Tag: Swallow

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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April showers; Otter Safari 16/04/17

by on Apr.17, 2017, under Druridge Bay

Yesterday’s Otter Safari had an interesting weather forecast; damp during the afternoon, but forecast to be completely clear by 7pm.  Soon after I collected Rachel, Andrew, Gemma and Dave from Church Point, the first part of the forecast was borne out by reality, as we spent the first couple of hours in persistent rain…

Common Redshank, Curlew and Oystercatcher were all calling noisily and alarming, but the only thing we could see that was causing them any distress was themselves.  Despite the rain, the warm conditions had triggered a substantial hatch of insects and Black-headed Gulls, Sand Martins and Swallows were all taking advantage of nature’s bounty.  The clearing weather brought a ten minute spell of nice weather as we had our picnic while watching a Grey Seal and Common Eiders in the surf, and Fulmars soaring on stiff wings along the clifftops.  Grey Herons and Little Egrets were standing motionless as Lapwings displayed overhead with their bizarre calls defying belief and a stunning drake Pintail flew around.

Following Friday’s unsuccessful Otter Safari we’d made a few changes to the plan for Sunday and, as the sun set away to the west in what was absolutely not a cloudless sky, Sand Martins were replaced in the pursuit of flying insects by Noctule and pipistrelle bats, a Long-eared Owl hunted along a woodland edge and…we watched an Otter hunting in the shadow of a reedbed for nearly 45 minutes 🙂

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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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Early Spring; Bespoke Cheviots/Druridge Birdwatching 10/04/17

by on Apr.11, 2017, under Cheviot Valleys, Druridge Bay

I collected Adrian and Ruth from Seahouses for the first of their two days out with us this week; a Cheviots-plus Bespoke tour…

We started at Bamburgh, with Oystercatcher, Redshank and Purple Sandpiper along the edge of the breaking surf, Common Eider, Common Scoter, Red-throated Diver and a lone Puffin surfing the waves just beyond and distant Gannets breaking the horizon above a sea that had been whipped into a mass of whitecaps by a stiff northerly breeze.

Heading inland, it was starting to look cloudier and the forecast deterioration in the weather seemed to be on its way.  You can’t necessarily trust the forecast though, and the spectacular landscape of the Cheviot valleys was bathed in sunlight.  The triumvirate of nervously bobbing riverside dwellers all put in very obliging appearances; Dipper, Grey Wagtail and Common Sandpiper have so much in common, and are always great to watch.  Sand Martins and Swallows, always a sign that things are changing, were hawking insects overhead as a Raven flew by, the eerie cries of Curlew revealed their presence as they displayed high over the valley, Red Grouse chuckled from the surrounding heather, Chiffchaffs were singing their relentlessly onomatopaeic song from every clump of trees and Ruth spotted a stunning male Ring Ouzel hopping around on a fellside that was dripping with Mistle Thrushes and Wheatears.  Lunch was accompanied by 3 Common Buzzards high overhead, tussling and skydiving as partnerships and territories for the breeding season start to take shape.

Continuing along our planned loop for the day brought us to the coast of Druridge Bay and Avocet, Shorelark, Ringed Plover, Kestrel, Sanderling, a raft of at least 9 Red-throated Divers and then, as we headed back to the car at the end of the day, a Short-eared Owl quartering rough fields with deep slow wingbeats 🙂

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Panic; Otter Safari 14/09/16

by on Sep.15, 2016, under Druridge Bay, Otter, Southeast Northumberland

We always try to provide a weather forecast a day or two before a trip; it helps people to decide what footwear would be appropriate for example.  Sunday’s update for everyone booked on yesterday’s Otter Safari was ‘Current weather forecast suggests dry and warm with only a very light NE breeze.’  By yesterday morning that had changed to ‘…likely to be cooler than anticipated, damp/misty and windy…’

