Author Archive

summertime?; otter mini-Safari 13/06/21

by on Jun.14, 2021, under Druridge Bay

After a few very warm sunny days, it was grey and cooler when I arrived to meet up with Teresa and Pam for an evening in Druridge Bay

In the cooler conditions the dense clouds of chironomid midges had gone, but the songs of meadow pipit, reed bunting, skylark, willow warbler, common whitethroat and chiffchaff were all typical of an evening trip at this time of year. The chip-chip-chip calls of a snipe came from a clump of rushes and avocets were keeping watch over chicks and angrily pursuing crows that flew by, while lapwings harassed a marsh harrier, and common terns fished in front of us. A pair of great crested grebes were just a few metres away from where we’d seen them recently, mute swans brought their cygnets out from a reedbed, two male marsh harriers flew by in quick succession, the eerie cries of curlew drifted across the pools, grey herons squabbled over fishing spots, an otherwise uninspiring sunset painted the northern and western horizon with a pastel pink glow, and mini-murmurations of starlings formed and twisted and turned as Teresa spotted a dark sinuous shape that vanished behind the reeds in front of us.

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This is the sound of the summer; otter mini-Safari 10/06/21

by on Jun.11, 2021, under Druridge Bay

As I arrived to meet up with with Peter and Melanie, and Kristina and Paul, for an evening in Druridge Bay, the sky overhead was fluffy white clouds on an azure background but away to the north it looked grey and ominous…

Tufted ducks and Canada geese were alert as a Marsh Harrier drifted by, mobbed by lapwings and gulls, and a whimbrel flew north with just one burst of its distinctive trill. Swifts, swallows and black-headed gulls were all feasting on an abundance of chironomid (non-biting!) midges and, as we paused to admire a common toad that was staring impassively at us from the footpath, a common snipe was drumming high overhead.

Walking along the coastal path we were accompanied by the songs of common whitethroat, chiffchaff, willow warbler, reed warbler, skylark, meadow pipit and reed bunting, another marsh harrier was quartering reedbeds and fields and the loud song of a great reed warbler carried across fields on the southerly breeze as we came across northern marsh orchids and bloody cranesbill. As common and sandwich terns bathed in fresh water, a pair of great crested grebes radiated elegance, and the head of tiny chick put in a cameo appearance between it’s parent’s wings πŸ™‚ A roe deer was grazing, unconcerned by our presence, on the edge of a reedbed and later in the evening we watched a younger deer that seemed to be struggling with the concept of needing to jump over a fence to get out of a field (despite having jumped over it to get in there in the first place!).

A starling murmuration contained around 100 birds and as a stunning sunset gave way to dusk, with Arcturus and the summer triangle prominent overhead, grey herons decided to end the day with a dispute over prime feeding spots.

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Forecasting; NEWT’s 4hr North Sea pelagic 02/06/21

by on Jun.03, 2021, under Uncategorized

Yesterday’s 4hr evening pelagic looked in doubt a few days ago, with stiff easterlies and 1.5m waves in the forecast. As the day approached, the forecast was looking much more promising, so I left the office under clear blue skies and bright sunshine for the 25min drive to the marina. Half way there and Jo ‘phoned “There’s a thick fret rolling in”, and by the time I reached the marina it was murky, overcast, and a chilly southeasterly breeze had everyone checking that they’d packed hats, gloves and spare layers…

NECP surveyors braving the cold were watching bottlenose dolphins in the mouths of the Tyne and the Wear as we sailed from the marina but, as we reached the fish quay, the dolphins in the Tyne had headed south, other than two briefly seen fins between the starboard navigation markers. South was the obvious direction for us too, and in increasing swell we passed Marsden Rock as kittiwakes, fulmars, razorbills, guillemots and gannets flew by. Jo spotted a small group of dolphins and we lowered our speed and changed course to avoid heading straight for them. We were on course to pass a few hundred metres to the side of them, but the dolphins had other ideas…

A few of this year’s sailings are fully booked already but there are some with spaces still available. Have a look at our pelagics page to see which sailings are available and get in touch to book your place and join in the fun πŸ™‚

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Druridge Bay bespoke birdwatching 27/05/21

by on May.28, 2021, under Druridge Bay

I arrived at Church Point to meet up with Sandra and Francis, and we set off for a day around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland, an alternative to the bespoke Farne Islands safari originally planned (a long time ago…) but currently not possible for circumstances that are beyond our control, and bafflingly inexplicable…

Starting with a riverside walk chiffchaffs, whitethroats, wrens, chaffinches and dunnocks were singing as we passed sea buckthorn, pygmy goats, and gadwall, mallards, mute swans, canada geese on a river watched over by cormorants perched on semi-submerged trees and branches.

