Tag: Common Tern

Variety is the spice of life; Coastal safari 26/05/2014

by on May.28, 2014, under Birdwatching, Cheviot Valleys, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

A brilliantly sunny Bank Holiday Monday is the only time you’re likely to encounter anything even remotely approaching crowds of people in Northumberland, but it does happen occasionally.

I collected Marcus, Alison, Norman (Grandad) and Isobel from their holiday cottage in the shadow of the Wandylaw wind farm, and we set off for a day wildlife-watching.  With it being such a sunny morning, I thought it would be worth starting with one of our trickier animals; if it’s too cold they won’t be out and about, if it’s too warm they’ll already have slithered off somewhere cooler, and if they feel the ground vibrate as you approach they’ll beat a hasty retreat.  We know just the spot to see them when everything falls into place though; a warm, bare, stony patch of earth surrounded by tall grass.  At first we couldn’t see any sign, but I crept through the vegetation for a closer look.  Two Adders weren’t keen on this, and quickly slithered away into the long grass.  The third one was much more obliging though, and I motioned for Isobel to come a bit closer.  Incredibly, the snake remained coiled, and settled, for a few minutes.  It eventually lifted it’s head to fix us with a baleful reptilian glare for another minute before following it’s companions into the vegetation and out of sight.

In the bright sunshine Kestrels hovered over roadside fields, Willow Warblers sang their silvery descending cadence, Chiffchaffs endlessly repeated their name, Chaffinches were proclaiming their territories (and Isobel had done a very impressive colouring of a Chaffinch picture), the scratchy rattle of Whitethroat song buzzed through the warm air, flotillas of goslings patrolled the water with their parents in close attendance and darting damselflies added a streak of azure to the lush green of the grass.  Down on the coast, dainty Avocets swept the water edge for morsels, Grey Plovers (probably my favourite wader, certainly when they’re in their summer finery) chased back and forth, Common andSandwich Terns roosted together, Fulmars rode the updraft of the warm breeze along the clifftops, Eiders were resplendent in the sunshine, and ‘wooly bear‘ caterpillars and cuckoo spitwere just the thing for a six year old to enjoy 🙂

Most entertaining though, judging by the giggling, was a Rook that was rummaging through a bag of rubbish and found what it seemed to consider a suitable food item.  That item was a (full) dog-poo bag…  So disgusting that I almost titled the blog after it 🙂


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Birdwatching in an iconic landscape; Lindisfarne 23/09/2013

by on Sep.24, 2013, under Birdwatching, Holy Island, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

After two long hard days offshore (8hr pelagic on Saturday – blog post coming soon! – and 14hr offshore on Sunday for a North East Cetacean Project transect survey) today brought some light relief from the rolling swell of the North Sea as I headed north to Seahouses to collect Phil and Ann (who had won a morning out with NEWT in a competition on Visit Northumberland) and Rachael and Alex, who by happy coincidence were all staying at St Cuthbert’s House.

In weather that was glorious, even by the high standards set during this year, we headed north towards Holy Island.  In the north of Northumberland, with a falling tide, it was looking like a good waders and wildfowl morning.  Mudflats were dotted with a mosaic of Mallard, Shelduck, Curlew, Dunlin, Lapwing, Redshank, Oystercatcher and Pink-footed Geese and, as we drove along the coastal road towards Holy Island, we had the treat of watching a Sparrowhawk as it flew just ahead of us, only inches above the road.  Ringed Plover and more Dunlin, Curlew and Redshank were feeding in the mud of Holy Island harbour, Pied Wagtails were, well, wagging their tails along the pebbly edge of the harbour, a flock of House Sparrows was engaged in stripping the seeds from grasses just above the tideline and House Martins and Swallows were sallying back and forth in search of insects in the warm autumn sunshine.  Flocks of waders in flight are a spectacle to rival any other and as we watched, and listened to, a group of Grey Seals that were hauled out on the sandbanks between the island and the mainland, the amorphous twisting turning shapes in the air high overhead resolved into flocks of Golden Plover and Bar-tailed Godwit.

