Tag: Birdwatching

Birdwatching with Bird Watching

by on Sep.24, 2010, under Birdwatching

Following our adventure in the North Sea on Saturday, I had to gather my thoughts, and clean my binoculars and ‘scope,  ready for a full week of guided birdwatching.  I drove north on Sunday to meet up with Sheena Harvey, editor of Bird Watching Magazine, and her husband Alan.  With nearly three days to show them the delights that Northumberland has to offer, in terms of birdwatching holidays, guided birdwatching and birdwatching in general, I was really looking forward to the trip.  It started a bit later than expected due to vehicle and aquarium problems at their end 🙁 but we had a nice meal at the Lindisfarne Inn on Sunday night and discussed the plan for the next few days.

If there was one moment that I thought stood out it was early in the trip, on Monday morning.  As we approached Budle Bay I could see a few geese in the ‘goose fields’.  We stopped to check them and I commented that with the strong northwesterly winds there should be plenty of geese starting to arrive soon.  Then, as if on cue, the skeins started dropping from the skies.  Mainly Pink-footed Geese, but with a good handful of Barnacle Geese along for good measure.  Well over 1000 birds settled into the field in front of us in just over 20 mins.  That was just the start of some very good birding and wildlife watching.  I’m not going to spoil Sheena’s article  by writing a detailed report so, if you want to read about it, you’ll have to buy the January issue (on sale 20th December) 🙂

By mid-afternoon on Wednesday it was time for Sheena and Alan to head back to the deep south of Lincolnshire, after three really enjoyable days for us – and I’m sure for them as well 🙂

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White is the new Black

by on Sep.17, 2010, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Lindisfarne, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast, Southeast Northumberland

We had back-to back birdwatching trips earlier this week, covering two of our favourite areas.

On Tuesday afternoon I collected Keith and Jen from home in Monkseaton and we headed northwards up the Northumberland coast.  Our destination was the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, one of the birding hot-spots of the entire country.  The strong winds were the only downside to the afternoon, but the birdwatching was good.  After checking out a large group of Grey Seals we covered the area around the harbour and the Rocket Field.  Bar-tailed Godwits, Common Redshank and lots of Ringed Plover were along the shoreline and a delightful charm of Goldfinches were around the Heugh.  A distant group of Lapwings, Starlings and Golden Plover took to the air and the cause of their alarm was glimpsed briefly, although too briefly and too distant to make a positive ID.  Holy Island birdwatching stalwart Ian Kerr put us on to a Little Stint and, as we headed back through the village, groups of Golden Plover passed overhead.  Re-tracing our route back down the coast and checking the Budle Bay on the rising tide, we were just discussing the indications of the presence of predators when a huge number of birds lifted from the mud.  As well as the gulls and waders, Jackdaws, Rooks and Woodpigeons joined the throng as they came out of adjacent fields and trees.  This time the culprit was seen and identified; a Peregrine, that most majestic of raptors and one of the highlights of any birdwatching day on the Northumberland coast in the autumn and winter.  A quick seawatch produced Sandwich Terns feeding, and Gannets soaring effortlessly on the breeze.

Wednesday was a full day out around Druridge Bay and Southeast Northumberland.  I collected Jayne and Andrew from Seahouses, and then Hilary and John from Alnmouth, before beginning our tour of some of the best birdwatching spots in our local area.  While we were watching Lapwings, Redshanks, Greenshanks, Ruff, Herons and Cormorants on the River Wansbeck I could hear a rough ‘sreee’ call from high overhead.  The strong breeze meant that it wasn’t straightforward to locate the bird, but eventually I picked it out.  It was an unfamiliar call, but a familiar species; a juvenile Common Cuckoo.  The walk back along the river produced a nice flock of Long-tailed Tits.  After lunch we stopped off at Cresswell Pond.  Hilary and John mentioned that they’d visited Cresswell once before – when they noticed a large group of birders and stopped, managing to see a Buff-breasted Sandpiper.

Northumberland birdwatching following the floods of September 2008

Buff-breasted Sandpiper and Ruff, Cresswell Pond, Northumberland 12/09/2008

With luck like that, we joked about what this visit could produce...

