Tag: Black Grouse

Would you like to stroke my Badger?

by on Mar.06, 2013, under Birdwatching, Kielder, Northumberland

On Saturday I was in the Kielder area with Sarah, collecting our new mountain bikes from Ian at The Bike Place. The weather was glorious; blue skies, sunshine – everything you would want on a day there with clients.

Skip forward to Sunday morning…

I collected Jon and Alison, Jill and Steve & Laura and Nicola from Hexham and we headed north towards the Border Forests.  The weather was somewhat different; overcast, not even a slight breeze and the air was damp and bitterly cold.  In those conditions the forest is an ethereal place, remote, other-worldly and an experience in itself.  Mistle Thrushes and Chaffinches seemed to be everywhere that we looked, Common Buzzards were sitting hunched on tree-tops and telegraph poles, Roe Deer crossed the track ahead of us and the only Common Crossbills of the day were a group of four that flew by as we were trying to locate a very vocal Raven. Then, a very nice policeman stopped and showed us his Badger and Red Squirrel 🙂 A Green Woodpecker yaffled from the wooded slopes below us and Goldcrests, Blue Tits, Great Tits and Robins could all be heard.

Heading towards the border a Dipper sat on a rock at the water’s edge, bobbing up and down before heading upstream in a whirr of wing beats.  Red Grouse was found soon after heading up onto the moors around Newcastleton and the next addition to the trip list was probably the highlight of the day (apart from the Badger…).  The next grouse was well hidden, with only it’s head visible but, as I stopped the car to let everyone have a good look at it, it raised itself from the heather and revealed it’s true identity; a stunning male Black Grouse, resplendent in the day’s only real attempt at sunshine.  He wasn’t alone though, as two more Blackcock appeared from amongst the heather and eventually a total of five flew across the road and settled again.

After a picnic stop in one of my favourite places, we went in search of Wild Goats. It didn’t take too long to find one and, as is often the case, once you’ve found one you soon find more.  This prompted the following exchange in the back of the car “That goat’s got a baby” “You’re kidding me”…

Heading back towards Northumberland a flock of Fieldfares were on telegraph wires and two Great Spotted Woodpeckers were perched at the top of a small tree by the road.  A walk to the hide at Bakethin produced Goldeneye, Mallard, Tufted Duck and Pochard and one of Northumberland’s more exotic inhabitants rounded off the day as we watched at least five Mandarins, including three gaudy drakes and two subtly beautiful ducks in a tributary of the north Tyne.

The weather was an experience, we had some excellent wildlife to enjoy, and we hardly saw another person all day…but what really made the day for me was having six clients who all got on so well with each other, were really enthusiastic about birdwatching and wildlife and provided a steady level of entertainment throughout the day 🙂

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North Pennines 04/09/12

by on Sep.05, 2012, under Birdwatching, North Pennines, Northumberland

One of my favourite locations, at a time of year when it isn’t often visited, and returning clients (always a pleasure!) made for an excellent day’s birdwatching in southwest Northumberland and north west County Durham yesterday.

I collected Reg and Val from their home in Newcastle and, as we headed west along the Tyne valley, the clear blue sky promised a good day.  Starting with a walk along the River Allen, we soon encountered a mixed flock that included Nuthatch, Coal Tit, Great Tit, Blackbird and Robin.  The river produced some stunning Grey Wagtails and a brood of Goosanders, shepherded by mum as they scoured the river, heads held below the surface as the current carried them along.  Common Buzzards were calling from high against the azure sky and we could have been forgiven for thinking it was a nice Spring day – other than that the only birds singing were Robins.

