Tag: Common Tern

Slimming; Otter Safari 21/04/17

by on Apr.22, 2017, under Druridge Bay

The first drops of rain speckled the windscreen of the car as I arrived at Church Point to collect Luke and Louise for their third day out with NEWT this week – an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland searching for Otters

With the lovely weather of recent days replaced by an icy cold breeze and drizzle, it was looking like it would be a long, hard afternoon.  Common Redshank, Curlew and Oystercatcher were probing tidal mudflats and noisily displaying when they took a break from feeding.  A herd of Mute Swans included two birds that were engaged in a courtship display; like a serene slow-motion version of the Great Crested Grebe display they were mirroring each other’s head and body movements.  As we watched territorial disputes between pairs of Great Crested Grebes the rain intensified and the birds, alongside Tufted Ducks and Goldeneye, were sitting on water that looked to be boiling with the impact of raindrops.  Shoveler, Pochard, Teal, Wigeon, Lapwing, Green Sandpiper, Grey Heron and Little Egret were added to the day list and the rain started to ease…

As we were having our picnic on the clifftop overlooking Druridge Bay, accompanied by a raggedy male Stonechat, the weather took a change for the better.  Broken cloud produced a dramatic sky, and it was looking good for a decent sunset.  A tip-off from one of our local wildlife photographers pointed us in the direction of a pair of Little Owls, who very obligingly posed for Luke’s camera 🙂  One of the owls had gone off, presumably in search of food, and the other one was still sitting there when a dog walker with a Staffie came along.  We were wondering how long the owl would wait before flying off…but it sat tight, and instead of fleeing it just stretched itself to as tall and thin as it could before slumping back to it’s usual shape once the dog and walker had passed by!  In ever-improving light we watched a Black Tern at East Chevington as it fed amongst Common Terns, Sand Martins and Swallows.  A thick bank of cloud to the west obscured the sunset but as a Brown Hare loped across a field, a Common Buzzard was perched in a small tree in a hedgerow, and mist started rising from the water the light was sublime.  Scanning slowly along the water’s edge, there was the sign I was looking for; only a slight disturbance, but I hadn’t seen any ducks in that direction.  The the Otter surfaced briefly before diving again 🙂  In flat calm conditions we could see the trail of bubbles as it travelled under the water, and then it vanished into the mist.  What we could still see though were Mute Swans, Canada Geese and Mallards and they were all watching the Otter.  The mist cleared and it reappeared, running along the bank before returning to the water for a few metres and then getting out again.  Eventually it vanished into the gloom of the reed edges, only to reappear a few minutes later right in front of us as Grasshopper Warblers reeled and Noctule Bats hawked insects overhead.

Fade to black…

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The departed; Farne Islands Bespoke Birdwatching 30/07/16

by on Aug.02, 2016, under Farne Islands

The Farne islands in late June are a chaotic place; huge numbers of birds on all of the cliff faces and around the boardwalks.  Late July is a very different experience though…

I collected Ruth and Ann from Ponteland and we drove across to the coast before heading north for a day of bespoke beginners birdwatching, culminating in a trip across to Inner FarneCurlew, Redshank and a stunningly orange Black-tailed Godwit were all in the shallows as a female Red-breasted Merganser appeared to be delivering flying lessons to her little black-and-white ducklings who were still way too small to get airborne.  Sailing across to the islands after lunch we soon encountered rafts of Puffins and Guillemots, Grey Seals were lazing in the surf and the vertiginous seabird colonies were now reduced to only Kittiwake and Shag.  Landing on Inner farne, Puffins were whizzing by with beaks filled with small fish, and weren’t subject to the kleptoparasitic attention of Black-headed Gulls, in stark contrast to just a few weeks ago.  Terns were represented by single Arctic and Common Terns carrying fish to small chicks and a pair of Sandwich Terns engaged in courtship flight as a Lesser Black-backed Gull gave us a malevolent stare from the wall around the lighthouse.

