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A busy start to 2012

by on Jan.04, 2012, under Birdwatching, Family and friends, Northumberland

After a quiet Christmas and New Year, Tuesday saw both of us back at work.  As well as updating a lot of the content on our website, Martin started preparing our monthly newsletter…and spent some time being quite domestic, making a pot of chili for our Bird Race planning meeting.

The Northumberland Winter Bird Race is always an excellent social event.  Around dawn on Saturday several teams will set out with the intention of finding and identifying (by sight or sound) as many bird species as possible within the boundaries of Northumberland, North Tyneside and Newcastle upon Tyne.  Planning involves mainly deciding which are the most productive sites in terms of species, and working out the most efficient route to visit them during the short daylight hours of early January.  At the end of the day all of the teams gather at The Three Horse Shoes and disclose their totals for the day.  It’s a relaxed affair, with every team wishing every other team to do well, no ultra-competitive element involved at all 😉

Today brought more planning; this time for some contract work we’re doing this year.  Then, a couple of hours ago, a ‘phone call from a PR agency we’ve worked with in the past – “Hi Martin, can you do a press trip on Friday please?”.  Being asked to do a press trip by someone we’ve worked with before is like having a repeat client; confirmation that what we deliver is a consistent quality experience that clients trust us to deliver, and PR agencies trust their reputations to.  At a meeting in December to discuss the uncertain future of tourism promotion in Northumberland, it was suggested that what we should all do is be creative and arrange press trips – PR agencies, accommodation providers, activity providers and visitor attractions all working together to promote Northumberland.  It’s slightly worrying that there was even one person in that room who appeared to be unaware that lots of local tourism businesses are doing that already, ably supported by Northumberland Tourism and the PR agencies who are engaged by some of the larger businesses.  We live and work in a beautiful county, with a tourism industry that has the skills, and the people, to ensure it remains sustainable.

Today is a special day for us; it’s exactly 4 years since we took out our first clients, so we’d like to say thank you to Go Wansbeck, the regeneration project that came to an end on December 31st and provided us with so much support when we first launched NEWT.  Thanks to Keith, Karen, Martin and all of the team – you gave us the start that got us to where we are today 🙂

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Hopes for 2012

by on Dec.31, 2011, under Birdwatching, Family and friends, Northumberland

In no particular order of priority, here a few things we’d love to see happening in 2012;

1) An increase in the English breeding population of Hen Harriers.  One of the most contentious wildlife issues we have – but perhaps 2012 will see, at least, the beginning of the abandonment of entrenched attitudes and finally some positive news for the ‘grey males and ringtails’.

2) The stunning cetaceans that spend time in our offshore waters being able to go about their business without suffereing unnecessary disturbance.  There are some excellent codes of conduct for cetacean watching and NEWT use these to inform and plan our offshore activities, and to advise the skippers and boat owners who we work with.  Martin will continue to raise issues of cetacean disturbance at meetings of the PAW Marine Wildlife Enforcement Working Group, but hopes that won’t be too often.

3) The continued excellent promotion of Northumberland as a holiday destination.  Our county really is beautiful and you can ‘get away from it all’ without having to try too hard.  Whatever your interests – birdwatching, wildlife, photography, history and culture are just a few examples where the county excels – you’ll find something that will make you come back again and again.

4) The recognition by the Government that all 127 recommended Marine Conservation Zones (rMCZ’s) need to be designated in order to achieve a coherent ecological network that will protect our seas for everyone and for the future.

5) Health, wealth and happiness for our family, friends and clients 🙂

Happy New Year everyone 🙂

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Northern England Raptor Conference 2012

by on Nov.21, 2011, under Birdwatching

Yesterday was the annual conference of the Northern England Raptor Forum; this year organised by the Durham Bird Club and the Durham Upland Bird Study Group.  As we drove south, the lovely late-autumn sunshine at home was replaced by cold, gloomy fog to the south of the Tyne, and we arrived at the Gala Theatre in Durham ready for the conference.

