Sunday was a second day out for Edward and Isabel, although this time a bespoke trip. I collected them from Greycroft and we headed south. Brambling was the first target on our list for the day and an impressive flock was alongside Nuthatch, Chaffinch, Coal Tit and a male Siskin. Red Squirrel was another target species for the day, and we enjoyed prolonged views of one, as another male Brambling called from a treetop nearby and Goldfinches plundered a feeding station. Long-tailed Tits fed just above our heads and Fulmar found themselves in range of Edward’s camera as we had lunch overlooking the North Sea. Twite, Pied Wagtail and Sanderling on the beach were our first post-lunch stop and then we headed further north to our last site for the day, with a brief glimpse of a Stoat as it ran across the road in front of us.
Dusk often brings the best of the day and, as Whooper Swans swam across the reflection of the setting Sun, a Kingfisher dived from the reeds, a Water Rail flew between reedbeds, Grey Herons squabbled over prime feeding spots and the assembled wildfowl followed the progress of a Red Fox as it trotted along the bank. Once it was too dark to see anything in front of us we headed back to Alnwick.
Another great day out with clients who were really good company. It’s never really any other way 🙂
Sunday afternoon was, thankfully, sunny and (reasonably…) warm for our NWT Beginners Photography Workshop.
Once I’d found everyone near the entrance to the Druridge Bay visitor centre, we walked through to the feeding station hide at East Chevington. Reed Buntings, Goldfinches, Blue Tits and Great Tits were around the feeders, some remarkably shy Pheasants were quite stunning in the sunlight and we covered the usual beginners workshop topics of shutter speed, aperture settings, ISO, histograms, exposure compensation, and how to attract wildlife close enough to your camera. Then an opportunity that really doesn’t come along every day as Joan spotted a Stoat. I started pishing and it popped back up briefly, sitting on a rock for just long enough to allow a few frames to be fired off 🙂 Colin’s shot of the Stoat was a great one to demonstrate how cropping can improve the composition of an image. A Great Spotted Woodpecker was sitting high above the feeding station, frustratingly not coming down low enough to be in front of the array of cameras (Nikon, Canon, Fuji and Sony). Then, one of the perpetual drawbacks of wildlife photography on a public nature reserve…the Pheasants scattered, all of the small birds left the feeders and a Black Labrador ran through the edge of the reeds 🙁 All it needed was a few minutes after the dog had gone though, and all returned to normal 🙂
Arriving in Newbiggin to collect Susan, Dan, Chris and Helen, the first thing that struck me was just how warm it was. Blue skies, bright sunshine, only a slight breeze – almost an early summer day 🙂
We began our search of Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland with those habitual Otter impersonators, Cormorant and Goldeneye, grabbing our attention. Then Little Egret, Redshank and Mallard all moved away from where I think our regular Otters have their holt, although there was no sign of the elusive predator. A Stoat, all bounding energy, chased, but missed catching, a Rabbit and a pair of Marsh Harriers drifted over coastal reedbeds with a third bird nearby as Cormorants and Curlew lazed in the sunshine and Red-breasted Mergansers delivered their comical courtship display.
Finally, distantly, as the sun slipped towards the horizon a sleek, sinuous shape crossed the river before inspecting a bankside log and vanishing into a tangle of brambles 🙂
A question I’ve been asked a few times recently is “What if we hadn’t seen an Otter there?”. The answer, of course, is that we have a Plan B (and Plan C and Plan D as well, just in case…).
I collected Bing and Martin and we headed out towards the coast for their bespoke Otter Safari. Just over an hour later, and Plan A wasn’t looking good; there were Cormorants, Goldeneye and Little Grebes as far as the eye could see, but no sign of our target species…however, good things come to those who wait, and when Bing mentioned that she’d just seen something diving I looked across in the same direction, and up popped an Otter 🙂 Here’s an image of an Otter at ‘Plan A’ in mid-January.
We watched it for a few minutes before it slipped out of sight, and I thought it would be sensible to put Plan B into action. First though, it was time for lunch. We paid a visit to probably the most endearing star of our recent days out
and then we sat on a cliff top as Turnstone, Sanderling, Grey Plover, Ringed Plover, Oystercatcher, Bar-tailed Godwit and Curlew scurried, stalked, prodded and probed their way along the shoreline below us. Plan B proved to be much more successful, as we watched an Otter as it startled Redshank, Curlew, Mallards, Canada Geese and Greylag Geese. We lost track of it for a few minutes, then suddenly it was right in front of us, getting out of the water briefly, before heading off into the reflection of the sun, and creating the typical ‘ring of bright water’, each time it surfaced 🙂 A Stoat provided some entertainment, as they always do – this one was photographed on New Year’s Day, when we were checking Plans A, B, C and D 🙂
Another species that we’ve been watching regularly over the last few weeks provided a vivid splash of colour in the fading light of the afternoon,
and then it was time to return Bing and Martin to their hotel, with the goal of seeing an Otter in the wild reached via Plan A and Plan B 🙂 If you’d like to search for Otters in the wild, or any of Northumberland’s other stunning wildlife, then give us a call on 01670 827465 – wildlife is unpredictable, but the one thing we can guarantee is that we’ll always do everything we can to make sure you’re in the right place at the right time!