Once we were out on the moors. we started to encounter Red Grouse.  Always a stunning bird, whether you’re looking at the handsome males or the intricately patterned females, the sunlight really brought out the best in this moorland specialist.  Black Grouse proved slightly more difficult, unsurprising as there was a ‘stiff’ breeze racing across the fells of the North Pennines AONB 🙂  After a lot of effort, we did find three young Blackcocks sheltering between clumps of rush, and they were very obliging for Reg’s camera.  As we crossed one (very) minor road, we came across my own personal highlight of the day.  Two Ravens appeared over a nearby ridge and headed towards a plantation at the top of the ridge ahead of us.  As they soared higher, a third Raven came into view and began tumbling.  The two closer birds responded with a breathtaking display of aerobatics and, as they plunged towards the ground before swooping up again, their deep croaking calls carried on the breeze to where we were sitting.  A special bird in a special place, and simply awe-inspiring 🙂

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North Pennines – Busman’s Holiday

by on May.04, 2012, under Birdwatching, North Pennines

We’ve got a busy few weeks coming up, giving talks locally, exhibiting at the Scottish Bird Fair and delivering the bird identification training courses for the North Pennines WildWatch programme.  Once that’s out of the way, we’ll be into our busy period for trips out with clients, and then delivering more training courses – this time on offshore wildlife survey techniques for MARINElife/North East Cetacean Project and our local Wildlife Trusts.

With all of that in mind we had a weekend in the North Pennines, staying at Saughy Rigg Farm and making an early start on Saturday to visit a Black Grouse lek.  Armed with our new Telinga Pro8W and Stereo DATmic…we sat in the car with the heaters on as the temperature hit 3C and it started snowing 🙂  We could see the grouse – they were sitting huddled in clumps of rush, looking decidely miserable – but they weren’t performing (at least not early on Saturday morning).  A ghostly-pale Short-eared Owl braved the elements, quartering the grassland in search of prey, and the mic picked up the sound of drumming Snipe, calling Curlew and cackling Red Grouse, but once the Blackcock started lekking they were upwind of us and the wind tunnel effect of trying to record them led to a change of tactic and concentrating on photography.

Over the course of the two days, we had excellent views of Red Grouse, Black Grouse, Golden Plover, Curlew, Common Snipe, Redshank, Curlew, Brown Hare, Roe Deer and Rabbit.  The maze of little roads throughout the area offer lots of photographic opportunities so we made the most of them 🙂

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Greyhens, Allendale, Northumberland 28/04/2012

 
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Nothing to grouse about

by on Mar.29, 2012, under Birdwatching, North Pennines, Northumberland

On a beautiful spring day, with raptors soaring against an azure sky, and birdsong carrying on the breeze, just being in the landscape is an experience.

As I collected Peter and Margaret from Barnard Castle for a day of birdwatching around the North Pennines AONB, the temperature gauge on the car hit 18C, and we set off in search of one species in particular.  Our lunch stop, overlooking a Black Grouse lek site, was accompanied by Curlew, Common Snipe, Meadow Pipit and Golden Plover all singing.  As we went deeper into the hills, a Black Grouse stared at us imperiously from a rushy field.  As we enjoyed very close views of the handsome bird, two cyclists came along the road and he flushed…along with another 3 Blackcock.  As Margaret kept a close eye on the birds as they landed and began making their way uphill, Curlew and Golden Plover  landed nearby and began calling.  Then Margaret found another 3 Blackcock, flying by and landing much closer, and watched them before asking “you saw where they landed, can you see them now?”.  I couldn’t but, having watched exactly what they did, Margaret described where they were, and what they were doing.  Incredibly, they were only a few metres from where they’d landed, but had managed to position themselves amongst the rushes and stopped moving so that, unless you happened to be watching them when they did that, you couldn’t see where they were.

As the day continued and we headed across into Upper Teesdale, we found some very close Black Grouse, Common Snipe drumming overhead, Wheatears flitting along dry stone walls, Red Grouse cackling in the heather, a Short-eared Owl quartering grassland in stunning late-afternoon light and 2 Hen Harriers.  That last sighting was exciting, and yet sobering at the same time; it’s been a long time since they bred successfully in that vast area of prime habitat.

Fittingly, our last sighting of the day was of 2 more Black Grouse, picking their way through sun-dappled woodland in the early evening.

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Shining in the gloom

by on Mar.17, 2012, under Birdwatching, Kielder, Northumberland

The most memorable wildlife on a tour with clients can come in many forms; it may be the common, the uncommon, the localised, or just the way that it fits in its habitat, and the landscape and weather blend it in to the experience.

