Tag: Tawny Owl

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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Northumberland Winter Bird Race 2013

by on Jan.09, 2013, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

After a relaxing break over Christmas and New Year, last Saturday was one of the most eagerly anticipated events of the year; the Northumberland Winter Bird Race.

A simple set of rules; start any time you like after midnight, teams of four (or three…or five…), three members of the team must positively identify a species for it to be counted, get to the Three Horse Shoes between 17:00-17:30 and be ready to declare your team total at 18:00.

The starting point for our, vaguely planned, itinerary for the day was to be the NEWT office at 06:00.  As Sarah opened the door at 05:45, when our other team members (NTBC Field Trips officer Trevor, and local legend the Liverbirder) arrived, bird #1 was added to the list as a vocal Tawny Owlsang his haunting melody from the churchyard opposite our house.  #2 Barn Owl (the first of at least five found around dawn and dusk)joined the list as we headed north in Gordon’s car for our first ‘only one chance’ species…Red Grouse duly obliged and we’d made a flying start.  Down on the coast a stunning sunrise also brought Little Egret for the list, as well as occasional good-natured banter with two other teams that had started in the north (including ‘The Tiddlers’) and three more hours in North Northumberland, coupled with Gordon’s local knowledge of Cramlington, which brought us a Kingfisher that we pointed out to several curious dog walkers, saw us reach #85 by midday.  The afternoon proved much more testing, and some excellent birds including Smew, Slavonian Grebe, Mediterranean Gull and a fly-by Bittern, took us to a total of 105 by the time we’d eventually given up on trying to tick Goldfinch on call in the dark 🙂

Four of the other five teams were already at the Three Horse Shoes by the time we arrived.  Species missed were being compared and there was a general feeling that it had been a difficult day.  We were only one species short of our best winter bird race total (achieved the last time that we didn’t have an itinerary planned to the nth degree…) but were expecting to be somewhere round 5th out of 6 (historically we’ve been a much stronger Spring bird race team).  With other teams declaring totals of 98, 101, 103, 104 and 108, we’d exceeded all expectations and finished 2nd, with 105 species out of a cumulative total across all 6 teams of 129 🙂 To put the day in context, the highest total for Northumberland in a Winter Bird Race is 126 for a single team…

Looking forward to early January 2014 already!

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“You should have been here yesterday…”

by on Dec.12, 2012, under Northumberland, Red Fox, Red Squirrel, Southeast Northumberland

On days when one species doesn’t appear, the supporting cast can often be equally stunning.

An icy breeze was whistling around the car as I collected Matt and Kate for a day searching for Otters and other wildlife around southeast Northumberland.  We started with a riverside walk and were soon enjoying excellent views of a Kingfisher, stunning orange and electric blue, as it perched, hovered, dived and whizzed backwards and forwards along the river.  A Grey Wagtail bobbed around, oblivious to our presence, and a Little Grebe dived in the gravelly shallows.

Our next port of call produced a mixture of pleasure and sadness; while we were watching three Red Squirrels a Grey Squirrel appeared 🙁 Northumberland is probably the best place to see Red Squirrel in England, and the southeast of the county still has a few sites where excellent views can be obtained, but the arrival of Greys is often followed by the rapid spread of parapox through the local Red population.

A stop at East Chevington produced lots of Tufted Ducks and Goldeneye, more Little Grebes and a Grey Heron…and a strengthening breeze and increasing cloud cover.  If there was an Otter about, it was doing the sensible thing and keeping itself hidden away out of the wind.  Whooper Swans were sitting in a flooded field, with Mute Swans nearby for ease of comparison, and everything we encountered was facing into the wind to minimise heat loss.

Our final site for the day was another stretch of river; one that we walk regularly ourselves, and where we’d had up-to-date info about Otter activity.  A stunning Red Fox watched us inquisitively from the opposite side of the river, Moorhens swam back and forth with that curious jerky motion that they have and, as daylight gave way to darkness and a Tawny Owl called nearby, a succession of dog walkers commented “you should have been here yesterday…”.

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Enchanted evening

by on Nov.23, 2012, under Birdwatching, Choppington Woods, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

As the air cools, a pall of pale ghostly mist hangs just above the ground in a wildflower meadow dropping away ahead of me.  I’m on a woodland edge, standing on a soft cushion of fallen larch and pine needles.  Standing still and blending in, the mist wraps me in its cooling blanket as a flock of Goldcrests move through the trees just behind my vantage point.  Overhead Redwings, Rooks and Jackdaws head to roost as a Carrion Crow caws defiantly from the top of a tall larch and Wood Pigeons flutter up and down at tree-top height.  The incessant screeching of Jays and chatter of Blackbirds betrays the presence of a Tawny Owl; stirring in preparation for its nocturnal foray, it soon tires of the harassment and heads deeper into the wood.  A Woodcock appears at the same point where I emerged from the trees just a few minutes ago, having followed my route alongside the gurgling stream.  Away over the fields I can see a Barn Owl, hunting close to the site where it raised this year’s young hoolets, and Roe Deer nervously make their way out into the open.  As the light fades and I head for home, it’s hard to believe that I’m on the edge of the most densely populated area of Northumberland and walking through a mixed woodland where there were once three coal mines, including one of the first deep-shaft mines anywhere in the world.  For now though, it’s just me and the wildlife…

