Tag: Yellowhammer

Localised weather systems; Cheviot Valleys group birdwatching 11/07/17

by on Jul.13, 2017, under Cheviot Valleys

Watching the weather forecast on the breakfast news, I was confident that any rain we encountered on our day in the Cheviot Valleys would be quickly passing showers…

As I collected Mike and the other 12 members of his group from Belford there was a steady drizzle, and I was questioning the forecast already 😉 Heading into the hills we were soon watching Pheasant, Red-legged Partridge and a Brown Hare that loped across the road in front of us before heading up a rough track and out of sight.  The air was damp and warm; perfect conditions for midges and the Sand Martins, House Martins and Swallows that were busy hoovering them up.  Lesser Redpoll were trilling overhead, the high-pitched calls of Siskin pierced the damp air and a female Red Grouse was leading her chicks through the heather as we headed along the path to higher ground.  You should be careful what you wish for, and I’d just mentioned that a slightly stiffer breeze would suppress the degree of annoyance that the midges tend to bring, when the breeze did start to pick up a bit.  Eventually the stiff easterly was driving rain into the valley and the forecast was looking like a wild guess at what the weather was actually going to do.  I suggested that we retreat to the lower reaches of the valley and see what the weather was like down there.  It was better, much better in fact and our second walk of the day, following a lunch stop that was accompanied by a very obliging Yellowhammer, brought Common Buzzard, Common Sandpiper, Grey Wagtail, Curlew, a family of Whinchat and, after a lot of effort, the two target species for the afternoon – Dipper and Ring Ouzel – as a young Roe Deer watched us from the other side of the valley.  Just a few miles back along the road on our return journey to Belford the roads were dry, bone dry and it seemed that we’d been enjoying a remarkable bit of micro-climate 🙂

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“I’m really scared of birds”; Farne Islands Safari 30/06/16

by on Jul.05, 2016, under Farne Islands

In late June, a big part of the Farne Islands experience is the aerial bombardment you’re subjected to as Arctic Terns defend their eggs and chicks…

I collected John from Bedlington, Colin and Martin from Morpeth and then Sue from Old Swarland (for her 4th trip with NEWT).  A breezy but warm morning brought Curlew, Yellowhammer, Grey Seal, Shelduck and a Brown Hare running though short vegetation right on the shoreline.  After lunch overlooking the Farne Islands we boarded the St Cuthbert and headed out of Seahouses Harbour.  We were soon being passed by Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills and Gannets and soon the unmistakeable sound, and smell, of the seabird colony reached the boat.  Landing on Inner Farne brought the expected mob of angry terns and we watched the tiny beak of an Arctic Tern chick as it chipped way at the eggshell surrounding it.  Fulmars arced along the cliff tops, Kittiwakes were hanging on the strong breeze just a few metres away from us, Sandwich and Common Terns flew by without molesting us and Puffins peeked from their burrows.  As we walked through the courtyard a lady walked by in the other direction; head down, hood pulled up and explaining to her friends how she’s really scared of birds.  Inner Farne probably wasn’t the best choice of visitor attraction then…

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Small things; Druridge Bay 24/05/16

by on May.26, 2016, under Druridge Bay

Waders are often spectacular, seabirds are enigmatic and raptors are, well, raptors, but sometimes the smaller birds deserve a lot more attention…

I collected Stephen from North Shields for his 7th day trip with NEWT and we headed north to Druridge Bay.  Days out with Stephen are always enjoyableStarting in bright sunshine under blue skies, it soon clouded over, then cleared, then clouded again.  Wigeon, Shoveler, Mallard, Tufted Duck and Gadwall all looked in excellent condition, and a Whimbrel was good to see.  Great Crested Grebes had their feathers ruffled by a stiffening breeze as Swallows, Swifts, House Martins and Sand Martins were all feeding only a metre or so above the water.  Tree Sparrows are always very smart looking birds and a male Yellowhammer provided an extraordinary touch of brilliant colour as the northerly wind brought the first spots of rain.  As we sat eating lunch on the clifftop at Cresswell, Fulmars were gliding effortlessly by and a Rock Pipit appeared, carrying food back to it’s nest as the scratchy warble of a Whitethroat carried on the breeze.  The rhythmic ranting of Reed Warbler and scattergun song of Sedge Warbler emanated from deep in the reeds and a Reed Warbler obligingly shuffled to the reed tops close to a singing male Reed Bunting.