I arrived at Hexham railway station to find Steve and Jill already there, and a few minutes later Catherine arrived on the train from Windermere (via a few changes!).  We headed northwest along the North Tyne valley for a day birdwatching around Kielder and the borders and, just before Bellingham we left the road and headed along the forest tracks.  A fine drizzle was falling as we found our first Crossbills of the day.  By the time we returned to the C200 (and civilisation!) 2 hours later, we’d had lots of sightings of small groups and family parties.  Perching on the tops of small spruce trees, flying over and giving that distinctive ‘chip, chip’ call, Crossbills are always a delight to watch.  The stunning luminosity of the males carmine red rump is incredibly striking, particularly in the gloom and drizzle of the border forests when everything else seems to be monochrome.  Kestrels and Common Buzzards were soaring around, Curlews and Lapwings were sitting in fields between the sheep, Skylarks and Meadow Pipits flushed from the track sides and Siskins almost rivalled the Crossbills with some stunning adult males demonstrating how a quite common bird can still take your breath away when you look closely at it.

By early afternoon the cloud level had dropped to somewhere below the altitude we were at and, as we crossed a remote moorland road with the icy cold wind whistling  eerily around us, driving waves of rain horizontally across the fells, Steve spotted a grouse at the roadside.  From our position I couldn’t see the bird, but Catherine, sitting in the back of the car, was able to photograph what I assumed would be a Red Grouse.  Then it flew…revealing the white wing-bars of an adult Blackcock!  That’s a species we’ve watched and photographed with clients in the North Pennines, but not one that we’ve ever recorded on a Kielder Safari.  Important lesson, that one; expect the unexpected 🙂

One of our commonest species provided one of the highlights of the day;  hundreds of male Chaffinches were swarming around feeding stations and, at one point, we had 3 sitting on the roof of the car, 2 on the wing mirrors and 2 in the boot!  With Blue, Great and Coal Tits, Greenfinches, more Siskins, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Nuthatches the feeders were a blur of activity.

As we headed back down the valley at the end of the day, a flock of Redwings and Fieldfares flew from a nearby field and filled the air above us, a pair of Mandarins flew upriver, calling, and we left Kielder behind to return to the bustling metropolis of Hexham 🙂

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Winter Wonderland 28/11/11-01/12/11

by on Dec.07, 2011, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

Last week was our Winter Wonderland birdwatching holiday, although as I arrived at Saughy Rigg I wondered if Windy Wonderland would be a better name for it 😉

The original itinerary involved the Solway coast on Tuesday and the North Pennines on Wednesday, but a quick discussion with our guests on arrival meant that our coastal day was switched to Northumberland to avoid the poor weather in the west.

The plan worked well, at least until mid-afternoon when the weather caught up with us and we had a couple of hours of dodging the showers.  The waders and wildfowl that winter here featured throughout the day and Greylag, Pink-footed, Pale-bellied Brent, Barnacle and Eurasian White-fronted Geese were all enjoying the mild weather on the Northumberland coast.  3 splendid drake Goosanders  were blown across Druridge Pools before battling their way back against the wind, and a Roe Deer was grazing in the gap between 2 reed beds.  As so often seems to happen, some of the best wildlife of the day saved its appearance until the light began to fade.  First a Short-eared Owl, with a strikingly white face, quartering backwards and forwards along the margins of a field, then 2 Water Rails, those small, secretive denizens of the reeds, stepped gingerly into view; prodding and poking and squealing like piglets as they vanished back into the gloom.  Then, as flocks of geese descended to roost, a Bittern flew from the reeds and headed south.

Wednesday brought another breezy morning, and we headed into the hills.  Remarkable numbers of Red Grouse chuckled at us as we watched from the comfort of the car, and 7 Black Grouse were the first of no less than 75 that we found during the day.  The weather closed in all around us and, after a quick check of a lough wher Teal, Wigeon and Lapwing were roosting and Goldeneye were feeding, we finished the day at one of our favourite evening venues.  An unidentified raptor flew low across the heather moorland and out of sight over a ridge, Red Grouse burst from cover before settling again a short distance away and a lone Short-eared Owl battled into a brutal headwind as the evening faded to darkness.

