Tag: Swift

May magic; Otter Safari 09/05/17

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

After a week away from home, leading a wildlife photography holiday for another company, I was looking forward to getting back to all things NEWT and as I collected Mike and Barbara from Low Newton, ahead of an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay searching for Otters, I was thinking that the afternoon sunshine was maybe just a bit too bright and hot but that the evening could be good…

Whitethroats, Sedge Warblers and Blackcaps were all singing, and occasionally affording brief glimpses, and a male Bullfinch was equally stunning in the few seconds that he perched at the top of a small tree.  Little Egrets and Grey Herons were hunting in the shallows, Shelduck, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Shoveler, Teal and Gadwall were all feeding and a Lesser Whitethroat was a nice addition to the trip list.  Lapwing were displaying and Avocets were sitting on nests and occasionally getting up to rearrange their precious contents as the Sun headed westwards.

Then the waders took centre stage; a male Ruff, coming into his breeding finery, Black-tailed Godwits (and single Bar-tailed), noisy Curlew and a Whimbrel flew right overhead uttering it’s distinctive call as Lapwings were tumbling and calling and at least 20 Common Snipe took flight.  Male Stonechat, male Reed Bunting and dapper Tree Sparrows, all excellent attractive birds, still paled when compared to at least 7 Yellow Wagtails, including an exquisitely beautiful Channel Wagtail (perhaps should be known as Chanel Wagtail!), which were in a feeding flock with both Pied and White Wagtails.  A real bonus bird came in the form of a Long-eared Owl, hunting masterfully in and around the bushes it passed by just 20m in front of us at one point! A male Marsh Harrier was another great bird for the trip and he engaged in an overly optimistic attempt to chase and catch a Black-headed Gull in flight 😉

As the Sun dropped lower the light was simply sublime and we settled into position at our final site for the evening.  Canada and Greylag Geese were incubating, a Grey Heron took a Mallard duckling and swallowed it whole right in front of us as the agitated parents called in vain before returning to protect their one remaining offspring.  A small group of Black-headed Gulls caught my attention, circling persistently as Swallows, Sand Martins, House Martins and Swifts swirled around and feasted on the bounteous hatch of flying insects that the warm weather had brought.  There, directly beneath the gulls was an Otter 🙂  We watched it’s progress along the shadowy water near the reeds and a couple of times it got out and bounded along the bankside.  A second Otter was also given away by the bright trail of its wake, as the swifts and hirundines were replaced by the insectivorous night shift of Pipistrelle and Noctule Bats, and by the time we headed back to the car the Moon and Jupiter were both shining brightly in the darkening sky.  Through the ‘scope the quality of seeing was extraordinary; without any atmospheric turbulence Jupiter was a perfect disc, the Galilean moons were pinpoints of light surrounding it and the craters of the Moon were impressive at 60x magnification.

Wonderful wagtails, stunning waders, Otters and astronomy; that’s a lot of quality packed into one afternoon and evening 🙂

Druridge Bay and Otter Safaris are available all year round, so have a look at our calendar for available dates and get in touch to see what we can do for you.  If there isn’t date that’s good for you, still get in touch – we’re always happy to add additional trips to our calendar!

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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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Never trust a weather forecast; Farne Islands Safari 15/06/16

by on Jun.16, 2016, under Farne Islands

With a Farne Islands Safari on Wedneday, I’d been keeping an even closer eye than usual on the weather forecast and particularly the forecast sea state and swell height.  1m waves, strong NE winds and heavy rain wasn’t the most promising of forecasts…

I collected Paul and Rose from the Dunstanburgh Castle Hotel and we headed north of Seahouses for a few hours birdwatching before our sailing across to the Farnes.   A singing Reed Bunting was eventually located, and finally came out obligingly into the open, as Meadow Pipits displayed overhead and Sand Martins hawked back and forth low over the water.  Gulls aren’t everybody’s cup of tea, but Black-headed, Common, Lesser Black-backed and Herring all lined up obligingly next to each other for a mini-ID masterclass.  A Shoveler escorted her ten ducklings across the pool as Coots fed young, Moorhens crept around in bankside rushes, Lapwing roosted in nearby fields and a Skylark, just a tiny dark speck against the clouds overhead, sounded inconceivably loud at the height it had reached.

