Last weekend was the Big Garden Birdwatch and we followed tradition by sitting in our kitchen with a mug of coffee, and a bacon and tomato sandwich, having topped up all of the feeders the evening before. An hour later, we’d racked up a list of 21 species; Blackbird 3, Jackdaw 2, Collared Dove 2, Robin 3, Chaffinch 20, Great Tit 3, Coal Tit 3, Magpie 1, Blue Tit 2, Dunnock 1, Goldfinch 8, Jay 1, Bullfinch 1, House Sparrow 1, Greenfinch 1, Woodpigeon 2, Redwing 1, Tree Sparrow 1, Song Thrush 1, Sparrowhawk 1, Brambling 2. Quite a successful hour, although most species weren’t present in the numbers we would have expected and, as usual, several species that had been visiting the garden in recent days (Marsh Tit, Willow Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Siskin, Great Spotted Woodpecker) failed to appear during the 1 hour of the survey. Easy birding, and part of a huge national survey. If you didn’t do it this year, give it a go in 2014
Finding Red Squirrels on a Bank Holiday Monday had the potential to be a tricky task. With a good weather forecast, all of our local woodlands were likely to be filled with visitors. I headed up to Alnwick, to collect Tracy, Graham, Eleanor and Joe, before the rush started, and Sarah set off at the same time on a related mission…
By the time I arrived at our favourite squirrel site, with a car-load of clients, feeders had been checked and strategic areas baited. Jays, Great Tits and Woodpigeons were all in the trees around us, and Eleanor soon picked out the sound of a Red Squirrel in the canopy high overhead. We waited, patiently and quietly, and then Joe spotted movement along a branch and a Red Squirrel ran down the trunk of a nearby tree and tucked in to the provided feast.
After our woodland excursion a couple of hours of birdwatching in southeast Northumberland and Druridge Bay produced good sightings of Grey Heron, Little Grebe, Kestrel, Common Buzzard, Stock Dove and a juvenile Mediterranean Gull in amongst a mass of Black-headed Gulls from a landfill site.
Wildlife doesn’t perform to order, but when you’ve spent some time concentrating, listening and focusing on every sound and every movement there’s a good feeling when that effort is rewarded
Finishing a mini-safari at dusk combines two of my greatest pleasures; showing our clients the wildlife and landscape of Northumberland, and still being outside as it gets dark.
I met up with Alastair, Roz, Keith and Marian mid-afternoon last Thursday for a few hours of wildlife and birdwatching around Druridge Bay and Southeast Northumberland. As I got out of our Landrover in the car park at Church Point, it occurred to me that it was so cold and misty that I’d be really quite excited if it was mid-October Even so, in mid-February a mini-safari finishing at dusk is still exciting.
Beside the River Coquet, a wave of panic rippled through the Jackdaws and Woodpigeons. No sign of any cause though. Then another wave of panic and a Sparrowhawk raced by, narrowly missing a Black-headed Gull perched on a fence post. A group of Roe Deer were spotted by Marian, walking along a ridge opposite us and vanishing behind the bushes before reappearing and then vanishing again. At least 28 Goldeneye were displaying on the river, the comical contortions of the drakes providing good entertainment. Almost as good as the entertainment provided by the sense of humour of all 4 clients
A flock of 25 Goldfinches was well appreciated, as were all of the tiny lambs in the fields nearby and no fewer than 9 Grey Herons all sitting around one small pool. A pair of Pintail were dabbling, as dabbling ducks do, and Alastair’s sharp eyes provided a Barn Owl for the list as it ghosted it’s way through the sky above the flooded meadows.
Dusk beside a pool with a wader roost is almost indescribable; Lapwing, Curlew and Dunlin all huddled close together is quite a sight but the thing that takes almost everybody by surprise is the noise. The level of vocalisation between the birds is extraordinary, and then the Lapwings fall silent as they begin to fly off to feeding areas. Then, as the light faded to a level where binoculars, and even our eyes, weren’t really sufficient anymore, the trumpeting of 24 Whooper Swans coming to roost rounded the day off.
Early morning, and the ground underfoot varies from frozen crunchy to treacherously boggy. The sky overhead is a deep blue, the first rays of sunlight yet to bathe the fields, hedgerows and woodland in that magical golden glow. Clattering wings herald the departure of nearly 1000 Woodpigeons from their overnight roost, and a Blackbird rustles through the vegetation in the hedge bottom. A menacing shape carves through the air just above the treetops; the menacing flap-flap-glide of our local male Sparrowhawk, beating the bounds of his territory in search of the wintering flocks of Siskins, Redpolls, Crossbills, Chaffinches and Bramblings. The pungent scent of a Red Fox marks an area that I’ll want to stake out with my camera on another day, and as I head back towards home a Roe Deer springs across the path just a few metres ahead of me and disappears into the plantation just behind our house. An excellent way to prepare for the day ahead
We were watching Autumnwatch yesterday evening and one discussion between the presenters, concerning intervention when you’re filming/photographing an animal in distress, was particularly pertinent to the mini-safari that Martin led earlier yesterday evening…but back to that later in this post.
The half-term week was busy, as expected, and included some fantastic wildlife watching; Salmon leaping up a weir on the River Coquet, Starlings massing and swirling above a coastal reedbed before dropping to roost, 2000+ Pink-footed Geese filling the sky overhead, as they left their feeding sites and headed for the overnight safety of the water, and Grey Seals around the Farne Islands as they approach the height of their breeding season.
