Author Archive

A chance encounter

by on May.21, 2013, under Birdwatching, Family and friends, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

“The man sitting at Table 7 is walking the entire coastline of the mainland UK to raise money for the Alzheimers Society and Alzheimer Scotland”

Chris’ comment as we arrived to spend Friday evening, as we do most Friday evenings, at The Swan suggested a customer with a fascinating repertoire of anecdotes… As Philip was about to head to his room, he came across to say goodnight to Chris and Kirsty, and we all got talking.  As he’s passionate about wildlife, fly-fishing, photography and sustainability there were plenty of shared interests to chat about 🙂  When we discovered that he hadn’t had much publicity for the Northumberland coast section of his walk, a flurry of texts and tweets (at 22:30 on Friday night) led to interviews on BBC Radio Newcastle and Radio Northumberland on Saturday as he walked from Cresswell to Blyth.  The other thing we could help him with was transport to Cresswell on Saturday morning, and some company for the first part of the walk.

Martin collected Philip at 10:00 and accompanied him for a very wet five miles down the coast to Newbiggin.  Fulmars were soaring steeply above the clifftops, Gannets were heading north into the strong breeze and Skylarks sang overhead during interludes between showers.  As they reached Newbiggin a lady came out of her house and put some money into Philip’s collection tin – she had been keeping an eye out for him after hearing his interview on BBC Radio Newcastle!

Philip’s a fascinating man, undertaking an amazing journey for a very worthy cause so if you can help him in any way, please do;  follow him on Twitter, donate via JustGiving or check the schedule for the rest of his walk and think if you can help in some way as he passes along your stretch of the coastline 🙂

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In the grip of winter…in late March

by on Apr.04, 2013, under North Pennines, Northumberland

Sunday saw the two of us heading southwest into the North Pennines to carry out some recce work for a press trip that Martin was leading.  As soon as we were up above the level of the Tyne valley there was snow laying, which got deeper as we gained altitude.  Lapwings, Curlew and Oystercatcher were all displaying, Common Kestrels were hovering over the few clear areas of vegetation and Common Buzzards soared by.  With a white landscape, Red Grouse and Black Grouse were easy to find and a few Red Grouse were close enough to make it worthwhile getting the camera out.

Red Grouse,bird photography,bird photography tuition,Northumberland

Red Grouse,bird photography,bird photography tuition,Northumberland

Red Grouse,bird photography,photography tuition,Northumberland

The highlight of the day came just over the border in County Durham with a stunning male Ring Ouzel, close to a nest site, being harrassed by a Mistle Thrush. The ‘Mountain Blackbird’ just seemed to be in exactly the right place in the wintry hills in deep snow.

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The passing of an extraordinary man

by on Mar.06, 2013, under Cheviot Valleys, Choppington Woods, Family and friends, North Pennines, Northumberland

Most people adopt children.  Somehow we adopted a cantankerous septuagenarian…

When we first met Jim, eleven years ago, he was already in his 70’s, but still very active and taking long walks in the countryside and camping most weekends.  Retired for over a decade at that point, he became the first Treasurer of the Friends of Choppington Woods.  He had a stroke in 2005 and was left unable to drive, so one of us, or Glen, would go and collect him so that he could attend FOCW meetings.  We kept an eye on him and when we first started NEWT, and Martin had a lot of time on his hands, the two of them started going out around the Cheviot valleys and the North Pennines – two areas that Jim had studied extensively throughout his life.  His boundless knowledge of the North Pennines, and its mining history and flora, was responsible for the itineraries that we developed for our trips to that area.  Over time Jim was becoming less physically able; walks in the countryside followed by lunch became drives in the countryside followed by lunch and inevitably became drives to a nice pub for lunch.  Discussions about book-collecting (a shared passion) and the natural history and landscape of Northumberland, County Durham and Scotland filled many, many hours and Jim inspired Martin’s interests in lichens, pollen analysis and botany.  When he became ill in 2010, and moved into a residential care home, we took on the responsibility of keeping his close friends informed of how he was, and making sure that anything he needed was provided.

That responsibility meant that three weeks ago we had to let his friends know that he was seriously ill, and the hospital felt he was unlikely to survive.  Jim had other ideas though and, after being taken off all medication, he woke up and asked where his breakfast was.  After a week of remarkable high spirits and lucidity, now back in residential care, it was perhaps inevitable that he began to fade and we had to make those difficult calls again as he was readmitted to the hospital in a very poorly condition last Wednesday.  Close friends came to the hospital to provide comfort to him, as even Jim’s resilience couldn’t hold back his own mortality any longer, and the hardest calls to make were on Saturday morning, to let his friends know that this extraordinary man – prolific book collector and binder, passionate supporter at one time or another of (amongst others) the Natural History Society of Northumbria, Society of Antiquaries, Lit. and Phil. and Northumberland Wildlife Trust, amateur geologist and botanist, with a wealth of knowledge in so many other fields – had passed away peacefully, just before midnight on Friday, with both of us at his side.