Winter Wonderland is one (in fact, two) of the holidays on our itinerary for 2012, so give us a call on 01670 827465 for more details or to book your place.

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Raptorfest

by on Sep.29, 2011, under Birdwatching, North Pennines, Northumberland

We don’t usually do North Pennines trips in September; by this time of the year we’re focused closely on the coast, and our inland visits tend to be limited to our own photography projects.  However, when we had a ‘phone call on Monday “we’re stopping in Allendale, what can you do for us this week?”, it seemed logical to head into the bleak open expanse of southwest Northumberland and Upper Teesdale.

I collected Jan and Pete from their holiday cottage and we headed cross country as I explained that birdwatching in the North Pennines tends to be about quality rather than quantity…

Sure enough, the mouth-watering quality of birdwatching on the moors was soon evident.  After lots of obligingly photogenic Red Grouse we went through a remarkable period of raptor sightings.  Kestrels and Common Buzzards were followed by a Peregrine harassing a Carrion Crow, a Common Buzzard somehow getting embroiled in that same dispute, a Merlin that raced across the fell behind the intriguing 3-way dogfight, more Kestrels and Common Buzzards, and a Sparrowhawk that had caught a Lapwing (which broke free and flew off, with the Sparrowhawk in pursuit).

Then we had a quantity of quality, as our afternoon and evening produced no less than 73 Black Grouse! 54 Blackcocks and 19 Greyhens was an extraordinary total for one trip and we enjoyed the sight of the cryptically patterned Greyhens, the iridescent blue of the adult Blackcocks and we picked out a few young birds amongst the groups as well.

Rounded off with a carmine pink sky just after sunset, we’ll have to think about adding some autumn North Pennines trips into our schedule for 2012 🙂

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Like a different world

by on Jun.09, 2011, under Birdwatching, North Pennines, Photography

I had 2 days in the North Pennines late last week; a one-to-one photography day and a birdwatching trip.  Separated by just 48hrs, the days could hardly have been any different.

The photography day took place in gales that were so strong, I had to choose the direction of the car carefully when parked so that we could open the doors, and plan the route as we went along so that Michael would be in a position to get shots from his side of our mobile hide, with as little interference as possible from the weather.  As well as serving up Black Grouse, Red Grouse, Golden Plover, Curlew and Short-eared Owl I had a stint as photographer’s assistant, holding my Cubelite in place so that it acted as a diffuser and windshield as Michael enjoyed having some of the area’s flora in front of his macro lens.

2 days later and I collected Mandy, Sara and Stevan from Jesmond and headed west again.  As we crossed the remote moorland roads and walked in Upper Teesdale, we found Snipe, Curlew, Meadow Pipit, Skylark and Wheatear all displaying.  We had excellent views of 2 Greyhens and a Blackcock was dozing in the afternoon sunshine.  Common Sandpipers were flitting about across the water and the Mountain Pansies were glorious in the sunlight.  All too soon, it was time to head back towards civilisation.

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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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Making the best of the weather

by on May.19, 2011, under North Pennines, Northumberland, Photography

We put a lot of effort into finding locations for species that our clients are keen to photograph and we can apply decades of experience and fieldcraft…but we can’t control the weather.  As we left the lowland coastal strip of Northumberland on Sunday, gaining altitude in a search for Black Grouse at some of our favoured spots in the North Pennines, the rain started to patter on the car windows.  As the wind strengthened, and the pattering turned to a shower, this added another factor to our considerations; 1) find birds, 2) position vehicle so that a) client has a clear shot and b) lighting angle is good, were joined by c) rain isn’t drenching client 🙂  With all of those achieved it just remained for Arthur to fill his memory cards with those species that the North Pennines produces such close views of; Black Grouse, Red Grouse (with chicks), Curlew, Common Snipe, Lapwing, Golden Plover (with chicks) and Short-eared Owl being the stars of the day.  As we drove a steep remote road towards Weardale we even had excellent, and close, views of the often elusive Greyhen, and throughout the day we found several groups of Blackcock (including 7 in one field).  To be honest, if we could control the weather…I’m not sure we would 😉

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