging White-fronted Goose and, approaching dusk, Lapwing and Curlew called as Starlings hurried to roost and a Barn Owl ghosted by.  Wildlife presenters featured in a very entertaining discussion which led on to game shows and the revelation that Keith Chegwin – that’s right the cherub-faced star of Multi-coloured Swap Shop, Cheggers Plays Pop and Saturday Superstore – had once presented a game show naked.  Now two of us thought this unlikely, but a quick search on Google confirmed that Crawford wasn’t imagining it and that Cheggers had indeed hosted a one-off show called Naked Jungle, wearing nothing other than a hat!  Every day’s an education…

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