It was a privilege to have known him, cared for him and to have learnt so much from him in the last few years, and we’ll both miss him greatly.  As we walk the fells of the North Pennines and explore the Cheviot valleys, we know he’ll be there in spirit.


Jim Milligan 1930-2013

Rest in Peace

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Big Garden Birdwatch 2013

by on Jan.31, 2013, under Birdwatching, Choppington Woods, Family and friends, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

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 🙂

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Northumberland Winter Bird Race 2013

by on Jan.09, 2013, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

After a relaxing break over Christmas and New Year, last Saturday was one of the most eagerly anticipated events of the year; the Northumberland Winter Bird Race.

A simple set of rules; start any time you like after midnight, teams of four (or three…or five…), three members of the team must positively identify a species for it to be counted, get to the Three Horse Shoes between 17:00-17:30 and be ready to declare your team total at 18:00.

The starting point for our, vaguely planned, itinerary for the day was to be the NEWT office at 06:00.  As Sarah opened the door at 05:45, when our other team members (NTBC Field Trips officer Trevor, and local legend the Liverbirder) arrived, bird #1 was added to the list as a vocal Tawny Owlsang his haunting melody from the churchyard opposite our house.  #2 Barn Owl (the first of at least five found around dawn and dusk)joined the list as we headed north in Gordon’s car for our first ‘only one chance’ species…Red Grouse duly obliged and we’d made a flying start.  Down on the coast a stunning sunrise also brought Little Egret for the list, as well as occasional good-natured banter with two other teams that had started in the north (including ‘The Tiddlers’) and three more hours in North Northumberland, coupled with Gordon’s local knowledge of Cramlington, which brought us a Kingfisher that we pointed out to several curious dog walkers, saw us reach #85 by midday.  The afternoon proved much more testing, and some excellent birds including Smew, Slavonian Grebe, Mediterranean Gull and a fly-by Bittern, took us to a total of 105 by the time we’d eventually given up on trying to tick Goldfinch on call in the dark 🙂

Four of the other five teams were already at the Three Horse Shoes by the time we arrived.  Species missed were being compared and there was a general feeling that it had been a difficult day.  We were only one species short of our best winter bird race total (achieved the last time that we didn’t have an itinerary planned to the nth degree…) but were expecting to be somewhere round 5th out of 6 (historically we’ve been a much stronger Spring bird race team).  With other teams declaring totals of 98, 101, 103, 104 and 108, we’d exceeded all expectations and finished 2nd, with 105 species out of a cumulative total across all 6 teams of 129 🙂 To put the day in context, the highest total for Northumberland in a Winter Bird Race is 126 for a single team…

Looking forward to early January 2014 already!

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Christmas Eve

by on Dec.24, 2012, under Choppington Woods, Family and friends, Northumberland, Red Squirrel

It’s become a tradition over the last few years that, on Christmas Eve, the Friends of Choppington Woods have a walk from one end of the reserve to the other.  One year we finish at our house and the next at Glen and Karen’s.  This year we were starting at our end of the woods so I drove to Glen’s and collected him and Sue, from Morpeth and District Red Squirrels, then back to our end of the woods for the start of the walk.

As we walked through the woods a lot of the conversation focused on the fight to maintain (and expand!) the population of Red Squirrels in Northumberland.  It’s a comfort, in difficult times for this icon of Northumberland’s wildlife, that the volunteer groups throughout Northern England are filled with the people who have a genuine passion for saving the species.

After just over an hour walking through the leaves and the mud, we all arrived at Glen’s and were greeted by Karen with delicious mulled wine.  After a buffet lunch (that has set the bar quite high in advance of Christmas Eve 2013…) we had a real treat as Glen drove us home in the original NEWTmobile!

Have a safe, merry and peaceful Christmas, wherever you are 🙂

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A Whale of a time on a millpond

by on Sep.09, 2012, under North Sea, Northumberland

Our ‘Whale and Dolphin Cruise’ has become an integral part of the Northern Experience Pelagics annual itinerary, and with an excellent weather forecast for yesterday’s sailing (and some detailed discussions between Martin and our skipper, John) optimism was running high.

