Druridge Bay

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 🙂 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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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 🙂

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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 🙂 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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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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Wading through the sublime light; Druridge Bay mini-Safari 20/08/2020

by on Aug.21, 2020, under Druridge Bay

I arrived to meet Paul and Helen ahead of a few hours around Druridge Bay and we set off to walk south along the coast…

A mixed wader/gull/tern roost produced Lapwing, Golden Plover, Dunlin, Knot, Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit, Little Ringed Plover, Common Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Sandwich Tern and Common, Black-headed, Herring and Great Black-backed Gull as Grey Herons stalked the water’s edge and three Marsh Harriers quartered back and forth along the reeds. The waders all lifted a couple of times and Teal, Mallard, Gadwall, Shoveler and Coot all looked panicky but we couldn’t see what was causing all of the concern.

Starlings were roosting among the waders and a large flock speckled the sky before heading away out of sight to the north as Stonechats and Linnets perched on top of scattered bushed in the dunes, beautifully illuminated by low angle diffuse sunlight. One male Stonechat was sharing a prominent perch with an undeniably cute juvenile Common Whitethroat and the raucous calls of Pheasant came from rough pasture as Silver Y moths were nectaring busily on Red Clover.

With the Sun setting away to the west, and the Summer Triangle of Vega, Altair and Deneb about to make an appearance through a break in the clouds, a Sparrowhawk flew low over the dunes and a Barn Owl ghosted across the path ahead of us before making its way along dips in the dunes and eventually heading away north as daylight faded to darkness and the calls of Greylag Geese coming to roost accompanied our departure.

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Druridge Bay mini-Safari 12/08/2020

by on Aug.13, 2020, under Druridge Bay

With COVID19 having brought about some changes to how we deliver our mini-Safaris, I arrived at Druridge Bay to collect John and Jo for NEWT’s first land-based tour since February…

Our tour model for the last 12 years has been built around the use of the NEWTmobile (initially our Land Rover Defender, and more recently the Galaxy) to transport our clients between wildlife watching locations. Our new model involves still visiting a couple of locations on each mini-Safari, but walking between sites and I was curious how that would work.

Stonechats and Linnets were perched on top of bushes along the coastal path as a Cuckoo flew towards us before vanishing into a dip in the dunes and a Marsh Harrier was quartering a field edge below the setting Sun. As the harrier settled on a fence post, a Barn Owl took it’s place patrolling the same edge, below the Sun and above a Brown Hare that allowed occasional glimpses as it made it’s way along the back of a field. Skeins of Greylag Geese were scattered across the background of a stunning orange sunset as a second Cuckoo took off and flew along a fence line before looping around a patch of Sea Buckthorn and vanishing into the bushes.

As the Sun dipped below the horizon and Vega shone almost directly overhead, Grey Herons were chasing each other from favoured feeding spots and a Barn Owl appeared in front of us and plunged into the grass just a few metres away before emerging and flying off with it’s prey! Then, with light levels fading rapidly a Long-eared Owl flew head-on towards us.

I like our new model: see more, cover more ground, don’t have dead time traveling 🙂

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Bespoke Otter Safari 07/02/20

by on Feb.10, 2020, under Druridge Bay

As I collected Amy and James from Warkworth, ahead of a day around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland, the forecast for the morning was good, but there was a chance it would start to deteriorate during the afternoon…

With only a gentle breeze every area of water we looked at was close to mirror-calm. Mallard, Gadwall, Goldeneye, Wigeon, Teal, Mute Swan, Canada Geese and Greylag Geese were all staying low on the water as Grey Herons sat in their usual pose of misery and Water Rails began squealing from the reeds. Little Grebes were diving, Cormorants were drying their wings with heraldic majesty and Lapwings flushed in panic, caught on the now stiffening breeze like windblown leaves. Curlews flew off, their eerie cries carrying over the calm water and a presumably confused Fulmar was soaring around over a coastal pool before heading back out to sea. More Fulmars accompanied our lunch stop, arcing along the clifftop with an uncharacteristically calm North Sea behind them. With the breeze picking up there was an obvious lack of passerines. Jackdaws and Wood Pigeons were sitting in bare trees, Little Grebes were patrolling close to overhanging vegetation where Moorhens were dabbling and as the Sun was setting in the west, remarkably orange, 3 Roe Deer were chasing around a steep field overlooking the river.

Another great winter’s day with lovely clients 🙂

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Vital signs; Otter mini-Safari 12/01/20

by on Jan.15, 2020, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

A dual purpose title for today’s blog…

I collected Fara, Andrew and Nicola & Graeme and Jen from Newbiggin and we set off to explore Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland on a Sunday morning that was thankfully lacking the stiff breeze that has characterised the winter so far…

Water that was almost mirror-calm was patterned with the concentric circles of diving Little Grebes, Goldeneye and Cormorants as a Grey Heron stood motionless, uncharacteristically obliging, and a Little Egret darted at small fish in the shallows before flying upstream, followed by noisy Oystercatchers, into what little breeze there was.

En route to our second site I thought it would be worth stopping to check for Little Owls, and one was sitting quietly sunning itself. If you’ve never seen one of these elfin sprites, here’s one of Sarah’s photographs from a few years ago 🙂

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The temperature was starting to drop and a breeze was becoming noticeable as we settled to scan over a pool and reedbeds. Suddenly the Lapwings all took flight, forming a tight wheeling flock tossed on the breeze as Mallards turned and stared at one area of reeds. After a couple of minutes the Lapwings were back down, as the discordant calls of Canada and Greylag Geese carried on the breeze and Mallard, Wigeon, Teal, Gadwall, Pintail and Wigeon were all dabbling contentedly again. The calm didn’t last long though and the Lapwings were soon scattering in panic again. The third time they flushed the Mallards were once again looking at the same reedbed, this time with three Little Grebes joining with the intense study of a very localised area. Everything we’d look for when searching for Otters was happening right in front of us…the only thing missing was an appearance by our quarry itself. Here’s an Otter from January 2015, sporting a very fetching boa of seaweed 🙂

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Lovely clients, lots of photography discussion, great weather and I brought home an owl pellet to dissect 🙂

and ‘Vital signs’ as a blog title? It’s a track on Rush’s album Moving Pictures and our tribute to Neil Peart who sadly passed away last week.

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Halcyon days; Otter Safari 19/12/19

by on Dec.27, 2019, under Druridge Bay

After a couple of weeks where we didn’t have any scheduled trips it was a nice change of scenery to have a day out around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland and I collected Kev from Woodhorn as the rain started to fall…

Mid-morning produced a trio of great birds. A 1st winter Glaucous Gull had just settled back into a roost when Kev spotted a Kingfisher perched in front of us as a stunning drake Pintail up-ended just beyond it. Mallard, Gadwall, Teal, Wigeon, Tufted Duck and Little Grebe all scattered in panic as a young male Marsh Harrier drifted over the pool and along the reeds where Water Rails were squealing.

Our picnic spot produced a Fulmar arcing over the sea in sight of cliff-edge nest sites and Redshank, Curlew, Turnstone and Oystercatcher all flew from rocks and along the shore.

The afternoon brought more Goldeneye and Little Grebe, another Kingfisher in the deepening gloom of dusk, noisy flocks of Pink-footed, Greylag and Canada Geese and a remarkable flock of possibly as many as 50 Greenfinches as Cormorants perched menacingly on fallen trees and Grey Herons stalked through the shallows.

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