The Island; Lindisfarne Safari 12/10/2014

by on Oct.15, 2014, under Bamburgh Castle, Birdwatching, Lindisfarne, Northumberland

After a break from work and blogging, and our first proper holiday in quite a while, I got back into the swing of things on Sunday with a visit to probably my favourite mid-October location…

Crossing the causeway to Holy Island is always accompanied by a sense of anticipation, and when I collected Graham and Joan from the Manor House they mentioned that Yellow-browed Warblers had been seen the day before.  Checking the bushes and trees in the Vicar’s Garden didn’t produce any sight or sound of the Siberian speciality, but everywhere was heaving with Robins – presumably recent arrivals from the continent – and Grey Plover, Pale-bellied Brent Goose, Bar-tailed Godwit and Grey Seal could be seen, and heard, by turning through 90 degrees from the trees.  After checking other suitable spots around the village, and finding a couple of Goldcrest, we crossed to the mainland and down to Bamburgh.  Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Curlew, Purple Sandpiper and Knot were around the rocks as Eider and Guillemot rose and fell with the gentle swell of the sea and Gannet and Sandwich Tern plunged into shoals of fish offshore in conditions that wouldn’t have been out of place in mid-June.  We made our way slowly back up the coast, taking in vast flocks of Wigeon over the mudflats and a Weasel that responded obligingly to my imitation of a dying mouse (the sound, rather than a visual imitation!).  Little Egrets and Shelduck were exploiting the food supply on the exposed mud and we crossed back on to the island…only to learn that a White-tailed Eagle had been soaring high inland of us while we were watching the Weasel 🙁  We headed down to the causeway, to see if the eagle would make a reappearance, as flocks of Sanderling, Dunlin, Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit, Pale-bellied Brent Goose and Golden Plover concentrated on the rapidly diminishing areas of mud above the rising tide and a Peregrine powered across our field of view before it was time for me to cross back to the mainland and head south.

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Beauty in the ‘mundane’

by on Aug.30, 2013, under Birdwatching, Grey Seal, Lindisfarne, Northumberland

LBJ.  No, not the 36th President of the United States, but the acronym used by many birdwatchers to describe any relatively small, nondescript brown bird – ‘Little Brown Job’.  Over the last few years, a number of our clients have applied that term to two birds that I always think deserve closer attention…

I collected Jo and Kirsty from Alnwick for their second consecutive day out with me and we headed straight up the coast and made our way on to Holy IslandCurlews were passing overhead as we walked around the bits of the island that weren’t full of other people, those two LBJ’s, Skylark and Meadow Pipit, were dodging in and out of long grass in the fields by the path, Kirsty started photographing Swallows and quickly progressed to using flash to freeze the action as they hovered in front of us feeding beakfuls of flies to recently fledged juveniles and Golden Plover and Oystercatcher were probing around rockpools as Grey Seals bobbed about in the gentle surf just offshore.  Edges are always a productive area; edges of fields, woodland, moorland and the shoreline – that ever shifting edge of the sea and the land.  That latter edge produced some stunning Bar-tailed Godwits, and an impressively large group of very vocal Grey Seals.

As we continued back down the coast the mist thickened and we were eventually in the surreal position of having blazing sunshine on our backs and visibility of less than 100m in front of us.  As a loose flock of Eiders drifted close inshore and then back out again, and Swallows and House Martins hawked insects low over the beach, a dark menacing shape drifted out of the mist, passed in front of us, and then drifted back into the impenetrable white mass.  Always a bird to grab the attention on a seawatch, the Arctic Skua was only in view for a few seconds as it made it’s way south along the coast, and we headed inland into glorious weather again.

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Birdwatching on Holy Island 29/05/2013

by on Jun.03, 2013, under Birdwatching, Lindisfarne, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

After collecting Stephen for his second trip of the week, we drove north and met Susan near Holy Island, for her third trip in four days.  Our Lindisfarne safaris are always an interesting guessing game, other than in the winter when we know that we’ll find vast flocks of waders and wildfowl – although even then there’s the unknown quantity of wintering raptors.

We started down the coast in the shadow of Bamburgh Castle; sheltering from the wind and rain, we watched Gannets soaring effortlessly, Common Scoter and Eider riding the swell like the most accomplished surfers in the world, Fulmars and Kittiwakes fighting into the stiffening breeze and a Red-throated Diver sliding beneath the waves and resurfacing out of sight.

