Tag: Stonechat

Slimming; Otter Safari 21/04/17

by on Apr.22, 2017, under Druridge Bay

The first drops of rain speckled the windscreen of the car as I arrived at Church Point to collect Luke and Louise for their third day out with NEWT this week – an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland searching for Otters

With the lovely weather of recent days replaced by an icy cold breeze and drizzle, it was looking like it would be a long, hard afternoon.  Common Redshank, Curlew and Oystercatcher were probing tidal mudflats and noisily displaying when they took a break from feeding.  A herd of Mute Swans included two birds that were engaged in a courtship display; like a serene slow-motion version of the Great Crested Grebe display they were mirroring each other’s head and body movements.  As we watched territorial disputes between pairs of Great Crested Grebes the rain intensified and the birds, alongside Tufted Ducks and Goldeneye, were sitting on water that looked to be boiling with the impact of raindrops.  Shoveler, Pochard, Teal, Wigeon, Lapwing, Green Sandpiper, Grey Heron and Little Egret were added to the day list and the rain started to ease…

As we were having our picnic on the clifftop overlooking Druridge Bay, accompanied by a raggedy male Stonechat, the weather took a change for the better.  Broken cloud produced a dramatic sky, and it was looking good for a decent sunset.  A tip-off from one of our local wildlife photographers pointed us in the direction of a pair of Little Owls, who very obligingly posed for Luke’s camera 🙂  One of the owls had gone off, presumably in search of food, and the other one was still sitting there when a dog walker with a Staffie came along.  We were wondering how long the owl would wait before flying off…but it sat tight, and instead of fleeing it just stretched itself to as tall and thin as it could before slumping back to it’s usual shape once the dog and walker had passed by!  In ever-improving light we watched a Black Tern at East Chevington as it fed amongst Common Terns, Sand Martins and Swallows.  A thick bank of cloud to the west obscured the sunset but as a Brown Hare loped across a field, a Common Buzzard was perched in a small tree in a hedgerow, and mist started rising from the water the light was sublime.  Scanning slowly along the water’s edge, there was the sign I was looking for; only a slight disturbance, but I hadn’t seen any ducks in that direction.  The the Otter surfaced briefly before diving again 🙂  In flat calm conditions we could see the trail of bubbles as it travelled under the water, and then it vanished into the mist.  What we could still see though were Mute Swans, Canada Geese and Mallards and they were all watching the Otter.  The mist cleared and it reappeared, running along the bank before returning to the water for a few metres and then getting out again.  Eventually it vanished into the gloom of the reed edges, only to reappear a few minutes later right in front of us as Grasshopper Warblers reeled and Noctule Bats hawked insects overhead.

Fade to black…

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Choppy; Otter Safari 14/04/17

by on Apr.17, 2017, under Druridge Bay

Friday was Adrian and Ruth’s 2nd day out with NEWT, after Monday’s Cheviots Valleys/Druridge Bespoke tour, and I arrrived at Church Point to collect them, as well as Sandra and Paco, and Rachel and Andy.  A torrential downpour passed mercifully quickly and we were on our way for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland searching for Otters

The transitional nature of mid-April was really obvious; Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Teal and Wigeon are typical birds of winter on the Northumberland coast, but now they were alongside displaying Great Crested Grebes and Avocets as a White Wagtail pottered along the edge of a shallow pool, Swallows and Sand Martins were hawking newly emerged insects as the songs of Chiffchaff and Sedge Warbler emanated from deep cover in trees and reedbeds and the descending silvery cadence of Willow Warbler trickled on the breeze.  A noisy flock of Long-tailed Tits were just above a male Blackcap who chacked angrily as we disturbed whatever it was that he’d been up to before we walked by and the peace and elegance of Little Egrets was shattered as a Great White Egret objected to their proximity to the rushes where it was hiding.  Grey Herons stalked the water’s edge as Skylarks ascended heavenwards, Meadow Pipits parachuted back down at the end of brief display flights and Reed Bunting and Stonechat perched at the tops of isolated bushes in the dunes.

With an icy cold breeze rippling the water’s surface and nipping at noses and fingers we finished at sunset with our quarry for the day having eluded us.