Yesterday brought an evening mini-safari in southeast Northumberland. Damp gloomy conditions and increasingly glowering clouds weren’t making things look too promising. Our walk along the River Blyth produced a Nuthatch, and a Kingfisher called as it flew along the swollen, muddy river. Two birdwatching gems, but quality rather than quantity was the order of the evening. A Sparrowhawk provided some entertainment as it swooped repeatedly down towards the trees, flushing flocks of Woodpigeon with each descent, before finally vanishing into the canopy. We continued our walk and, as we rounded a bend in the path, we found the reason for the Sparrowhawk’s disappearance; flapping lamely in the undergrowth was a Woodpigeon with a nasty head wound. The predator had presumably flushed as we approached. We’ve seen similar before and the question from clients is always “what are we going to do?”. The answer may seem quite cold and heartless but we do nothing. The pigeon was mortally wounded and would provide a meal either for the hawk or possibly a Red Fox would come along and make off with it. Nature really is ‘red in tooth and claw’ and we shouldn’t interfere in the everyday life (and death) of our wildlife where we can avoid doing so.
Our next destination was what is rapidly becoming our favourite Badger sett. As we watched quietly (and we really have to congratulate the 6-year old in our group for remaining so very quiet) over the open area close to the sett, a Red Fox crossed the track ahead of us, we could hear scuffling in the undergrowth and then two stripy black-and-white faces appeared out of the gloom. After a withering stare in our direction the two cubs trotted along the hillside and were joined by a third before vanishing into the night. The final leg of the trip was a search for owls. Local knowledge paid off, as the ghostly figure of a Barn Owl floated through the beam of our headlights just where we expected it to. There was still time for more wildlife though and the application of our bat detector revealed a Common Pipistrelle feeding on the rich bounty of moths. After the recent frosts it was good to find bats still active, and our final event for this October is a Bat Walk at Bamburgh Castle tomorrow evening. Give us a call on 01670 827465 to book your place for what should be an evening of family fun.
We had back-to back birdwatching trips earlier this week, covering two of our favourite areas.
On Tuesday afternoon I collected Keith and Jen from home in Monkseaton and we headed northwards up the Northumberland coast. Our destination was the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, one of the birding hot-spots of the entire country. The strong winds were the only downside to the afternoon, but the birdwatching was good. After checking out a large group of Grey Seals we covered the area around the harbour and the Rocket Field. Bar-tailed Godwits, Common Redshank and lots of Ringed Plover were along the shoreline and a delightful charm of Goldfinches were around the Heugh. A distant group of Lapwings, Starlings and Golden Plover took to the air and the cause of their alarm was glimpsed briefly, although too briefly and too distant to make a positive ID. Holy Island birdwatching stalwart Ian Kerr put us on to a Little Stint and, as we headed back through the village, groups of Golden Plover passed overhead. Re-tracing our route back down the coast and checking the Budle Bay on the rising tide, we were just discussing the indications of the presence of predators when a huge number of birds lifted from the mud. As well as the gulls and waders, Jackdaws, Rooks and Woodpigeons joined the throng as they came out of adjacent fields and trees. This time the culprit was seen and identified; a Peregrine, that most majestic of raptors and one of the highlights of any birdwatching day on the Northumberland coast in the autumn and winter. A quick seawatch produced Sandwich Terns feeding, and Gannets soaring effortlessly on the breeze.
Wednesday was a full day out around Druridge Bay and Southeast Northumberland. I collected Jayne and Andrew from Seahouses, and then Hilary and John from Alnmouth, before beginning our tour of some of the best birdwatching spots in our local area. While we were watching Lapwings, Redshanks, Greenshanks, Ruff, Herons and Cormorants on the River Wansbeck I could hear a rough ’sreee’ call from high overhead. The strong breeze meant that it wasn’t straightforward to locate the bird, but eventually I picked it out. It was an unfamiliar call, but a familiar species; a juvenile Common Cuckoo. The walk back along the river produced a nice flock of Long-tailed Tits. After lunch we stopped off at Cresswell Pond. Hilary and John mentioned that they’d visited Cresswell once before – when they noticed a large group of birders and stopped, managing to see a Buff-breasted Sandpiper.With luck like that, we joked about what this visit could produce...
When we arrived at the hide, Jaybee mentioned that he’d had a juvenile Sandwich Tern. I scanned the pond but couldn’t see the tern anywhere and we settled to enjoying the quite remarkable views of Common Snipe that were available. After checking through the assembled ducks, gulls and waders I scanned across the pond again and spotted a tern dip-feeding near the causeway. The bird’s behaviour, combined with it’s very dark back, white rump and silver-grey wings caused me to get rather excited. White-winged Black Tern is a very special bird, and a personal highlight as it’s the third Chlidonias tern that I’ve found in Northumberland. Whiskered Tern is very rare and Black Tern is always a nice bird to see but White-winged Black Tern is such a beautiful species. Jaybee kindly sent me some images to useAs other birders began to arrive to enjoy the fruit of our good fortune we continued up the coast. Eiders and a Goosander, as well as some very obliging Grey Herons, were seen as we stopped by the River Coquet. A superb couple of day’s birdwatching, a beautiful rarity and clients who were excellent company.
We had a leisurely hour of birdwatching yesterday morning. With all of the feeders stocked with top class bird food from Poltross, and a bacon and egg butty and a mug of coffee in hand, we settled down into our respective positions on either side of the kitchen. With commentary on the dismantling of Andy Murray in the background, binoculars were trained on the feeders, the ground, the shrubbery and the Ash tree. After a slow start, things began to gather pace and we finished with 76 birds of 20 species;
Collared Dove 4
Wood Pigeon 2
Carrion Crow 1
House Sparrow 1
Blue Tit 2
Great Tit 3
Coal Tit 7
Willow Tit 2
Long-tailed Tit 3
There were a few absentees as well, all seen regularly in the days leading up to the Big Garden Birdwatch;
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Maybe 25 species in 1hr is a target to aim for in our garden next year.