Family and friends

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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Taking stock

by on Dec.12, 2011, under Family and friends

I’ve spent most of the last 10 days in near confinement to the house, and the chance to deal with lots of things that don’t always get enough time when I’m fit and active.

The reason for my confinement was a knee injury that I suffered back in March 2011 while we were offshore, carrying out a transect survey as part of the Northeast Cetacean Project.  I was the only surveyor standing up, as I was trying to photograph a Common Dolphin that had just passed across the bow, when we hit an unexpectedly large wave.  That collision was followed quickly by one between my knee and the back of the seat in front of me 🙁  Lots of pain initially but it quickly eased, and I put all the subsequent twinges down to the inevitable consequences of getting older.  Then, earlier this year, a client who just happens to be a nurse noticed that I was limping slightly and asked if I had any other symptoms…so, in late July I found myself having x-rays and an MRI scan, and trying to find a 2-week slot without any bookings so that I could have surgery.  Now I’ve got a knee that’s pain-free and has a greater range of movement than I’ve enjoyed for nearly 2 years 🙂

I’m not renowned for being a good patient/invalid (as Sarah would attest), but my lay-off has let me focus on a number of things that have kept me from becoming too crotchety about having to stay in the house; last week we had our Grading Visit for the Green Tourism Business Scheme, so as soon as that was over we started looking at the suggestions made by the assessor.  We’re involved in several conservation organisations/projects and it’s really important to us that the environmental impact of our business is minimised as far as possible.  Thursday evening saw me in our office, with ice-pack on my knee, in a conference call about the Northeast Cetacean Project.

As it’s December, Gift Vouchers have been prominent, and we’ve got a special offer until December 17th – Gift Vouchers at our standard trip price (without a charge for the Gift Card and postage).  I’ve used my ‘free’ time to make a few changes to the website; I’ve added next year’s Pelagic trips to our online shop, changed some of our site content, including adding our Green Policy and Responsible Visitor Charter and tidied up the layout of the Pelagics page so that trip reports are all listed together, and next year’s trips are all listed together.

Just 4 more days and I should be able to drive again 🙂

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Saying goodbye to a faithful friend

by on Nov.28, 2011, under Birdwatching, Family and friends

We know it’s inanimate (although it may not have always seemed that way) but it’s difficult not to be sentimental about the departure of a long-serving member of the NEWT team; our beloved Land Rover Defender 110, the vehicle that we launched NEWT with back in 2008, has gone to a new home.  It served us incredibly well for three and a half years but it was ageing, increasingly expensive to run, not the most economical vehicle when it came to fuel consumption and a whole raft of changes in vehicle licencing regulations meant that it was time to put it out to grass.  At least we know it’s gone to a good home 🙂

We started using the Landy’s replacement earlier this year – a Ford Galaxy Titanium X – and the positive comments we’re received from every client who has been in the new vehicle have reassured us that we made the right decision; a higher than normal viewpoint, electric windows, air con, leather upholstery, excellent fuel economy have all added up to birdwatching transport in luxury.  It’s so quiet though, particularly compared to the Landy, that I sometimes have to rev the engine just to convince myself it’s running 😉

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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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My week in pictures…and a few words

by on Mar.03, 2011, under Family and friends, North Sea, Northumberland, Sustainable Tourism

22/02/2011 Northeast Cetacean Project Transect Survey.  15 cetacean sightings; 21 Harbour Porpoises, 2 possible Minke Whales

North Sea, Northumberland, Cetaceans, Harbour Porpoise, Minke Whale

Staring into the teeth of a strong southeasterly


North Sea, Northumberland, Cetaceans, Harbour Porpoise, Minke Whale

Our Lead Surveyor, and St Mary's Island


23/02/2011 Advisory visit from the Green Tourism Business Scheme.  Sustainable tourism is one of our highest priorities and visit went well – looking forward to the report 🙂

24-27/02/2011 Outdoor Leisure Show at the NEC, Birmingham.

Outdoor Leisure Show 2011, Northumberland - An Independent Spirit

Northumberland - An Independent Spirit, Outdoor Leisure Show 2011


Outdoor Leisure Show 2011, Northumberland - An Independent Spirit

Northumberland - An Independent Spirit, Outdoor Leisure Show 2011

Outdoor Leisure Show 2011, Northumberland - An Independent Spirit

Northumberland - An Independent Spirit, ready for the start of the Outdoor Leisure Show 2011

28/02/2011 Catching up on admin, dealing with enquiries and holiday bookings and looking forward to Sarah getting back from New York.

