Tag: Common Crossbill

Kielder Safari 05/04/2012

by on Apr.07, 2012, under Birdwatching, Kielder, Northumberland

After Tuesday’s snow, sleet and general murk, and Wednesday’s icy breeze, I prepared for Thursday’s Kielder Safari by loading as many layers of technical clothing as I could into the back of the car…but, as I headed north to Felton to collect Lindsay and Abbie, I was glad that I’d included sunglasses in my kit list for the day ūüôā

We drove west through Rothbury, Elsdon and Otterburn, in absolutely stunning light that really showed Northumberland at it’s best,¬†along roads where the verges were still snow-covered and the temperature was sub-zero,¬†past flocks of Fieldfares and Redwings gathering pre-migration, to collect Victoria and Paul from Bellingham before heading along the forest tracks towards Hawkhope.¬† Only a few hundred yards from the public road we were¬†soon watching a stunning male Common Crossbill.¬† More Crossbills followed, then some outrageously bright Siskins. Common Buzzards were soaring over the plantations (it turned out to be a excellent raptor day – although the ‘Phantom of the Forest’ eluded us), Chaffinches seemed to be along every step of the way, Great Spotted Woodpeckers played their usual game of hide-and-seek¬†and even the humble Meadow Pipits were subjected to great scrutiny.¬† As Lindsay commented as we watched one pipit, elevated above it’s usual status of LBJ by the superb light,¬†“it’s nice to have views in the field,¬†of a feature¬†that you’ve read about in a field guide”.¬† He was referring to the long hind-claw of the pipit and, with our subject perched just a few metres away and very obliging, this led on to a discussion of pipit identification.¬† When we finally returned to the C200 we’d been off-road for over¬†two and a half hours – a new longevity record for that 10 mile section of our route, and an excellent measure of just how many birds we’d stopped and studied.

Up over the border our lunch break, after watching a pair of Curlews as they called on a bit of high¬†moorland,¬†was accompanied by a pair of Ravens chasing off a Kestrel that had strayed over their nest site, a territorial skirmish involving 2 pairs of Common Buzzards, Pied Wagtails flycatching over the stream and 3 Goosanders looking resplendent.¬† Our post-lunch walk produced more Common Buzzards, another Kestrel, a Peregrine powering it’s way down the valley and a small group of Wild Goats including a tiny kid.¬† As we returned to the car a pair of Ravens appeared along the ridge, soared up against the sky and then began tumbling and calling.

Our final section of the trip was the Forest Drive between Kielder and Byrness; currently closed to the public because of forestry activity, and the state of the road surface, we’d been given permission by the Forestry Commission to use the track, which we had to ourselves for the afternoon.¬†¬†A Raven soared close to a Common Buzzard, a pair of Stonechats were next to the road at Kielderhead and we came across an excellent mixed flock of finches; Common Crossbills, Siskins and Lesser Redpolls (which we’d earlier heard but not seen) in one small area of spruce, pine and birch.

We dropped Victoria and Paul back in Bellingham, and headed east towards the coastal plain as the light faded at the end of a 12 hour Safari Day.¬† 12 hour days as a birdwatching guide, in some extraordinary landscapes with stunning wildlife,¬†leave you feeling energised…don’t think I would have¬†said the same¬†while I was a teacher ūüôā

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Birding with a touch of luxury

by on Mar.31, 2012, under Bamburgh Castle, Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Kielder, Northumberland

Delivering a birding package for the first time with a new partner¬†is always a mixture of excitement and worry; will the experience we deliver to our clients blend well with the standards of service, accommodation and food that are provided?¬† Our exclusive Doxford Hall birding break on Thursday and Friday didn’t hold too many worries though – I’ve attended conferences and other events there before and, having known David Hunter since he was at Matfen Hall, I knew that the entire Doxford experience would be a memorable one for all the right reasons.