During quiet periods of the year, we keep going out and checking excellent wildlife sites all around Northumberland. Although we can never predict exactly what we’ll see, and where, those days out on our own are the basis of successful days out with clients…
I arrived at Church Point to collect Gordon and Michelle and we set off in search of Otters. I love the pressure of a client being obsessed with Otters but never having seen one in the wild, it keeps me focused 🙂 Soon we were watching a distant Otter as it fed in mirror calm water! A slow, steady approach took us much closer and then another two Otters appeared, eventually coming so close that we could hear a splash, each time they dived in search of fish, and the crunching, munching sound of them devouring their catch 🙂 We’ve been watching this group of Otters since mid-December, so we’ve got a few images of them…
After 90 minutes they’d moved on and so did we. Our next wildlife star of the day was another one that we’ve been watching and photographing over the last few weeks – a Little Owl.
As the afternoon passed, and the cold damp air held us in it’s icy grip, more stunning wildlife put on a show that demonstrated just how good Northumberland is during the winter. An array of wildfowl in breeding finery is a highlight of the winter months; Teal, Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallard, Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Red-breasted Merganser, Eider and a Long-tailed Duck. A Barn Owl, ghostly white, bringing death on silent wings to unsuspecting mice and voles is always a crowd pleaser while Kestrels, Buzzards and a brief view of a Hen Harrier were the reward for a session of raptor watching as dusk approached. Another ghostly white winter speciality put in a typically fleeting appearance – a Stoat in ermine 🙂 Possibly my favourite land mammal, here’s an image of one from last winter.
Finally, as the light faded to the point where it was getting difficult to see anything and flocks of Pink-Footed and Greylag Geese peppered the sky, one of our most elusive birds wandered out into the open and entertained us. Probing and prodding at the marshy ground between two reedbeds, the Water Rail gave obligingly prolonged views. Surprisingly small, remarkably beautiful, and a great way to end the day with clients who’ve persuaded me (almost…) that there are destinations so spectacular that I really need to get on a ‘plane at some point next year…
With a brisk southeasterly wind rattling the Northumberland coast, I arrived in Alnmouth on Monday morning to collect John, Annie and Steve for a day of bespoke birdwatching.
Starting with a seawatch, Gannets were streaming south , occasionally pausing to circle and then plunge into the sea, and Common Scoter were dotted amongst the rafts of Eider, appearing for brief periods as they rode up and over the considerable swell.
Heading south to Druridge Bay produced the expected crop of passage waders; Redshank, Curlew, Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Lapwing and Ruff were expected and two Curlew Sandpipers were a nice find. Teal, Mallard, Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Goosander and Pintail provided wildfowl interest and skeins of Canada, Greylag and Pink-footed Geese, which we’d seen earlier in the afternoon as they fed in nearby fields, began to arrive at their overnight roosts. A Stoat was all energy as it raced backwards and forwards, exploring every nook and cranny along the edge of the water and, as dusk approached, we watched one of the great wildlife spectacles as a murmuration of Starlings swirled above a reedbed before dropping in to roost. The mass of birds attracted the attention of a Sparrowhawk, and the female raptor made several low passes through the tops of the reeds above the roosting Starlings. They weren’t going to be tricked into flying out and becoming an easier target though, and the Sparrowhawk soon settled on a fence post. Then a second Sparrowhawk appeared, this time a male, and the two birds perched on adjacent fence posts, allowing an excellent comparison of their gender differences. As we headed off, in the fading light and bitterly cold wind, it looked like they would be going without their supper…
After a damp morning around Druridge Bay on Thursday, Friday looked much more promising. I collected Simeon and Kathy from their holiday accommodation in Warkworth and we set off down the coast for an afternoon around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. Late summer/early autumn trips often feature plenty of waders and wildfowl and this was no exception. Common Snipe were playing ‘hard-to-spot’ as they slept in sparse clumps of reed, Dunlin, Ruff, Ringed Plover, Black-tailed Godwit, Lapwing and Golden Plover were all either roosting or sticking their beaks into the mud and a lone Greenshank was sitting on the periphery of a big flock of Lapwing. On slow deep wingbeats a Sparrowhawk flew low across the water towards us, pulling sharply up and over us at the last minute. Over a coastal reedbed a juvenile Marsh Harrier drifted lazily along, swooping down towards the water and scattering the Mallard and Teal that had been dozing contentedly there.