What would appear at first glance to be a long line of boulders, exposed at low tide, resolved through binoculars, as expected, into several thousand Grey Seals.  The ‘hook-nosed sea pigs’ (surely the most unflattering translation of the Latin name for any animal) were lazing on the exposed sand

On Holy Island itself the weather improved dramatically and we watched a flock of Ringed Plover and Dunlin in the harbour, with a surprise find in the form of a Little StintMeadow Pipits were song-flighting, Skylarks rose higher and higher, delivering their outstandingly complex songs, and Lapwings were tumbling over nearby fields as we worked our way slowly along a hedgerow getting close views of Dunnock and House Sparrow, and listening at close range to the repetitive notes of a Song Thrush.  Surprise find of the day was a group of eight Roe Deer between Chare Ends and the Straight Lonnen.  We’ve seen them on the island before, but never so many together at once.

After a day with two enthusiastic clients who had been excellent company on multiple trips during the week, it was time to drop Susan off and take Stephen back south.  Sometimes, I think what really makes our trips work is the clients that we have 🙂

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Looking for an angle

by on May.23, 2013, under Holy Island, Lindisfarne, Northumberland, Photography

Landscape photography is a bit of an oddity; unlike wildlife, landscapes tend to not move while you’re trying to photograph them (and if the landscape did start to move, I don’t think having to use a faster shutter speed would the greatest of your worries…).  Composition and light are the two factors that I always emphasise to clients on our landscape photography workshops and bespoke tuition sessions, and Tuesday afternoon gave me the opportunity to do that in one of Northumberland’s most iconic settings – the Holy Island of Lindisfarne.

I met up with Pat mid-afternoon and we headed towards the harbour.  Perhaps a cliched location but with so many boats, so many viewpoints and the ever-changing sky and lighting conditions, there was plenty of scope for playing with exposure, composition and shooting angle.  As Pat took a series of images using her own lens and a couple of mine too (12-24mm f4 and 105mm f2.8) I scouted out different compositions and shooting angles for her to experiment with.

Northumberland has so many iconic locations for landscape photography that you could visit a different location every day and never get bored or take the same image twice.  If you’re a relative beginner and want to learn how to use your camera equipment to the best of it’s ability, or a more experienced photographer and would like to explore Northumberland’s rich opportunities with a local guide, give us a call on 01670 827465 to see what we can do for you 🙂

Lindisfarne Castle,Holy Island,Northumberland,landscape photography courses,landscape photography holidays,

Lindisfarne Castle,Holy Island,Northumberland,landscape photography courses,landscape photography holidays,

Lindisfarne Castle,Holy Island,Northumberland,landscape photography courses,landscape photography holidays,

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Focusing on the coast

by on Oct.19, 2012, under Bamburgh Castle, Lindisfarne, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast, Photography

Having lived on, or near, the Northumberland coast for 15 years (apart from my 6 month sojourn to Texas and Arizona) it’s a location I return to time and again with my camera/binoculars/telescope/camcorder/sound recording gear (delete as applicable depending on my mood and/or aim for the day).  The coast is my favorite location for one-to-one photography tuition with clients too (although the North Pennines AONB runs it pretty close!).

I drove down to Wallsend to collect Mac for his day of photography tuition, and we set off along the coast of southeast Northumberland and Druridge Bay.  I’ve always seen dilapidated farm buildings as ideal locations for Little Owl and Barn Owl, but one group of buildings made an ideal location to explore the reciprocal relationship between shutter speed and aperture, before we headed north and Mac added immeasurably to my knowledge of the opencast mining operations of the area.  Next stop was on the top of the dunes overlooking the north of Druridge Bay and, as well as the impressive scene looking across the rolling surf out to sea, a high-tide wader roost was building up on the rocks below us.  Redshank, Turnstone, Oystercatcher and Curlew were all arriving as the surf lapped at their feet.  Then they all scattered.  Sadly this didn’t herald the arrival of a Peregrine or other predator…but, instead, a jogger.  As luck would have it, I was due at a meeting with a Lead Adviser from Natural England a few days later, to discuss coastal activities and wildlife disturbance.  The conclusion of  a brief discussion at that meeting was that jogging through a high-tide wader roost in a SSSI is mindless stupidity, sheer ignorance and possibly an offence.  People really should know better.

Boats at Boulmer and Holy Island came under the focus of Mac’s camera before we arrived at our final location for the day.  Breaking surf, rock pools and the Northumberland coast’s stunning edifice of Bamburgh Castle provided our last shoot before the sun dipped behind the dunes and out of sight, and we headed back south.  The light wasn’t the best, although it was a good day to experiment with exposure settings, so here’s a shot of Bamburgh Castle in the sort of conditions that I really enjoy.