Sitting and eating lunch overlooking the islands, the one thing that was really obvious was that the sea was calm, it wasn’t really windy and it wasn’t raining – so much for those forecasts then 🙂  We boarded Glad Tidings VII and headed towards the inner group of islands.  Puffins, Guillemots and Razorbills were all heading back to their nests with food, Grey Seals were lazing around on the rocks and the sound, and smell, of the islands intensified.  The onomatopaeic calls of Kittiwake echoed off the cliffs and a leucistic Guillemot caught my eye as it sat on the rocks amongst all of it’s regular-coloured relatives.

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Once we landed on Inner Farne, the Puffins took centre stage.  We watched as they headed back towards their burrows, only to be harried by Black-headed Gulls.  One Puffin dropped it’s load of small fish right next to us, it’s wingbeats whirring audibly just over our heads as it tried to evade it’s pursuers.  Large, ungainly, and very, very fluffy Shag chicks had grown to big to be contained in their nests and the grumpy moaning of the assembled auks added to the wall of sound.  Sandwich, Common and Arctic Terns were all tending eggs or chicks, with the Arctic Terns being as feisty as ever, and a couple of them taking a particular dislike to Rose’s hat!  As we walked back down the jetty to sail back to the mainland, Rose’s sharp eyes spotted one of those birds that are so cryptic in some habitats as a Ringed Plover dashed around between pebbles and rocks on the shore line.

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“I’ll believe Otters exist…”; Otter Safari 26/05/16

by on Jun.01, 2016, under Druridge Bay, Otter, Southeast Northumberland

“…when I actually see one”.  A remarkable number of NEWT’s clients seem to have had holidays on Mull/Shetland/Orkney/Skye searching for Otters (often on guided tours) without seeing one, and that revelation at the start of a tour always ramps the pressure up a bit…

I arrived at Church Point in heavy mist and drizzle, and quickly met up with Sarah and Charlotte, Keith and Maggie, and Stephanie, and we set off for an afternoon and evening searching for Otters around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  I juggled the sites we were visiting, to take account of the weather, but I knew where I thought we should be towards dusk.  In the misty, drizzly gloom a Little Egret looked luminous.  With warm, humid conditions the air was alive with the sussurating buzz of recently emerged insects.  Black-headed and Little Gulls, and swarms of Swifts, were rampaging through the dense clouds of flies as a Pheasant sat motionless in the grass on the water’s edge.  Gadwall, Goosander, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Canada Goose and Greylag Goose were all lazing on the water and Common Terns harried a Moorhen that had ventured just that little bit too close to their nest.  Grey Herons flew around calling and a dispute over a prime feeding spot broke out between two of these huge birds.

We arrived at what I’d planned as our final location for the evening and I suggested that one particular part of the pool would be worth keeping a close eye on.  Was that a dark shape beneath the gulls?  I lifted my binoculars and scanned, then decided my eyes must have been playing tricks on me.  As I set the ‘scope up, there was an “erm…” from Charlotte, who was looking at the same spot…and there was an Otter 🙂  We watched it for over an hour as it made it’s way around the pool, feeding almost constantly and creating an interesting wildfowl exclusion zone!  Here’s an Otter from last year, showing it’s fearsome dentition 🙂

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Eventually it vanished into the impenetrable depths of a reedbed and we headed back towards Newbiggin, encountering a Little Owl perched on a telegraph pole at the roadside 🙂

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Small things; Druridge Bay 24/05/16

by on May.26, 2016, under Druridge Bay

Waders are often spectacular, seabirds are enigmatic and raptors are, well, raptors, but sometimes the smaller birds deserve a lot more attention…