I arrived at Church Point to collect Pamela, Conrad and David & Dianne, and we set off for an afternoon and evening searching for Otters around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  A beautiful ghostly pale adult Mediterranean Gull in the car park provided a nice comparison with the Black-headed Gull it was sitting next to and in the heavy mist that was about as far as we could see at the start of the tour.  Another Mediterranean Gull, this time a juvenile moulting into 1st-winter plumage provided an even more educational experience.  Gulls may not be everyone’s cup of tea but they’re great for learning all of the basics of moult and aging 🙂  Cormorant, Little Grebe, Canada and Greylag Geese, Mute Swan, Gadwall, Mallard, Wigeon, Teal, Tufted Duck, Grey Heron and Lapwing were just about everywhere we went,  Ruff demonstrated their obvious sexual dimorphism, Starling murmurations were developing in the misty gloom of mid-afternoon and Little Egrets were delicate, luminous, silently stalking along the water’s edge.  A juvenile Marsh Harrier quartered the edges of nearby fields but was subjected to continuous harrassment from corvids and a late brood of quite well-grown Swallows watched us from their nest. As dusk approached we were overlooking a stretch of water that I had high hopes for.  Suddenly, hitherto unseen on the water in the dark shadows of bankside vegetation, Teal scattered in an almost perfect circle, including some that flew straight into the tree-lined bank and the impenetrable darkness was bisected by the typical line of bright water of the wake of an Otter 🙂  In the deep gloom of dusk, and the softening blanket of mist, it was proving difficult to pin down, and not everyone managed to, and the sequential flushing of Grey Heron along the bank hinted at it’s progress before it eventually surfaced near a group of Mute Swans, diving in a slightly more obliging location for a minute or so before it disappeared into the darkness.

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Passing storms; Druridge Bay 08/09/16

by on Sep.12, 2016, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

As a wildlife guide I’ve become ever so slightly obsessed with the weather, and weather forecasts…

I arrived at Church Point to collect Steve and Christine ahead of a day around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland, and looking inland there seemed to be a lot of low, dense, cloud.  The forecast suggested showers late morning, and a brighter afternoon, so we headed north along the coast with the intention of spending the first hour or so out in the open, before seeking the shelter of the various Druridge Bay hides once the poor weather arrived.  A Kingfisher flew by, whistling, adding a touch of sparkling iridescence to the gloom as the first few raindrops began to add a dimpled pattern to the water’s surface.  Suddenly it was dark, really dark, and the rain intensified as we drove to our next location.  Then the heavens opened while Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Curlew, Cormorant and Grey Heron just got on with whatever they were doing.  House Martins and Swallows strung out in lines along telephone wires must have been seeing the long journey south as an even more attractive prospect 🙂 More Cormorants followed, as did even heavier rainfall, and then the weather started to break – passing through an extraordinary transition where we had bright sunshine, heavy rain and an incredibly intense rainbow low above the horizon as a juvenile Marsh Harrier quartered the nearby reedbeds.  Lunch time overlooking the North Sea produced a beach with plenty of Ringed Plover scuttling around and then, for  the afternoon, glorious sunshine brought out Painted Lady butterflies and dragonflies that weren’t going to hang around to be identified!  Two more juvenile Marsh Harriers obligingly settled amongst clumps of rush before one of them engaged in a fruitless pursuit of an adult Moorhen, during which it flushed lots of Common Snipe.  Our final juvenile Marsh Harrier delivered probably the most impressive spectacle of the day as it disturbed Lapwing and Curlew, forming a dense nervous cloud of birds as it passed by, and at least 17 Little Egrets.  We finished the day with a walk through some mixed woodland in vastly improved weather, although the trees were now bending in the rapidly strengthening breeze.

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Monochrome; Otter Safari 02/08/16

by on Aug.05, 2016, under Druridge Bay

I collected Julie and Andrew and headed down the coast for an afternoon and evening searching for Otters around Druridge Bay and Southeast Northumberland…

A tree filled with roosting Little Egrets, Grey Herons and Cormorants was an odd sight, as more Cormorants did their very best Otter impersonations up and down the river.  Oystercatcher, Redshank and Curlew probed the muddy margins as Sand Martins, House Martins and Swallows filled the air overhead.  As we approach dusk it’s always an exciting time on our tours; things start stirring, birds arrive to roost and you never know just what’s going to appear out of the gloom.  Thick cloud cover and mist reduced the scene to monochrome as Starlings murmurated nearby, Common Gulls flew through in tight flocks on their way to roost and Great Crested Grebe chicks hitched a ride on their parent’s backs as the rain started to fall.  Canada and Greylag Geese erupted from the water’s surface with a cacophony of noise and a female Marsh Harrier drifted over the reeds in near darkness.  Fade to black…