We’re often asked what the chances are of seeing an Otter on one of our trips, and it isn’t an easy question to answer.  They’re wild animals and they don’t run to a timetable that guarantees we’ll find them.  That’s something that makes wildlife watching so great – the unpredictability of it all 🙂  To put some numbers to it though…this was our 12th Otter Safari since the start of November 2016, and only the 2nd of those where we haven’t found at least one Otter!

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Northumberland in the win(d)ter; Winter Wonderland holiday 19-22/02/17

by on Feb.23, 2017, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Grey Seal, Lindisfarne, Northumberland Coast, Otter, Southeast Northumberland

Day 1. 19/02/17. I arrived at the Bamburgh Castle Inn for the start of our Winter Wonderland holiday, then met up with with Christine, John, Linda and Rosie in the bar and outlined the plan for the next two days while we enjoyed a fantastic meal.

Day 2. 20/02/17.  Our first full day was targeting Lindisfarne and the North Northumberland coast.  Stopping at Budle Bay on our way north we soon found a Spotted Redshank amongst the Common Redshank, Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler, Mallard, Oystercatcher, Shelduck and Curlew as Pink-footed and Greylag Geese and Lapwing swirled distantly against a leaden grey sky on a stiff breeze and Red-breasted Mergansers looked even more comical than usual with their tufts blown to odd angles.  A heavy misty drizzle took hold, yet cleared within minutes, leaving a beautiful azure sky draped in fluffy white cloud.  A Kestrel perched obligingly as we stopped along a hedgerow that was heaving with Chaffinches.  As the receding tide cleared the Holy Island causeway, waders dropped in to feed along the edge of the recently exposed mud.  Knot, Dunlin, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Turnstone and Bar-tailed Godwit were all close to the road and easily observable by using the car as a nice, sheltered, warm hide as Pale-bellied Brent Geese flew over us 🙂  Over on the island we found a mixed flock of Dark-bellied Brent Geese, Curlew and Lapwing.  As an unseen threat spooked them and they lifted from the field, it was obvious that the number of birds present was far greater than we thought.  Grey Seals were hauled out on the now visible sandbars and we headed back across to the mainland.  Lunch overlooking the vast expanse of mud produced more geese and ducks, including Pintail, and a distant Little Stint in amongst a flock of Dunlin and Knot.  A Merlin had spooked the Chaffinch flock as we headed back south and a quick stop at Bamburgh produced Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone, Ringed Plover and Eider but nothing on the sea in what the wind had whipped up into a frothing mess of whitecaps.  The stiffening breeze was making viewing conditions awkward but the final stop of the afternoon brought Song Thrush, Long-tailed Tit, Greenfinch and Goldcrest before we headed back to Seahouses.  Dinner was accompanied by a discussion of the plan for Tuesday, and a target list was quickly developed…

Day 3. 21/02/17.  Tuesday saw us heading south towards Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  Our first target for the day was a species that’s scarce and often only offers fleeting views…Willow Tit is a regular visitor to the NEWT garden feeding station but I’d got a different site in mind and we enjoyed prolonged views of at least two of these gorgeous little birds, as well as a detailed discussion about how to separate them from Marsh TitReed Bunting, Common Snipe and Common Buzzard joined the day list as an impressive flock of Lapwing and Golden Plover swirled against the sky as we headed off in search of our next target for the day.  This one proved fairly straightforward and we had great views of both male and female BramblingLittle Grebe, Goldeneye and Common and Black-headed Gulls accompanied our lunch stop before we had excellent views of some very obliging Common Snipe, Bar-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Ruff, Tree Sparrow and Little EgretShorelark was the one target for the day that eluded us, as we had several flight views of a vocal flock of Twite while Ringed Plover were displaying on the beach, Sanderling were scurrying back and forth and a flock of Common Scoter were offshore with Red-throated Divers and Guillemot just beyond the breaking surf.  A handsome male Stonechat flushed from bush to bush ahead of us as we walked along the path and the long-staying Pacific Diver eventually gave great views close to a Slavonian Grebe.  There was one target species still remaining on the list for the day though, and I was sure that the last hour of daylight would bring that one for us.  Scanning the edges of reedbeds through the telescope revealed a dark shape that hadn’t been there a few minutes earlier during my last scan of the reedbed, and that dark shape stretched and began loping along, still partly obscured by the reeds.  Within a minute everyone had located the Otter as it moved quickly around the edge of the pool and then it vanished, only to appear in the water a few minutes later 🙂  We watched as it swam towards us before losing it from sight behind the near vegetation.  After a few minutes of calm all of the Mute Swans were suddenly staring towards the bank right in front of us, and the Otter passed by just a few metres away 🙂  A great finish to our final full day in the field.