When we arrived at the hide, Jaybee mentioned that he’d had a juvenile Sandwich Tern.  I scanned the pond but couldn’t see the tern anywhere and we settled to enjoying the quite remarkable views of Common Snipe that were available.  After checking through the assembled ducks, gulls and waders I scanned across the pond again and spotted a tern dip-feeding near the causeway.  The bird’s behaviour, combined with it’s very dark back, white rump and silver-grey wings caused me to get rather excited.  White-winged Black Tern is a very special bird, and a personal highlight as it’s the third Chlidonias tern that I’ve found in Northumberland.  Whiskered Tern is very rare and Black Tern is always a nice bird to see but White-winged Black Tern is such a beautiful species.  Jaybee kindly sent me some images to use 🙂

White-winged Black Tern, a Northumberland birdwatching highlight 15/09/2010

White-winged Black Tern, Cresswell Pond, Northumberland 15/09/2010

Highlight of a day birdwatching on the Northumberland coast 15/09/2010

White-winged Black Tern, Cresswell Pond, Northumberland 15/09/2010

White-winged Black Tern, Northumberland, Birdwatching

White-winged Black Tern, Cresswell Pond, Northumberland 15/09/2010

As other birders began to arrive to enjoy the fruit of our good fortune we continued up the coast.  Eiders and a Goosander, as well as some very obliging Grey Herons, were seen as we stopped by the River Coquet.  A superb couple of day’s birdwatching, a beautiful rarity and clients who were excellent company.

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Busy birdwatching

by on Sep.13, 2010, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

Even though we live in southeast Northumberland, we’ll never tire of getting out and about searching for new experiences for our clients.  Days out with clients are always exciting as well, because we never know exactly what we’ll see or what it will be doing.

Last Thursday we had a Southeast Northumberland/Druridge Bay safari with clients from a fairly wide geographical area; Jeff and Jean from Huddersfield, Lawrie and Linda from Glasgow and Yvonne from southwest Northumberland.  Starting at Newbiggin we managed a brief view of a Mediterranean Gull on the beach, and a small flock of Sanderling.  These little grey, white and black ‘clockwork toys’ are always entertaining as they scurry back and forth along the water’s edge.  The River Wansbeck was our next destination.  As expected there was a good sized flock of Lapwing roosting and Cormorants and Herons were doing what they do; standing with their wings out and just sort of standing respectively.  All of a sudden a wave of panic spread through the Lapwings.  We all scanned backwards, forwards, skywards but couldn’t see any cause.  Perhaps it was just a false alarm?  The birds settled but were up again within a minute, gradually settling back down with a great deal of conversation between them all.  Greenshanks flew by calling and the Lapwings were becoming increasingly jittery.  Even birds from distant streams were high in the air, forming the quite tight flocks that indicate the presence of a predator, something that creates anticipation wherever we’re birdwatching.  Eventually we found a distant Peregrine, and a big female Sparrowhawk slid menacingly through the trees opposite our watchpoint.  One or both of them was presumably the cause for concern.  Even the Great Black-backed Gulls flushed and flew overhead, giving calls of consternation.

Among the coastal waders, perhaps the best were three Common Snipe, unusually confiding and just a few metres away from us.  The fall of passerine migrants earlier in the week had left a few goodies behind.  Spotted and Pied Flycatchers were quite elusive, sallying forth and then back into cover, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs were picking their way through willows beside the path and, providing a visual feast to rival the gaudiest of birds from elsewhere in the world, six male Common Redstarts were along one short stretch of hedge.  There really is little to rival the beauty of these birds.

At the conclusion of our journey up the coast a bird as lacking in colour as the Redstart is bathed in it was a final wonderful sighting.  As we watched two Grey Herons perched in trees overhanging the River Coquet, a Little Egret flew by before returning and perching high in the treetops in a spot where we could watch it through the ‘scope.  There can’t be many better places to be birdwatching than the Northumberland coast in September 🙂

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Valley of tranquility

by on Sep.06, 2010, under Birdwatching, Cheviot Valleys, North Pennines, Northumberland

Although our Cheviot Valleys and North Pennines safaris are concentrated in the springtime, we run a few trips to those inland areas in the late summer and early autumn.  The final day of August was a trip to the Cheviots, and it could hardly have been better; the weather was wonderful, there were hardly any other people to be seen anywhere and the wildlife was, well, as good and varied as we would expect.

After collecting Hamish and Vanessa we drove past Morpeth then up the A697 and through the ford at Coldgate Mill.  The Happy Valley was deserted and peaceful; a Slow Worm was basking in the dappled light between gorse bushes, Small Copper butterflies (a personal favourite) were feeding and sunning themselves and there were even a few Silver Y moths.  We get these migrants in our trap occasionally, and I’ve seen them in profusion on the coast, but these were well inland.  

