Northumberland

Punk’s not dead; Otter mini-Safari 22/01/22

by on Jan.23, 2022, under Druridge Bay

Yesterday was our first mini-Safari this year, after filling the first three weeks of the year with stargazing events and all of the planning for other projects we’re going to be involved in this year, so it was great to meet up with Clare and Lisa, then Monica and Michael, for a few hours around our local patch

The Wansbeck is a vast mudflat currently, and after a stop at the weir, where cormorant, little grebe and goldeneye were all feeding, we walked upriver to Castle Island. Scanning through the roosting gulls and dabbling ducks, a larger white bird was unhelpfully directly in the glare from the sun. There’s no mistaking the long thick legs and ruffled crest of a spoonbill though, and we found a spot where it was easier to see as it obligingly woke up, preened, looked around and then seemed to be on a mission as it marched along the muddy margins. Cormorants stretched, little egrets darted at small prey in the shallows, redshanks flew off calling, the eerie cries of curlew echoed along the valley and, uncharacteristically, a single fieldfare was hopping around a large paddock.

As dusk approached only five starlings appeared at a regular roost site as lapwings were scattered by a sparrowhawk and then teal and wigeon took to the air as a juvenile marsh harrier drifted over. Competing against the spoonbill in the hairstyle stakes, red-breasted mergansers paraded in front of us and the harrier reappeared…accompanied by a second juvenile, and then a male harrier joined the party and started talon-grappling with one of the juveniles as a Cetti’s warbler delivered it’s explosive calls from deep in the reeds and Jupiter shone through the evening twilight.

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Waves of panic; Otter mini-Safari 16/11/21

by on Nov.17, 2021, under Druridge Bay

The time of year when we have to start mini-Safaris early afternoon always seems to creep up before unexpectedly arriving.

I met up with James, Michael and Colin ahead of an afternoon around Druridge Bay searching for otters and our first site had played host to four of them earlier in the day! Regular ripples of panic spread through the wigeon out on the water and that turned into terror as a juvenile marsh harrier made it’s way up and down both sides of the water. A little egret flew over a wader roost that was mainly common redshank, with a sprinkling of turnstones and a couple of common snipe. Our second site for the afternoon had at least two marsh harriers, including the same juvenile we’d seen earlier, and as pink-footed geese yapped overhead, water rails squealed, a Cetti’s warbler belted out it’s song and starlings blew past like leaves on the wind, the flocks of coot, mallard, wigeon, shoveler and gadwall kept nervously moving away from one reedbed as roe deer grazed near the water’s edge and dusk took hold of the little remaining daylight.

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NEWT’s 2020 (pelagic) vision

by on Nov.17, 2021, under North Sea

It was another busy summer out on the North Sea, searching for whales, dolphins, porpoises and other marine wildlife. It was an incredibly successful season too, with a substantial majority of our sailings encountering cetaceans 🙂 Here’s a selection of images from early July to late September…

We’ve arranged most of our sailings for 2022, and we’ll be making online booking available from early next week

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Catching up

by on Nov.17, 2021, under Druridge Bay

It’s been an incredibly busy summer and autumn for NEWT. After a long challenging time for small businesses since March 2020 we suddenly found ourselves under a deluge of work. Martin’s been leading wildlife and photography holidays for two other companies as well as guiding our safari trips and pelagics and leading events at the award-winning Battlesteads Observatory.

Our safari trips over the last few months have concentrated on the Druridge Bay area, with marsh harrier, little egret, roe deer and a selection of waders and wildfowl all featuring regularly, alongside an ever-increasing starling murmuration, hunted incessantly by sparrowhawks, occasional appearances by barn owls and, in the last month, yapping skeins of pink-footed geese speckling the sky as dusk approaches. Family mini-Safaris focused on the smaller creatures, with spiders. dragonflies and banded snails all watched with fascination by the younger participants on our tours, and we’re adding rockpooling activities as an option to next year’s family bookings.

We’ll be posting a gallery of images from our 2020 pelagic season shortly, as well as posts about our three tours/workshops already this week!

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Living on the edge; Otter mini-Safari 05/08/21

by on Aug.06, 2021, under Druridge Bay

One thing that’s always impressed me about wildlife is the almost constant effort needed just to stay alive, contrasting with the technologically advanced, comfortable, lives that many of us lead…

I met up with Cath, Andy, Beth and Dan for an evening around Druridge Bay, and the weather was pleasant…particularly compared to what was forecast for the next few hours! Mute swans were feeding unhurriedly, grey herons were stalking along rushy edges, black-tailed godwits were wading and probing, and bumblebees were shifting position to take shelter underneath teasel heads – often a sign of a drop in temperature and approaching bad weather. Swallows, martins and swifts were hawking insects as a lone ruff flew through.

