Tag: Water Rail

Last light; Otter Safari 24/02/17

by on Feb.26, 2017, under Otter, Red Squirrel

After some wild weather the blue skies and fluffy white clouds, as I set off for a day searching for Otters around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland with Jo, Pat, Rachel and Dave, came as a welcome sight…

Now that we’re in the late winter, wildfowl are looking at their finest and are starting to display with an impressive level of determination.  Red-breasted Merganser were strutting their stuff in their engagingly comical bowing display, Goldeneye were delivering their similar, though slightly less elaborate dance and Tufted Duck, Mallard, Wigeon, Scaup, Teal and Pochard were all clad in spring finery, but the long-staying Pacific Diver remains alone.  A pair of Common Buzzards were soaring against the clouds at a site where I’ve never encountered them breeding previously.  Huge clouds of Pink-footed Geese were replaced by an impressive Starling murmuration as dusk approached, and Common Snipe were uncharactersitically obliging as they fed away from cover amongst Redshank, Lapwing, Curlew and Black-tailed Godwit.  On a good day for mammal-watching we saw at least 2, possibly 3, maybe even 5, Red Squirrels and 3 Roe Deer.

With light levels dropping rapidly we had brief sightings of 2 Bitterns, as Water Rail squealed from deep in the reeds, and we were on the verge of admitting defeat to the Otters when Rachel said “what’s that in front of us?”.  I turned to look, and the first thing I noticed were the Mallards quickening their pace…as they headed away from the Otter that Rachel had spotted on the bank right in front of us 🙂  We watched it for 10mins, until it was too dark to see it as it twisted and turned in the water, before heading back to Newbiggin.

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Setting sun; Bespoke Wildlife Safari 05/02/17

by on Feb.06, 2017, under Northumberland Coast

Sunday was a second day out for Edward and Isabel, although this time a bespoke trip.  I collected them from Greycroft and we headed south.  Brambling was the first target on our list for the day and an impressive flock was alongside Nuthatch, Chaffinch, Coal Tit and a male SiskinRed Squirrel was another target species for the day, and we enjoyed prolonged views of one, as another male Brambling called from a treetop nearby and Goldfinches plundered a feeding station.  Long-tailed Tits fed just above our heads and Fulmar found themselves in range of Edward’s camera as we had lunch overlooking the North Sea.  Twite, Pied Wagtail and Sanderling on the beach were our first post-lunch stop and then we headed further north to our last site for the day, with a brief glimpse of a Stoat as it ran across the road in front of us.

Dusk often brings the best of the day and, as Whooper Swans swam across the reflection of the setting Sun, a Kingfisher dived from the reeds, a Water Rail flew between reedbeds, Grey Herons squabbled over prime feeding spots and the assembled wildfowl followed the progress of a Red Fox as it trotted along the bank.  Once it was too dark to see anything in front of us we headed back to Alnwick.

Another great day out with clients who were really good company.  It’s never really any other way 🙂

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The icy grip of a cold breeze; Druridge Bay mini-Safari 26/01/17

by on Jan.31, 2017, under Druridge Bay

Thursday was a mini-Safari exploring Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland and the weather forecast had me donning layer after layer…

I collected Chris and Carol from Church Point and we set off.  Getting out of the car at our first destination it didn’t seem quite as cold as forecast – until we were facing into the wind, when it started to feel really chilly.  Cormorant, Little Grebe, Red-breasted Merganser, Goosander and Goldeneye were all diving in search of fish and we continued on our way.  A remarkable mixed flock of Twite, Turnstone, Pied Wagtail and Sanderling were plundering an ad hoc feeding station on the beach and Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Gadwall, Tufted Duck and Scaup were all dabbling as Curlew noisily took flight, Lapwing were tossed about on the breeze and Starlings arrived at their evening roost, dispensing with the intricacies of a murmuration and diving straight into the shelter of the reeds.

As dusk enveloped everything around we headed back to the car, serenaded by a chorus of Water Rails from deep within the reeds and with an icy cold breeze somehow making five layers not quite enough!