Lunch at the Drift Cafe was accompanied by whitethroat, swallow and pied wagtail, all singing or calling from rooftops, aerials and telegraph poles around us. A stop at Cresswell Pond produced a very obliging Barn Owl, hunting along the edge of the pool and in the dunes before returning with prey to it’s nest, and we continued our journey north along the coast road.

Lapwings were chasing summer-plumaged dunlin who’d strayed too close to their chicks, avocets graced the pool edges with their elegance, whimbrel and curlew called as they flew over, before settling out of easy viewing range in the heat haze, gadwall, teal and mallard dabbled as little grebes and tufted ducks dived and a mute swan escorted her cygnets. Marsh harriers exchanged nest duties, taking it in turns to quarter the reedbeds, sandwich and common terns arrived to bathe in fresh water and a very showy sedge warbler kept returning to the same perch in a hawthorn bush. Our walk between dunes and fields had an impressive chorus line of whitethroats, skylarks, stonechats, a single reed warbler rhythmically chuntering from cover and the reeling of a grasshopper warbler from a tangle of brambles.

After so many years of NEWT, and the last year of hardly being able to work, it’s great to be out and about again with lovely clients enjoying our local wildlife πŸ™‚

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Anticipation; Otter mini-Safari 19/05/21

by on May.20, 2021, under Druridge Bay, Otter

At this time of year our new ‘mini-Safari only’ approach means a late(ish) start so I can spend time earlier in the day doing other business jobs, and cooking. As I get older I’m getting better at timing things so I made a tartiflette, and a tomato and aubergine curry, and still had time to make a cuppa for the other member of the NEWT team before I headed out to meet up with Anthony, and Louise and Tony, ahead of an evening searching for otters around Druridge Bay

With the breeze in our faces, and some ominous looking weather ahead of us, we watched shelducks, common and Sandwich terns and mute swans until the rain had passed by, then we continued walking south. Some very obliging stonechats posed for photographs while whitethroats proved more elusive and grasshopper warblers, chiffchaffs and skylarks were singing, a calling lapwing had two fluffy chicks near a small puddle in a field and the eerie cries of curlew echoed across the fields. The next squally shower caught us in the open but we were soon settled, and sheltered, watching pairs of tufted ducks at close range as they dived for food and the heavy rain continued with glorious sunlight from the west. A roe deer was quietly grazing on the opposite bank, a whimbrel whistled it’s distinctive call as it flew north, and, as a barn owl flew by, I scanned the edge of the pool that was noticeably devoid of birds…and there were two young otters play-fighting πŸ™‚ We watched them for 10 minutes then they vanished, before one reappeared and headed straight towards us before turning back and vanishing into the gloomy shadows of the reeds, underneath a glorious sunset. The walk back to the cars produced another barn owl and then, with the dusk air damp and hazy with insects, noctule bats swooped over the trees and bushes.

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Moonwatch and Stargazing 17 and 18/05/21

by on May.20, 2021, under Dark Skies

My work life is split between wildlife safaris, photography workshops, pelagics and dark skies events, and with the recent easing of lockdown restrictions the reopening of the award-winning Battlesteads Hotel meant the reopening of the observatory too. I had the privilege of leading the first ever event at the observatory (for the solar eclipse in March 2015) and our staffing rota gave me the first two events this week after more than 6 months of closure πŸ™‚

Monday started with rain, and a rainbow, before the guests arrived to great views of the moon through the 11″ SCT, and an eagerly anticipated bright, and long, passover by the ISS coincided with two Starlink trains. People have conflicting emotions about the number of artificial satellites currently being launched, but they’re an impressive sight! Two thirds of the Summer Triangle (Vega and Deneb) put in an appearance, along with Castor, Pollux, Arcturus, Mars and the Plough.