I arrived first thing Thursday morning to collect Paul and Sue, who had won their exclusive birding break in a competition that ourselves and Doxford Hall¬†ran recently¬†in Birdwatch magazine.¬† Our original plan of Druridge Bay on Thursday, Lindisfarne on Friday, had been altered following a ‘phone call during the week from Sue – there was one species they particularly wanted to see, and our recent blog posts had revealed that now might be a good time…so, after a day of hectic communication with the Forestry Commission to arrange access through Kielder, and check where along our route there would be any forestry activity, our first trip headed inland.¬† We started at Harwood¬†in near-perfect weather conditions; warm, sunny and with a good breeze.¬† Common Buzzards, Common Crossbills, Siskins and a very vocal Raven were all seen but no Goshawk so we continued west.¬† Once we were in Kielder another Raven entertained us, tumbling and cronking over a remote farmhouse in the warm afternoon sunshine before soaring heavenwards and then dropping back out of the sky alongside its mate.¬† We stopped to scan over another plantation, where I’ve watched Goshawks previously, and I soon spotted a bird just above the trees. He quickly got into a thermal and rose until we lost sight of him.¬† I suggested that we just needed to wait for a Common Buzzard to drift over the Gos’ territory, and we began a patient vigil.¬† Eventually a Common Buzzard did appear, we all lifted our binoculars to focus on it…and a distant speck in the binoculars above the buzzard¬†grew rapidly larger as the Goshawk dropped out of the sky.¬† The intruder thought better of hanging around and quickly folded it’s wings back and crossed the valley like an arrow.¬† Having shepherded the buzzard away, the¬†Phantom of the Forest¬†rose quickly again to resume his sentinel watch.¬† More Common Crossbills and Common Buzzards followed as we travelled down the valley back towards civilisation, and 2 pairs of Mandarin brought a touch of stunning colour to the afternoon.

Dinner at Doxford Hall on Thursday evening was exceptional (outstanding food and outstanding levels of service throughout the 2 days), and having clients with such an enthusiasm for birding, and fantastic sense of humour, made it even better.¬† After dinner conversation did reveal that there was an obvious gap in their life-lists though…

Friday’s plan was simple; head to the coast and then bird our way down it to finish in Druridge Bay late afternoon.¬† We started at¬†Harkess Rocks, in the shadow of Bamburgh Castle, with a very nice flock of 79 Purple Sandpipers.¬† In the heavy swell a flock of Common Scoters proved elusive, Common Eiders dived through the surf, small rafts of Common Guillemot and Razorbill bobbed about, Gannets soared effortlessly, Sandwich¬†Terns were feeding just offshore¬†and Long-tailed Ducks and Red-breasted Mergansers in breeding finery were a reminder that our winter visitors are about to pack their bags and head north.¬† Red-throated Divers, including one bird with a very red tinge to it’s throat, were typically elusive, diving just as we got onto them.¬† I’d got another species in mind though and, when I found one, it was sitting obligingly next to a Red-throated Diver.¬† Soon, Paul and Sue were admiring the elegant structure, neat contrasty plumage and white flank patch of their first Black-throated Diver. 2 days, 2 lifers ūüôā

We headed south and, after watching an adult Mediterranean Gull, and two 2nd calendar year birds, winter and spring came together with flocks of Greylag and Pink-footed Geese, and a Short-eared Owl, being characteristic of the last 5 months of our coastal trips, Green Sandpiper and Whimbrel on passage and a male Marsh Harrier drifting over a coastal reedbed.

In beautiful afternoon light, with the sound of the roaring surf of the North Sea crashing into the east coast, the Short-eared Owl quartering a nearby reedbed and a pair of Great Crested Grebes displaying on the pool in front of us, a couple of comments by Sue –¬†two of many memorable ones¬†during the trip ūüėČ – summed things up nicely “chilled-out birding” and “we like the view from Martin’s office” ūüôā

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Creatures of habit

by on Mar.26, 2012, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Harwood, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

After our first ever Harwood Safari on Saturday, our second came quickly 0n it’s heels.¬† I’d driven through some patchy, but dense, fog on the way to collect Judith and Kevin but as headed towards Harwood we found ourselves in some extraordinarily good weather.¬† The view from the Gibbet was better than on Saturday, and a male Goshawk was seen briefly as he passed along the top of the plantation in the distance.