A great day out with really lovely clients, and now I know what make and model of car Ann drives I can give her a wave when I’m cycling through Ponteland on a Sunday morning 🙂

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Summer…; Otter Safari 25/07/16

by on Jul.28, 2016, under Druridge Bay, Otter

July is a month when most of my time is spent at sea, either carrying out transect surveys or leading pelagic trips, so an afternoon and evening looking for Otters brings some welcome variation…

I collected Susan and Mike from Seaton Burn and then Frank, Gabrielle, Boudewijn and Odette from The Swan before heading to the coast.  Boudewijn’s sharp eyes picked out tiny insects as we made our way along footpaths with dense vegetation alongside as Swallows and House Martins swooped low over the fields, picking off flying insects that had strayed just a bit too far from safety.  Adult Swallows were feeding young in a nest just a few feet away from us and, out on the water, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Gadwall, Wigeon and Pochard were all decked out in the shabby chic of late summer and a Grey Heron caused alarm as it flew in, scattering Lapwings and Black-headed Gulls from the edge of the pool.  Cormorants dived, doing their best Otter impressions, Common Sandpipers bobbed nervously on the riverbank, a well-grown brood of Goosander were remarkably well camouflaged amongst piles of rocks and Little Egrets were stalking tiny fish in the shallows.  As the wind started to pick up and the first few drops of rain began to fall, Swifts scythed their way through clouds of insects overhead.  Whimbrel was a nice addition to the wader list for the day along with Curlew and Redshank which are much more expected.  Common and Sandwich Terns called as they flew by and Eider were rafting on a flat sea as we had our picnic.  Our final site for the day was where I was confident we’d find an OtterStarlings were murmurating, Reed Buntings and Meadow Pipits flicked through the vegetation just ahead of us, a roe Deer emerged from behind a reedbed to take a drink at the water’s edge…and then the sky turned dark rather quickly and the rain started hammering down 🙁 That did produce one entertaining moment though, as a rather large Great Crested Grebe chick took shelter on its parent’s back just before we admitted defeat to the weather.

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Whistling; NEWT’s North Sea Pelagic 11/07/16

by on Jul.13, 2016, under North Sea

Monday was our 5th evening pelagic and we boarded JFK Two at Royal Quays with Common Terns flying back to their nests and a chilly breeze stiffening the flags on the boats moored in the marina.

Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls soon formed a stalking party just behind us and Gannet, Kittiwake, Guillemot, Razorbill, Puffin, Fulmar, Manx Shearwater and Common Scoter were all seen, as well as a couple of Curlew.  Away to the west of us the weather over Northumberland looked poor, and on the eastern horizon we could see rain.  The dark, brooding waves lapped against the side of the boat and, as we made our way back down the coast, breaks in the leaden grey cloud brought another spectacular sunset 🙂

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“I’m really scared of birds”; Farne Islands Safari 30/06/16

by on Jul.05, 2016, under Farne Islands

In late June, a big part of the Farne Islands experience is the aerial bombardment you’re subjected to as Arctic Terns defend their eggs and chicks…

I collected John from Bedlington, Colin and Martin from Morpeth and then Sue from Old Swarland (for her 4th trip with NEWT).  A breezy but warm morning brought Curlew, Yellowhammer, Grey Seal, Shelduck and a Brown Hare running though short vegetation right on the shoreline.  After lunch overlooking the Farne Islands we boarded the St Cuthbert and headed out of Seahouses Harbour.  We were soon being passed by Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills and Gannets and soon the unmistakeable sound, and smell, of the seabird colony reached the boat.  Landing on Inner Farne brought the expected mob of angry terns and we watched the tiny beak of an Arctic Tern chick as it chipped way at the eggshell surrounding it.  Fulmars arced along the cliff tops, Kittiwakes were hanging on the strong breeze just a few metres away from us, Sandwich and Common Terns flew by without molesting us and Puffins peeked from their burrows.  As we walked through the courtyard a lady walked by in the other direction; head down, hood pulled up and explaining to her friends how she’s really scared of birds.  Inner Farne probably wasn’t the best choice of visitor attraction then…

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Never trust a weather forecast; Farne Islands Safari 15/06/16

by on Jun.16, 2016, under Farne Islands

With a Farne Islands Safari on Wedneday, I’d been keeping an even closer eye than usual on the weather forecast and particularly the forecast sea state and swell height.  1m waves, strong NE winds and heavy rain wasn’t the most promising of forecasts…