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Dusk; Bespoke Otter mini-Safari 27/12/16

by on Jan.04, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Otter

Our final trip of the year was a bespoke Otter mini-Safari around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland for Diane and Yvonne, who had booked following a recommendation from Claire 🙂

We met up in Newbiggin and set off on our search.  Our first site had plenty of birds but no Otters, so we headed on to the site where I thought it would be good to be at dusk.  A Kingfisher provided a splash of iridescent brilliance in the fading light of mid-afternoon and a group of Teal, Goldeneye, Mallard and Tufted Duck drifting away from a reedbed caught my attention.  Scanning the reed edge with our telescope revealed a dark shape, twisting and turning but mainly hidden from view in the reeds.  It soon vanished, but the ducks were still wary, so I continued scanning that area.  After 20mins the Otter finally came out into open water and each time it dropped out of sight we tracked it by the current location of agitated wildfowl 🙂  It was clearly making it’s way towards us and, after a few minutes without a sighting, it was suddenly running along the bank right in front of us!  It quickly disappeared into another reedbed, triggering the begging calls of it’s cubs, before reappearing in the water with one cub, as two more continued calling, drowning out the calls of Snipe and Water Rail 🙂  As a Starling murmuration began to develop, the calls of Whooper Swan and Pink-footed Goose cut through the gloom as they arrived to roost and eventually it was too dark to see anything out on the water.

A fantastic end to the year, and a welcome break from mince pies 🙂

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Wax(w)ing lyrical about wildlife; Otter Safari 09/11/16

by on Nov.10, 2016, under Druridge Bay

There are a few species that really epitomise winter wildlife-watching, and they include my favourite bird, one of my favourite mammals, and another bird that never fails to excite…

I collected Andy from Whitley Bay (it’s great to have him back from Mull for a few months over the winter!) and we had an interesting chat about plankton sampling and microscopy as we drove up the coast to collect Genine from Newbiggin.  Genine’s last trip with NEWT was a breathtaking pelagic in early September, and now we were out in search of Otters and any other birds and wildlife that we could find around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  I suggested that we started with a quick search for Waxwings, just a few minutes down the road.  As we approached where they’d been seen the previous day, a flock flushed from a rowan tree where they were gorging themselves on berries.  We watched them land in the bare branches of a tall tree nearby and counted at least 120 birds, with another 60 flying around and landing in trees just along the road.  In the cold and damp, we started our search for Otters, and were soon watching one as it fed on small fish.  With hardly a breath of wind, the water was flat calm and we tracked the Otter‘s movement by the trail of bubbles it left each time it submerged before, after around half an hour, it left the water and vanished up the bank and behind a fallen tree.  Curlew, Lapwing, Common Redshank and Oystercatcher were probing the mud along the water’s edge and a flash of electric blue heralded the arrival of a Kingfisher, which played a game of hide and seek with us as Goldfinch and Bullfinch perched in the tops of trees, the disembodied weak winter song of a Robin came from the depths of a hawthorn and two Sparrowhawks tussled in mid-air overhead before one gave up the fight and flew well away.  Long-tailed Duck, Common Scoter, Common Eider, Goldeneye, Wigeon, Mallard, Red-breasted Merganser and Tufted Duck were a nice haul of wildfowl as Little Grebe warily watched the spot where the Otter had vanished and Long-tailed Tits called unseen from nearby bushes.

The approach of dusk brought thousands of Starlings in a swirling murmuration before they dropped into the reedbeds for the night as the high-pitched yapping of Pink-footed Geese and the discordant honking of Greylag Geese betrayed the presence of skein after skein arriving from feeding areas to the south of us.  Squealing Water Rails remained hidden and, as the last rays of daylight filtered through from the western horizon, Whooper Swans arrived.  Big, ghostly and quiet on their approach, as they hit the water they began whooping and their haunting voices accompanied our walk back to the car in the dark.