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Batty; Otter mini-Safari 28/07/16

by on Aug.02, 2016, under Uncategorized

We’ve always said that NEWT has something for everyone, and occasionally we have very young participants…

I met up with Kay, Spencer and Kai, and shortly after Matthew, Harriet and Florence (15 months old!) arrived and we set off along the coast for a few hours searching for Otters around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  Herds of Mute Swan, Great Crested Grebes swimming serenely with their stripy-faced chicks, Grey Herons engaging in disputes over the best fishing spots and clouds of Sand Martins and Swallows feasting on the bounteous harvest of flying insects in the warm, muggy evening air made the time seem to fly by and we found ourselves at dusk watching a stretch of river.  Mallards flushed from the area of the riverbank where we’ve been seeing Otters, although the cause of the panic didn’t reveal itself, as Daubenton’s Bats flitted low over the water below and we listened to their echolocation on our bat detector.

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Summer…; Otter Safari 25/07/16

by on Jul.28, 2016, under Druridge Bay, Otter

July is a month when most of my time is spent at sea, either carrying out transect surveys or leading pelagic trips, so an afternoon and evening looking for Otters brings some welcome variation…

I collected Susan and Mike from Seaton Burn and then Frank, Gabrielle, Boudewijn and Odette from The Swan before heading to the coast.  Boudewijn’s sharp eyes picked out tiny insects as we made our way along footpaths with dense vegetation alongside as Swallows and House Martins swooped low over the fields, picking off flying insects that had strayed just a bit too far from safety.  Adult Swallows were feeding young in a nest just a few feet away from us and, out on the water, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Gadwall, Wigeon and Pochard were all decked out in the shabby chic of late summer and a Grey Heron caused alarm as it flew in, scattering Lapwings and Black-headed Gulls from the edge of the pool.  Cormorants dived, doing their best Otter impressions, Common Sandpipers bobbed nervously on the riverbank, a well-grown brood of Goosander were remarkably well camouflaged amongst piles of rocks and Little Egrets were stalking tiny fish in the shallows.  As the wind started to pick up and the first few drops of rain began to fall, Swifts scythed their way through clouds of insects overhead.  Whimbrel was a nice addition to the wader list for the day along with Curlew and Redshank which are much more expected.  Common and Sandwich Terns called as they flew by and Eider were rafting on a flat sea as we had our picnic.  Our final site for the day was where I was confident we’d find an OtterStarlings were murmurating, Reed Buntings and Meadow Pipits flicked through the vegetation just ahead of us, a roe Deer emerged from behind a reedbed to take a drink at the water’s edge…and then the sky turned dark rather quickly and the rain started hammering down 🙁 That did produce one entertaining moment though, as a rather large Great Crested Grebe chick took shelter on its parent’s back just before we admitted defeat to the weather.

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Trying; Otter Safari 02/07/16

by on Jul.05, 2016, under Druridge Bay

Collecting Rhiannon and Phil from Alnwick, we headed to the coast for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland…

Cormorants were doing their best Otter impersonations as the breeze strengthened and the first rain shower of the afternoon caught us out on the river bank.  Tufted Duck, Mallard and Teal were all looking relaxed so we were confident there wasn’t an Otter around.  Little Grebes featured throughout the trip, bobbing to the surface before diving again in search of small fish, and a Little Egret put in a brief appearance before dropping behind a clump of rush.  Swallows sitting on nests were remarkably tolerant of us and, as dusk approached, a Roe Deer was feeding quietly in the open beside the water.  Greylag Geese suddenly stretched their necks up, staring at the water as flocks of Starlings swirled overhead in a pre-roost gathering.  Tufted Duck and Mallard joined the worried staring and one area of the pool was bereft of birds.  That’s always a good sign, but this time the cause of the birds’ consternation didn’t reveal itself; presumably staying tucked away in the relative warmth and comfort of the reedbeds as a breeze that would be more fitting for mid-winter than mid-summer whipped the water into a choppy mess.

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try…

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