Camera-shy Silver Y

Goldcrests were calling, and eventually spotted, Spotted Flycatchers, Treecreepers and Long-tailed Tits were all found in one tree, Robins seemed to be everywhere we went and the first of the day’s Common Buzzards, rising rapidly in a thermal, suggested that searching skywards could be productive for birdwatching.

After lunch we walked along the far end of the valley.  Red Grouse were cackling hysterically on one side of the valley, at the same time as we could hear a shooting party on the other.  Siskins and Lesser Redpolls were feeding around the treetops, although they did pause briefly so we had a chance to look at them.  The warm sunshine and excellent visibility mean that it did turn out to be a raptor day; as well as Common Buzzards there were regular Common Kestrels and a Sparrowhawk then, as we walked back to the car park, a Peregrine  soared majestically and menacingly against the blue sky overhead.  Sadly our only Adder of the day was roadkill, although it had gathered an interesting collection of flies and beetles.

One thing that our safaris have proved to be is a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.  If you need to get away from it all then give us a call, or if you know somebody who would benefit from a day of chilled out wildlife watching then our gift vouchers could be just the thing they need 🙂

Hamish kindly provided some images from the day (including the Silver Y that really didn’t want to be photographed) and my own favourites are here;

Mother Nature ages trees better than any bonsai artist can!

 

Northumberland heather in bloom

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Life begins at 40

by on Sep.06, 2010, under Birdwatching, North Sea, Northumberland

Friday was our long-awaited pelagic to the Farne Deeps.  We’d originally planned the trip for August 12th, but the weather put paid to that 🙁  Rescheduling to September 3rd meant that four of the original participants had to withdraw because of other commitments, but we were able to fill those places and have a reserve list.  Birdwatching from a boat in the North Sea, with the possibility of cetaceans as well, is always an enjoyable way to spend a day.

When I arrived at Royal Quays just after 7.30 I was surprised to see that nine of the other eleven participants were already there; obviously eager to join Northern Experience on our ‘voyage into the unknown’.

As we left the Tyne we soon began to began to find Guillemots, Razorbills and Puffins on the sea; all 3 species featuring regularly throughout the day.  Gannets, Fulmars and Kittiwakes were all seen in good numbers (Kittiwakes in particular) and we continued to head north northeast, getting further offshore from the Northumberland coast.

I was watching the depth plotter carefully as we approached the edge of the deep water and, as I stepped out of the wheelhouse, thinking that things could get very interesting quite soon, almost collapsed as Allan shouted “Dolphin!”.  Within a minute we’d got two stunning White-beaked Dolphins bow-riding.  They stayed with us for 40 minutes, and during that time there were at least another three a little distance from the boat.  I managed to get ‘a bit’ of video footage 🙂

As if all the excitement of having the dolphins around the boat wasn’t enough, Geoff Morgan spotted a Grey Phalarope (Red Phalarope for any readers in the US).  After Geoff’s initial call it was 4 mins before the bird was relocated; sitting on the sea in front of the boat as we continued along with the dolphins.  The phalarope, as well as an excellent bird to see in early September, was a milestone as it’s the 40th ‘seabird’ (defined as those covered by Peter Harrison’s excellent ‘Seabirds: an identification guide’) to be found on pelagic trips off Northumberland since the first NTBC organised trip in 1987.

As well as the birds mentioned previously we also found;

Manx Shearwater 4

Sooty Shearwater 4

Arctic Skua 4

Great Skua 9

Typically, the Manx Shearwaters and Arctic Skuas stayed well away from the boat but the Sooty Shearwaters  and Great Skuas were much more obliging 🙂

By the end of the day, nearly everyone on board had enjoyed lifers; the White-beaked Dolphins were a much sought-after species for Joanne and the result of a lot of effort 🙂  With the battalion of long lenses on the boat, there’ll be plenty of good quality images for the White-beaked Dolphin identification catalogue that forms part of the Northeast Cetacean Project.  We’ll be running at least two trips out to the Farne Deeps next year (date and cost tbc) so get in touch soon to register your interest.  With only 12 places available they’ll fill quickly.

