Tag: Tawny Owl

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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The sharp eyes of youth; Otter Safari 11/08/16

by on Aug.16, 2016, under Druridge Bay, Northumberland Coast

We’ve always said that the best thing for spotting wildife is other wildlife, although the sharp eyes of younger humans could probably give them a run for their money…

I collected Gill from Alnwick, for her third trip with NEWT, and we headed to Bamburgh to collect Debbie, Roger, Joe and Ben.  Our plan for the afternoon and evening was to search Druridge Bay and the Northumberland coast  for Otters and other wildlife.  Oystercatcher, Lapwing and Curlew quickly became the target for some digiscoping by Joe as five Little Egrets sat on the riverbank opposite and a brood of Goosander formed a menacing fleet crossing the river.  Digibinning (yes, that is a real thing!) was then employed to capture images of a Great Crested Grebe and well-grown chick while the light was still reasonable, and we headed to our favourite dusk site.  A Grey Heron stalked the shallows, catching lots of small fish and other unidentified prey, becoming another digibinning target, Mute Swans stalked serenely across the water, a Sedge Warbler flitted around in the reeds just in front of us and then Little Grebe, Mallard, Teal, Gadwall and Tufted Duck all fanned out from one reedbed giving the distinct impression that they’d rather be somewhere other than close to those reeds.  Starlings flushed from their nighttime roost as a Grey Heron flew over and, as dusk began to take on a dark grey cloak, two young Tawny Owls flew out from a bush nearby, a Hedgehog trotted along in front of us and Noctule and pipistrelle bats could be seen and, with the aid of our bat detector, heard.  The walk back to the car brought lots of wildlife and the benefit of Joe and Ben’s keen eyesight allowed us to avoid treading on slugs, snails, spiders and an incredible number of toadlets and froglets 🙂

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Batty; Cheviot valleys/Druridge Bay Bespoke Tour 08/06/2015

by on Jun.10, 2015, under Cheviot Valleys, Druridge Bay

Looking back through previous blog posts I was reminded that we’ve done a few days combining the best of the hills and the best of the coast, and I headed towards Old Bewick to collect Helen for an afternoon and evening exploring the Cheviot Valleys and Druridge Bay.

As a Common Buzzard soared over the steep valley sides, Curlews launched from the heather, calling in alarm.  Dippers bobbed on mid stream rocks, a Nuthatch with young was busying itself along tree trunks and branches, Whinchats flicked nervously through the bracken, the air was split by the explosive trilling song of Lesser Redpoll and Spotted Flycatchers perched upright on fence posts before sallying forth after flies.

Down on the coast we enjoyed the sight of Avocets mating, two Spoonbills feeding with their heads sweeping from side to side and bills submerged, a female Marsh Harrier causing alarm as it flew over the edge of a pond and Swallows singing and bringing feathers to line their nests.  Dusk brought a remarkable wildlife spectacle, with 30-40 bats hunting in front of us.  The bat detector revealed an astonishing wall of sound as Common Pipistrelle and Noctule swooped, tumbled and hunted insects…right above an Otter that was stalking Tufted Ducks 🙂

The journey back to Old Bewick produced Barn Owl, and a Tawny Owl in the middle of the road sitting on a baby Rabbit!  Then it was time for me to head back towards southeast Northumberland…and Northumberland’s country lanes produced a late night plethora of wildlife; Red Fox, Brown Hare, Roe Deer, Barn Owl, another Tawny Owl sitting on a baby Rabbit, and three Badger cubs trotting alongside the edge of the road 🙂

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Breathtaking; Bespoke Druridge Bay safari 05/08/2014

by on Aug.07, 2014, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland

I know I may go on a bit about how wonderful Northumberland is but, even after more than 20 years living here, there are days when even I find it hard to believe just how good it can be…

