Tag: Buzzard

Into the arena; North Pennines Safari 03/05/18

by on May.07, 2018, under Uncategorized

After collecting David from Newbiggin we headed across to Hexham and quickly found Becky, for her 2nd day out with NEWT, and then Emma and Rob before heading into the North Pennines, with one particular experience high on everybody’s wish list for the day…

In a bitterly cold westerly wind, birds were mainly keeping their heads down.  Red Grouse popped up on the heather, Wheatears and Meadow Pipits hopped along drystone walls, Snipe, Curlew and Lapwing were displaying and Buzzard and Kestrel occasionally braved the breeze.  A Red Squirrel ran across the road and vanished into a tree, a Stoat ran up a wall and Roe Deer were grazing in the relative shelter of the valley bottoms.  A quick check of our favourite Black Grouse spot just before lunch produced no birds, and just a lone Blackcock feeding in a nearby field.  A post-lunch walk didn’t last as long as planned, with fairly ferocious wind-chill making it seem more mid-Winter than early May so we headed back to look for grouse

Where there were no grouse a couple of hours earlier, now there were 17 Blackcock, some feeding in long grass and some sleeping in the open.  Then, an unseen trigger launched the lek.  White tail feathers could be seen with the naked eye from our vantage point and the birds were struggling for dominance of the gladiatorial arena.  Some were half-heated about it and quickly stopped displaying and just watched the remaining birds.  Some were aggressively charging at each other and, eventually, just two birds were still displaying.  One seemed to be the alpha male of the lek, perched on a tussock in the centre of the lek he was holding the prime spot.  Undaunted, his one remaining challenger continued displaying and, as far as we could tell, the challenger had more stamina than the ‘king of the castle’ who lowered his tail feathers, dropped his wings, hopped down from the tussock and made a slow dignified exit from the arena into the surrounding long grass before flying away and leaving the one last displaying Blackcock strutting his stuff 🙂

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Expect the unexpected

by on Feb.17, 2012, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

Whenever we have a trip with clients who have been given gift vouchers, I always wonder what they expect.  Some will have chosen gift vouchers when asked what they would like, some will have been given them by our existing clients, and for some it must be a complete mystery tour.  When we get an enquiry we always try to determine exactly what our clients want, but at the start of a trip I’ll always enquire “is there anything you’re particularly keen to see while you’re in Northumberland?”  Then, the pressure is on to try and deliver that experience…

I collected Patrick and Bronwyn from Amble yesterday morning for a day of birdwatching around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  As we set off it was a beautiful morning; sunny, calm and dry and I soon determined that one bird they would love to see was Bittern – they’ve visited sites where Bitterns breed and Bitterns overwinter but not, so far, anywhere where the aforementioned birds were obliging enough to come into view for them.  An hour into the trip and it was already windy, bitterly cold and spotting with rain but the birding was good.  2 Bewick’s Swans in a roadside field were very obliging, nibbling on the vegetation as we studied them, 12 Goosanders sailed majestically across a lake, Patrick’s sharp eyes picked out an immaculate male Sparrowhawk on a fence post and the air was filled with skeins of geese (Canada, Greylag, Pink-footed, White-fronted and Bean), a Skylark battled into the wind and Wigeon, Teal, Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Pochard, Mallard and Great-crested Grebe were picked out from the flock on the water.

A brief visit to Newbiggin to track down a Mediterranean Gull (or four) was followed by lunch overlooking the North Sea. Heading up through the bay, Red-breasted Mergansers were displaying and a Short-eared Owl (the first of three for the afternoon) perched on a roadside fence-post.  Reedbeds were illuminated by that beautiful winter afternoon light (I wax lyrical about it frequently, but it really is a breathtaking backdrop to the wildlife and part of the experience).  As the afternoon light began to fade, Venus appeared overhead, a herd of Whooper Swans trumpeted their arrival for the evening roost and a Grey Heron shot out of one reedbed, flew across in front of us, landed just out of sight and flushed a Bittern that flew almost the reverse of the route taken by the heron, along the near edge of the pool directly in front of us and dropped into a reedbed and out of sight!  Wildlife may be unpredictable, but those days when it seems to perform to order leave me, and our clients, with a big grin 🙂  After that what more was there to do than spend the evening relaxing back at home with a glass of good red wine. Cheers 🙂