The final part of the plan for the morning was a short session of seawatching.  Sandwich and Common Terns were diving close to the shore, Gannets were a bit further out and the sea was dotted with the dark shapes of EidersTurnstones were perched on the top of rocky outcrops, a Harbour Porpoise proved elusive as it surfaced to breathe and an Arctic Skua raced south before everyone could get on to it.  Obligingly it came back north, settled on the sea for a little while and then continued steadily north before breaking off into a aerobatic attack on a Sandwich Tern with another skua joining in as the tern twisted and turned in an attempt to evade the pirates of the sea as they attempted to rob it of it’s recent catch.

Lots of birds, lots of interesting wildlife behaviour to watch, and four clients who were all great fun to spend the morning with – if I ever suggest that I’m going to return to teaching, just point me in the direction of this blog post 🙂

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Stumbling across a twitch

by on Sep.11, 2013, under Bamburgh Castle, Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

Late August/early September is an exciting time on the Northumberland coast; wader passage is still ongoing, wintering wildfowl are arriving and you just never know what could turn up…

I collected Andy and Lia from Alnwick and we set off for a day birdwatching on the Northumberland coast from Bamburgh to Druridge BayKnot, Turnstone, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Sanderling and some very elusive Purple Sandpipers started the day for us, as Linnets fluttered around in the long grass, Meadow and Rock Pipits were around the tideline, Gannets were soaring majestically by and Eider and Common Scoter were bobbing around just beyond the surf and a mixed flock of Common and Sandwich Terns were flushed by walkers before settling back on the rocks close to the breaking surf.  Offshore a small flock of birds grabbed my attention, and through the telescope resolved into one of Northumberland’s winter specialities; seven Pale-bellied Brent Geese steadily heading north were our first of the autumn.

Further south, waders were still the main focus of our day;  Dunlin, Redshank, Greenshank, Snipe, Whimbrel, Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit and Ruff were all pottering about in the water’s edge.  When we arrived at East Chevington to look for the Spotted Crake, there were a few local birders already there.  With an astonishing amount of luck, we’d arrived just as a White-rumped Sandpiper was being watched 🙂  Not the easiest of birds to identify, but as it wandered around a flock of sleeping Teal with Dunlin and Snipe alongside for comparison it stood out quite well.

Another cracking day’s birdwatching, with a proper rarity to add a touch of the unusual 🙂

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Whales, Waders and Wildfowl day (1 and) 2

by on Sep.11, 2013, under Bamburgh Castle, Birdwatching, Holy Island, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

After getting back to Seahouses harbour at the end of our Whale and Dolphin Cruise, Sarah headed south back towards home, and myself and Bill followed the coast north to Holy Island.  The breeze had been strengthening while we were offshore, and around Holy Island it was close to unmanageable, with even a heavy stable tripod struggling to remain still enough to use the telescope.  We did find Bar-tailed Godwit, Ringed Plover and Dunlin around the harbour, but soon beat a hasty retreat – via the ice cream van 🙂

Heading back down the coast in the shadow of Bamburgh Castle, we watched flocks of Eider loafing just offshore and a mixed flock of Common, Sandwich and Arctic Terns held a surprise in the shape of an adult Roseate Tern.

Dinner at The Swan was followed by discussing the plans for the next day, and on Sunday we concentrated on Druridge Bay and south east Northumberland.  It turned out to be a good day for waders, with Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Curlew and plenty of Snipe.  Perhaps the wader highlight of the day though were flocks of Black-tailed Godwit and Ruff arriving from the north east, pausing briefly to drink and rest and then departing to the south west.  A bird that’s rarely seen made it’s way onto the trip list too, as the long-staying Spotted Crake at East Chevington wandered in and out of the reedbeds.  Goosander, more Eider and lots of Grey Herons were around the River Coquet and it was soon time to head off, collect Sarah and go into Morpeth to eat at the excellent Nadon Thai.  It was an excellent two days, with a client who was excellent company, a keen birdwatcher and knows a lot of sites in and around Norfolk, where we haven’t been for a few years now, really well.