01/03/2011  Preparing our monthly newsletter for March.  Approving graphic design for our new vehicle.  Getting the new vehicle safety tested (including a full MOT – on a vehicle only 8 months old, it’s enough to make you weep).

02/03/11 Meeting to discuss/plan the continued promotion of nature tourism in the Northeast.  Dealing with enquiries, and some more enquiries 🙂

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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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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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by on Dec.08, 2010, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Family and friends, Northumberland

When Sarah arrived home from work at 19:30 yesterday, I suggested a spot of nocturnal motorised birdwatching.

We headed north past Ellington and up to Widdrington before turning towards the coast and down through Druridge.  With the thermometer hitting -7C, the ungritted roads were a bit of a challenge.  Following some recent big counts of Woodcock it was no great surprise that they flushed regularly from the roadside as we passed.  Our main target for the drive was Barn Owl, and we eventually found one perched on a post beside the Spine Road near Blyth.  Bird of the evening though was a stunning Long-eared Owl, on a fence post by the edge of the road.  As we passed slowly, on the skating rink of a road surface, it turned it’s head imperiously, following us with those piercing orange eyes.  Over the last 3 years we’ve shared views of all of Northumberland’s regularly occurring owls with our clients, but for sheer ‘other-worldliness’ you really can’t beat Long-eared Owl.

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Mulling things over, a wild goose chase and some garden ticks

by on Dec.07, 2010, under Birdwatching, Family and friends, Northumberland

Most of the last week has been spent working on various admin type things ready for 2011, and clearing snow and ice.

On Friday we both went along to Choppington First School to help with clearing the car park so that school could re-open yesterday.  As a business that values sustainability we’re committed to supporting our local community, and this certainly fitted the bill, as well as providing good exercise.  Along with the Head, the caretaker and one of the teachers we’d made good progress when 2 contractors turned up, having been engaged by Northumberland County Council, to clear the car park.  So, we then watched the entertaining spectacle of a JCB and a snow plough racing around the car park, clearing it completely in 20 minutes.

Saturday saw us clearing the 2.5′ wall of ice and snow that was blocking Martin’s car on the drive.  Mulled wine and a mince pie afterwards seemed like an appropriate reward 😉

Of course, we’ve still managed to fit in some birdwatching 🙂

Sunday was Goose Count day.  The East Chevington access road was a treacherous sheet of ice and compacted snow, so we parked near the main road and walked up to the pools.  With most of the North Pool frozen, goose numbers were lower than we would expect for December.  Highlights of the walk were at least 15 Woodcock, and 3 Barn Owls  that drifted along the hedgerows just after dawn.

Monday is Martin’s ‘office day’, and the vantage point of the office window allowed him to add 2 more species to the garden list; Woodcock and Tree Sparrow.  It’s still white-over outside, but maybe there’s a thaw on the way…

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Another big freeze

by on Nov.29, 2010, under Birdwatching, Choppington Woods, Family and friends, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

Here we go again...

It’s hard to believe that we posted on the blog back in January about the big freeze last winter and here we are again in a similar position already before the end of November (although at least at the moment it isn’t so prolonged).

I went in to Newcastle last Wednesday for a seminar about the IMCORE project, and there was a bit of light snowfall.  When I came out of the Ridley Building an hour later the world was white, and it’s just gone on from that point.  After Sarah got home from work on Thursday evening the next time we used either of the cars was when we dug her car out of the snow this morning so she could go to work.  We’ve made the most of the last few days though; walking the 2 miles there (and 2 miles back) each day to visit a friend who’s now in a residential care home, doing most of the admin in 3 days that we would usually do through the winter (including adding all of our 2011 trips to the website) and finalising a couple of projects that we’ve been working on.

Birdwatching in our little part of southeast Northumberland has been interesting for the last few days.  We’ve got an ever-expanding flock of Coal, Great and Blue Tits, Dunnocks and Wrens are now ever present around the feeding station and a very optimistic pair of Collared Doves were mating at the top of the Apple tree earlier this morning.  Two pairs of Bullfinches are regular visitors but other finches are in short supply; there’s just a single pair of Chaffinches, we’ve only had one visit from Goldfinches in the last few days and, particularly worrying, we haven’t seen any Greenfinches around the feeders at all.  A Sparrowhawk is still regularly patrolling over Choppington Woods and a flock of 50-60 Redwings flies out from the woods each morning.

Now, after a morning of blue skies, it’s just started snowing again.

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