After the 10hr marathon of the Farne Deeps, our 8hr pelagic on Saturday was just like a pleasure cruise 🙂  Again we had good numbers of Kittiwake, Gannet and Fulmar,  as well as some very obliging Sooty Shearwaters.  With some of South Tyneside’s finest on board, I was half-hoping that one of them would point his camera at the sky and randomly photograph a Cape Gannet 🙂  Sadly, it wasn’t to be.  Never mind, there’s always next week…and the week after…and next year.

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When the north wind blows

by on Aug.16, 2010, under Birdwatching, Northumberland

We had a couple of disappointments at the end of last week, both due to the weather.  First we had to postpone our Farne Deeps Pelagic and then I was booked on a trip to the Dogger Bank, which also fell victim to the strong northerlies.  Both trips have been rescheduled though so, fingers crossed, they will happen eventually.  We’ve got a few places available for the Farne Deeps on September 3rd, although most of our original participants quickly arranged days off work when I gave them the new date, so call us on 01670 827465 to reserve your place on this groundbreaking trip.

With Friday morning clear in my diary I managed a spot of seawatching; that most esoteric form of birdwatching.  Then we had a couple of nights in Whitby, followed by a visit to Chesterfield for a Christening, and then home again late last night.  While we were away there was a missed call on my mobile; Alan Tilmouth wondering if we’d be interested in a trip across to the Longstone if Saturday’s Thrush Nightingale had remained there overnight.  As it was it hadn’t, and we were away anyway.  Then, last night came the news of a Booted/Sykes’s Warbler at Hadston Links.  With a frantic two weeks ahead of us, I had to work hard to convince myself that I had the time to go and see the bird 😉

Booted/Sykes's Warbler, Hadston Links, Northumberland 16/08/2010

 

Booted/Sykes's Warbler, Hadston Links, Northumberland 16/08/2010

Now these two species are a tricky pair to separate and, despite information put out by various bird information services earlier today, I know that the ID isn’t considered to be cut and dried.  For what it’s worth, I’ll stick my neck out and say that, on balance, I’m leaning towards Booted Warbler.  The real problem though is that in some images it looks very much like a Booted Warbler, in some it looks like Sykes’s.  In real life it was just as perplexing, apparently morphing from one to the other.  Is it a Booted Warbler, fluffing itself up against the cold (the opinion I expressed to another local blogger after I saw the bird this morning), or a Sykes’s Warbler that occasionally looks sleeker than expected?

Another remarkable warbler earned a local birder, and occasional Northern Experience Pelagic participant, a major honour this month.  Dougie Holden, the finder of the Trow Quarry Eastern Crowned Warbler, won the Carl Zeiss Award, which is presented for the photograph or set of photographs considered to have been the most instructive during BBRC’s assessment of rarities over the previous year.

As if all these rare warblers weren’t enough to be going on with, I went into the kitchen this morning only to find Sarah staring intently through her binoculars.  Wood Warbler is an extraordinary bird for a southeast Northumberland garden, but there it was.  Neither of us had that down as the next addition to the garden list but, as with most of the really good birds on our list, it’s no surprise that Sarah found it 🙂

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Variety Show

by on Aug.05, 2010, under Badger, Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

Yesterday we had an afternoon/evening safari around southeast Northumberland and Druridge Bay, an exciting prospect as these are producing some of our most memorable sightings.

Around lunchtime I started to receive calls about Bottlenose Dolphins, 5 past Newbiggin and 20-40 E of St Mary’s.  When I arrived at Church Point at 14:40, the dolphins had departed but a Harbour Porpoise was close inshore.  Once our clients had arrived we set off up the coast.  First stop produced a juvenile Little Owl, lazing in the afternoon sunshine.  A seawatching session revealed plenty of Gannets and Sandwich Terns, and Katie quickly spotted more Harbour Porpoises.  The rest of the afternoon’s birdwatching produced excellent views of Lapwing, Common Sandpiper, Dunlin, Greenshank, Common Tern and some very entertaining Grey Herons.  Non-birdy interest included Small Copper and Dark Green Fritillary butterflies, Blue-tailed Damselfly and a Common Frog.  I chose a picnic spot giving us a wide view over the increasingly calm sea, producing further sightings of Harbour Porpoise, a distant group of Bottlenose Dolphins and a Peregrine.

