Moonwatch and Stargazing 17 and 18/05/21

by on 20/05/21 12:49, under Dark Skies

My work life is split between wildlife safaris, photography workshops, pelagics and dark skies events, and with the recent easing of lockdown restrictions the reopening of the award-winning Battlesteads Hotel meant the reopening of the observatory too. I had the privilege of leading the first ever event at the observatory (for the solar eclipse in March 2015) and our staffing rota gave me the first two events this week after more than 6 months of closure πŸ™‚

Monday started with rain, and a rainbow, before the guests arrived to great views of the moon through the 11″ SCT, and an eagerly anticipated bright, and long, passover by the ISS coincided with two Starlink trains. People have conflicting emotions about the number of artificial satellites currently being launched, but they’re an impressive sight! Two thirds of the Summer Triangle (Vega and Deneb) put in an appearance, along with Castor, Pollux, Arcturus, Mars and the Plough.

Tuesday had a better forecast…and more cloud! The guests were still able to look at the moon’s craters and mountain ranges through the 11″ and Arcturus and Vega both appeared between the fast-moving clouds, with more stars, and Mars, visible towards the end of the evening.

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Otter Safari 15/05/21

by on 17/05/21 10:44, 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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Back on the North Sea; NEWT’s 4hr pelagic 12/05/21

by on 17/05/21 10:06, under North Sea

As we spend so much of our time on, or by, the sea it seemed poetic that as restrictions eased sufficiently to allow us to start running tours again, our first trip was a pelagic. The North Sea was at its ever-shifting best; lumpy swell and whitecaps eventually giving way to oily-smooth water reflecting the colours of the setting sun πŸ™‚

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Going back to basics

by on 03/02/21 10:58, under Photography, Uncategorized

NEWT having a period of hibernation, while we deal with another enforced lockdown, has been an interesting time. We’re walking every day (1.6 miles in a morning or at lunchtime, then 6-10 miles on both Saturday and Sunday). Occasionally I’ll carry my big lens (150-600mm) with me, but mostly I prefer to travel light…

Like many photographers I have a lot of kit accumulated over the years, often with a specific function in mind. Until a couple of years ago my photography was mainly offshore wildlife, and nightscape, using lenses that were purchased specifically for those (70-200mm and 14-24mm). I was leading a photography holiday in Glencoe over Christmas 2018 and during the briefing I said we’d have a constructive critique of our images after dinner each evening. “Only if you agree to put your images up for discussion too”. I don’t usually carry a camera during workshops, but agreed to put one camera body with a 50mm prime lens, and no other accessories, in my rucksack, along with lunch, first aid kit, emergency group shelter etc.

The effect was extraordinary. All of that kit, and I fell completely in love with a lens that cost me less than Β£100. Through all the challenging times of the last 10 months, it’s been rare that I would leave the house without that lens mounted on my D810 and in my hand. It’s provided a stable point of focus (apologies for the unintentional pun…) and keeps my mind occupied. Here’s a little gallery of images I’ve taken with it, from Glencoe in December ’18 through to a walk in the woods 2 days ago.

Of course, I’m now finding lots of situations where 50mm is slightly too much reach…note to self – research 35mm primes πŸ™‚

Stay safe and well, and we’ll see you on the other side of this πŸ™‚

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Murmurings; Otter mini-Safari 29/10/20

by on 30/10/20 12:10, under Uncategorized

Other than a few nights at the Battlesteads Observatory, I’ve had a month at home with my feet up recovering from an operation in late September to fix an old foot injury. Even the drizzly, murky weather didn’t curb my enthusiasm for getting back out with clients so I met Maria ahead of a few hours searching for Otters

Teal, Gadwall, Shelduck, Mallard, Wigeon, Tufted Duck and Red-breasted Merganser were all constantly stirred by Marsh Harriers drifting over the pool, Lapwing and Curlew flew by and then the Starlings started arriving. Here’s Maria’s video πŸ™‚

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NEWT’s North Sea Pelagic 22/09/2020

by on 09/10/20 11:26, under Uncategorized

Our pelagic season ended with a 10hr Northumberland Ultimate Pelagic, and the sea demonstrated what a fickle mistress she is. The previous afternoon we’d had White-beaked Dolphins and good conditions offshore…and now the sea was ominous and brooding as a stiff southwesterly started to pick up and we were treated to a sea that was majestic and choppy…

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NEWT’s North Sea Pelagics 21/09/2020

by on 09/10/20 11:20, under North Sea

Our final 4hr daytime pelagics for 2020 were very contrasting. Our morning sailing was a great few hours offshore but didn’t produce any cetacean sightings so in the hour between sailings, I suggested to Allan that we should just head straight out in the afternoon…and just at the point where we were about to turn and head back to shore, there were the White-beaked Dolphins πŸ™‚

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Light on the water; Bespoke Photography 10/09/2020

by on 11/09/20 09:33, under Bottlenose Dolphin, Northumberland Coast, Photography

Yesterday was a trip we were really looking forward to after what has been a really challenging year in so many ways. Emma and Janine have been on a couple of photography holidays that I’ve led since late 2018 and yesterday’s trip was organised for Janine’s birthday. Water and wildlife were the specific requests so I’d discussed how to structure the full day with Sarah and we thought we’d got a workable plan…

We started with wildlife; Dunlin, Redshank, Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew and Turnstone all exploiting the rich food supply available on freshly uncovered sand and seaweed as the tide fell. Low-angled sunlight and mirror-calm water were everything we could have wished for and after a morning of wading birds we headed off for an excellent lunch, and outstanding views from our window table, at the Jolly Fisherman.

Post-lunch we stretched our legs and walked towards Dunstanburgh Castle as the tide turned and surf started breaking over the rocks in the foreground while we sat close to the rising water. Juvenile Gannets were diving offshore and I was thinking that there must be plenty of fish when I spotted a couple of dorsal fins and for the next 5 minutes we watched a group of around 10 Bottlenose Dolphins that seemed to be on a mission to get somewhere away to the south πŸ™‚ Heading back south down the coast our final stop was at Howick Haven/Rumbling Kern as the tide started to flood in below the Bathing House.

Lovely entertaining clients who are pleasure to spend time with, fantastic light, obliging wildlife and the Northumberland coast. There can’t be many better ways to spend a day πŸ™‚

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Joyriders; NEWT’s North Sea Pelagic 02/09/2020

by on 04/09/20 10:11, under North Sea, White-beaked Dolphin

Wednesday’s 10hr Northumberland Ultimate Pelagic sailed with the intention of heading out to the furthest reaches of the Farne Deeps but just over 2hrs in, Mark and Martin looked at the weather and decided that it wouldn’t be safe to head as far offshore as planned. Checking the forecast for the rest of the day, and the bathymetric chart, a new course was set…and there were the White-beaked dolphins πŸ™‚ 52 minutes of mayhem later they departed as suddenly and mysteriously as they’d arrived, leaving behind a boat filled with grinning clients and memory cards filled with images and video πŸ™‚

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

by on 21/08/20 10:25, 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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