Tree Sparrow,Passer montanus,Northumberland,Northern Experience Wildlife Tours

As we headed back to the car Swifts were racing by at head height and the wind seemed to be strengthening…

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More five star birdwatching; Northumberland coast 24/02/14

by on Feb.25, 2014, under Birdwatching, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

Yesterday continued to lay to rest the myth that February is a quiet month…

Starting in the north of the county, overlooking the iconic landscape of Holy Island, brought the expected waders and wildfowl, and three lifers for Paul and Katie, who were back for another day out with us, following a trip in 2009; Common Scoter, Long-tailed Duck and Twite. A Peregrine muscled its way menacingly through the air above a flock of Dunlin, Grey Seals were ‘bottling’ at high tide and Bar-tailed Godwits, Redshank and Curlew were probing the soft exposed mud as the tide began to drop.  Eider, Shelduck, Red-throated Divers, Wigeon and Teal were all at or near the water’s edge and the songs of Skylark and Yellowhammer reverberated in the warm sunshine.  Perhaps the highlight of the morning was a bird that is always breathtaking; sailing elegantly into the stiff breeze, a male Hen Harrier was tracking along a hedgerow heading inland 🙂

The afternoon brought Paul and Katie’s fourth lifer of the day, a Red-necked Grebe, with Little, Great Crested and Slavonian Grebes all close by for comparison.  Two Avocets were rather unseasonal, a pair of Pintail exuded elegance, drake Goldeneye looked very smart in their contrasty breeding plumage, Red-breasted Mergansers looked quite, well, comical as they always do and two Brown Hares were sitting motionless in a nearby field.  With 30 minutes until sunset a small flock of Starlings flying in from the north led to me suggesting that we go and see where they’d gone, and to check if there was going to a significant murmuration…

What followed was, quite simply, one of the most remarkable things I’ve ever witnessed.  Initially the Starlings were about a mile south of where I expected them to roost, and there were a lot of them.  Soon two other large flocks merged with them and they moved slowly north, eventually passing directly overhead with the sound of wingbeats like a gentle breeze rustling through a forest.  The murmuration drifted away to the south again, then back north.  Almost an hour had passed when the activity levels within the flock were ramped up.  Twisting and turning with more urgency, the density of birds in different parts of our view coalesced to form writhing shapes from the previously uniform oval.  With light levels fading, the birds vanished from sight, only to betray their presence in a series of shapes that resembled a slug, then a snail, then a car.  We soon lost them in the gloom again, only for the finale to the evenings proceedings to take us all by surprise as the flock compacted over the reedbed where they were going to roost, forming a dense arrowhead as they funneled into the reeds.  With the first birds down in the reedbed, the rest of the flock wheeled slightly higher, then repeated the maneuver, a second arrowhead driving into the reeds.  A third, then a fourth, cohort entered the roost and all was quiet.  Fade to black…

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Five star birdwatching; Northumberland Coast 20/02/14

by on Feb.23, 2014, under Birdwatching, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

Our fourth trip this week was a day birdwatching with Simon, who was back again after previous trips including a stunning Farne Deeps pelagic in 2012.  We’d spoken in advance of the trip and Simon was keen to add a few of Northumberland’s wintering birds to his life list; divers, grebes, Purple Sandpiper and Brambling were all mentioned as desirable.

When I arrived to collect him on Thursday morning, I was still wrestling with the challenge of heading inland for Brambling, yet leaving plenty of time to explore the Northumberland coast.  That worry was quickly taken away, as putting a feeder up outside the holiday cottage meant that Simon had found one of the species on his wish list himself 🙂  Covering most of the coast from north to south produced five lifers;  Red-throated Divers just beyond the surf, Long-tailed Ducks including a breathtakingly beautiful drake, Purple Sandpipers unobtrusively poking around in rock pools, displaying Goldeneye rivaling the attractiveness of the Long-tailed Ducks and, as the afternoon light faded and the rain finally arrived, a very obliging Water RailTwite, Stonechat, Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting, Skylark, Marsh Harrier, Slavonian, Little and Red-necked Grebes, Shelduck, Bar-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Grey and Golden Plover, Lapwing, Gannet, Curlew, Teal, Mallard and Wigeon may have been reduced to a supporting role for the day, but all combined to produce an excellent day’s birdwatching on the Northumberland coast 🙂