I collected Stephen from North Shields for his 7th day trip with NEWT and we headed north to Druridge Bay.  Days out with Stephen are always enjoyableStarting in bright sunshine under blue skies, it soon clouded over, then cleared, then clouded again.  Wigeon, Shoveler, Mallard, Tufted Duck and Gadwall all looked in excellent condition, and a Whimbrel was good to see.  Great Crested Grebes had their feathers ruffled by a stiffening breeze as Swallows, Swifts, House Martins and Sand Martins were all feeding only a metre or so above the water.  Tree Sparrows are always very smart looking birds and a male Yellowhammer provided an extraordinary touch of brilliant colour as the northerly wind brought the first spots of rain.  As we sat eating lunch on the clifftop at Cresswell, Fulmars were gliding effortlessly by and a Rock Pipit appeared, carrying food back to it’s nest as the scratchy warble of a Whitethroat carried on the breeze.  The rhythmic ranting of Reed Warbler and scattergun song of Sedge Warbler emanated from deep in the reeds and a Reed Warbler obligingly shuffled to the reed tops close to a singing male Reed Bunting.

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As we headed back to the car Swifts were racing by at head height and the wind seemed to be strengthening…

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Sounds of Spring; Druridge Bay Bespoke Safari 21/05/16

by on May.24, 2016, under Druridge Bay

Ever improving weather tends to make days out with clients slightly more relaxed than those days where we’re contending with the elements – although I personally prefer the more challenging days 😉

I collected Julie and Mike from The Plough Inn, not much more than a stone’s throw from the sea, and we set out for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  The reedbeds were resonating with the song of Sedge Warbler and Reed Bunting as Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler were singing from the trees that had grown above the height of the hedgerows, Great Crested Grebes crossed the water with elegant grace and Mute Swan, Greylag Goose and Canada Goose kept a watchful eye on their fluffy babies.  A hatch of flying insects had attracted the attention of Swallow, Sand Martin, House Martin and Swift as well as an impressive flock of Black-headed Gulls and at least six 1stSummer Little Gulls.  The eerie cries of Curlew carried on the southerly breeze and Lapwing displayed so close that we could hear their wingbeats as well as the nuances of their remarkable calls.  Just as remarkable, if not more so, was a Common Snipe ‘drumming’ impressively as it flew back and forth right in front of us while we were dazzled by a shockingly bright Yellow Wagtail.

With the sun appearing beneath the dark grey cloud layer as it neared the horizon, the landscape was suddenly bathed in extraordinary light.  Intense greens and yellows contrasted with the subtle hues of areas still in shadow as a Barn Owl ghosted by on silent wings, a Grey Wagtail was flycatching from midstream rocks, a Grey Heron stalked the shallows and Mallard and Goosander swam downstream, carried on the rushing bubbling flow where insects trapped in the surface layer fell prey to hungry fish lunging clear of the water and briefly inhabitating an alien world before splashing back down into the watery darkness.

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Transition; Otter Safari 14/05/16

by on May.19, 2016, under Druridge Bay

I’ve been wondering why it is that I prefer wildlife-watching in an evening rather than at daybreak, and I think I may have an idea…

I collected James, Ruth, Stuart, Jane, Alex and Lawrence from Church Point and we set out for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  Against a chilly breeze, Cormorants were drying their wings and flying out to sea, Sedge Warblers were belting out their song from hidden positions in the reeds, Chiffchaff sang their name incessantly, Reed Buntings perched obligingly in view, Great Crested Grebe were diving, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Gadwall and Teal were dabbling and Greylag Geese were shepherding their goslings along, looking alert as well they might when they’re at a site that’s produced regular sightings of Otter recently.  Shelduck and Oystercatcher flew by and, as afternoon progressed into evening, we headed off to one of NEWT’s favourite spots.