Bamburgh Castle,Northumberland,landscape photography tuition,landscape photography courses Northumberland,one to one photography tuition


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Raptors, raptors everywhere

by on Feb.02, 2012, under Birdwatching, Holy Island, Lindisfarne, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

Standing on the Heugh on Holy Island with Jill and Steve, we’re all scanning towards Guile Point.  Cormorants, Shags, Red-breasted Mergansers and Eider are all bobbing about on the water, Pale-bellied and Dark-bellied Brent Geese, Bar-tailed Godwits, Grey Plover, Curlew and Oystercatchers are flying by, Common and Grey Seals are splashing in the surf as the tide falls…and I’m focused on the sea with one species in mind.  Then 2 distant white dots, gradually narrowing the gap toward us, and I know I’ve achieved that primary target.  Soon, I’ve got 2 very happy clients watching an immaculate drake Long-tailed Duck.  Outrageously attractive, he waved that eponymous tail in the air before taking off and vanishing out of sight around the headland.

At the other end of the day we watched a flock of 20 Slavonian Grebes and a similar number of Common Scoter, another 6 Long-tailed Ducks, an elusive Black-throated Diver and 3 equally elusive Red-throated Divers and 2 Harbour Porpoises as the light faded to the point where even the impressive assembly of optical equipment wasn’t offering an advantage any more.

Sandwiched in between though, was a veritable feast of raptors;  we’d already had a couple of Common Buzzards (and I’d had 2 on the drive to Hauxley before collecting Jill and Steve), 2 Sparrowhawks and several Kestrels by lunchtime, but the best was yet to come.  First a Merlin perched on a post in front of us for 10 minutes, then we found 2 Peregrines sitting on boulders at low tide.  Soon a wave of panic spread through the assembled waders, and the Barnacle, Greylag, Pink-footed and White-fronted Geese, as the 2 Peregrines swooped back and forth.  Then, our second Merlin of the day began harrassing one of the Peregrines. As chaos raged across the mudflats, one of the Peregrines made a kill; an unfortunate Redshank.  It took it’s prize to a rock and began plucking it…and 2 more Peregrines arrived!  All 3 tussled over the spoils of the hunt, before 2 of them conceded and sat a little distance away.  A dry, cold wintry day and spectacular drama played out by some excellent wildlife.  The Northumberland coast in the winter – there’s nothing better 🙂

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Here for the weather?

by on Jan.30, 2012, under Birdwatching, Holy Island, Lindisfarne, Northumberland

Just as I arrived at Harkess Rocks to collect Andy and Helen for an afternoon of birdwatching around the Holy Island of Lindisfarne and the North Northumberland coast, the first drops of sleety rain began splattering on the windscreen.  We haven’t really had any sort of winter yet, apart from an hour of snow on December 16th, but yesterday afternoon did feel positively chilly.  Undaunted by the easterly wind and icy showers we enjoyed the wader and wildfowl spectacle that is the Northumberland coast in the winter.  Curlews  singing as they flew by must have a joie de vivre that lets them vent that emotional haunting call wherever they may be.  Other wading birds entertained as they probed, prodded and buried their bills face-deep in the mud; Grey Plovers, Bar-tailed Godwits, Redshanks and Oystercatchers were all making the most of the exposed mud at low tide.  A big flock of Yellowhammers, Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Goldfinches, Tree Sparrows, House Sparrows and Reed Buntings held our attention for a good while and wildfowl were well represented with Shelduck, Eider, Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Goosander and Pintail.  As we watched a very obliging Dark-bellied Brent Goose, it was a sobering thought that our wintering birds are generally here because conditions in the areas where they breed are too harsh at this time of the year.  Mammals were braving the cold too; 7 Roe Deer, a Brown Hare and 5 Common Seals made a not too shabby mammal list for the afternoon.

I often reflect on my decision to return to Northumberland from Arizona, and as we watched that lone Brent Goose, with the biting wind driving waves of showery rain, were my thoughts of the warmth and sunshine of Tucson?  No, what I was thinking was that this is the weather I came home for…and the reason that good outdoor clothing is a necessity 😉

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Juggling act

by on May.29, 2011, under Bamburgh Castle, Birdwatching, Cheviot Valleys, Druridge Bay, Farne Islands, Holy Island, Lindisfarne, North Sea, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast, Southeast Northumberland

We’ve just finished what has almost certainly been our hardest week since we started NEWT; organising and guiding a 7-night Northumberland birdwatching holiday for no less than 18 clients.