I collected Paul and Rose from the Dunstanburgh Castle Hotel and we headed north of Seahouses for a few hours birdwatching before our sailing across to the Farnes.   A singing Reed Bunting was eventually located, and finally came out obligingly into the open, as Meadow Pipits displayed overhead and Sand Martins hawked back and forth low over the water.  Gulls aren’t everybody’s cup of tea, but Black-headed, Common, Lesser Black-backed and Herring all lined up obligingly next to each other for a mini-ID masterclass.  A Shoveler escorted her ten ducklings across the pool as Coots fed young, Moorhens crept around in bankside rushes, Lapwing roosted in nearby fields and a Skylark, just a tiny dark speck against the clouds overhead, sounded inconceivably loud at the height it had reached.

Sitting and eating lunch overlooking the islands, the one thing that was really obvious was that the sea was calm, it wasn’t really windy and it wasn’t raining – so much for those forecasts then 🙂  We boarded Glad Tidings VII and headed towards the inner group of islands.  Puffins, Guillemots and Razorbills were all heading back to their nests with food, Grey Seals were lazing around on the rocks and the sound, and smell, of the islands intensified.  The onomatopaeic calls of Kittiwake echoed off the cliffs and a leucistic Guillemot caught my eye as it sat on the rocks amongst all of it’s regular-coloured relatives.

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Once we landed on Inner Farne, the Puffins took centre stage.  We watched as they headed back towards their burrows, only to be harried by Black-headed Gulls.  One Puffin dropped it’s load of small fish right next to us, it’s wingbeats whirring audibly just over our heads as it tried to evade it’s pursuers.  Large, ungainly, and very, very fluffy Shag chicks had grown to big to be contained in their nests and the grumpy moaning of the assembled auks added to the wall of sound.  Sandwich, Common and Arctic Terns were all tending eggs or chicks, with the Arctic Terns being as feisty as ever, and a couple of them taking a particular dislike to Rose’s hat!  As we walked back down the jetty to sail back to the mainland, Rose’s sharp eyes spotted one of those birds that are so cryptic in some habitats as a Ringed Plover dashed around between pebbles and rocks on the shore line.

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Dolphins; Farne Islands Bespoke Photography 07/06/16

by on Jun.09, 2016, under Farne Islands

Tuesday was a trip I’d been looking forward to for a long time, a bespoke photography trip to the Farne Islands, for the parents of one of our Seal Safari clients from back in 2009.

I arrived in Seahouse to collect Jill, Pete, Liz and Bernie and we had a couple of hours on the coast before heading back to the harbour and boarding Glad Tidings.  We were only just out of the harbour when the skipper slowed the boat almost to a halt…as a group of 5 Bottlenose Dolphins passed across our bow 🙂  We watched as they had a quick fly-by of another boat that was leaving the harbour and then they were gone.

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As lines of Puffin, Razorbill and Guillemot passed by, there was a notable change in the weather.  Blue skies and sunshine were replaced by cloud and falling temperatures, and a heavy mist was shrouding the islands.  The Farne Islands are a surreal place as it is, but when some of the islands were just dark shapes in the mist they took on a whole different persona.  The loud cries of Kittiwake echoed around the gullies, Sandwich, Common and Arctic Tern were all incubating eggs or chicks, a handsome male Red-breasted Merganser was sitting on the water just off the Inner Farne jetty and the whirling parade of Puffins carrying fish back to their nests was the focus of everyone’s attention, although female Common Eider sitting motionless on nests with small ducklings were greatly appreciated too.

With the first rain drops beginning to spatter on the car windscreen just after we returned to dry land we headed along the coast so I could reveal some of the better spots for wildife photography; what’s there? what time of day? what time of year?  Then it was time to head back to Seahouses.  Are the Farnes the best wildlife experience you can enjoy in England? Britain? the world? Possibly…

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When the north wind blows; Lindisfarne Safari 02/06/16

by on Jun.07, 2016, under Holy Island, Lindisfarne

Thursday was a Lindisfarne Safari where we had the option of either staying on the island over the high tide period, or concentrating on the mainland sites in the Lindisfarne NNR…

