Tag: Wheatear

One plus one makes three; Cheviot Valleys Safari 07/06/18

by on Jun.13, 2018, under Birdwatching, Cheviot Valleys

Having arranged all of our clients for last Thursday’s Cheviot Valleys safari to meeting at the same location I arrived in Powburn and collected Vicky, Dave and Babs, Diane and Ruth before heading along a grassy verge buzzing with bees and hoverflies and bejewelled with Common Blue Damselflies and Red and Black FroghoppersRuth proved to have the sharpest eyes and found the first of two Adders that she spotted before everyone else (as well as a third that was sadly dead in the middle of the track) as Blackcaps, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs sang from hidden perches in dense foliage.

It wouldn’t be a June Cheviot Valleys trip without the riparian triumvirate of Dipper, Common Sandpiper and Grey Wagtail and all three duly put in an appearance as Swallows gathered insects, House Martins gathered mud for nest-building and the eerie cries of Curlew rolled down the fells.  Red Grouse were chuckling from the heather clad hillsides and one or two were uncharacteristically obliging and out in the open as Wheatears flitted between stones on the ground, the prominent ears of a Brown Hare betrayed it’s location, Whinchat demonstrated just how beautiful they are and Ring Ouzel flew by but didn’t settle where we could see them as Green Tiger Beetles suddenly appeared as they flew and the calls of Cuckoos echoed across the valley.

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Signs of spring, remnants of winter; Lindisfarne Safari 19/04/18

by on Apr.20, 2018, under Lindisfarne

I collected Gordon and Mandy for their 6th day out with NEWT, and 2nd this week, from the Bamburgh Castle Inn and we headed up the coast towards Holy Island under clear blue sky and warm sunshine…

Lapwing were displaying over the fields; twisting, tumbling and calling with their very unbird-like song.  Roe Deer were quietly grazing nearby and Little Grebe and Moorhen were around the edges of the Lough.  A small flock of Golden Plover flew by as Meadow Pipits were song-flighting from fences and Skylarks were everywhere, occasionally landing on the ground where we could see them but mostly high against the deep blue background.  Around the edge of the harbour Bar-tailed Godwits, Ringed Plover, Redshank and a lone Grey Plover were exploring the mud as a Wheatear perched on an old drystone wall and a Fulmar arced effortlessly past the castle.

On a fast rising tide, Shelduck and Curlew came closer to the land and a pair of Pintail drifted past with small groups of WigeonEider and Common Scoter were riding the gentle swell, Red-breasted Mergansers flew by, a White Wagtail was with a dozen or so Pied Wagtails and on the increasingly isolated tops of rocks a lone Dunlin was with a flock of Purple Sandpipers, no doubt all enjoying the Northumberland sunshine as they prepare to head back north to their breeding grounds 🙂

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Breezy Black Grouse; North Pennines Bespoke Birdwatching 25/04/17

by on Apr.26, 2017, under North Pennines

Tuesday was my third consecutive 03:30 alarm call and, bleary eyed, I cleared the snow off the car ahead of a trip to the North Pennines with one specific aim – to watch Black Grouse lekking…

I collected Sylvia and Stephen from Corbridge and we headed westwards.  The first rays of sunlight illuminated the tops of the hills and the landscape was bathed in a sublime light that made it look like a completely different area to the one I’d visited three times in the previous week.  As we drove along, I could see a cluster of black dots standing out against the pale frosted grass, and there were the Black Grouse 🙂  At least 2o Blackcock and 5 Greyhens were concentrated in the small lekking arena, that will have hosted the gladitorial battles of their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and who knows how many generations of their ancestors.  We watched as they displayed and then rested, vanishing into the vegetation, then fought again.  The scenario was repeated time and again as Sylvia and Stephen came up with a list of intriguing questions about the breeding ecology of these extraordinary birds.  Lapwing, Skylark, Curlew, Redshank, Oystercatcher and Meadow Pipit were all displaying as 2 Skylarks sat obligingly at the roadside, a couple of Woodcock were bobbing along through the long grass, a Brown Hare raced by and a Dipper fought against the breeze, passing over the car as it cut a corner in it’s route along a river.