Birdwatching in our uplands is something that we really enjoy, and the raptor conference is always an opportunity to get inspiration for our field studies, consider new ideas and techniques, and do the odd bit of networking 😉

There was a good line-up of presenters this year, covering a wide range of topics, probably the best set of talks at any of the raptor conferences we’ve attended since 2006; ‘Changing raptor populations and the role of the RBBP’,  ‘Eagle research and conservation around the world’, ‘The national Hen Harrier Winter Roost Survey’, ‘The implications of climate change for the uplands’, ‘The work of the Northern England Raptor Forum’, ‘Monitoring raptor populations with the nest record scheme’, ‘The challenges of monitoring Short-eared Owls’ and, the concluding presentation of the conference, ‘Skydancer, a new start for Hen Harriers in Cumbria and Northumberland’.

The final talk was always likely to prove the most contentious.  We’ve been involved in Hen Harrier conservation for a few years now, and know the extraordinary issues involved with trying to conserve the species as a breeding bird in England.  During the North Tynedale nest  monitoring between 2006-2008 there were lots of discussions about community engagement and how important that would be to Hen Harrier conservation, and it’s great to see a project that is going to tackle that part of the issue.  It won’t be the whole answer to the problem, but it’s a part of it and we hope that the purposeful birdwatchers of the Northern England uplands will be optimistic and support the project in any way they can.  We wish Amanda, Blanaid and all of the team involved in ‘Skydancer’ every success with the project 🙂

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Whalefest (2)

by on Nov.09, 2011, under North Sea, Northumberland

After spending the weekend exhibiting at Whalefest we were left with more than a few thoughts, ideas, and plans for the future;

Brighton is a long way from home 🙂  The drive back on Sunday evening was easier than the drive there on Friday afternoon, but didn’t seem that far!

There are a lot of charities/volunteer-led organisations in the marine sector and NEWT are proud to be involved in research projects and other activities with several of them.  The Northeast Cetacean Project is about to enter an important expansion phase, and will become a major driving force for marine conservation in the North Sea.  It was heartening to hear about all of the research and community engagement stuff that’s either going on or is in the pipeline for the near future as well.  One burning question though, is why was one marine conservation organisation giving away helium-filled balloons?

There was only one way to follow Whalefest, so Martin spent Tuesday on the PV St Oswald.  Conditions weren’t exactly conducive to cetacean surveying; 5-6′ of swell, plenty of whitecaps, and misty drizzle, made it more of a physical challenge than usual, so it became more of a ‘pleasure’ cruise 😉  There were a couple of avian highlights, though.  A small group of Little Auks flew by and the tricoloured upperparts of a juvenile Sabine’s Gull shone out in the gloom as it passed close by the bow.

It’s good to be home 🙂

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Birdwatching Northumberland at the Bird Fair

by on Aug.26, 2011, under Birdwatching, Northumberland

Once again the Birdwatching Northumberland stand at the Bird Fair proved very popular; particularly each afternoon, when visitors were able to sample Lindifarne Mead, Alnwick Rum and a selection of Allendale Beers.  We collected most of the alcohol from Northumbrian Gifts just before heading south, and arrived at Rutland Water in time to assist with getting the stand ready.

Birdwatching Northumberland, British Birdwatching Fair 2011

Hanging the backdrop

Birdwatching Northumberland, British Birdwatching Fair 2011

Almost there


Birdwatching Northumberland, British Birdwatching Fair 2011

Sarah and Janet, flying the flag for Northumberland

Birdwatching Northumberland, British Birdwatching Fair 2011

How to transform a display table...

Birdwatching Northumberland, British Birdwatching Fair 2011

...into a 'mini' bar

Birdwatching Northumberland, British Birdwatching Fair 2011

They're only here for the beer 😉

It was really good to meet up with so many of our existing clients during the 3 days, and we made lots of new clients as well 🙂  Martin’s 2 talks were both very well attended; 118+ (the clicker counter wasn’t working properly!) for ‘Northumberland’s Winter Wonderland’ on Saturday, and 142 for ‘Northumberland through the Seasons’ on Sunday.  With holiday bookings, pelagic bookings and several prestige tours booked since the weekend this was our most productive Bird Fair since we became part of the Birdwatching Northumberland consortium in 2008.  Almost as enjoyable as meeting visitors who are interested in Northumberland, is working as part of a well-established team.  With most us stopping at the White Lion in Whissendine, a remarkable combination of English Country pub and Indian Restaurant (one of the consortium members has a bit of an obsession with Eggs, Peas and Potato…), the evenings were filled with excellent food, good ale and some very enthusiastic discussions.  Looking forward to 2012 🙂  Finally a big thank you to Iain for his organisation, banter…and wielding of the sweeping brush 🙂
Birdwatching Northumberland, British Birdwatching Fair 2011
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The passing of a legend

by on Jun.17, 2011, under Family and friends, Farne Islands, North Sea, Northumberland

We’re sure that all of the readers of our blog will be saddened to hear of the passing away of Billy Shiel M.B.E., early this morning.  Billy was a good friend to NEWT and will be greatly missed.