The Bamburgh Castle Inn was our accommodation base for the week and the upstairs conservatory, with it’s excellent views over the harbour, Farne Islands and Bamburgh Castle, was reserved for our dinner each night of the holiday.  Many, many thanks to Sean and his team for the entire week 🙂

The unseasonal high winds weren’t going to get the better of us, and our original itinerary for the week was shuffled/re-jigged/abandoned as we took some calculated risks to ensure that our planned boat trips to the Farne Islands and Coquet Island both went ahead.  They did, and we’re eternally grateful to Billy Shiel’s Farne Island Boat Trips and Dave Gray’s Puffin Cruises for the incredibly professional way that they handled our clients.

I asked the group for their highlight of the week…and got a lot of answers; A mixed flock of waders, resplendent in breeding plumage, along the coastline of Druridge Bay.  An Otter, lazily fishing in a coastal pool. Sailing around Coquet Island as the sky darkened and all of the terns flushed from the island when the RSPB warden walked up the slipway.  A pair of very pink Roseate Terns mating.  Walking through the dunes at Newton in the howling gales of Monday afternoon.  Staple Island and Inner Farne.  Red Grouse wandering through the heather on our day in the Cheviots.

All too soon, the week was over and I led a brief foray into the North Pennines for a few of the group as they headed south.  There, in the driving rain and howling gale, a Black Grouse sat hunched in the bracken – looking even more annoyed than they usually do 🙂

The week wouldn’t have run so well without the quality of service from all of the other companies we worked with, but I want to say a massive thank you to Sarah.  Client care, liaison with suppliers, running the NEWT office for the week and realising what I was going to ask before I had even asked it were all taken in her stride and made the week work.  Thank You 🙂

We’re already dealing with enquiries for group holidays in May 2012, so get in touch to find out what we can offer you and your group; whatever time of the year, whatever the size of your group…

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Marching on

by on Mar.30, 2011, under Birdwatching, Lindisfarne, Northumberland

As the start of the main season approaches, it’s been a busy few weeks for NEWT.  I attended the latest Netgain meeting, as this important part of the North Sea Marine Conservation Zones project nears its conclusion, plans are developing for the Birdwatching Northumberland stand at this year’s British Birdwatching Fair, Tourism fairs/leaflet distribution days gave us a chance to catch up with a lot of the accommodation providers we work with, final preparations are in hand for a big group holiday we’re running in May and 2 smaller holidays in July, and days out with clients are increasing in frequency.

Yesterday we had a Lindisfarne Safari; Pale-bellied Brent Geese, Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits, Grey Plover, Wigeon, Teal, Golden Plover and Dunlin were still around in good numbers, Skylarks and Meadow Pipits were singing literally everywhere that we walked, and Long-tailed Ducks were displaying their breeding finery.  When discussing bird songs and calls with clients, I always mention The Sound Approach, which I’ve always found to be such an inspirational book, so was really pleased to learn that Brenda has a copy of the book, and an interest in how different people describe the same bird sounds.

At the end of a really enjoyable trip, I made the long drive to Otterburn Mill for a meeting with the Chair’s of some of Northumberland’s other tourism associations.  Some strong, and often conflicting, views were expressed but we all agreed that what is best for Northumberland is for us all to move in the same direction. So we will…

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It’s Sunday, so it must be Lindisfarne

by on Mar.21, 2011, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Holy Island, Lindisfarne, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

After enjoying an all too brief view of the ‘super Moon’ on Saturday as I drove eastwards across Northumberland on my way home from the North Pennines, we’d got something completely different in the booking diary for Sunday; guided birdwatching on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne.  Having Sarah along as an additional guide was a real bonus as well.

Gillian and Roger are existing clients, and this time we’d got other members of the family along as well – Roddy, Lucy and Alec.  We’ve done plenty of family trips with young children, but a request to see “Seals, Lions and Tigers” from a 2-year old was a new experience for us!  We managed one of those three 😉

Black-tailed Godwit (a stunning bird, well on it’s way to breeding plumage), Pale-bellied and Dark-bellied Brent Geese, Oystercatchers, Bar-tailed Godwits, Red-breasted Mergansers and Long-tailed Ducks were all well appreciated.  Gillian picked out a tiny dark dot, high overhead, as a Skylark sang his evocative melody, and Roger spotted a Goldcrest, with a very very gold crest, as we ascended The Heugh.  18 Whooper Swans flew over the island, accompanied by a single Bewick’s Swan.  With that species so scarce in Northumberland during the winter, we wondered if it was the same bird that we first found, a few miles down the coast, in late December.  All too soon, it was time to return the family to the starting point of the tour and make our way down the Northumberland coast, along Druridge Bay and back to the office.

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