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Oats, coast, stoat

by on Mar.02, 2010, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland

Today dawned bright and clear; very cold but just the sort of day to spend birdwatching in southeast Northumberland.  After a breakfast of porridge I was warmed through and ready for the day ahead.  I collected Keith and Chris from Morpeth and took them on what appeared to be a magical mystery tour as we searched for Little Owls and Waxwings before reaching the coast at Newbiggin.  20 minutes later we were on our way towards Druridge Bay, with two clients who now had the knowledge of how to identify Mediterranean Gulls, and had put this into practice on at least two birds.

Wildfowl are still the major attraction in the bay, and the bright sunlight really showed Teal, Wigeon, Goldeneye, Shelduck, Gadwall, Red-breasted Merganser and even the humble Mallard in their best light.  Big flocks of Pink-footed and Greylag Geese featured throughout the day and binocular-filling views of Skylarks and Twite went down very well.  A Little Owl watched us intently from high in a tree and a Common Buzzard was soaring over East Chevington.  Eventually we located a big flock of Pink-footed Geese on the ground and we searched through them for Bean Geese.  No luck, but just as we turned our attention to a flock of Greylags, Keith spotted a white blur and we watched the tail of a Stoat vanishing into some long grass.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained, so I started squeaking and kept going for a couple of minutes until the ermine predator came to see what was in distress.  It showed incredibly well, first poking its nose through the grass before reappearing behind a fence and fixing us with a Little Owl-esque stare.  As it slipped out of sight again I looked up…and there was a Bittern overhead.  Another stunning end to another stunning day 🙂

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Not bad for mid-Feb

by on Feb.17, 2010, under Birdwatching, Lindisfarne, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

Yesterday I led our first Safari Day of this week, to Lindisfarne and the North Northumberland coast.  Although I really enjoy trips where the main quarry is Red Squirrel/Badger/Otter/Fox/Roe Deer my lifelong love affair has been with birdwatching.  Northumberland is a top-quality destination for a winter birdwatching trip; just ask any of the writers/photographers who we’ve taken to the wilds of our home county during the cold(er) bits of the year.

Yesterday was one of those days where you couldn’t wish for better conditions; clear blue sky, warm sunshine (although with sub-zero air temperatures for much of the day), no rain and only a very gentle breeze.  I collected Phil and Barbara from their holiday cottage near Guyzance and we followed the coast all the way to Lindisfarne.  Small groups of Pale-bellied Brent Geese beside the causeway were a novelty for birdwatchers from the southeast, who are used to seeing Dark-bellied Brents during the winter, and they commented immediately about just how black-and-white the Svalbard birds look.  Scanning the fields on the island we located a flock of ~800 Pale-bellied Brents, with a few Dark-bellied mixed in, allowing a direct comparison of the two.  The field was also shared by 200+ Curlew and smaller numbers of Redshank, Lapwing and Golden Plover.  Panic among a group of Starlings was traced to a 1st-Winter Merlin that helpfully perched on a post at the back of the Rocket Field.  It’s amazing how quickly time passes and after 2 hours we headed back towards the mainland among the general exodus that occurs as the end of safe-crossing approaches.  Another Merlin beside the causeway allowed even closer views so we stopped for a few more minutes of appreciation of this small predator.

Our picnic spot, overlooking the mudflats between Holy Island and the mainland, provided excellent views of flocks of Lapwing and Golden Plover in the air as well as lots of Shelduck, Eider, Pintail and more PB Brents.  We enjoyed all of these in the company of Tom Cadwallender, Natural and Cultural Heritage Officer for the Northumberland Coast AONB, who was supposed to be meeting a camera crew from Inside Out.  When we left Tom, they were already 20mins late…

Continuing down the coast, a very obliging Common Buzzard pranced around a field, presumably looking for worms.  The Skate Road held well over 1000 Common Scoter, 90+ Purple Sandpipers were huddled on the rocks as the incoming tide washed against their feet and a careful scan produced a few pairs of Long-tailed Ducks (Barbara’s 2nd lifer in a matter of minutes).  Red-throated and Great Northern Divers were, well diving mainly, and Slavonian Grebes were bobbing about just beyond the surf.