Whales? yes. Waders? yes. Wildfowl? yes.  It was the holiday that does exactly what it says on the tin 🙂

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Northumberland coast birdwatching and Otter-spotting 16/07/13

by on Jul.17, 2013, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

Sometimes I think that I’m lucky, sometimes I’m quite sure that I’m lucky, and sometimes I have absolutely no doubt…

As the heat of the day began to cool, with increasing cloud cover, it was time to head out and collect the five clients for our Otter mini-Safari.  I picked Gabrielle and Michael up from Morpeth and then drove across to Church Point, where Andy had already met up with David and Rhian.

Before we’d even got everyone in the car, there was chance for an ID session with a bird that everyone was aware of, but wasn’t quite sure how to identify; a very obliging adult Mediterranean Gull flew by, perched on a lamp post, flew by again, was joined by a 1st summer bird and then drifted off out over Newbiggin bay.

As the evening passed we had some excellent birdwatching encounters; three Little Egrets were very welcome, Grey Herons were sitting around just about everywhere that we visited, two summer-plumaged Red Knot flew by, Little Gulls were deftly picking flies from the calm water’s surface as Sandwich and Common Terns took a slightly more forthright approach to the acquisition of food, two juvenile Marsh Harriers were testing out their wings low over a reedbed and an adult male, began quartering the sand dunes, Eiders swam close to us and Curlews, Lapwings and Oystercatchers were all roosting peacefully.

Then, at the site that I’d thought would be the best place to complete our trip, David said the words that everyone was waiting to hear “I’m sure I’ve just seen an Otter“.  Making it’s way quickly along the edge of the pool, it took a few minutes before everyone had seen it.  Then it just got better – first we could track it’s progress by the expanding ring of Mallards, Gadwall and Tufted Ducks around it’s exact location, then by the ring of bright water each time it surfaced in the shadow of the reeds, before we suddenly had a stampede of ducks hurrying past just a few metres away from us.  Sure enough, the Otter was now making it’s way along the edge of the pool on the side where we were sitting, passing closely enough that binoculars weren’t necessary 🙂  As it overshot the ducks, the stampede reversed direction and the Otter made it’s way into the darkness of the reeds.

With a request for Barn Owl from the back of the car, I knew which route we’d take back down the coast.  Sure enough, perched on a roadside wire, the ‘White Owl‘ might have well been waiting for us, before flying parallel to the road over the fields and into the night 🙂

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Wildlife in the heat of the summer; Otter Safari 06/07/13

by on Jul.07, 2013, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast, Otter, Southeast Northumberland

After an enjoyable few hours watching the British & Irish Lions demolition of Australia, I loaded up the car, collected our picnics from The Swan and headed north to collect Jacky and Marcus from their holiday accommodation at the stunning St Cuthbert’s House.  A quick drive back down the coast and we collected Alice and John and embarked on our search of Druridge Bay, southeast Northumberland and the Northumberland coast.

I’d identified a site where Otters have been active in the late afternoon, so that was our first port of call.  With Common Terns dip-feeding just in front of us, Canada and Greylag Geese with goslings, Gadwall with ducklings and lots of Sand Martins and Swallows there was plenty of birdwatching interest as we waited in hope for the possible appearance of our target species for the trip.  Jacky’s excited comment “there’s a…yes, it’s an Otter” marked the start of nearly an hour of Otter activity.  The initial animal turned out to be two together, and then eventually we were watching four of them as they swam back and forth, feeding, clambering on poolside rocks and play-fighting 🙂

Lapwings, Curlew and a Greenshank were all evidence of post-breeding gathering/migration, Starlings were grouping into larger flocks as daylight faded, Sand Martins were swirling in a big pre-roost flock, a Barn Owl drifted on silent wings over a reedbed and, as the falling light levels finally rendered everything as a silhouette we headed back to the car with pipistrelles hawking just over our heads.

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Seabird Spectacular 10-13 June 2013; birdwatching on the Northumberland coast

by on Jun.13, 2013, under Birdwatching, Coquet Island, Druridge Bay, Farne Islands, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

Arriving at The Swan on Monday evening I met up with Ronnie and Liz at the start of our Seabird Spectacular holiday.  Of all of our holidays, this is the one that concentrates on the really outstanding wildlife available on the Northumberland coast in the summer.