Proper wintry cold, almost continuous drizzle, stunning wildlife and lovely clients – just a great way to spend a day in mid-November 🙂  We’ll be running Otter Safaris, Druridge Bay Safaris and Lindisfarne Safaris right through the winter, so get in touch, wrap up warm and come and join us for a day searching for Northumberland’s fantastic wildlife!

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The enchantment of dusk; Bespoke Otter Safari 26/10/16

by on Oct.27, 2016, under Druridge Bay, Northumberland Coast, Southeast Northumberland

Whatever the time of year, that final hour or so before it’s too dark to see any wildlife is invariably the best bit of the day…

I collected Gerry and Tracey from The Swan and we headed towards the coast for a day in search of OttersGoldcrests, Long-tailed Tits and Robins provided noise and movement in the bushes, Teal, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Common Scoter, Wigeon, Gadwall and Little Grebe were dabbling and/or diving, Cormorant, Goosander and Red-breasted Merganser all emanated an air of sleek menace, Grey Heron and Little Egret stalked patiently along the edges of shallow pools where Black-tailed Godwits radiated elegance, Curlew probed for worms in grassy fields, Eider were just beyond the gently rolling surf as low sunlight illuminated the dunes to structures of extraordinary beauty and Carrion Crows harried a Common Buzzard as it flapped lazily over the coastal fields.

As the sun dipped towards the horizon, ducks and geese were silhouetted against a stunning orange reflection and an all-out assault on the senses began to build.  First Starlings, just a few hundred intially, building to a murmuration of several thousand as wave after wave of birds arrived – some to join the swirling amorphous dark cloud overhead, others heading straight in to the reeds as they’d arrived too late to join the party.  Water Rails screeched, squealed and chattered from the reeds nearby and Pink-footed Geese began arriving as Roe Deer grazed in the open as the cover of falling light levels provided them with a cloak of safety.  A few dozen geese, noisily yapping as they adjusted their approach to be into the headwind ready for landing, became a few hundred, then a thousand or so, and eventually around 5000 with skeins arriving from south and north east.  In front of us, the combination of sunset and dark cloud had left one sublime strip of orange light when Gerry said “what’s that just there?”.  Sleek, sinuous and menacing, the Otter swam across the strip of light and out of sight from us, although the geese and ducks spent a good 5 minutes staring in the direction it had departed 🙂

As the clouds overhead cleared the darkening sky revealed some of it’s gems; first Arcturus, then the Summer Triangle (Deneb, Vega and Altair) and Mars before the familiar asterism of The Plough and, appropriately as it was accompanied by the remarkable calls of Whooper Swans, Cygnus.  A great end to a fantastic day, searching for wildlife and discussing otters, squirrels, Pine Martens, rewilding and post-industrial landscapes with lovely clients 🙂

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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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Welcome home to Northumberland; Bespoke Coast Safari 28/04/16

by on May.03, 2016, under Druridge Bay, Otter

As I arrived at Church Point to collect Tom and Sue, the weather was slightly breezy but dry.  The forecast suggested that it might be showery later during the afternoon and promised a bit of a contrast with Tom and Sue’s home country of Australia. Tom’s a Northumbrian so I was really looking forward to showing him parts of the coast that he wasn’t familiar with, hopefully with the weather showcasing Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland at its best…

Cormorants air-dried their wings in the stiffening breeze and a Coot took umbrage at a Moorhen that was doing nothing more sinister than just wandering along the water’s edge, Woodpigeons, Jackdaws, Greylag Geese and Canada Geese speckled the dark grey sky.  A typically nervous Great Spotted Woodpecker watched us warily from behind a tree trunk, Tree Sparrows were chipping in the hedgerows, a Magpie was going back and forth presumably from it’s nest, Robins flicked across paths just ahead of us, Curlew, Redshank and Oystercatcher probed in the mud in conditions that were starting to resemble the winter and a Little Egret was a shockingly bright bundle of white feathers in an ever darkening vista of Northumberland’s coastal wildlife as Avocets, delicate visions in black and white, swept their heads from side to side through shallow water in seach of food.