Our final destination for the day was Newton, and the decision to detour from the coast route down the dead-end road to Low Newton proved to be an inspired one.  As dusk approached the assembled ducks on the pool (Teal, Goldeneye, Mallard, Gadwall) all provided entertainment as they called to each other.  Then, just a few feet in front of us, a Long-eared Owl silently hunting.  We all held our breath as it approached and then it veered away as silently as it had arrived.  The walk back to the Landy was to provide probably the best bird of the day, and one of those Northumberland birdwatching moments that was quite simply sublime; against an increasingly starry sky and crescent moon, with an impressive amount of Earthshine, a Bittern flew low over our heads and out over the bay.

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(Black)game on

by on Feb.15, 2010, under North Pennines, Photography

With Spring drawing ever closer, and our North Pennines Safaris starting in just over a month, we decided to spend Sunday checking all of our regular Black Grouse sites.  Although the winter may have been expected to do some real damage to the population, we managed to find 24 Blackcocks and 9 Greyhens, split between 4 sites.  Birdwatching in the North Pennines, whether in Northumberland, County Durham or Cumbria, is always a pleasure and accompanied by a sense of wilderness.

A Common Buzzard perched by the roadside allowed just a second to capture this image before it was off and away over the trees.

Common Buzzard, Allendale, Northumberland 14/02/10

Common Buzzard, Allendale, Northumberland 14/02/10

On the way to Upper Teesdale we found a ‘new’ site for Black Grouse, one which should, with patience, produce some excellent photo opportunities.  Across at a traditional lek site, one enthusiastic male was letting fly all on his own, while 7 Greyhens watched him, presumably with a mixture of boredom and pity.

Do you come here often?

Do you come here often?

Does persistence pay off?

I told you already, I'm not interested.

As the weather deteriorated and visibility decreased, we stopped to check another site which has held 3 or 4 birds in the last couple of years.  As we drove along the road a Blackcock flew across in front of us and vanished behind a drystone wall.  We approached slowly, and incredibly there were no less than 8 2nd year Blackcocks, all feeding quietly within a few metres of us.  The lack of sunlight detracts from the image, but it’s an addition to our Blackgame photography locations.

Blackcock, Allendale, Northumberland 14/02/10

Blackcock, Allendale, Northumberland 14/02/10

 As the rain intensified, we spotted a pair of Roe Deer in a field near Cramlington.  Venturing into the realms of ISO 3200 allowed a record shot before we returned home.

Roe Doe and Roebuck, Cramlington, Northumberland, 14/02/10

Roe Doe and Roebuck, Cramlington, Northumberland, 14/02/10

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Life through a (hand) lens

by on Feb.09, 2010, under Lichens, Surveys

Monday was the second classroom session of the NHSN Lichens and Bryophytes course.  On Sunday, while I was out with Sarah on a walk through three atlas tetrads in Harwood, we found some interesting colonies of Cladonias lichens on the upturned root edges of some windblown Spruce.  As the lichens course is currently looking at Heath and Moorland, and specifically at Cladonias, this was a chance to put the classroom practice into a fieldwork context.  The two most frequent species were C. macilenta (‘Devils Matches’), and C.sulphurina (‘Greater Sulphur-cup’).  Unfortunately, the weather was a bit on the harsh side, so it wasn’t possible to take any photographs of the lichens in the field.  Never mind, that’s just a reason to go back and have another look on a brighter day 😉

The atlassing itself was a bit esoteric.  During the entire 9  miles through the forest we only came across 6 different species;

Common Buzzard 3

Sparrowhawk 1

Goshawk 1

Great Spotted Woodpecker 2

Goldcrest 5

Common Crossbill 103

With temperatures hovering around freezing and 8″ of snow still covering over a mile of the footpaths and tracks, it was no great surprise that there were so few birds.  Also unsurprising, throughout those 9 miles of beautiful, windswept, snow-covered Northumberland we didn’t encounter any other walkers.  They don’t know what they were missing 🙂