As we boarded Glad Tidings 5 with 50 clients, there was a really sociable atmosphere.  Plenty of returning clients, and lots of new faces, were soon scanning the sea all around the boat.  Martin started in the wheelhouse with John and they soon spotted a distant whale surfacing.  The quite young animal surfaced again as we passed, another could be seen away to the north near the Farne Islands, and we headed in the direction of a feeding frenzy of Gannets.  Another whale appeared, then another, and another.  All told, in 4 hours we had 5 or 6 different Minke Whales 🙂  Gannets provided a spectacular wildlife experience as vast flocks plunged into the sea in search of Herring, 3 Sooty Shearwaters soared effortlessly past the boat, a single Great Skua carved a path through the circling mass of Gannets, Fulmars glided by on stiff outstretched wings, a small flock of Kittiwakes lifted from the water as the boat approached, and one of the largest cheers of the day came when a small pod of Harbour Porpoises surfaced just ahead of us.  Martin was kept busy, answering lots of questions from our very enthusiastic clients about whales and dolphins in the North Sea, and managed to grab a few images as well 🙂

Sooty Shearwater,Northumberland,North Sea,pelagics,bird photography

Sooty Shearwater

Northern Gannet,pelagics,North Sea,Northumberland,bird photography

Northern Gannet

Northern Gannet,North Sea,Northumberland,pelagics,bird photography

Northern Gannet

Minke Whale,whale watching,dolphin watching,North Sea,Northumberland,pelagic,wildlife photography tuition

Minke Whale

Minke Whale,whale watching,dolphin watching,North Sea,Northumberland,wildlife photography tuition

Minke Whale

Minke Whale,whale watching,dolphin watching,North Sea,Northumberland,wildlife photography tuition

Minke Whale

Minke Whale,whale watching,dolphin watching,North Sea,Northumberland,wildlife photography tuition

Minke Whale

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“I wish I hadn’t asked”

by on Jun.28, 2012, under Druridge Bay, Northumberland

Sunday was something quite different for NEWT, with a guided walk for 14.  We met Linda and her family, who had arrived from all parts of the UK to celebrate several special occasions in one weekend, in Druridge Bay and set out for a walk in rather nice weather.  One or two of the group had to be encouraged to take waterproof jackets with them though…

Skylarks were soaring over the fields, a Reed Bunting  was singing from a nearby hedgerow and a very amiable local, who had worked at East Chevington while it was still a coal mine, stopped to tell us a little of the history of the area.  Perhaps the most unexpected sighting of the morning was a Barn Owl, roosting in a pine tree and staying put as all of the group enjoyed ‘scope views of it.

The question that led one of the ladies to make the comment that forms the title of this blogpost came as we were appreciating the beauty of a group of Common Spotted Orchids, when she asked “why are some ‘Orchids’ and some ‘Orchis’?”.  As Martin explained that the word orchis means testicle, and that’s where the Orchids get their name from, there was a ripple of laughter through the group at the comment “Ooh, I wish I hadn’t asked”.

Just a couple of minutes from the car, at the end of a walk that it was a real pleasure to lead with a group who asked plenty of questions, the first raindrops began to fall and we finished in a ‘refreshing’ summer shower.

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Battle of the sexes

by on May.02, 2012, under Birdwatching

In our April newsletter, we ran a competition for our subscribers to send us a story about noticing an aspect of wildlife behaviour.  The following story, sent in by Sue Coggin, made both of smile so much that it had to be the winner 🙂

‘I have been watching with great amusement over the last two weeks the behaviour of a pair of Blue Tits in my garden.

We have two bird boxes placed in different locations and this pair who have been coming to feed began investigating one of them much to my delight.
After a while the female noticed the second box and turned her attention to it. After checking it out thoroughly she returned to the male at box number one and seemed to fuss around him to gain his attention.
He eventually followed her to the second box and duly checked it out also. Eventually he decided he preferred the first box and returned to it leaving Mrs Blue Tit on her own at number two.
This behaviour has been repeated every morning since and they just can’t seem to agree , it seems it’s not only us humans that struggle to concur!’
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Big Garden Birdwatch 2012

by on Jan.24, 2012, under Birdwatching, Northumberland

If you take part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch this weekend, e-mail us a list of what you saw and we’ll give a prize to whoever sends us the biggest list.

As a business, and as individuals, we submit our wildlife sightings to various organisations and get involved in several surveys; every month we send in our bird records to our local bird club, we take part in the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) and walk from Cresswell to East Chevington once a month counting grebes, cormorants, shags, herons, wading birds and wildfowl, we survey East Chevington each winter as part of the Icelandic-breeding Goose census and, of course, there’s the Northeast Cetacean Project database which we manage.

The Big Garden Birdwatch is one of our favourites though.  We take a fairly laid-back approach to it (actually that’s not entirely true – there’s a certain element of competition to see who can add the trickier species to the list); bacon sandwiches, mugs of coffee and an hour birdwatching in our southeast Northumberland garden.

Why not get involved?  The instructions for the survey are simple, you only need 1 hour to complete the birdwatching bit of the survey (and the data entry is very straightforward) and it’s got to be one of the easiest ways to get involved in surveying and make a contribution to a project that has been running for 30 years.

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