Great Crested Grebes comported themselves with their usual elegance as more Cormorants stood hunched in the wind and then, as Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler must have been wondering if they were in the right place at the right time of year, the heavens unleashed hail, sleet and snow from an apocalyptic sky and a Water Rail scurried mouse-like between reedbeds as two Otter cubs appeared just beyond the grebes 🙂  Their first appearance was fleeting, just a few seconds before they vanished from sight behind a reedbed.  Then they were back, and porpoising side by side, back and forth, before once again heading into the shelter of the reeds.

As Fulmars soared along the clifftops and Gannets rode the uplift just above the waves offshore, we ended the day with the clouds overhead breaking to reveal blue sky and sunshine in a remarkable area of glorious weather that was surrounded in every direction by leaden grey clouds and storms.  Atmospheric wildlife watching…

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Here come the Scandinavians; Druridge Bay Birdwatching 26/10/2015

by on Oct.28, 2015, under Druridge Bay

October, mist, drizzle, winds off the sea…

I collected Bernard from Newbiggin and we headed north to begin a day birdwatching around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  A very obliging Dipper was singing from a mid-stream rock, before it started feeding.  If you’ve never seen a Dipper feeding, put it on your list of things that you really need to see!  As Common Redshank and Curlew probed in gooey estuarine mud, we could see a wave of panic spreading towards us from the north.  First, the air was filled with Greylag and Pink-footed Geese, Woodpigeon, Rook, Carrion Crow and Jackdaw. Then Wigeon, Mallard, Canada Geese and Curlew took flight and 20 Black-tailed Godwit passed overhead.  A few minutes later the cause of all the consternation put in an appearance – a female Sparrowhawk, menacing and muscular as she followed the coast southwards.  Then a sight, and sound, that always warms my heart as 20 Redwing and 6 Fieldfare, winter visitors from Scandinavia, flew over.  More waders and wildfowl featured during the afternoon; Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Gadwall, Little Grebe, Common Snipe, Dunlin, Lapwing and Golden Plover resplendent in low autumn sunlight.  A Water Rail wandered out of the reeds and our final new bird for the day was an elegant female Pintail, as the calls of Redwing and Fieldfare continued to cut through the afternoon air.

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Panic; Otter Safari 24/10/2015

by on Oct.28, 2015, under Druridge Bay, Otter, Southeast Northumberland

There’s little that gets my heart racing as much as that moment when panic spreads through the wildlife that we’re watching…

I collected Anne and Keith from Newbiggin and we headed along the coast for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland searching for Otters.  First stop was lunch, overlooking the North Sea, with Eiders rafting just offshore and distant Gannets diving into the waves.  Small groups of Starling were scattered throughout the afternoon and Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Gadwall, Shoveler, Tufted Duck and Little Grebe were around the water’s edge as we concentrated the search for our favourite sinuous, stealthy predator.  One stretch of reeds suddenly had fewer ducks that it had a few minutes earlier.  No great panic, no obvious departure, but definitely not as many birds.  Scanning along the edge I caught a glimpse of a dark shape on the periphery of my vision.  A couple of minutes concentrating on that spot produced nothing more tangible so I returned to scanning the entire pool.  Ten minutes later and there was a definite departure of Mallard and Wigeon from that same reedbed.  I suggested that this could well be due to an Otter…and Keith lifted his binoculars and spotted one 🙂  We watched it feeding for fifteen minutes before it slipped mysteriously beneath the surface and didn’t reappear.  Mass panic among the ducks on the opposite edge of the pool wasn’t down to the Otter, but instead caused by a female Marsh Harrier drifting slowly north.

As dusk approached, Grey Herons were stalking through the shallows, Common Snipe emerged from long vegetation to probe for worms along the water’s edge, a Water Rail was squealing from the depths of a reedbed and Lapwing took flight in a tight, twisting, turning panic as darkness closed in around us and raindrops peppered the surface of the pool.

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