Flurries of snow passed by horizontally on the stiff breeze and Red Grouse were dotted along the moors as we came across a group of at least 6 Wheatears.  A walk to look for Spring Gentians was successful although the walk back to the car into a headwind was challenging, before we headed back towards Corbridge and the lush green landscape of the valley bottoms, a world away from the stunning bleak beauty of the hills.

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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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In the summertime; Lindisfarne mini-Safari 16/07/2015

by on Jul.20, 2015, under Lindisfarne

Thursday was to be a day of two mini-safaris, and I arrived at Holy Island to collect David and Larraine for the first of those.

Lindisfarne offers remarkable birdwatching during the winter months, but in the height of summer it’s chief features of interest lie in the flowers and invertebrates resplendent in the Northumbrian sunshine.  Marsh Helleborine, Common Spotted Orchid, Common Restharrow, Viper’s Bugloss and Cottongrass were all in bloom, and an accompanying cast of butterflies included Meadow Brown, Small Heath, Dark Green Fritillary, Ringlet and Common Blue.  An unexpected find was a juvenile Wheatear, and the morning had passed by almost in an instant.  Time to head home, for a few hours in the office before our second mini-safari.

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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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Battling the elements; Otter Safari 06/11/2014

by on Nov.14, 2014, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Otter

Last Thursday was Sue’s second Otter Safari with us this year, after an unsuccessful search in early July…a trip that was followed by five consecutive successful Otter Safaris for other clients!  I was really looking forward to this trip – Sue is great company and pleasure to be out birdwatching with – but the added pressure of already having one Otter Safari not produce our target species had me planning, re-planning and then planning some more…

I’d got two sites lined up that I was confident would produce Otter sightings, but the one spanner in the works was the weather forecast.  If it was accurate (and, as it turned out, it was) we’d got three hours of good weather, and four of poor, ahead of us.  As I drove to Church Point, I was mulling over the options for the two sites, and decided to go with the one that’s been our most reliable this year during the good weather, and then head to the other one towards dusk.  Then I thought about it again – would the reliable site, where I can usually predict to within a few metres where the Otter will first put in an appearance,  be better in the poor weather just before dark?  I decided to trust to my first instinct and we were soon watching over the water as the wind strengthened and the first drops of rain were carried towards us on the breeze.  As Goldeneye and Cormorant dived in the ruffled water I noticed a dark shape in the corner of my field of vision.  It might have been nothing, but I held my concentration on that spot and just over a minute later an Otter cub surfaced in front of us 🙂  Twisting, turning, porpoising, diving and feeding, it kept us entertained for 90 minutes before slipping out of sight as the next wave of raindrops stung our faces on the now howling wind.

We retreated to the car and sat eating lunch overlooking the North Sea, as a distant speck heading towards us over the waves revealed itself to be a Blackbird that paused for a few minutes on the cliff face before continuing its migration inland.  Then a Wheatear came ‘in-off’, and soon after that three Redwings arrived, following what must have been an arduous sea crossing, as the rain intensified.  As dusk approached, and the rain somehow became even heavier, we watched flocks of Teal and Wigeon, Common Snipe and Dunlin probing in soft mud, Curlew appearing as if from out of nowhere, Starlings and Jackdaws heading to roost, and Blackbirds, Robins, Fieldfare and more Blackbirds, and more Blackbirds 🙂

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Moorland magic; Bespoke birdwatching 16/06/2014

by on Jun.18, 2014, under Cheviot Valleys, Hen Harrier, Kielder, Northumberland

Heading up the coast to Embleton to collect Pete and Janet for their fourth day out with NEWT (plus a couple of days with their local natural history society on a Northumberland  visit in 2009), I had a mixture of anticipation and trepidation.  It’s always a pleasure to have them on a tour, but this time we were heading to an area that I know quite well myself, but haven’t covered in any great depth with clients…

We headed inland, skirting the edge of the Cheviot massif, passing through Kielder and across into the Scottish borders in ever-improving weather 🙂  Common Buzzards were soaring against the blue sky, Skylarks were singing as they ascended heavenwards, Meadow Pipits parachuted down at the end of their display flights, Red Grouse popped their heads up above the heather, Grey Wagtails were flitting from rock to rock in the shallow streams, Whinchat were carrying food back to their nests, recently fledged Wheatears scolded us as we disturbed their afternoon nap, Wild Goats grazed steadily on the hillsides high above the valley bottom and then, in the warmth of the mid-afternoon, came one of those moments you dream of (well, I do – other naturalists may have other dreams!)…