Mid-afternoon we were treated to the spectacle of the sky filled with skein after skein of geese; mainly Pink-footed, but with small groups of Greylag and Canada interspersed amongst the yapping flocks of one our favourite Icelandic winter visitors. Our next magic moment came courtesy of a mustelid. Not the Otter that we were searching for, but instead the beautiful little predator that has featured on so many of our trips in the last few weeks. For several minutes we watched as a Stoat ran backward and forwards along the water’s edge, perched on rocks, had a good look at a Moorhen and finally bounded away through the poolside vegetation. Another small predator provided the next wildlife experience. Lapwing, Golden Plover, Ruff, Black-tailed Godwits, Dunlin, Teal, Mallard, Gadwall and Starling all took to the air; had they spotted an Otter lurking in the reeds? maybe a Fox? No, what was coming was the Grim Reaper on tiny pointed wings. A Merlin was suddenly amongst the scattered birds in the air. Twisting and turning, the tiny falcon had singled out a Dunlin from the multitude of possible targets in front of it. The chase was on and could be easily followed by watching the path carved through the tightly bunched Lapwings that had taken to the air in alarm. As the Dunlin made a final bid for freedom, the Merlin gave up the chase and settled, out of sight, in a hawthorn bush in the dunes. It didn’t have long to catch it’s breath before it was disturbed by a dog walker and flew into a dune slack away from disturbance. Simeon’s comment after this life and death chase echoed those of many of our clients previously “it’s gripping, but I was really willing the Dunlin to get away”.
As the evening progressed and the Sun dropped below the western horizon, geese began arriving to roost, bats were flitting back and forth across our field of view and, as the light finally faded to black and we headed back to Warkworth, a Barn Owl flew low over the car.
I collected Tim and Elizabeth from Church Point and we set out for an evening mini-safari around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. What now seems to have been several weeks of passage Black-tailed Godwits and Ruff was still evident, Common Snipe were being uncharacteristically obliging and Teal, Mallard, Wigeon and Gadwall were all dabbling around in good numbers. Two sinuous predators were the stars of the afternoon though…
First, as I was scanning the water around a group of roosting Cormorants, was the big one; the elusive, enigmatic terror of the water. The familiar twisting sinuous shape of an broke the surface just beyond the birds. Diving, swimming, pausing at the surface to consume it’s catch, the Otter made it’s way across the pond before vanishing into a reed-lined bay.
Then came what is rapidly becoming my favourite mustelid; bouncing around like a jack-in-the-box, twisting, turning, executing somersaults worthy of an Olympic gymnast until it seemed to be just a blur, the Stoat was entrancing. The more I see of these little predators, the more I like. Stunningly beautiful (particularly in white winter ermine), inquisitive and possessing apparently boundless energy, any view of a Stoat for more than a split second is captivating 🙂
Sometimes we see birds that are rare or spectacular, but sometimes the common birds are the ones that are the highlight of the day…
I collected Julia and we set off for the coast, and an afternoon and evening birdwatching around Druridge Bay. A Merlin passed by on pointed wings, racing across a nearby field and causing panic amongst the birds in the hedgerows. Eiders and Goosanders were on the River Coquet and we found the first of two Stoats for the day. Grey Herons and Cormorants were standing statue-like by the edges of pools, and waders included Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits, Curlew, Dunlin, Ruff, Lapwing, Redshank and no less than five Greenshank.
As dusk approached a small murmuration of Starlings quickly dived into the cover of a reedbed and then one of nature’s great spectacles unfolded before us as skein after skein of geese arrived noisily for their evening roost. Canada and Greylag Geese may not be any peoples favourites, but as the numbers swelled and the noise level rose to a cacophony it was a bewitching sight. On the edge of the roost two birds caught the eye; not genuinely wild, although nobody seems to be entirely sure where they came from, the two Bar-headed Geese were still worth watching.
Then, on the journey back to Netherton, two mammals were caught in the glare of our headlights. First a Hedgehog, crossing the road in the middle of Warkworth, managed to avoid being run over then another mammal…nearly a week later, and I’m still not sure what it was, although Polecat/Ferret seems the best option. Who knows what’s roaming the countryside…
By extraordinary coincidence, one of our least observed mammals put in an appearance for the second consecutive day…
I collected David, Jackie and Alexander from Bamburgh and we headed south to start their Prestige Tour of the Northumberland Coast. As Swallows and House Martins flitted about low over the water in front of us, a Stoat proved elusive as it darted in and out of the vegetation close to the water’s edge, momentarily startling the dozing ducks before vanishing back into the edge of a reedbed. As ever something wholly unexpected appeared, on this occasion a Peregrine over Cresswell village. A Roe Deer walking through an arable field appeared like a disembodied head – only popping up, like a Jack-in-the-box, every few metres as it made it’s way across the field.
Another elusive mustelid put in a brief appearance too, as a Badger trotted along between reedbeds, but unfortunately hidden from view by the vegetation on our side of the pool. As dusk approached, pipistrelle bats were flitting back and forth, tiny Common Froglets hopped across the path in front of us and the drive back to Bamburgh produced another impressive mammal, as a Brown Hare loped along the verge as we passed.