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Sentinel

by on Oct.10, 2012, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

It’s a rare day when a trip features a limited number of birds and other wildlife, but even the days with lots to see often have a few things that really stand out; sometimes by being scarce, sometimes it’s an intriguing behaviour, and sometimes it can be something that’s quite common but rarely seen.  An outstanding day would produce all of those…

I collected Helen and Chris from Church Point for an afternoon of birdwatching and other wildlife around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland in near-perfect weather.  Before we headed up the coast though, we spent some time studying the Mediterranean Gulls on the beach and in the car park.  Cormorants were feeding just offshore and a very long-billed Dunlin was pottering about on the sand.  Working our way along the reserves that line Druridge Bay, one of NEWT’s favourite winter visitors provided some entertainment; a small herd of Whooper Swans had chosen a pool as a stop-off point – provoking a furious reaction from the resident pair of Mute Swans. Teal, Goldeneye, Wigeon, Shoveler, Mallard and Gadwall drakes were all looking good, following their exit from eclipse plumage, Long-tailed Tits flew past, one by one, a Goldcrest was flicking around in a bush nearby, a chirping Tree Sparrow allowed us to approach incredibly close and a Guillemot was hanging around at the base of the weir on the River Coquet.  Flocks of Curlew, Golden Plover and Lapwing filled the air, and a Jack Snipe provided lots of entertainment as it bobbed up and down on the edge of a reedbed, as nearby Common Snipe seemed more interested in disputing possession of feeding areas than actually feeding.

As the end of the trip approached, much too soon with such good company, we were in a small wooded valley, searching for Badgers.  We could hear the sound of them blundering through the undergrowth, but a barking dog nearby seemed to spook them and all went quiet.  For most of the time that we were there we were under the baleful glare of a feathered sentinel, as a Tawny Owl stared at us from the fork between a branch and tree trunk.  Wildlife, watching the wildlife-watchers 🙂

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Evening trinity

by on Jun.21, 2012, under Birdwatching, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

Monday’s Otter Safari featured a quite surreal evening, as mist developed over the pools, close to the Northumberland coast, really playing tricks on the eyes.  As Coots scattered and Mallards and Mute Swans all stared in the same direction, our quarry remained hidden from view.  Roe Deer were bounding around the poolside vegetation, and a magnificent Long-eared Owl ghosted silently by.  As darkness approached we headed back towards Church Point to drop Erin and Adrian off before taking Christina and Sean back to their respective holiday accommodations.  Along the road we came across 2 Barn Owls and then a Tawny Owl, sitting on prey in the middle of the road before flying to a nearby fence post and glaring balefully at us.

Three owl species in little over an hour, and Tuesday’s trip was a bespoke photography outing for Christina to photograph Short-Eared Owls.  I’ll blog about that one tomorrow 🙂

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North Pennines Wild Watch

by on May.23, 2012, under Birdwatching, North Pennines

We’ve had the first two bird ID sessions for the North Pennines WildWatch project already, and both have produced some excellent sightings during the ‘in the field’ bit of the course.

The first session, at Eggleston, produced one outstanding bird – at least for those in the group who weren’t impatiently hurrying back for their bread, cheese and soup…as a group of us watched a Song Thrush gathering food, I looked skywards (a good habit to get into, you never know what could be overhead) and there was an Osprey 🙂 Bird of the day/month/year for those who were lucky enough to see it.

One of my favourite species rounded off the first session, and the second session around Muggleswick as well, as we watched Woodcock roding and chasing each other.  The end of the first session produced another exciting bird that was missed by the group that headed straight back to the cars, as a few of us heard, and then saw, a Tawny Owl.

Both sessions concentrated on identifying birds by song and call, with paticipants getting to grips with Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Blackbird, Blackcap, Willow Warbler,  and Chiffchaff amongst others, and the third session, at Lambley, will have the same focus.  I changed approach between the first two sessions, and I’m busy restructuring the course for the third session based on the teaching/learning experiences gained during the first two.  I knew there was a reason we bought a parabolic microphone (there’s a reason for everything, we just don’t always realise it at the time…) 😉

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Roost

by on Sep.19, 2011, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

Friday was our fourth Druridge Bay/southeast Northumberland safari of the week, and it was a real pleasure to meet up with Lawrie and Linda, 2 of our returning clients from last year.

We started with a specific request; Brown Hare.  In the strong wind, persistent drizzle and biting cold they were keeping their heads down…all except for one which raised it’s ears, and then it’s head, above the stubble before demonstrating a remarkable vanishing act.