Crossbills and Siskins were again in evidence as we drove the forest tracks and a Grey Wagtail¬† was catching flies on the surface of a ditch as we watched a Common Buzzard soaring overhead, and a¬†pair of Common Toads, the male clasped tightly to the female’s back, crossed the track ahead of us. We stopped to watch over the plantation where we’d had 2 Goshawks on Saturday, and soon a Common Buzzard soared into view.¬† Almost immediately the male Goshawk rose out of the trees and began displaying high overhead, before finding a thermal that was obviously to his liking and ascending rapidly out of sight, presumably to keep a close eye on his territory.

The second half our our day was spent around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.¬† As we checked rivers and pools, the assembled birdlife wasn’t disturbed by anything other than more birds; Black-headed Gulls were harassing a Grey Heron, Goldeneye, Mallards, and Teal were following other Goldeneye, Mallards and Teal, full of the joys of spring, and Canada Geese were busy showing that even Canada Geese don’t like Canada Geese¬†ūüôā¬† As we left Druridge Bay behind and headed towards Blaydon, the countryside was bathed in an almost sublime light.¬† 10 hour working days have never seemed so attractive ūüėČ

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Breaking new ground

by on Mar.26, 2012, under Birdwatching, Harwood, Northumberland

Since we started NEWT we’ve always tried to innovate and keep our tours refreshed.¬† Saturday gave me the opportunity to do something that really was¬†innovative – our first Harwood Safari.¬† We’ve walked the route 5 times during the last 3 winters, but driving it was something of an unknown quantity.

As a business we’re happy to support the Northumberland Wildlife Trust.¬† As well as being a corporate member of the trust, we sponsor the under 13 and 13-18 age categories of the NWT Annual Photography competition.¬† Saturday’s Harwood trip was the prize for last year’s 13-18 winner and his dad.¬†¬†When I collected them from Newbiggin it was worryingly misty, but as we headed inland the mist began to lift.

We started at the viewpoint near Winter’s Gibbet,¬†where Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Crossbill, Siskin, Goldcrest, Lesser Redpoll and Chiffchaff were all calling or singing.¬† As the mist over the forest lifted, it was time to break new ground as we headed off along tracks with no vehicle access to the public.¬† More Crossbills and Siskins were in the trackside trees and Common Buzzards were soaring high overhead giving their mewing calls.¬† Soon after lunch we stopped to check out a distant raptor over the plantation on the opposite side of a clearfell area.¬† Within a minute we were watching 3 Common Buzzards…and a pair of Goshawks that had risen out of the trees to shepherd the buzzards away!¬† As the buzzards moved on the Goshawks quickly melted back into the obscurity of the trees.

A stop to search for Adders didn’t produce any of these fearsome reptiles, but we did find a dozen Common Lizards, lazing in the sunshine and then scuttling out of sight.

Our first Harwood Safari, the air filled with raptors, trees filled with Crossbills…looks like a winner ūüôā

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Springtime in the hills

by on Mar.26, 2012, under Birdwatching, Kielder, Northumberland

After a day on the coast, heading inland to Kielder seems other-worldly, but it always produces something memorable.

In rather misty conditions I drove across to Otterburn Hall to collect Anne and Peter for a day of birdwatching around Kielder and the Border forests.¬† As we travelled through the forest the temperature gauge on the car hit the heady heights of 7C!¬† Common Buzzards were uncharacteristically obliging, remaining perched in the open, and Crossbills and Siskins were once again shining like jewels in the cloudy, gloomy edges of the forest.¬† After Thursday’s Skylark/Merlin encounter, Kielder provided another predator-prey experience.¬† We’d been watching displaying Common Snipe, and listened to one singing from it’s perch on a tree stump in the middle of a clear-fell area.¬† A Sparrowhawk soared into view, circling high over a nearby plantation, before switching to a much more direct flight mode…and chasing one of the displaying Snipe.¬† As they vanished out of sight over a plantation the hawk was still in hot pursuit…and the eventual outcome wasn’t for our eyes.¬† Anne spotted the only Red Squirrel of the day as we continued along our route out onto the ‘main’ road ūüôā

As we continued across the border and into a remote valley, we enjoyed our picnic lunch with Ravens and Common Buzzards soaring along the ridges high above us.¬† A Dipper sat motionless on a mid-stream rock and a pair of Goosanders flew upstream into the head of the valley.¬† I may be a cold-weather person, and I’m certainly an evening person…but Springtime in the hills has a magic all of it’s own, and I feel privileged sharing it with our clients.