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Heading north…

by on Mar.15, 2012, under Birdwatching, Holy Island, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

Living in southeast Northumberland, we’re spoiled by having easy access to some outstanding birdwatching areas.  Holy Island, which we still think is at its best during the winter, is just an hour north up the A1…

I collected Keith and Mary on Saturday morning and we crossed the causeway onto the island for a day of birdwatching around the Northumberland Coast AONB.  Although we encountered wintering Pale-bellied Brent Geese, Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits and other waders and wildfowl, there was a definite spring feel to the day.  The weather was glorious (although a little breezy), and Skylarks could be heard high overhead.  Curlews were in full voice, Grey Herons were stalking through poolside vegetation, Grey Seals were hauled out at low tide and a steady stream of Gannets passed by offshore.  Early afternoon we headed back to the mainland and more waders and wildfowl, as well as a mixed flock of Yellowhammers, Reed Buntings, Linnets and Tree Sparrows (with the male Yellowhammers looking particularly stunning) before finishing in the shadow of Bamburgh Castle with roosting Oystercatchers, Redshanks and Purple Sandpipers, Eiders bobbing about in the surf and a mixed raft of Common Scoters and Slavonian Grebes diving repeatedly in the swell and really testing powers of concentration.

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Here for the weather?

by on Jan.30, 2012, under Birdwatching, Holy Island, Lindisfarne, Northumberland

Just as I arrived at Harkess Rocks to collect Andy and Helen for an afternoon of birdwatching around the Holy Island of Lindisfarne and the North Northumberland coast, the first drops of sleety rain began splattering on the windscreen.  We haven’t really had any sort of winter yet, apart from an hour of snow on December 16th, but yesterday afternoon did feel positively chilly.  Undaunted by the easterly wind and icy showers we enjoyed the wader and wildfowl spectacle that is the Northumberland coast in the winter.  Curlews  singing as they flew by must have a joie de vivre that lets them vent that emotional haunting call wherever they may be.  Other wading birds entertained as they probed, prodded and buried their bills face-deep in the mud; Grey Plovers, Bar-tailed Godwits, Redshanks and Oystercatchers were all making the most of the exposed mud at low tide.  A big flock of Yellowhammers, Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Goldfinches, Tree Sparrows, House Sparrows and Reed Buntings held our attention for a good while and wildfowl were well represented with Shelduck, Eider, Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Goosander and Pintail.  As we watched a very obliging Dark-bellied Brent Goose, it was a sobering thought that our wintering birds are generally here because conditions in the areas where they breed are too harsh at this time of the year.  Mammals were braving the cold too; 7 Roe Deer, a Brown Hare and 5 Common Seals made a not too shabby mammal list for the afternoon.

I often reflect on my decision to return to Northumberland from Arizona, and as we watched that lone Brent Goose, with the biting wind driving waves of showery rain, were my thoughts of the warmth and sunshine of Tucson?  No, what I was thinking was that this is the weather I came home for…and the reason that good outdoor clothing is a necessity 😉

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Sport Relief

by on Mar.22, 2010, under Family and friends

I spent yesterday in an unfamiliar role; as support to The Swan Striders (Sarah and Kirsty) as they took part in the Sport Relief mile at Druridge Bay Country Park.  This is the first step in a grand plan that should eventually see them completing a marathon.  As they only began their training regime a couple of weeks ago, and Kirsty tore a calf muscle last week, it was impossible to guess how they would perform.  Needless to say, they both finished the mile (well, 1.4 miles…) still running, in a time of 16:47.  I’m a proud husband 🙂

My own health improvements are taking the form of lots of walks (I’d love to run with the girls but one of my knees is very unstable).  After the Alnwick Tourism Fair on Friday I walked the 4 miles up to Morpeth to collect Sarah’s car from the garage where it had been for it’s MOT.  Against the prevailing wind I knocked 5 mins off the time it took in the other direction with the wind behind me.  Progress…and now we’re going to set a series of targets for me, probably culminating in the Three Peaks.  As ever there was a wildlife angle to my walk; although an unexpected one as I flushed a Woodcock from under a hedge near Hepscott.  Yellowhammers, Skylarks and Reed Buntings were singing and there’s a vibrant fresh feel to the countryside.  Can you feel it?