With the breeze subsiding it was turning into a sublime evening.  A Dipper flew along just above the water, Moorhen were nervously tail-flicking as they stalked through the bankside vegetation, a drake Goosander drifted downstream, shortly before a pair of these big impressive sawbills flew by, a Grey Heron was unusually confiding, Swallow, Sand Martin and Swift hawked the insects that had managed to escape the gaping jaws of the fish that were rippling and leaping from the water, Rabbits were sitting on the bare earth at the edge of a field, close to the safe haven of the hedgerow, Brown Hares were running through crops that they were almost completely hidden by, occasionally pausing and sitting upright with just their ears and the top of the head visible, and then a harsh barking alerted us to the presence of a Roe Deer in long grass nearby.

The transition from our daytime world to the twilight world of some incredible wildlife is what makes it such a special time of the day 🙂

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Spring arrivals; Druridge Bay Safari 30/04/2015

by on May.05, 2015, under Druridge Bay

It’s been a cold windy spring, and a few of our summer visitors seemed a bit tardy; we found our first Sand Martin and Chiffchaff later than we would have expected, but the day has been coming when things would start to happen…

I collected Jan and Peter from Church Point and we set out to spend the day exploring Druridge Bay.  It was, unsurprisingly, cold and very windy again but that didn’t impact on our day birdwatching.  Skylarks soared and sang, Marsh Harriers drifted over reedbeds and fields close to the coast and an impressive range of waders performed obligingly; Oystercatcher, Curlew, Ringed Plover, Avocet, Turnstone, Dunlin, Sanderling and Black-tailed Godwit – the latter three species resplendent in breeding plumage – demonstrated why this is such a popular group of species with birdwatchers.  The godwit in particular stood out; clothed in chestnut and a vision of elegance to rival the Little Egret that was stalking along the water’s edge nearby.  Moorhen and Coot crept furtively along the edge of reedbeds, Stonechat and Meadow Pipit flicked their tails nervously at the tops of bushes in the dunes and an eye-catching fly-catching adult Little Gull was easily picked out from amongst Black-headed Gulls.  Seawatching over lunchtime is a regular feature of our Druridge Bay trips and Eider, Gannet, Manx Shearwater and Common Guillemot could all be seen offshore as Fulmars soared and arced along the clifftops a few metres way from us. Wheatears and a Whinchat flitted from tussock to tussock, strikingly beautiful as they always are at this time of the year, and then a sign that the summer is nearly here; hundreds of Sand Martins were flycatching above every pool on the coast as a group of six House Martins flew in, battling against the strengthening breeze with the imperative to head north driving them on.  Then, a Swift, and another, then six more.  Eight of these scythe-winged masters of the air flew by us, rocking from side-to-side into the wind as they headed to join the feast above the water.

I love those days when we concentrate on looking for a single species, but a day birdwatching with clients and just enjoying, and marvelling, at everything that comes along is pretty much as good as it gets for a birdwatching guide 🙂 As Jan and Peter headed across to Bellingham, and I took the shorter journey back to the office, I was wondering if perhaps the summer weather was on the way…

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Watching; Bespoke Safari 25/04/2014

by on May.28, 2014, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

The first part of the Bank Holiday weekend was a washout, with our scheduled Dark Skies event, for a Hen Party in Kielder, falling victim to the weather 🙁 Sunday was a bespoke wildlife Safari for Claire and Sophie and, as I collected them from home in Gosforth, things were looking a bit more promising.  Away inland we could see a lot of general murkiness, so we headed for the Northumberland coast – planning to drop down to Druridge Bay as the afternoon progressed.