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Go(at) on, make my day

by on Aug.18, 2011, under Birdwatching, Kielder, Northumberland

Yesterday saw something we haven’t done before; a mid-August Kielder Safari.

Andrew, Nick (on his 3rd trip with NEWT), Stephen and Georgina all arrived at our starting point within minutes of each other.  Under a deep blue sky, with some big fluffy white clouds, conditions looked perfect and we set off for the western reaches of Northumberland.

Common Buzzards were seen en route, a good sign that conditions were right for raptors.¬† The thing that makes our Kielder Safaris¬†so special¬†is the access we’ve been granted by the Forestry Commission, allowing us to take our clients on a drive along remote tracks that are not open to vehicle access by the general public.¬† With so little disturbance, the wildlife along the tracks is often very approachable.¬† A family party of Common Crossbills perched obligingly in trees just ahead of us, and kept flying down to the track to eat grit, Siskins, Chaffinches and a Spotted Flycatcher were all watched as they went about their business close by and a Sparrowhawk twisted, turned and swooped through the trees just a few metres away, hot on the tail of a flock of Siskins and Chaffinches.¬† Perhaps one of the most extraordinary moments of the trip was something I’ve never seen before, in over 40 years of birdwatching;¬† as we watched a juvenile Common Buzzard soaring above a remote steep-sided valley, Andrew noticed a second bird further along the valley.¬† The juvenile flew in that direction and the second bird, an adult buzzard,¬†flew up towards it, rolled on it’s back in mid-air and passed prey¬†up to the juvenile.¬† I’ve seen that happen so many times as courtship behaviour in all of our harrier species, but I’ve never seen a food pass between Common Buzzards, and to see it executed so gracefully by this broad-winged raptor was breathtaking.¬† We continued on our way with Wheatear, Stonechat, Kestrel, Raven, Pochard, Tufted Duck¬†and Mandarin all joining the day list.

Perhaps the best of the day though came near the end; as we drove across the Forest Drive, a large mammal crossed the track ahead of us.¬† Looking like a dark Roe Deer on steroids, the nanny Wild Goat was soon followed by a billy goat and 2 kids.¬† We’ve seen Wild Goats with clients on our trips before, but never at such close quarters.

We’ll be visiting Kielder again on 31st August and 2nd September, so give us a call on 07908 119535 to find out how you can share the experience of the border forests, and the unknown quantity of those remote tracks, with us.

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Border patrol

by on May.19, 2011, under Birdwatching, Kielder, Northumberland

After a day on the coast, yesterday brought something completely different as I headed towards Whitelee Farm and Byrness to collect John and Natalie, and then Bert, for a Kielder Safari.

As we drove along a remote track through the forest, we came across some of the wildlife that makes Kielder such a special place; Roe Deer trotted across the track ahead of us, family parties of Common Crossbills were adorning the tops of spuce trees like christmas decorations, a Red Squirrel eyeballed us from halfway up a tree, a Common Buzzard tolerated a closer approach than usual, but not for long,  and a pair of Wheatears watched as we passed by.

North of the border we were entertained by several pairs of Whinchat (surely one of the most attractive birds we have in Britain), including a male who started singing from his perch just a few metres away, a Dipper that was whizzing up and down the stream where we sat to have our lunch, a Red Grouse playing hide-and-seek with us in the heather and the elegant beauty of a male Hen Harrier, still retaining his grace as he battled into the howling gale that made our hot soup at lunchtime all the better.

Whether it’s the remoteness, the landscape, the species that you rarely, if ever, find elsewhere or just the lack of other people; our inland locations – Kielder, the Cheviot Valleys and the North Pennines¬†always produce memorable birdwatching experiences, for our clients and for ourselves as well!

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Crossing the border

by on Apr.29, 2011, under Birdwatching, Kielder, Northumberland

Along the edge of a precipitous bank in Kielder Forest, with a narrow stream below us, the “chip, chip” calls from the summit of the trees above prompt everyone to crane their necks.¬† Then the calls are coming from below and the source of the sound is down at the stream, hidden below an undercut bank.¬†¬†A moment of magic as the birds pause at eye-level on the stream to treetop elevator; just a few feet away, illuminated¬†in a spot of dappled light, the outrageously bright slash of red and black of a male Common¬†Crossbill with his family.