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The (h)edge of reason

by on Jan.14, 2010, under Birdwatching, Photography, Southeast Northumberland

We’re well into warm(er) weather now, although there was a fresh covering of snow this morning and as Martin sat through a 2hr meeting at Matfen Hall yesterday morning there was steady snowfall throughout.

As well as the flocks of birds that are visiting gardens so that they can find enough food to survive we’ve been finding reasonable flocks of farmland birds.  One flock we’ve been watching has lots of Linnets, Reed Buntings and Yellowhammers and at least 12 Bramblings.  They’ve found a wheat field that hadn’t been harvested so there was a substantial food source above the snowline even at the weekend when there was still a lot of snow on the ground.

Patience was the key to watching them.  Standing motionless meant that they were willing to approach to within the minimum focusing distance of our 500mm lens.  Well worth the discomfort of standing in one place in sub-zero temperatures 🙂

Mixed flock in a hedge, a warming winter birdwatching sight

Mixed flock in a hedge, a warming winter birdwatching sight

Brambling and Reed Buntings

Brambling and Reed Buntings

5 of the Bramblings

5 of the Bramblings

Linnet

Linnet

Reed Bunting

Reed Bunting

Reed Bunting

Reed Bunting

Yellowhammer

Yellowhammer

Yellowhammer

Yellowhammer

Of course, with so many birds concentrated in one small area it was inevitable that ours weren’t the only eyes watching them.  Through the camera lens there was a rush of wings as everything took off, a blur across the viewfinder and then an opportunity for a morbid portrait.

Who ended up on the menu?

Who ended up on the menu?

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Sloe and steady

by on Dec.31, 2009, under Birdwatching, Lee Moor Farm

After the completion of the thaw yesterday we woke this morning…to a fresh covering of snow 🙂 Now, I make no secret of the fact that I love wintry weather.  I’m invigorated by it, my photography is inspired when we’re in the grip of bone-chilling temperatures and a blanket of snow on the ground fills me with joy.  I struggle to understand the media apoplexy that greets snowfall each winter.  Well, that’s the usual response if that snowfall is anywhere other than Northumberland…

I often wonder what the national media thinks lies between Leeds and Edinburgh?  Today was no exception.  The national weather forecast on the BBC was concerned with snowfall in the northeast of Scotland.  And that was it as far as snowfall was concerned…my only problem was that as we drove up the A1 just north of Morpeth there was a good couple of inches of freshly-fallen snow on the road and we were in a blizzard that brought near white-out conditions.  Sarah took this shot using my ‘phone.

Nowhere other than Scotland eh?

Nowhere other than Scotland eh?

The lorry that you can see ahead of us spent most of his journey veering across the carriageway as he lost traction.  The cars I could see in our rear view mirror were having similar problems.  And us?  We were in a proper vehicle 🙂  No problems, just a steady drive to make sure we were a safe distance behind the lorry.  That’s the thing about wintry conditions, as long as people understand that things are different there probably isn’t a need for the panic and the mayhem.

We arrived at Lee Moor, and the covering of snow on the ground wasn’t managing to lighten the gloomy conditions a great deal; 09:30 and the sky was as darker than it had been at 8am.  Our small group assembled and we set off around the farm trails.  The birdwatching was good; a big mixed flock of Yellowhammers, Reed Buntings and Tree Sparrows allowed a close approach, Kestrels and Buzzards passed overhead, a solitary Lapwing sat motionless in a snowy field and a covey of Grey Partridges flushed from a well-managed headland.  Throughout the frozen woodland Brown Hares were regularly encountered and voles appeared from, then disappeared back into, their snow-holes.  The covering of snow also made it easy to follow the tracks of Roe Deer and Red Fox.  Back at the farm, Ian provided a delicious lunch of home-made soup, warm bread and mince pies.  Then he produced a bottle of Sloe gin.  It was a shame Martin was driving as he had 2003, 2004 and 2009 vintages! Sarah enjoyed it…and reminded us that we had a bottle in our drinks cabinet at home…

Lee Moor Farm

Lee Moor Farm

In the bleak midwinter

In the bleak midwinter

An 'interesting' footpath

An 'interesting' footpath

Ian Brown, a wooly hat and one of them old-fashioned film camera thingies

Ian, a wooly hat and one of them old-fashioned film camera thingies

That’s it for 2009.  Have an enjoyable Old Year’s Night and see you in 2010 🙂

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