In Newbiggin Bay, with a big menacing sea breaking in the background, a flock of Pale-bellied Brent Geese flew north as we watched the Turnstones, Ringed Plover, Redshanks and Sanderling on the edge of the surf.

Fields of Curlew, and fighting cock Pheasants, provided additional entertainment as we drove down the coast.  I’d decided on East Chevington as our final destination of the trip and, as we arrived and began walking down to the North Pool, it looked as though the weather might get the better of us.  The wind was strengthening and the first few drops of rain began to fall as a juvenile Merlin raced across the fenceline in front of us looking, in the fading light, like an oversized hirundine.  The evening roost on the pool was building and hundreds of Great Black-backed, Lesser Black-backed, Herring, Black-headed and Common Gulls were sitting in the shallow water with Sandwich Terns, Lapwings, Knot, Teal, Mallard, Wigeon, Shoveler, Coot, Moorhen and Canada and Greylag Geese.  Then Pink-footed Geese and more Greylag Geese began arriving, and the 4 Snow Geese that we saw last Sunday flew in to join the throng.  A wave of panic spread through the roost, and many of the birds lifted into the air as a Bittern flew from one reedbed to another.  Eventually, even the silhouettes began to merge into the darkness and the birds began to settle as we left the hide and braved the driving rain.  With the footpaths and roads now covered in puddles the walk to the car, and the drive back to Alnwick, featured lots of Common Frogs and Common Toads, as well as a Tawny Owl that was perched on a fence post next to a line of trees.

It was a great experience to enjoy some pretty awful weather, and some superb wildlife, with Lawrie and Linda. I’ll never get fed up with what we do, and the weather is all a par tof the tapestry of that.

Thanks for the chocolates 🙂

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Heron aid

by on Sep.19, 2011, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

Our 3rd Druridge Bay/southeast Northumberland trip in 5 days began with an old friend as our regular Little Owl sat sleepily in the sunshine, only opening an eye to check who we were before nodding off again.  Further north, we watched a flock of 59 Pink-footed Geese as they headed south high overhead.  3 Grey Herons flew south past us, then north over Warkworth before heading south again.  Incredibly. later in the afternoon, the same 3 herons flew south overhead at East Chevington, followed soon after by another 4, and we found another 3 sitting in a recently mown field near Hauxley.  East Chevington also produced a good flock of Lapwing, with several Ruff scattered amongst them, and Cresswell held a flock of Dunlin with a Little Stint.

As sunset approached we settled to the waiting game of quiet observation by a small pool.  Tawny Owls called nearby, a Buzzard was perched obligingly in the open, a Sparrowhawk was hedge-hopping to see what it could scare up for dinner, Jackdaws and Rooks were gathering noisily before going to roost and there was a notable level of panic and a high level of alertness in the assembled ducks.  The cause of the panic didn’t show itself though, and we walked back to the car with Common Pipistrelles flying just above our heads before I returned Tamasin and Daniel to Newbiggin.

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Call of the wild

by on Sep.15, 2011, under Badger, Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Otter, Southeast Northumberland, Water Vole

Yesterday was the second of four Druridge Bay/Southeast Northumberland afternoon and evening trips this week, and I collected Natalie and Clive from Newton on the Moor just after lunch before heading south.

Starting with a short woodland walk, we enjoyed close views of those arboreal specialists Treecreeper, Nuthatch and Great Spotted Woodpecker, but this time Red Squirrel eluded us.

At East Chevington, we were watching a roosting flock of Lapwing, Ruff and Curlew, and checking through the mass of assembled ducks, when a distant call caught my attention.  It was a minute or two before the birds appeared high in the sky to the north, but there they were; 29 Pink-footed Geese, the arrival that for me always heralds the end of the summer.

A flock of Dunlin, Redshank and Curlew at Cresswell contained a Little Stint, and a brief seawatch produced a small flock of Knot heading north.

A patient wait as the orange glow of the sunset illuminated the surface of a pond brought rewards as our attention was drawn to a scattering flock of Coot.  Just a few metres from the ripples left by the rapidly departing birds, the menacing shape of an Otter was twisting, turning and diving.  As it vanished in to the dark shadows of a reedbed, the final indication of it’s presence were the bright trails left by Mallards and Little Grebes as they made a frantic effort to be anywhere other than where the Otter was.  Even more exciting for me, was the completely unexpected appearance of a mammal that I haven’t seen since childhood, as the twilight was punctuated by a loud ‘plop’ and a Water Vole swam cross in front of us 🙂 Tawny Owls were calling and Common Pipistrelles flitted back and forth as the full moon, and cold wind, made the evening feel really autumnal.

I dropped Natalie and Clive back at Newton on the Moor, and decided to avoid the roadworks on the A1 on the route home and instead took the minor road from Shilbottle to Warkworth.  I was still delayed though, but by a young Badger that trotted along the middle of the road ahead of me for a quarter of a mile before wandering into the verge and watching as I passed by.  Expect the unexpected…

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