Tuesday had a better forecast…and more cloud! The guests were still able to look at the moon’s craters and mountain ranges through the 11″ and Arcturus and Vega both appeared between the fast-moving clouds, with more stars, and Mars, visible towards the end of the evening.

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Otter Safari 15/05/21

by on May.17, 2021, under Druridge Bay

The last 14 months has been a strange time of arranging, postponing, rearranging, postponing, so it was a relief to finally be heading to Newbiggin to collect Mel, George, Betsy and Ernest for a few hours around southeast Northumberland and Druridge Bay.

Starting with clear blue skies we watched mallards, gadwall, Canada geese, mute swans, cormorants, herons, and pied wagtails as common whitethroat, willow warbler and chiffchaff all sang from the bushes around us and sand martin and swallow plundered the myriad of flying insects over the water. Pygmy goats that had found a way out of their enclosure watched as we walked by, demonstrating an apparent disdain for thorns as they munched on bramble leaves.

After a picnic stop on a clifftop overlooking the North Sea, with gannets heading north and fulmars arcing gracefully by, just a few metres away from us, we headed up the coast, stopping when we saw a group of photographers, and were treated to incredible views of a barn owl as it quartered rough grassland. As cloud cover enveloped the entire sky, other than a small strip on the western horizon, reed buntings sang their simple song, coots, mute swans, tufted ducks and great crested grebes drifted through flat water and the reeds were lit orangy-red by a spectacular sunset as the explosive rant of a Cetti’s warbler burst from the reeds as a red fox made it’s way through poolside vegetation.

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Back on the North Sea; NEWT’s 4hr pelagic 12/05/21

by on May.17, 2021, under North Sea

As we spend so much of our time on, or by, the sea it seemed poetic that as restrictions eased sufficiently to allow us to start running tours again, our first trip was a pelagic. The North Sea was at its ever-shifting best; lumpy swell and whitecaps eventually giving way to oily-smooth water reflecting the colours of the setting sun πŸ™‚

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Going back to basics

by on Feb.03, 2021, under Photography, Uncategorized

NEWT having a period of hibernation, while we deal with another enforced lockdown, has been an interesting time. We’re walking every day (1.6 miles in a morning or at lunchtime, then 6-10 miles on both Saturday and Sunday). Occasionally I’ll carry my big lens (150-600mm) with me, but mostly I prefer to travel light…

Like many photographers I have a lot of kit accumulated over the years, often with a specific function in mind. Until a couple of years ago my photography was mainly offshore wildlife, and nightscape, using lenses that were purchased specifically for those (70-200mm and 14-24mm). I was leading a photography holiday in Glencoe over Christmas 2018 and during the briefing I said we’d have a constructive critique of our images after dinner each evening. “Only if you agree to put your images up for discussion too”. I don’t usually carry a camera during workshops, but agreed to put one camera body with a 50mm prime lens, and no other accessories, in my rucksack, along with lunch, first aid kit, emergency group shelter etc.

The effect was extraordinary. All of that kit, and I fell completely in love with a lens that cost me less than Β£100. Through all the challenging times of the last 10 months, it’s been rare that I would leave the house without that lens mounted on my D810 and in my hand. It’s provided a stable point of focus (apologies for the unintentional pun…) and keeps my mind occupied. Here’s a little gallery of images I’ve taken with it, from Glencoe in December ’18 through to a walk in the woods 2 days ago.

Of course, I’m now finding lots of situations where 50mm is slightly too much reach…note to self – research 35mm primes πŸ™‚

Stay safe and well, and we’ll see you on the other side of this πŸ™‚

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Murmurings; Otter mini-Safari 29/10/20

by on Oct.30, 2020, under Uncategorized

Other than a few nights at the Battlesteads Observatory, I’ve had a month at home with my feet up recovering from an operation in late September to fix an old foot injury. Even the drizzly, murky weather didn’t curb my enthusiasm for getting back out with clients so I met Maria ahead of a few hours searching for Otters

Teal, Gadwall, Shelduck, Mallard, Wigeon, Tufted Duck and Red-breasted Merganser were all constantly stirred by Marsh Harriers drifting over the pool, Lapwing and Curlew flew by and then the Starlings started arriving. Here’s Maria’s video πŸ™‚

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