In recent years, whenever we were in Seahouses with clients or just having a wander on our own, Billy would stop his car if he saw us to ask how we were getting on.  He’d always be keen to impart up to date information about the latest sightings around the islands and our clients always commented afterwards about how welcoming and helpful he was.

Martin had some long discussions with Billy when he was carrying out research for the Northeast Cetacean Project.  Perhaps the most controversial cetacean off Northumberland, in terms of it’s status and distribution, is Killer Whale, or Orca.  Billy was an ideal, and very willing,  interviewee.  When he began his answer, when asked if he’d ever seen a Killer Whale around the Farnes, with “Have I got a story to tell you…” Martin wondered if this would would be confirmation of the previously unsupported online claims that Killer Whales prey on Grey Seal pups around the Farne Islands during the winter.  However, the sentence continued with “…it was 4.30am, sometime in late June, 1948.”!

Tourism in Northumberland has lost a genuine legend and our thoughts are with Mrs Shiel and all of her family at this sad time.

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Images of the future

by on Mar.04, 2011, under Photography

Yesterday evening we attended the Northumberland Wildlife Trust Photography Competition Awards event, as sponsors of the two junior categories in the competition.

The standard of entries throughout all of the categories was very high.  The winning entry in the over 18 category was Peter Tapsell’s stunning shot of 3 Long-tailed Tits, and any regular reader of our blog will know the affection that we have for that species.  Jack Bucknall, winner of the 13-18 category, had displayed the patience that is the hallmark of all good wildlife photographers to capture exactly the image of Barn Swallows that he’d envisaged, and Jonathan Farooqi, winner, and 3rd place as well, in the under 13 category, captured in his images Ragwort, a burnet moth and Marsh Helleborines; all examples of colour and beauty that could easily be overlooked without a photographer’s eye for detail.

It was a real pleasure to talk with Jack and Jonathan after the ceremony, and we’re sure that the day out we’re planning for them (and their dads, or mums – there was some debate about this!) will be one of the highlights of our year.

We’d like to congratulate all of the winners, and all of the other entrants as well, who showcased not only their own talents but the diversity and beauty of the wildlife of our county.

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Happy New Year

by on Jan.04, 2011, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Family and friends, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

Our first blog post of 2011 has been slightly delayed by some technical difficulties, but we’re up and running again 🙂

We decided that the first few days of the year would be spent birdwatching around southeast Northumberland.  New Year’s Day saw us spending a couple of relaxed hours around Druridge Bay, producing 63 different bird species…followed by a very cold, windswept seawatch from Snab Point as we waited for the Humpback Whale found by Mark Newsome and Steve Addinall at Whitburn.  It didn’t pass by us (at least not at the sea surface) but hopefully it will herald another excellent year for cetacean sightings off the northeast coast.  With the cetacean species accounts for ‘Mammals of the Northeast’ to write, Martin will be hoping for more additions to the already comprehensive Northeast Cetacean database as the year progresses.

Sunday was a family and friends day at the christening, and then birthday party, for Annabel, Sarah’s god-daughter.  The only new bird for the year was our garden speciality Willow Tit.

Another relaxed birdwatching day yesterday produced, amongst others, a Waxwing, 5 Goosanders, 2 Grey Wagtails and 2 Nuthatches.  All very attractive birds, that brought a warm glow to a cold winter’s day.

Now the working week starts again, and we’re busy dealing with enquiries, bookings and 3 major projects that we’re going to be involved in this year.  There’s always time for a spot of birdwatching or photography though 🙂

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Winter birdwatching around the Farnes

by on Dec.12, 2010, under Birdwatching, Farne Islands, Holy Island, Northumberland

After postponing our Seal and Seaduck Special last Saturday (sea conditions were ideal, but it would have been really irresponsible to encourage anyone to drive on Northumberland’s roads at the time) we arrived at Seahouses Harbour yesterday morning ready for our final boat trip of the year.