I collected Stephen and Kate from The Swan, and we headed up the A1 to collect Gordon and Mandy for their 4th day out with NEWT.  With a stiff chilly northerly breeze we decided that the mainland would be the better option, but we started on the Holy Island causeway.  Knot were hunched against the wind on the mud as the rising tide approached, flocks of Dunlin flew just inches above the road and we had the opportunity to compare the size difference between Sandwich Tern and Little Tern as both species hovered obligingly close to each other over the South Low, diving into the water in pursuit of small fish.  Curlew probed the mud on the periphery of the encroaching tide and Grey Seal were ‘bottling’ as they were lifted them from their low-tide haul outs by the water.  The simple song of Reed Bunting carried on the breeze from their exposed perches on hawthorns and fence posts as ‘parachuting’ Meadow Pipits displayed nearby.  Golden Plover were stunning in breeding plumage, and flocks of Ringed Plover were accompanied by Dunlin sporting the jet black bellies of the breeding season.  Offshore, Eider were riding the impressive swell as Gannet and Fulmar soared on the wind, Common, Arctic and Sandwich Terns were plunging into the water, Shag and Cormorant flew by and lines of Puffin, Guillemot and Razorbill flew to and from the Farne Islands.

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“I’ll believe Otters exist…”; Otter Safari 26/05/16

by on Jun.01, 2016, under Druridge Bay, Otter, Southeast Northumberland

“…when I actually see one”.  A remarkable number of NEWT’s clients seem to have had holidays on Mull/Shetland/Orkney/Skye searching for Otters (often on guided tours) without seeing one, and that revelation at the start of a tour always ramps the pressure up a bit…

I arrived at Church Point in heavy mist and drizzle, and quickly met up with Sarah and Charlotte, Keith and Maggie, and Stephanie, and we set off for an afternoon and evening searching for Otters around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  I juggled the sites we were visiting, to take account of the weather, but I knew where I thought we should be towards dusk.  In the misty, drizzly gloom a Little Egret looked luminous.  With warm, humid conditions the air was alive with the sussurating buzz of recently emerged insects.  Black-headed and Little Gulls, and swarms of Swifts, were rampaging through the dense clouds of flies as a Pheasant sat motionless in the grass on the water’s edge.  Gadwall, Goosander, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Canada Goose and Greylag Goose were all lazing on the water and Common Terns harried a Moorhen that had ventured just that little bit too close to their nest.  Grey Herons flew around calling and a dispute over a prime feeding spot broke out between two of these huge birds.

We arrived at what I’d planned as our final location for the evening and I suggested that one particular part of the pool would be worth keeping a close eye on.  Was that a dark shape beneath the gulls?  I lifted my binoculars and scanned, then decided my eyes must have been playing tricks on me.  As I set the ‘scope up, there was an “erm…” from Charlotte, who was looking at the same spot…and there was an Otter 🙂  We watched it for over an hour as it made it’s way around the pool, feeding almost constantly and creating an interesting wildfowl exclusion zone!  Here’s an Otter from last year, showing it’s fearsome dentition 🙂

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Eventually it vanished into the impenetrable depths of a reedbed and we headed back towards Newbiggin, encountering a Little Owl perched on a telegraph pole at the roadside 🙂

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Birds in Flight; Bespoke Photography 19/06/15

by on Jun.26, 2015, under Farne Islands

Our Bespoke Photography ‘Birds in Flight’ workshop was a day out for Max and Nigel – Max’s prize for winning the ‘Young Person’s’ category at last years North East Wildlife Photography Awards.
We met up at Newbiggin and drove up the coast to Seahouses.  Before sailing across to the islands, we had a session covering ‘birds in flight’ techniques and camera settings, with Kittiwakes and Fulmars as the guinea pigs for Max to practice various techniques.  In a stiff breeze, the birds were proving quite challenging – passing a few feet above our heads into the breeze and then racing back with the wind at their tails 🙂  Once on St Cuthbert II we were soon surrounded by an almost limitless supply of photographic subjects; Grey Seal, Shag, Cormorant, Razorbill, Guillemot, Gannet, Puffin, Kittiwake, Fulmar, Common, Arctic and Sandwich Terns and, the most surprising sight of the day, a Rock Pipit dripping with water and holding a small fish!  It was a great day out with two talented photographers, and I’m hoping to see more of Max’s images displayed at the wildlife photography awards evening on July 9th 🙂

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