2 hours later we’re in a secluded valley and, as we enjoy our lunch, overhead is the unmistakeable shape of a male Hen Harrier.¬† The ‘dove-coloured falcon’ or¬†‘blue hawk’ (to list just¬†two of it’s local names) soars above us.¬† Surely the most beautiful and captivating of our raptors and still heavily, and illegally,¬†persecuted, we’re privileged to witness that beauty and his effortless ascent against the clear blue sky.

One day, 2 different habitats, 2 very different birds, 2 birdwatching gems, 2 indelible memories….

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Another exclusive…or two

by on Apr.18, 2010, under Cheviot Valleys, Kielder

Friday saw us in the Cheviot Valleys, enjoying probably the best weather so far this year, leading another Prestige Tour.¬† With a client fascinated by geology and botany it was an excellent day out, with the abiding memories being the chuckling of Red Grouse in the Harthope Valley and a yaffling Green Woodpecker at Alwinton, that culminated with a meal at the Angler’s Arms at Weldon Bridge.

Yesterday we had a Kielder Prestige Tour that that had been arranged as a 70th birthday present.  Collecting our clients from Belford we headed southwest.  After a fine drive in the beautiful weather, we reached Bellingham and left the public roads behind for an hour as we journeyed through the forest.  A pair of Red Grouse on a moorland edge provided excellent views, Roe Deer crossed the track in front of us and Common Buzzards flew close by across clearfell areas.  Back in civilisation we stopped for a comfort break and found our first Common Crossbills of the day.  Small groups were flying overhead, giving their distinctive calls, and a few were perched at the top of nearby trees dismantling cones with ease.  Huge numbers of Chaffinches were around the feeding station at Leaplish and, as the day progressed we had excellent views of Siskins, Goldeneye, and an incubating Oystercatcher, as well as one of the Osprey pair that have returned to Kielder this year.

The journey back retraced our route from the morning, with one exception.¬† The birthday boy suggested a short-cut to Chatton, and that proved to be very fortuitous.¬† Just before Chatton village, myself and Vic, who were in the front of the Landrover, noticed a large bird in a flooded field.¬† As we stopped…there was a White Stork!¬† It’s legs were hidden by the bankside vegetation, so we couldn’t see if it had the most obvious sign of captivity; colour rings on it’s legs.¬† As it stalked along the bank, flushing a pair of Oystercatchers, those legs were gradually revealed to be bare of any adornment.¬† Howard managed to take some photos, but the bird was very wary and quickly began to head away from us.¬† With White Storks, there’s always the taint of ‘escapee from captivity’ but this would be a good time for an overshooting bird returning from it’s wintering quarters in tropical Africa and, regardless of it’s origin, this was one stunning bird.¬† An unpredictably exciting end to the day out.

White Stork, Chatton, Northumberland 17/04/2010

White Stork, Chatton, Northumberland 17/04/2010

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A forest foray

by on Apr.09, 2010, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Kielder

After a Druridge mini-safari on Tuesday, which included a visit to the Common Crane near Eshott, yesterday was something completely different with a Kielder Safari.

After collecting Ruth and Diana from Stannington we took the scenic route up through Knowesgate to Bellingham, in the wilds of west Northumberland.¬† That’s the point where we deviate from the public roads and follow a track that’s off-limits to the public.¬† Along the way we saw a few Buzzards, but a superb male Goshawk, and an incredibly skittish Red Fox, were the highlights of the drive through the forest.¬† Around the reservoir there were Crossbills and Siskins everywhere.¬† Lunch just over the border in Scotland was followed by more birdwatching and the spectacle of a Common Buzzard catching, dismembering and consuming a vole.¬† With lots of other buzzards up in the air whenever the sun came out, there was plenty to see.¬† A stunning drake Mandarin brought a splash of garish colour to the afternoon and a long-distance ‘scope view of last year’s Osprey nest revealed a small white blob – probably the head of one of the pair that have returned to the site.¬† As we headed back towards civilisation a large flock of Fieldfares and Redwings near Bellingham was a reminder that the winter is only just behind us.

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