I collected Colin and Hazel from the hills above Budle Bay and we headed south along the coast for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay.  Colin was keen to improve his handling of his new dSLR, and they were also quite keen on searching for Otters.  The afternoon started with some top quality birdwatching; Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit, Scaup, Common Snipe and Dunlin are all nice, but the standout bird was the Stilt Sandpiper that has been enjoying a tour of Cresswell and Druridge Pools over the last week.  Arriving at our picnic spot just south of Cresswell, I mentioned that, with such good visibility and relatively calm seas, whales and dolphins are always a possibility, perhaps tempting fate to deal us a poor hand… A few minutes later I was scanning the sea out towards the horizon when I saw a splash.  I raised my binoculars, to check that it wasn’t a distant boat, and there was another splash, and another, and another, then four together 🙂  As the synchronous breaching continued I trained the ‘scope on the area where the dolphins were, and was surprised to see that they were Bottlenose Dolphins.  In early August, the default dolphin for the Druridge Bay coast is White-beaked Dolphin, and that’s the species we’ve been finding on our recent pelagic trips, but this has been an extraordinary year so I shouldn’t be too surprised to have found myself showing Bottlenose Dolphins to our clients too 🙂

The evening continued with some very obliging birds in front of Colin’s camera; Common Snipe, Dunlin, Linnet, a flock of Starlings taking a bath and an assortment of wagtails then, as light levels began to fall, we switched our attention to the patient waiting game of looking for Otters,as flock after flock of Starlings flew towards their evening roost.  Soon, we were watching the sleek, sinuous shape of an Otter as it hunted and fed.  It passed out of sight for a few minutes, only to reappear and surface just in front of a second Otter!  A third one was slightly further way from us and eventually we watched as one of them came straight towards us before disappearing behind the reeds.

The day isn’t over ’til it’s over though, and Northumberland’s wildlife provided one last moment of magic as a Tawny Owl was perched on the road sign outside Colin and Hazel’s holiday let at The Ducket 🙂

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Putting the bite on; Bespoke safari 20/06/2014

by on Jun.25, 2014, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

Some wildlife is popular with everyone, some isn’t popular with many people at all, and some, despite the best efforts of Springwatch/Autumnwatch/Winterwatch…

I met up with Niel and Nicky at Church Point, and we set out on an exploration of Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  Despite several incidents involving agitated ducks, indicating that they were worried about something in the reeds, we didn’t manage a sighting of any Otters.  The typical quality birdwatching of the Northumberland coast in late June was still in evidence, with at least 5 Avocets and 11 Little Gulls among the throng.  A tiny Tufted Duck travelled back and forth across the water, in what appeared to be an unsuccessful search for it’s parents then, as the sun dropped towards the horizon, we headed to our regular Badger site.

Intriguingly, no Badgers appeared – which is unusual at a site where we have a 95% success rate – but, as at least three Tawny Owls began penetrating the gloom with their eerie calls, the sharp alarms of Blackbird, Robin and Song Thrush heralded the arrival of another mammal that inhabits the darker parts of the day.  Bloodthirsty killer of farmyard chickens, attempted abductor of babes from cribs in the south of England…whichever way you look at it the Red Fox gets a bad press…which sadly glosses over just what wonderful animals they are.  Sleek, beautiful, playful…we watched as three adults trotted across the clearing in front of us.  As Niel photographed one peering from the undergrowth (oh, for a Nikon D4!), I lifted my binoculars and realised that there were three small cubs chasing around too 🙂  Two of the adults, and the three cubs, disappeared along a track up the hill, and then the adults came out into the clearing again, presumably having tucked the kids up safely in bed.  Pipistrelle bats were flitting across our field of view as we conceded that our vision could no longer penetrate the enveloping dark.

Love them or hate them, there’s no denying that foxes have a real magic…a bit like Luis Suarez 🙂

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Damp, dark woodland; Badger safari 17/05/2014

by on May.23, 2014, under Badger, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

During Thursday’s Otter Safari, we were chatting about the different mammals that can be encountered in Northumberland and Albert asked whether we had many Badgers in Northumberland.  I described their distribution, and how we go about finding and watching them, and before the evening was finished we’d arranged a Badger mini-safari for Saturday.