Glorious, yet chillingly breezy weather was waiting for us at Bamburgh and we watched Eider and Common Scoter as they bobbed about in the swell.  We checked the wake of very passing boat for any sign of Bottlenose Dolphinsand continued south down the coast.  Willow Warblers, Sedge Warblers, Reed Buntings andWhitethroats were singing all around and Little Grebes were diving for prey before bobbing back to the water’s surface.  Our picnic stop featured Fulmars arcing just above the clifftops a few metres away from us and a viewpoint over the River Wansbeck revealed lots and lots of ducklings; Gadwall, Mallard, Shelduck all had broods of between eight and eleven – although this prime source of Otter food didn’t seem to have attracted the attention of any Otters.  A Roe Deer on the far bank appeared than quickly vanished again as it made it’s way through the bushes, and Swifts, Swallows, House Martins andSand Martins feasted on the buzzing clouds of insects overhead.  As daylight faded we arrived at one site to find a Mallard and a Grey Heron both staring intently into a hole that we’ve long suspected of being an Otter holt.  More Mallards, and the three of us, joined the staring contest but the adversary that eventually flushed the heron, and had the Mallards waddling away at a rate of knots, remained unseen as bats began flitting past our ears.

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Seabird Spectacular 10-13 June 2013; birdwatching on the Northumberland coast

by on Jun.13, 2013, under Birdwatching, Coquet Island, Druridge Bay, Farne Islands, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

Arriving at The Swan on Monday evening I met up with Ronnie and Liz at the start of our Seabird Spectacular holiday.  Of all of our holidays, this is the one that concentrates on the really outstanding wildlife available on the Northumberland coast in the summer.

Tuesday started out very nice, although cloud cover was increasing and, by lunchtime, eventually it was overcast, misty and spotting with rain.  We’d spent the morning around Druridge Bay, with one of the highlights being a very obliging male Reed Bunting who sat just a few metres away from us and sang for over 20 minutes, Wall and Green-veined White Butterflies flitted across the tracks ahead of us, Sedge and Reed Warblers played hide-and-seek in the edge of the reeds and a male Marsh Harrier quartered a reedbed, giving prolonged views at relatively close range.  As we ate lunch, overlooking the North Sea, watching Eiders, Guillemots, Kittiwakes, Fulmars and Gannets, the southeasterly breeze was starting to build a noticeable swell…

The inevitable happened and our planned sailing around Coquet Island was cancelled on safety grounds, so we continued around Druridge Bay.  Sandwich Terns and a Grey Seal were near the weir between Amble and Warkworth and we ended up watching five Otters as they munched their way through a feast of Eels 🙂 A Great Northern Diver flew south between Coquet Island and the mainland and we could see clouds of Puffins and a few ghostly white Roseate Terns from our clifftop vantage point.  Swifts were around in good numbers – a scythe-winged menace to flying insects – and at the end of the day we returned to The Swan and were joined for dinner by Sarah.

After Tuesday’s cancelled boat trip it was a relief to see that the wind had died down by Wednesday morning, and our all-day birdwatching trip to the Farne Islands went ahead as planned.  There were lines of Puffins, Guillemots and Razorbills streaming back towards the islands, Gannets were effortlessly heading either to or from the Bass Rock, and the sights, sounds and smells of the seabird colony were just a few minutes away when we came across two Harbour Porpoises. Cormorants and Shags perched sentinel-like  on the Scarcar rocks and landing on Staple Island we watched Guillemots, Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Puffins, Razorbills, Shags and Rock Pipits at close range before having our picnic lunch in superb weather conditions on this magical rock just a few miles offshore from the Northumberland coast.  Transferring across to Inner Farne at 13:00, via a brief detour to look at the Grey Seals lazing in the sunshine, we were greeted by Head Ranger David Steel and then enjoyed the very different experience of running the gauntlet of a succession of angry Arctic TernsCommon and Sandwich Terns were around too, and we watched Puffins skilfully avoiding the attention of Black-headed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls.  A pair of Rock Pipits nesting beneath the boardwalk were carrying beakfuls of food and I had a Farnes ‘tick’ in the shape of a Swift soaring over the lighthouse buildings.  We tried to find a Roseate Tern in amongst the roost by the Inner Farne jetty, but without success.  Back to The Swan for tea, reflection on a successful day and my Plan B…

Today was planned to be a one-day extension to the holiday, visiting the North Pennines, but we’ve moved that to tomorrow and the ladies have an extra afternoon out with me, to take the boat trip around Coquet Island 🙂

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