Day 4. 22/02/17.  Departure day dawned dry, bright and with an icily cold breeze as we gathered for breakfast before all heading off our separate ways.

We’ll be adding 2017 and 2018 dates to our holiday page shortly but please do get in touch if you’ve got any questions about what we offer.  Our short break holidays have a maximum of 6 participants, and a relaxed pace, and we’re always happy to create something bespoke too 🙂

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Arrivals; Holy Island bespoke birdwatching 20/10/16

by on Oct.21, 2016, under Lindisfarne

Yesterday was Pete and Jan’s 9th trip with NEWT and we headed to a location that they haven’t visited with us previously…

Heading north from Embleton we soon encountered the first rain of the day, and by the time we reached the Holy Island causeway the mud and shallow water around the array of Redshank, Greenshank, Curlew, Dunlin and Bar-tailed Godwit was being battered by a fairly torrential shower.  As the rain eased, everything scattered as a Peregrine flew over; a muscular menace above mudflats where Grey Seals were hauled out as the tide fell, and a dense flock of Golden Plover settled once the danger had passed.  Once the rain eased, we headed across onto the island and began the entertaining game of hide-and-seek that characterises mid-October birdwatching on the coast with birds arriving from the east.  Blackcap, Reed Bunting, Robin, Linnet, Stonechat and Meadow Pipit all appeared, vanished and reappeared as the air overhead was filled with calls of Lapwing, Curlew, Grey Plover and Skylark.  Three Roe Deer were in a nearby field and a Firecrest put in an unobligingly fleeting appearance in one of many, many bushes that held Goldcrests.  We eventually made our way to the north side of the island and joined the twitch of a very obliging Isabelline Wheatear.  Every bush seemed to hold Robin and Goldcrest and, along the Straight Lonnen, Redwing, Song Thrush and Blackbird were feeding avidly and a very grey ‘eastern’ Goldcrest stood out from the more typical birds as a Ring Ouzel flew over before diving for cover in a hawthorn bush.  After lunch, another bush full of ‘crests produced two Firecrests in view at the same time before we headed back across to the mainland.

Another great day out with Pete and Jan, and the weather forecast looks like it could bring even more arrivals from the east over the next few days 🙂

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Searching; Otter Safari 18/10/16

by on Oct.21, 2016, under Druridge Bay

A day around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland was in store as I arrived at Church Point to collect Sam, Luke, Perdi and Georgina.

Ghostly white Mediterranean Gulls were drifting through the assembled cloud of Black-headed Gulls as we prepared to head a few miles inland, and a Swallow over the caravan park was an unexpected find.  A Long-tailed Duck on the river Wansbeck was a nice surprise, alongside Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Goosander, Red-breasted Merganser and Mute Swan.  Skeins of Pink-footed Geese passed overhead, making their way south, as Little Egret, Grey Heron and Little Grebe feasted on what seemed to be a never-ending supply of tiny fish, Common Redshank flew back and forth and a Sparrowhawk panicked Woodpigeons in the riverside trees as it flew through.  In the dunes along Druridge Bay Stonechat, Reed Bunting and Meadow Pipit flicked between bushes and fence posts.  The recent wet weather, accompanied by easterly winds has left the coast dripping with Goldcrests, and a feeding flock of around a dozen of these tiny gems was scrutinised for anything different.  Lapwing and Curlew were calling over the fields and a Common Scoter offered views that were vastly different to the usual dark dots riding the crest of waves offshore that typify the species.  An incredibly pale grey Chiffchaff joined them briefly before diving into deep cover and not being as obliging as we hoped.  As we neared the end of the afternoon one of the species that always enlivens a day birdwatching on the Northumberland coast through the autumn and winter put in an appearance.  Dashing and elegant, the Merlin zipped along the dunes before flicking up, over and out of sight, in pursuit of an unidentified small bird.  A handsome bird to end a fine day on the coast 🙂

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Dodging the showers; Lindisfarne Safari 09/08/16

by on Aug.10, 2016, under Holy Island

The unpredictability of the weather in northern England is one of the reasons I love living here.  Early August and you just don’t know whether there’ll be clear skies and sunshine, or something akin to the depths of the autumn…