On my way to collect Albert and Elisabeth I was listening to commentary on the FA Cup final and suffered the heartbreak of Aaron Ramsey’s extra time winner for Arsenal (there’s a big cat, not found in Northumberland, that’s very close to my heart!).  We made our way to our regular Badger site, and settled into position.  Song Thrushes, Blackbirds, Robins andWrens were all calling as daylight faded, and then the Tawny Owls started hooting and ‘ke-wick’ ing.  At one point there were at least three owls calling, including one close to our spot, and one perched tantalisingly hidden in the canopy high overhead.  As on so many of our Badger trips, the first mammals to appear were Red Foxes – with an adult and two cubs running about on the hillside opposite us, occasionally pausing to stare across the valley with gloom-piercing eyes.  One Badger appeared as well; probably the largest that I’ve ever seen, running along the same track that the foxes had been on, before making it’s way along a trail through the vegetation and into the gloom.

Sitting with clients who have a real appreciation of mammals, on a damp woodland floor, as daylight fades and the world becomes one of owls, foxes, badgers and inexplicable noises, is one of my favourite things…and for a few hours it even took my mind off ‘that’ goal 🙂

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Drumming and lekking; North Pennines 05/04/2014

by on Apr.21, 2014, under Birdwatching, Natural History, North Pennines, Northumberland, Photography

A pre-dawn start heralded a long anticipated day out with Sam and Brian, part of Sam’s prize from last years Natural History Society of Northumbria Photography competition.  Sam is part of a generation of young photographer/naturalists in Northumberland, and it was a pleasure to have a day discussing photography, wildlife and ethics with himself and Brian.

As we headed west, the first tendrils of daylight began creeping over the eastern horizon in the rear view mirror and a Tawny Owl perched on a fence post and another flew over as we stopped to have a look at it. The plan for the day was to visit the Black Grouse lek at Langdon Beck first, and then begin slowly exploring back through the North Pennines into Allendale.  I’ve had some stunning days with clients in the North Pennines, including a remarkable grouse and raptor day, but this one was breathtaking.  Visually, Black Grouse are spectacular, and the strutting and posturing of a group of lekking blackcock is one of those wildlife experiences that everyone should experience at least once, but the sound when you’ve got 30+ of these birds all kicking off at the same time is indescribable.

As the lek disassembled, we prowled the moors in search of subjects for Sam’s and Brian’s cameras.  Common Snipe and Lapwing were very close to the road, and when Sam mentioned that he’d always wanted to get close shots of Common Snipe, I thought I knew just the place.  Sure enough, the sky was filled with Snipe drumming, and several of them were taking a break, obligingly perched on fence posts 🙂  Throughout the day we encountered lots of those birds that are common on the coast in winter, but much more thinly spread on the moors in the Spring; Oystercatcher, Redshank, Golden Plover, Curlew.  An unexpected addtion to my Cow Green list presented itself in the form of a flock of 22 Whooper Swans.  That moorland speciality, Red Grouse, was seen in good numbers offering photogenic views in mist, rain, sunshine and everything else the elements could muster.  A heart-stopping moment at the end of the day produced an all too fleeting glimpse of the striking black-and white tail of what could only be a Rough-legged Buzzard, which sadly drifted behind nearby trees without lingering long enough to be captured on camera.

Now, all I’ve got to do is work out how to get the bubbling cooing sounds of the lek out of my head 😉

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Home from home

by on Jan.16, 2014, under Birdwatching, Choppington Woods, Northumberland

During our quieter times of the year, I spend much of each day dealing with NEWT’s admin stuff.  I try to get out and enjoy some fresh air every day though…