Everyone was well wrapped-up and we were soon boarding Glad Tidings VI.  As we sailed out of the harbour a veritable battery of long lenses was produced in readiness for the anticipated wildlife.  With a skipper and crewman with excellent eyesight and wildlife-spotting skills, 2 NEWT guides, and clients with sharp eyes as well, the boat was soon being manouvered to offer the best possible opportunities to view or photograph the wildlife.  After 13 years of organising offshore wildlife trips we know the importance of the skipper to the success (or otherwise…) of the trip and, with Craig and William, we were in excellent hands.

The first half of the trip concentrated on the Farne Islands themselves.  A lot of the Grey Seals had well-grown pups, quite a few of the adults were moulting and there were a couple of cow seals still heavily pregnant.

Grey Seal, Offshore wildlife photography, Northumberland, 11/12/2010

Grey Seal

Grey Seal, offshore wildlife photography, Northumberland 11/12/2010

Grey Seal and the Longstone Lighthouse

Grey Seal, offshore wildlife photography, Northumberland 11/12/2010

Grey Seals

Grey Seal, offshore wildlife photography, Northumberland 11/12/2010

Grey Seals

Shags were sitting around on the islands, Little Auks were bobbing about like corks in the increasing swell, and we had a brief view of a Black Guillemot as it flew from Gun Rock towards Inner Farne.  Heading north we enjoyed the sunny (but cold) weather and scoured the sea just south of Holy Island.  Plenty of Eider were sitting around, along with a pair of Scaup and several Red-breasted Mergansers but a Slavonian Grebe near Guile Point proved elusive.  Red-throated and Great Northern Divers were seen but in much smaller numbers than we would normally expect.  The journey back down the coast featured one of our favourite birds; Long-tailed Ducks were sitting around in groups of 10-15 and offering some excellent photo opportunities.

Long-tailed Ducks on an offshore birdwatching trip, Northumberland 11/12/2010

Long-tailed Ducks

30 or 40 Common Scoters proved a bit more skittish and didn’t come near the boat.  2 Gannets were a bit of a surprise before we returned to the harbour.

Although the wildlife was very obliging perhaps the best thing about the day was the truly beautiful lighting conditions, a real bonus for wildlife photography and something that all of the photographers on board commented on.  We can’t control the light, or the weather, but we keep taking clients to the right places at the right time…

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Talking birdwatching

by on Dec.09, 2010, under Birdwatching, Family and friends, North Pennines

Woodcock are continuing to feature in our birdwatching at the moment.  Martin saw two more yesterday; one flying ahead of the car as he drove through Ashington and another one flying over our house, as Lee from G&S Organics was delivering our weekly groceries.

Yesterday evening we were out and about again.  This time it wasn’t a nocturnal birdwatching trip but a much more sociable occasion, meeting up with a friend for a meal and a few drinks.

Nick was already in the pub, with a pint of Guinness in hand, when we arrived.  The conversation through the evening focused primarily on raptors; a real obsession for all three of us.  He didn’t make it to this year’s North of England Raptor Conference so we filled him in on the highlights.  As our discussions covered population ecology, persecution, identification and migration patterns, the time raced by and soon we were driving back through the snowy wastes of Northumberland.  Unsurprisingly, most of our discussion had focussed on the Hen Harrier; probably the most persecuted raptor in Britain.  Our study area covers twelve 10km squares in southwest Northumberland, notable for having no breeding Hen Harriers, although a vast amount of suitable habitat.  There’s a lack of Peregrines as well, although at one site they can often be seen displaying in the early spring…

On our North Pennines tours, the lack of raptors is often commented on by our clients.  When we explain the reasons, and back this up with our own observations and experiences from the harrier nest we monitored in North Tynedale, we’re generally met with looks of incredulity, horror or dismay.  Who knows, maybe 2011 will be the year when the Hen Harrier starts to make a comeback on the moors of Northern England?  Don’t hold your breath though…

Now, after a morning which Martin spent being interviewed for the BBC Politics Show (which will be shown at 12:00 on Sunday 11th December), it’s time to process another batch of Gift Voucher orders and finalise details for this Saturday’s boat trip around the Farne Islands and Holy Island.  Gift Vouchers are an ideal present, and our final boat trip of the year looks like being a really good one, so give us a call on 01670 827465 to book.

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