I arrived at Kingston Park and met up with Chris (for his third trip with NEWT), Diane and Robin and we headed up the A1 to Berwick where we collected Gill (for her second trip with NEWT in a week).  Our first destination was the Holy Island causeway, where we found a Common Seal, Little Egret, Dunlin, Redshank, Curlew, Sanderling, Ringed Plover, a distant dense flock of Golden Plover and a few Whimbrel (including one bird that was obligingly standing next to a Curlew).  A sudden increase in wind strength heralded the arrival of the first rain shower of the day, and a noticeable drop in temperature.  Thinking that the poor weather was going to move through earlier than forecast I decided to switch around the plan for the rest of the day and we headed down the coast where we watched Sandwich Terns, Gannets and masses of gulls feeding as Fulmars soared past us on stiff wings, effortless in the breeze.  Rafts of Eider were just beyond the breaking surf as a female Goosander sat preening on the edge of a rockpool and Knot and Turnstone rummaged in the seaweed exposed on the falling tide.  Back to scanning the mudflats and Grey Plover joined the days wader list and Grey Seals called mournfully from exposed sandbanks before we crossed over onto Holy Island with the weather showing signs of improvement.  An adult Mediterranean Gull was an unexpected find in the car park and we set off to walk around the bits of the island that weren’t busy with visitors…

Grey Herons, Little Grebes and Moorhen were around the edges of the Lough as a Reed Warbler delivered it’s rhythmic chuntering song from a hidden perch in the reeds and the rest of our walk produced Stonechat, Meadow Pipit, a juvenile Kestrel, Cinnabar moth caterpillars and, probably the bird of the day, a Short-eared Owl quartering the dunes and fields with impressively slow deep wingbeats 🙂

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Mini-beasts in the mist; Lindisfarne Safari 14/06/16

by on Jun.16, 2016, under Lindisfarne

I met up with Malcolm and Jill and we headed across the causeway onto Holy Island, in conditions that looked slightly misty…

The simple song of a Reed Bunting echoed in the mist as the curious hypnotic ‘sharming’ of a Water Rail came from deep in the reeds.  As the mist thickened, visibility dropped and we walked around the north of the island, where swathes of orchids added a splash of colour to the grey of the morning.  Garden Tiger caterpillars trundled across the paths in front of us and tiny hoverflies settled on flower petals.  The mist cleared, warm sunshine broke through the thin veil…and then it got even mistier 🙂  Roe Deer watched us from long vegetation before bounding away across the fields as we continued our exploration of the ground around our feet. Reed Buntings, Linnets, and Stonechats were perched atop hawthorn bushes as Skylarks sang from high overhead and Meadow Pipits parachuted back to ground in their display flight.  With the tide falling and uncovering the road back to the mainland, and leaving Grey Seals hauled out on sandbars, we headed back towards the car through as Sandwich Terns suddenly appeared from the mist taking a shortcut over the island and back out to sea.

So much to see, whatever the weather 🙂

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When the wind blows; Whales, waders and wildfowl 4-7/09/2015

by on Sep.11, 2015, under Druridge Bay, Lindisfarne, Northumberland Coast

Last weekend was our ‘Whales, waders and wildfowl’ mini-break, with an extension to include our Farne Deeps pelagic.

Day -1 (Friday 04/09/15).  A late cancellation left Sandra and Linda as the only guests on the holiday, and with conditions unsuitable for being offshore, we headed to the far north of the county.  Fulmars and Gannets were battling into the stiff breeze and Eiders were riding the deep troughs and towering crests of the waves that were pounding the shoreline.  Bar-tailed Godwit busied themselves along the water’s edge and the eerie moaning of Grey Seal and haunting cries of Curlew, carried on the rushing wind, enveloped us in the atmosphere of Holy Island in the early autumn.  By mid-afternoon, the wind had died down and the sea was calming – had the forecasters got it wrong…

Day 1 (Saturday 05/09/15).  04:00 and I wake up to the sound of a strengthening northerly 🙂  Throughout the day, we were close to the sea and could see the amount of swell close to the shore.  Linnets, Goldfinches, Meadow Pipits and Greenfinches were tossed like leaves on the breeze as they ventured from the cover of bushes along the dunes, a stunning male Stonechat looked equally uncomfortable and Lapwing, Redshank, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Dunlin and Black-tailed Godwit were roosting facing into the wind as Grey Herons sat motionless and a Little Egret still radiated elegance as it’s feathers were disarranged by the now rather stiff wind.  Always impressive, a male Marsh Harrier flew by before vanishing over a distant ridge, and the day finished with Wigeon, Teal, Gadwall, Mallard, Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit and 30 Little Grebes.