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All is quiet

by on Jan.01, 2010, under Choppington Woods, Photography

The world around us was cloaked in white as we walked home from The Swan early this morning.  A Tawny Owl was calling from the woods, but there was little other sound – muffled as it was by the snow.  By the time we woke up, there was a lot more snow than there had been when we finally fell into bed.  To shake off the lingering after-effects of Old Year’s Night we decided to take a walk around Choppington Woods, wrapped up warm and armed with a camera.  Photography, rather than birdwatching was our main aim, and that was fortunate as there were a lot more birds in our garden than we encountered on the walk; Great, Blue, Coal and Willow Tits, Greenfinch, Chaffinch and Bullfinch, Robin, Wren, Dunnock and Blackbird were around the feeders and, bird of the day, a Common Buzzard flying north over our allotment.  Snow can make a relatively mundane landscape into a photogenic delight, but exposure calculations can be tricky and we spent a lot of time checking compositions and looking for obvious ‘lead-in’ lines.  As we made our way back towards home 350 Pink-footed Geese flew south overhead.  Moving ahead of more wintry weather maybe?

The view from our patio 01/01/2010

The view from our patio 01/01/2010

Willowburn Pasture and a frozen flood

Willowburn Pasture and a frozen flood

Following in a Moorhen's footsteps

Following in a Moorhen's footsteps

Choppington Woods pond from the new boardwalk

Choppington Woods pond from the new boardwalk

Sarah scanning the trees

Sarah scanning the trees

Footpath and fence along the Willow Water

Footpath and fence along the Willow Water

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Sloe and steady

by on Dec.31, 2009, under Birdwatching, Lee Moor Farm

After the completion of the thaw yesterday we woke this morning…to a fresh covering of snow 🙂 Now, I make no secret of the fact that I love wintry weather.  I’m invigorated by it, my photography is inspired when we’re in the grip of bone-chilling temperatures and a blanket of snow on the ground fills me with joy.  I struggle to understand the media apoplexy that greets snowfall each winter.  Well, that’s the usual response if that snowfall is anywhere other than Northumberland…

I often wonder what the national media thinks lies between Leeds and Edinburgh?  Today was no exception.  The national weather forecast on the BBC was concerned with snowfall in the northeast of Scotland.  And that was it as far as snowfall was concerned…my only problem was that as we drove up the A1 just north of Morpeth there was a good couple of inches of freshly-fallen snow on the road and we were in a blizzard that brought near white-out conditions.  Sarah took this shot using my ‘phone.

Nowhere other than Scotland eh?

Nowhere other than Scotland eh?

The lorry that you can see ahead of us spent most of his journey veering across the carriageway as he lost traction.  The cars I could see in our rear view mirror were having similar problems.  And us?  We were in a proper vehicle 🙂  No problems, just a steady drive to make sure we were a safe distance behind the lorry.  That’s the thing about wintry conditions, as long as people understand that things are different there probably isn’t a need for the panic and the mayhem.

We arrived at Lee Moor, and the covering of snow on the ground wasn’t managing to lighten the gloomy conditions a great deal; 09:30 and the sky was as darker than it had been at 8am.  Our small group assembled and we set off around the farm trails.  The birdwatching was good; a big mixed flock of Yellowhammers, Reed Buntings and Tree Sparrows allowed a close approach, Kestrels and Buzzards passed overhead, a solitary Lapwing sat motionless in a snowy field and a covey of Grey Partridges flushed from a well-managed headland.  Throughout the frozen woodland Brown Hares were regularly encountered and voles appeared from, then disappeared back into, their snow-holes.  The covering of snow also made it easy to follow the tracks of Roe Deer and Red Fox.  Back at the farm, Ian provided a delicious lunch of home-made soup, warm bread and mince pies.  Then he produced a bottle of Sloe gin.  It was a shame Martin was driving as he had 2003, 2004 and 2009 vintages! Sarah enjoyed it…and reminded us that we had a bottle in our drinks cabinet at home…

Lee Moor Farm

Lee Moor Farm

In the bleak midwinter

In the bleak midwinter

An 'interesting' footpath

An 'interesting' footpath

Ian Brown, a wooly hat and one of them old-fashioned film camera thingies

Ian, a wooly hat and one of them old-fashioned film camera thingies

That’s it for 2009.  Have an enjoyable Old Year’s Night and see you in 2010 🙂

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Along the valley

by on Dec.30, 2009, under Birdwatching, North Pennines, Northumberland

I must have driven the A69 between Throckley and Haydon Bridge over 1000 times.  Working at that corner of the county for three years meant that I had the return journey at all times of year and in all weather conditions.  It also meant that I could check out birdwatching sites along the route (at least whenever I set off early enough in a morning…or extended the journey home).