It’s mid-January and it really should be cold; frozen ground, a dusting of snow, hoar frost on leaves and branches.  Instead, there’s a distinct air of early Autumn as I head out of the house and along the track to Choppington Woods.  The cold damp air coats everything in a thin layer of moisture, including me.  I soon give up using my binoculars as no sooner do I dry them than they’re fogged up again.  Instead, I rely on my hearing.  The thin high calls of Goldcrests emanate from the depths of the coniferous parts of the wood while the short sharp notes of Blackbirds surround me as they head to roost.  Then, from a hidden perch near the edge of one plantation, one of my favourite bird sounds lifts the gloom.  The tremulous hooting of a Tawny Owl, a sound that I’ll never tire of hearing.  We have at least two birds singing in the wee hours of the morning currently, both audible from our bedroom, and if they wake me up with their territorial caterwauling I’m not too bothered; I just lie there and listen to them, marveling at the rich complexity.  The bird on the plantation edge proves a master of disguise until, in response to a series of quavering hoots lower down the hill, it begins to move through the trees.  I follow it’s progress until it vanishes into the gloom and darkness of the canopy and I continue my walk.  Lost in my thoughts as daylight fades and everything begins to blur into the monochrome  realm of the owls, my reverie is disturbed as a Common Buzzard flaps laboriously over a plantation of Silver Birch. Like Cinderella, the buzzard is out and about perilously late, struggling to get home on time.

Now it’s near dark, and I’ve still got the final plantation to negotiate before I’m back home.  Some footpaths are good, some footpaths are bad…and some seem to gather water like a sponge.  As the clarty ground clings to my boots, trying to bind me to the earth, a Red Fox trots by, delivering what can only be a look of contempt at my ungainly struggle 🙂

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Black Grouse Bonanza Day 1; Nothing to grouse about

by on Apr.22, 2013, under Birdwatching, North Pennines, Northumberland

As I drove to Peth Head Cottage on Thursday afternoon, the rain was hammering against the car windscreen.  Friday’s forecast was good though so, after a meal at The Travellers Rest in Slaley, I reminded Derek and Deirdre that we would have an early start the next morning.

19/04/2013 05:00…the incessant ringing of the alarm pierced the depths of my sleep and I jumped out of bed, showered and opened my bedroom window.  The dawn chorus, mainly Blackbirds, Robins and Song Thrushes, was deafening, and the last remnants of rain were pattering down as we set off across the moors to a Black Grouse lek.  Roe Deer were watching us from a roadside field and a Tawny Owl flew across in front of us, no doubt heading for a secluded daytime roosting site.  First lek site, no birds, second lek site two Greyhens and a distant altercation between two Blackcock along a drystone wall as Curlew, Snipe, Oystercatcher and Lapwing displayed nearby and a Common Buzzard lumbered its way across the horizon.  A third site produced the goods though as, adjacent to a field filled with summer-plumaged Golden Plover, two Blackcock were strutting their stuff for the benefit of three Greyhens…who watched them with what appeared to be complete indifference 🙂

After returning to Peth Head for a delicious, and very filling, breakfast (accompanied by Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Siskins, Robins, Dunnocks and a Reed Bunting on the feeders just outside the dining room window) we set out again.  By now, the sun was up, bathing the moors in sublime warm tones, and Derek spotted the tell-tale white flash of a displaying Blackcock.  This bird was strutting around next to two Greyhens, head down, tail up, pausing occasionally to stand bolt upright before jumping in the air and singing.  Just beyond the lekking lothario, a Short-eared Owl was quartering the moor.  Backwards and forwards on long narrow wings, the owl flew closer to our position, until eventually binoculars were put down when the field of view was completely filled with yellow-eyed menace as the owl flew over the bonnet of the car before veering away just inches from the windscreen.

Deeper into the North Pennines AONB, over moorland liberally sprinkled with pairs of Red Grouse, flocks of Golden Plover flying around and giving their plaintive call, with a Dunlin easily picked out in one flock by it’s small size, and farmland with Brown Hares chasing each other, Derek’s sharp eyes picked out a bird on telegraph wires…and we had our first Ring Ouzel of the trip.  Singing it’s simple song, this could well have been the bird that I watched with Sarah in late March. A pair of Ring Ouzels followed soon after, staying just ahead of the car as we traversed a narrow road high above Weardale.  Deirdre spotted several displaying Blackcock and we passed from Weardale into Upper Teesdale.  Walking the remote moors produced close views of Red Grouse, Golden Plover, Wheatear, Skylark and Meadow Pipit before a completely unexpected find; for a second I wasn’t sure what I was watching, as a large brown and white bird drifted over the moor with deep lazy wingbeats, but as I lifted my binoculars I could barely contain my excitement as I let Derek and Deirdre know that there was an Osprey flying by!  We watched the bird as it hovered and then dived into a nearby reservoir, but it’s departure route took it out of sight so we didn’t see if it was successful in its hunt.  A pair of Goosander were feeding along the reservoir edge and, as they eventually crossed the open water, they picked up a Tufted Duck for company.