Floating across the hillside on agile wings, passing over a Cuckoo perched on a small sapling, carrying food back to his mate and their hungry brood, the male Hen Harrier drifted by before depositing the prey at the nest.  He quickly found more food for himself and settled on a prominent rock in the heather.  As we watched him through the ‘scope, a familiar chattering call rattled down the fell.  Something had disturbed the female harrier, and she had left the nest and was soaring above it.  Then, the likely source of her displeasure appeared.  Racing on swept back wings, a Merlin flew straight at the harrier.  She twisted and turned to avoid the assault by the smallest of our falcons, and flew towards the ground.  The Merlin wasn’t going to give up though, and the dogfight continued; the otherwise elegant harrier looking cumbersome as the annoying gadfly buzzed around her.  Eventually the smaller bird broke off and settled in a nearby tree, as the male harrier left his perch and soared high over our heads against the blue sky.  When I look back in years to come, this really will be an experience that’s fixed firmly in my memory 🙂

 

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Eye of the storm; Druridge Bay 13/05/2014

by on May.17, 2014, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland

The deep ominous rumble of thunder was all around us now.  There was a light at the end of the tunnel though, but could we make the most of it?

I’d collected Stephen from home in North Shields and we headed up the coast for an afternoon and evening birdwatching around Druridge Bay.  The early part of the trip was in fine weather and we watched Whitethroats and Sedge Warblers singing from the bushes, Wheatears flitting from ground to fencepost and back and House Martins andSwallows twisting and turning in pursuit of the bountiful harvest brought about by warm damp conditions.  Part way through the afternoon things began to change; away to the north the sky was darkening and we could hear the deep rumble of distant thunder.  Another storm was looming to the southwest, and gradually we were encircled by a menacing gloom.  The rain began hammering against the car, but there was one ray of hope.  At the centre of the storm was a break in the clouds; blue sky and sunshine of sorts.  I could see which way it was heading and knew that we had one excellent option.

Down the coast to a Barn Owl breeding site, with the rain relentlessly challenging the efficiency of the windscreen wipers on the car, we positioned ourselves so the owl’s regular hunting area was in view.  I was fairly sure that the break in the weather would be over us in about ten minutes, and that we’d have a window of opportunity for about another ten minutes prior to the next downpour.  As the rain eased to just a few drops, we concentrated our attention on the dunes and, within a couple of minutes of the rain stopping, the Barn Owl appeared.  Quartering , hovering, diving out of sight into the grass before lifting again, carrying a vole back to the nest then resuming the hunt only to abandon as the next edge of the storm hit with a vengeance and we headed off with flashes of lightning illuminating the darkened landscape.

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Spring (Gentian) time in the hills

by on May.25, 2013, under Birdwatching, North Pennines, Northumberland

The ‘quality over quantity’ birdwatching in the North Pennines has been the predominant feature of our days out with clients in the last two months, and a ‘phone enquiry on Tuesday saw me collecting David and Margaret on Wednesday morning for a day birdwatching in the hills.

Red Grouse was the first of the upland specialities we encountered and, after a few single birds scattered across the moors we came across a pair with a brood of 10 chicks.  The adults watched us carefully as their offspring wandered about, completely unconcerned by our presence.  Lapwing and Curlew seemed to be everywhere and one Lapwing provided our only sighting of Snipe for the day, as it chased one over the road in front of us.  Oystercatcher, Redshank and Golden Plover were noisily displaying, Kestrels were stationary in the strong breeze and our first three Black Grouse were all seen distantly.  I was sure that we’d get much closer views of Blackcock and, sure enough, at the same spot where I photographed a displaying bird earlier this month, we came across what were probably the same two birds from that trip.

A walk at Cow Green reservoir brought a non-avian highlight as Spring Gentians were in bloom.  If you’ve never seen one, this is what they look like 🙂

Spring Gentian,Gentiana verna,Upper Teesdale,macro photography tuition,flower photography tuition,www.northernexperienceimages.co.uk

Spring Gentian,Gentiana verna,macro photography tuition,flower photography tuition,Upper Teesdale,www.northernexperienceimages.co.uk

After our walk we watched a small group of Blackcock as they engaged in their, slightly comical, lekking behaviour before heading back north east after another excellent day in the hills.

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