Then we were on our way to the evening’s final destination.  As we walked, quietly, through a heavily shaded steep wooded valley, I began to question myself; could we really be succesful with a group of 6 clients, when we were searching for an animal that is so easily disturbed?  A Red Fox crossed the path ahead of us, although everyone other than Alice was looking the other way.  I allowed everyone to settle into position on one side of the valley and we waited.  In what seemed like no time at all, a stripy black-and-white head appeared from the undergrowth on the opposite side of the stream and our first Badger of the evening came trotting along.  It paused briefly and then crossed the stream before vanishing up the hill behind us.  After 30 mins, and another 6 Badgers!, we headed back to the Landy.  With the bat detector switched on, we listened to, and had close views of, Common Pipistrelle and Daubenton’s Bat.  Family bookings are always interesting, but the enthusiasm and cheerfulness of Emma, Katie and Alice made it such an enjoyable day (not forgetting the three older members of the group of course).

We’ll be running afternoon/evening safaris throughout the year, so give us a call on 01670 827465 to arrange your own Northern Experience 🙂

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Anniversary flowers

by on Jul.27, 2010, under Birdwatching, Family and friends, Northumberland

I was giving a talk last night and realised just how important the final week of July has been over the last few years; 7 years ago we were married, 6 years ago I’d just returned from leading a week of birdwatching and whalewatching on Mull, 3 years ago I was in my final week as a teacher and 2 years ago we had our first bespoke tour for clients wanting to experience the wildlife and birdwatching that Northumberland has to offer.

We spent our wedding anniversary on Holy Island, and here are some of the orchids we found;

Common Spotted Orchid, Holy Island, Northumberland 26/07/2010

Northern Marsh Orchid, Holy Island, Northumberland 26/07/2010

Marsh Helleborine, Holy Island, Northumberland 26/07/2010

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A real challenge

by on Jul.02, 2010, under Birdwatching, Natural History, Northumberland

In the 17 years that I’ve lived here, I’ve always believed that Northumberland is one of the finest counties for birdwatching in the whole of the UK.  That belief played a big part in reaching the decision to launch NEWT, and it’s why we’re such an enthusiastic member of the Birdwatching Northumberland Consortium.  We’ll be at the Bird Fair in August (Marquee 1, Stand 53/54) so come along to meet us and find out just how good Northumberland is.

This morning, though, my attention is on mammals.  We don’t do too badly for them either; Badger, Red Fox, Grey Seal, Red Squirrel, Roe Deer, Weasel, Stoat and Brown Hare all feature regularly on our safaris and, on our Northern Experience Pelagics, there’s the possibility of Minke Whale, White-beaked Dolphin, Harbour Porpoise and other cetaceans.  We’ve had some random sightings as well; a Bank Vole that sat munching on a leaf just a few feet away from us and a Mole that walked into a hide we were sitting in were both bizarre (especially the Mole; I hadn’t seen a live one for a long, long time).

With the exciting news earlier this week of the first confirmed evidence in 16 years of Pine Marten in Northumberland, we’ve got a new challenge 🙂  We’ve spent some time in the last couple of years checking likely sites and following up reports that we’ve received.  Some of those have been very tantalising, and the species may be more widespread than people imagine.  Otters and Badgers are fairly difficult, but we’ve developed an excellent track record with those two species.  Pine Marten is going to be an altogether different proposition, but we relish a challenge.

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Thursday (part 2); birdwatching and badgers

by on Jun.19, 2010, under Badger, Birdwatching, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

After collecting Gill and Richard from Bamburgh, mid-afternoon Thursday, we had another southeast Northumberland safari.  This one was scheduled to finish at dusk, “a 50-year quest to see a live Badger”.  No pressure there then 🙂  As so often, with late finishes, the final hour was simply magical.  We’d made our way to the hillside opposite a Badger sett that we’ve been watching for a few weeks.  Within a minute of settling into our watching position the tables were turned and we found ourselves under the baleful glare of a Tawny Owl.  Still in good daylight, our first Badger of the evening walked across the hillside opposite.  Over the next 40 mins we had 7 sightings of at least 5 BadgersPipistrelles flicked back and forward across our field of view, Blackbirds, Robins, Wrens and Mistle Thrushes were all alarming from the trees around our watchpoint and we enjoyed all of this with the Badgers carrying on with their dusk perambulations around the woods, safe and undisturbed by anything we were doing.

After returning Gill and Richard to Bamburgh, through what seemed to be a blizzard of moths, it was time to head home.  3 Barn Owls between Bamburgh and Seahouses were an excellent start to the journey and, near Rennington, I had to stop and wait as a Red Fox cub walked across the road in front of the Land Rover.  Back home it was time to sleep, ahead of Friday’s Otter Safari.

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