As the wind started to pick up, and the first of several heavy showers passed through, a great crested grebe with a single juvenile aggressively evicted a little grebe, also with a single juvenile, from a prime patch of amphibious bistort, as cormorants sat motionless, two Arctic skuas muscled their way into the stiffening breeze, and Sandwich, common and Arctic terns obligingly lined up alongside one another like an animated field guide to separating confusion species 🙂

Seven starlings was a start to a murmuration that eventually built to several hundred birds, as three marsh harriers went to roost and a sparrowhawk pestered and pursued the starlings repeatedly. We saw it pass by at least a dozen times without any apparent success by the time the starlings had all settled into the reeds, expending vital energy in a late evening attempt to feed before nightfall.

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Triple crown; NEWT’s North Sea pelagic 07/07/21

by on Jul.09, 2021, under Bottlenose Dolphin, North Sea

Wednesday’s 4hr pelagic had a forecast that promised rain, although we only had a few drops, and it took just a few minutes for our first cetacean to appear as a harbour porpoise crossed the mouth of the Tyne in front of us. 90 minutes of intense scanning eventually produced bottlenose dolphins off Whitley Bay and they swam alongside us for an hour as we headed slowly south, finally leaving as we passed the mouth of the river again. On a glassy sea we headed beyond the Tyne and with conditions so perfect I spotted fins that were 2nm ahead of us…and then the white-beaked dolphins appeared 🙂

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Back on track and tracking the storm; Druridge Bay mini-Safari 04/07/21

by on Jul.05, 2021, under Druridge Bay

With so many postponed trips last year, it’s been great to get out again and start meeting clients who we’ve been chatting to via email for a long time 🙂 I arrived in Druridge Bay and met up with Phil, then Melanie, then Marjorie and Ollie for an evening searching for otters and other wildlife. The weather forecast was promising us heavy showers and the potential for thunderstorms, so I suggested our best option was to stay very local and try to avoid getting too wet…

There are two schools of thought about wildlife watching: stay put, immerse yourself, take in whatever’s in front of you, or roam and search. I frequently use both when I’m out and about on my own but with clients we usually move between sites so the stay put approach seemed to be a gamble 🙂

That gamble produced what must be one of our best mini-Safaris over the last 13 years…tiny avocet chicks, defended against ‘encroaching’ coots, moorhens, and lapwings by a furious adult, contrasted with another one of this year’s young that was close to adult size, alongside a wader line-up that also included common snipe, common redshank, ruff, black-tailed godwit, oystercatcher, dunlin, ringed plover, and curlew arriving to roost with their eerie cries cutting through the ethereal mist rising from the marsh as the first heavy shower approached. A grey heron was stalking through the rushes as teal, mallard, gadwall and shoveler dabbled in shallow water, Canada and greylag geese grazed beside pied and yellow wagtails foraging through the lush vegetation and the songs and calls of meadow pipit, common whitethroat, willow warbler, grasshopper warbler, chiffchaff and reed bunting filled the air as a noisy flock of common terns arrived. The crazy, leggy joie de vivre of roe deer triplets attracted the attention of Exmoor ponies, brown hares loped through recently harvested fields and then, as mute swans, tufted ducks and mallards all started to look concerned, Marjorie spotted the tell-tale ring of bright water as an otter surfaced nearby before slinking off just ahead of a torrential downpour that cleared to make way for a swarm of swifts, sand martins, house martins and swallows gorging themselves on newly emerged insects against the backdrop of a stormy sunset.

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Here come the dolphins; NEWT’s 4hr North Sea Pelagics 02/07/21

by on Jul.05, 2021, under North Sea

Friday’s back-to-back 4hr daytime pelagics both started with few dolphins having been reported locally, but a strategy of heading in the general direction where we think they’re likely to be paid off, with a wall of bottlenose dolphin faces charging towards us off Souter Point on our morning sailing, and the same off Collywell Bay in the afternoon 🙂

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Druridge Bay Safari 21/06/21

by on Jul.05, 2021, under Druridge Bay

Sandwiched neatly between two weeks working away from home, Sue’s 11th trip with NEWT was a day around our local patch…

mid-Summer is a time when a lot of birds are well through their breeding season and in moult, so can be secretive, but there’s always plenty still to see. Dunlin, black-tailed godwit, avocet, snipe, curlew, lapwing, common redshank and spotted redshank were all roosting or feeding around pools and rushy marshes, teal, tufted duck, gadwall, mallard, shoveler and little grebe were all dabbling or diving and common, arctic and sandwich terns arrived to bathe in freshwater as reed, sedge and willow warblers and whitethroat all sang from cover. Add in a fantastic luch at the Drift Cafe and a day quickly passes 🙂

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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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