I had a hunch that Black Grouse would be lekking late afternoon, so we returned to a site that had held just one resting Blackcock earlier in the day.  Sure enough, ‘the boys’ had gathered for a bit of a barney; 15 of them had turned up – seven obvious pairs of combatants and one bird sitting off to one side holding his wings, head and tail in the typical display posture but just standing still and watching the series of duels that were taking place in front of him.  A couple of them broke out into physical fights, and all of the birds were calling as the lek reached a crescendo before, as if someone had flicked a switch, they suddenly lowered their undertail coverts, lifted their heads, folded their wings back in and started nonchalantly pottering around the gladiatorial arena as if nothing had happened.  Just as exciting though, was what was going on above the lek.  In my field of view I could see a Curlew drop almost vertically before heading skyward again.  I raised my binoculars to follow it’s path and as it dropped again it was harassing, with the assistance of a flock of Black-headed Gulls, a male Goshawk! Open moorland may not be typical habitat for this fearsome inhabitant of our upland forests, but it isn’t the first time we’ve seen one out of context in late April.

Back across the moors to Hexhamshire we saw more Red Grouse, more Black Grouse and, after a quick stop back at Peth Head we headed out to eat at the Dipton Mill Inn.  We followed that with a drive into Slaley Forest for Woodcock and Tawny Owls then, before retiring to bed, I stood in the dark outside the cottage and listened as at least four Tawny Owls called from close by.  A superb end to an excellent day 🙂

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Northumberland at its best

by on Feb.25, 2013, under Bamburgh Castle, Birdwatching, Holy Island, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

As we walked home from The Swan on Friday night, serenaded by the tremulous song of a Tawny Owl, the air was damp and chilly.  With a Lindisfarne mini-safari on Saturday morning I was hoping that the weather would be fine, and the forecast suggested it would be…

So, when the alarm went off and I looked out of the window, I was quite surprised that there was a good covering of snow.  A few minutes later the snow started again, and I wondered what conditions would be like in the north of the county.  It turned out that we were near the northern edge of the snow, and as soon as I was through Morpeth and on the A1 there was just an occasional light flurry, and no snow on the ground.

I collected Emily and Warren from St Cuthbert’s House and we headed straight for Holy Island so that we would be on the island for a couple of hours before the tide encroached onto the causeway.  Dark-bellied Brent Geese were roosting and bathing in the Rocket Pools, Curlews were feeding in the fields by the Crooked Lonnen and a lone Fieldfare hopped along the track ahead of us.  We could see that the weather was doing something ‘interesting’ out beyond the Farne Islands, and the icy wind coming in off the sea made it a day to really appreciate the resilience of our wintering birds.  As we left the island, flocks of Lapwings were being blown on the breeze, Pale-bellied Brent Geese and Bar-tailed Godwits were working their way along the edge of the incoming tide and Eider and Long-tailed Duck were in the South Low, competing for the title of ‘most attractive duck of the day’.  Kestrels were a regular feature of the morning, and we enjoyed good views of nine very obliging Roe Deer.

Driving back down the coast, I could see that the ‘interesting’ weather seemed to be over Bamburgh Castle and Seahouses, so it was no surprise that snow started to fall as we passed Budle Bay.  Then it got heavier…and heavier.  Eventually, as we reached Stag Rocks, there was an incredible blizzard coming in off the North Sea, reducing visibility to only as far as the shore.  Emily jumped out of the car as soon as we’d stopped, revelling in the snowfall; I’m not the only one who enjoys the winter and really loves snow 🙂  As the blizzard passed over us and made its way inland, the Farne Islands gradually faded into view and we made our way back to Seahouses.

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