Tuesday started out very nice, although cloud cover was increasing and, by lunchtime, eventually it was overcast, misty and spotting with rain.  We’d spent the morning around Druridge Bay, with one of the highlights being a very obliging male Reed Bunting who sat just a few metres away from us and sang for over 20 minutes, Wall and Green-veined White Butterflies flitted across the tracks ahead of us, Sedge and Reed Warblers played hide-and-seek in the edge of the reeds and a male Marsh Harrier quartered a reedbed, giving prolonged views at relatively close range.  As we ate lunch, overlooking the North Sea, watching Eiders, Guillemots, Kittiwakes, Fulmars and Gannets, the southeasterly breeze was starting to build a noticeable swell…

The inevitable happened and our planned sailing around Coquet Island was cancelled on safety grounds, so we continued around Druridge Bay.  Sandwich Terns and a Grey Seal were near the weir between Amble and Warkworth and we ended up watching five Otters as they munched their way through a feast of Eels 🙂 A Great Northern Diver flew south between Coquet Island and the mainland and we could see clouds of Puffins and a few ghostly white Roseate Terns from our clifftop vantage point.  Swifts were around in good numbers – a scythe-winged menace to flying insects – and at the end of the day we returned to The Swan and were joined for dinner by Sarah.

After Tuesday’s cancelled boat trip it was a relief to see that the wind had died down by Wednesday morning, and our all-day birdwatching trip to the Farne Islands went ahead as planned.  There were lines of Puffins, Guillemots and Razorbills streaming back towards the islands, Gannets were effortlessly heading either to or from the Bass Rock, and the sights, sounds and smells of the seabird colony were just a few minutes away when we came across two Harbour Porpoises. Cormorants and Shags perched sentinel-like  on the Scarcar rocks and landing on Staple Island we watched Guillemots, Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Puffins, Razorbills, Shags and Rock Pipits at close range before having our picnic lunch in superb weather conditions on this magical rock just a few miles offshore from the Northumberland coast.  Transferring across to Inner Farne at 13:00, via a brief detour to look at the Grey Seals lazing in the sunshine, we were greeted by Head Ranger David Steel and then enjoyed the very different experience of running the gauntlet of a succession of angry Arctic TernsCommon and Sandwich Terns were around too, and we watched Puffins skilfully avoiding the attention of Black-headed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls.  A pair of Rock Pipits nesting beneath the boardwalk were carrying beakfuls of food and I had a Farnes ‘tick’ in the shape of a Swift soaring over the lighthouse buildings.  We tried to find a Roseate Tern in amongst the roost by the Inner Farne jetty, but without success.  Back to The Swan for tea, reflection on a successful day and my Plan B…

Today was planned to be a one-day extension to the holiday, visiting the North Pennines, but we’ve moved that to tomorrow and the ladies have an extra afternoon out with me, to take the boat trip around Coquet Island 🙂

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Against the light

by on Aug.03, 2012, under Birdwatching, Farne Islands, North Sea, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

In near-perfect conditions we arrived at Seahouses yesterday evening for our 3hr coastal cruise on Ocean Explorer.  As well as some of our ‘regulars’ we had Andy, Jan and Sam on board, on their final evening in Northumberland.

Soon after heading south down the coast towards Dunstanburgh we came across a couple of Harbour Porpoises.  Typically shy, they surfaced a few times and then vanished into the depths.  Gannets featured throughout the evening, passing both north and south, and one or two were seen diving.  Puffins, Guillemots and Razorbills were bobbing about on the water and a mixed flock of Arctic and Common Terns and Kittiwakes had found something to hold their interest.  We stopped to see if anything else would come along, and were soon joined by a Fulmar, stunning in the beautiful light.