Day 2 (Sunday 06/09/15).  No breeze, bright warm sunshine 🙂  An extraordinary contrast to the preceding days, and with close views of Cormorant and Eider as they dived in calm water.  The Cormorants spent a lot of time standing with wings spread in heraldic pose, drying them before heading back into the water, always an impressive sight.  Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallard, Teal, Tufted Duck, Little Grebe and Mute Swan were swimming lazily around in the afternoon sunshine and a huge flock of gulls, roosting, bathing and following the plough, exploded into the air like a burst eiderdown as a Common Buzzard drifted over.  Dinner at the excellent Ashianna in Bedlington ended the holiday after three great days with Sandra and Linda 🙂

Our next holiday is Winter Wonderland in early December, so give us a call on 01670 827465 to find out more and to book your place now 🙂

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Autumn passage; Northumberland Coast Bespoke Birdwatching 01/09/2015

by on Sep.03, 2015, under Druridge Bay

The start of the month brought returning clients, David and Mary who were out with us in 2009 and 2012 and who we see at the Bird Fair each August.

Starting at Newbiggin we set out south down the coast and soon found ourselves standing on a track with nine Blackbirds ahead of us, along with Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Goldfinches, Linnets and House SparrowsLittle Grebes slept and dived as young Grey Herons stalked along the water’s edge and demonstrated just how inelegant they are in flight – and especially in landing 🙂  A lunchtime stop overlooking the North Sea produced rafts of Eider, Fulmars arcing effortlessly over the waves and a Harbour Porpoise feeding just offshore as Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Turnstone explored the shoreline.  The afternoon was dominated by waders; Black-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Lapwing, Ruff, Curlew, Common Sandpiper, Dunlin. Greenshank, Oystercatchers arriving for their high-tide roost stunning in beautiful light against a dark brooding sky and Common Snipe demonstrating their exceptional camouflage in amongst clumps of rush.  Stonechats flicked their tails nervously from precarious perches on barbed wire and Goldfinches, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs swarmed in rank vegetation and nearby trees.

See you at the Bird Fair next year 🙂

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Porpoiseful birdwatching; Druridge Bay Safari 06/07/2015

by on Jul.08, 2015, under Druridge Bay

mid-Summer can be a quiet time for birdwatching, but there are some days where everything just falls into place…

I arrived in Seahouses to collect Nigel and Barbara for a day birdwatching further south on the Northumberland coast, and we headed towards Druridge Bay in beautiful hot summer weather.  With a flat calm sea we started with a little while seawatching.  Gannet, Sandwich Tern, Eider and Fulmar were all flying by, but our attention was gripped by at least 6 Harbour Porpoise, including a mother with a very small calf 🙂  Moving on we watched the elegant trio of Little Egret, Avocet and Black-tailed Godwit.  There were at least 22 of the latter, in a mixed roosting flock with Lapwing, Wigeon, Curlew and 9 Mediterranean Gulls of varying age.  More gull interest came in the form of 8 Little Gulls, also with a range of ages.  A Sedge Warbler clambered to the top of the reeds briefly before dropping out of sight and breaking into song, a male Linnet looked garishly pink, male Stonechat and male Reed Bunting vied for the award of ‘most attractive’ and we steadily made our way north.  Male and female Marsh Harriers impressed, as they always do, Great Crested Grebe sailed serenely by and our wader count for the day rose, with Common Sandpiper, Oystercatcher and Redshank.  A quick ID masterclass was helped by Herring, Lesser Black-backed and Great Black-backed Gulls all sitting in a line, surrounded on both sides by Cormorants.

Nigel had mentioned a species that they hadn’t managed to see previously, and as the cold wind cut through the overcast conditions – did I forget to mention the weather had changed 😉 – we went in search of it.  “Curlew…curlew…curlew…stripy mean-looking face with shorter bill”, and there was another ‘lifer’ for Nigel and Barbara – a Whimbrel, and a great way to end the day 🙂

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