Today we drove that familiar route, traversing the county from east to west, with the snow-covered North Pennine hills away to the south, past Little Owl sites near Ponteland, a couple of fields with Roe Deer (where I first saw them in 2001), several Common Buzzard territories and a Peregrine territory, where there were two birds today – scattering Jackdaws and Lapwings as they went.  Astonishing sight of the day was a Fulmar making it’s way E along the valley!  I’ve seen them inland before (even our garden has 2 records – and a Fulmar shearing along the allotments is a pretty bizarre sight) but this was almost as far from the sea as you can get in the Northeast.  Lapwings were dotted around the snow-covered fields, Fieldfares and Redwings were in the roadside hedges and Kestrels were hovering intently over the verge.

Eventually we arrived at our destination, Poltross Wild Bird Foods, where we caught up with Martin and Jose and had a chat about the ongoing battle to save the Red Squirrel.  With a car boot filled with bird and squirrel food we drove back east and set about replenishing all of the feeders.  Almost immediately the garden filled with birds, including 8 Long-tailed Tits and a dozen Chaffinches.  The predicted return of bitterly cold weather is likely to lead to a daily re-filling of the feeders.  Maybe we’ll even resurrect the Choppington Woods feeding station, although I think ourselves and all of our neighbours are providing an adequate supply…and the feeders are safer when they’re in our gardens 😉

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An icy grip

by on Dec.21, 2009, under Birdwatching, Grey Seal, Lindisfarne, Northumberland, Photography

I’m resolute in my belief that the winter is an excellent time to visit Northumberland.  It’s relaxing and quiet (not that it’s ever really anything else), there’s a lot of wildlife (ditto) and we often get stunning weather that showcases our remarkable landscape at it’s best.

Today was a day when everything came together just the way you hope.  As I drove up the A1 Kestrels, Common Buzzards and Roe Deer were all in roadside fields and Redwings and Fieldfares were hedge-hopping from one side of the road to the other.

I collected Tracey, Guy and Connor (and Ghillie – their collie dog) just after lunch, from their holiday cottage near Belford, and we headed to Holy Island.  The sea by the ends of the causeway was frozen and a sprinkling of snow covered the dunes.  As we crossed towards the island a Merlin flushed from a roadside post and we stopped to admire the beautiful diffused light that illuminated the mudflats.  Our walk on the island was on ground frozen solid, and covered with ice and snow.  The wind was bitingly cold but Grey Seals, Meadow Pipits, Shags, Curlews, Eiders, Red-breasted Mergansers,  Pale-Bellied Brent Geese and flocks of Teal heading towards the mainland all diverted the attention.  As we headed back to the mainland a handsome male Stonechat played hide-and-seek with us along the edge of the causeway, but persistence paid off and Tracey and Guy managed some good shots.  I love having keen photographers on our safaris – especially ones who really appreciate the quality of light that we enjoy up here – so we made several stops as the changing light produced a series of photo opportunities.  I can only hope that we get similar conditions for our first Beginners Photography workshop in January.  The rising tide and fluffy pink clouds of the late afternoon combined with Bamburgh Castle in the snow to offer more memorable images, while we were watching Oystercatchers, Turnstones, Redshanks and a Ringed Plover on the frozen beach.  The route back was made easier by being in a Landrover, and the steady journey allowed us to pick out Brown Hares in the snow-covered fields – seven in total, standing sentinel-like as we approached.  Once I was back on the ice-free A1 and travelling south it was like a different world  to the one I’d been in for the last few hours.  Environmental escapism at it’s best.

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