Fulmar,bird photography tuition,Northumberland

We gradually headed north, and approached the Farne Islands as the sun began to set.  Grey Seals poked their heads out of the water and came off the rocks to investigate our boat, Cormorants and Shags perched sentinel-like on the rocky islets, Turnstones prodded and poked their way around the edge of the mass of Seals and Sam punched the air in elation as his first Curlew flew by 🙂  The setting sun provided an opportunity to experiment with an aspect of photography that I’ve never really been able to get to grips with, and one which I’ve always been fairly ambivalent about.  Excellent light, excellent location, all the ingredients were there to convince me…

Farne Islands,Inner Farne,Northumberland,landscape photography tuition,seascape photography


Farne Islands,Northumberland,landscape photography tuition,wildlife photography tuition,seascape photography

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by on Jul.25, 2012, under Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

With our focus in late-July on the North Sea and its enigmatic wildlife, a land-based trip makes a pleasant change from riding the waves.  I collected Catherine, Mark, Jacob and Izzy from their holiday accommodation in Howick and we set off down the Northumberland coast towards Druridge Bay.

We started at Newbiggin, following up a recent report of a small pod of White-beaked Dolphins. Only brief sightings of distant dorsal fins were possible, proving just what an elusive species this can be.  An adult Mediterranean Gull drifted close by with a few Black-headed Gulls, Jacob  concentrated on the flight identification of Common, Arctic and Sandwich Terns, and another short spell of seawatching just up the coast produced lots of Eiders, and a Gannet heading south.

Cresswell Pond produced Little Gull, Black-tailed Godwit, Avocet, Curlew and lots of Lapwings, and then a real star performer as a Barn Owl quartered the dunes.  As is often the case, we had a particular target species for the evening and, as Mallards scattered from one section of a pond, and a small group of Teal suddenly became very alert, we concentrated on scanning that area.  Sure enough, the swishy, waving tail of an Otter was soon spotted near the Teal, and for a few minutes it gave brief views of it’s tail, head and body as it spread panic throughout the assembled wildfowl.  As darkness descended it vanished into the inky gloom and we headed back to the car, encountering Common Frog, Common Toad and Pipistrelles on the way.

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A damp day in North Northumberland

by on Jul.13, 2012, under Birdwatching, Farne Islands, Northumberland

As I got home on Tuesday night after our evening pelagic the rain was still hammering down.  With a forecast of more rain for Wednesday, and a planned Farne Islands safari, I started thinking about a contingency plan as I dried off all of my camera equipment.

Wednesday dawned…with more heavy rainfall.  I needed an idea of what was happening further north and a quick text to William was soon answered; the rain in Seahouses was light and sea conditions were fine so boats were sailing 🙂  I collected Louise and Martin from Warkworth and we headed north along some decidedly damp roads.  A morning birdwatching on the Northumberland coast, including Grey Seal, Roe Deer, Swallow nestlings, Shelduck, Eider, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Redshank and a very obliging Whitethroat, was followed by a lunch break just north of Bamburgh Castle, and then it was time to board Glad Tidings for the sailing across to the islands.  With a bit of swell on the sea, a chilly wind kicking spray from the bow, and another oppressive sky the islands were incredibly atmospheric.  Puffins were sitting in huge rafts just off the islands, Guillemots and Razorbills were flying back to the cliff ledges with fish, Gannets were soaring majestically by the boat, Grey Seals lazed in the surf and Kittiwakes called incessantly from their precipitous nest sites.  As we landed on Inner Farne the aerial bombardment from the Arctic Terns was much reduced from the level of recent weeks, and there were plenty of young terns trying out their wings in short flights across the boardwalk.  Sandwich Terns were carrying food back to quite large chicks and the island seemed to be awash with Puffins.  Every flat area next to the sheer cliff faces was covered in them and hundreds were flying around the island.  Louise, like many of our clients when seeing Puffins for the first time said “Aren’t they small”.  Everyone expects them to be bigger than they actually are.  Kittiwake chicks were almost too big for the nest ledges, and Razorbills and Guillemots were watched at close quarters too.  With the poor weather the number of visitors to the island was quite low, making for quite a different experience to our trips earlier this year when all of the boats were full.

Most of our Farne Islands trips this year have been on Glad Tidings 1, and Bobby and Billy always keep their passengers entertained.  Now, as I look out of my office window while I’m typing this on a fine, dry, sunny afternoon, Bobby’s words, as he delivered us safely back to Seahouses come to mind “Aye, it’s improved.  Now it’s like a fine autumn day rather than a bad winter one”.

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