Tag: Curlew Sandpiper

A Storm of Puffins; Druridge Bay Bespoke Birdwatching 30/07/18

by on Aug.05, 2018, under Coquet Island, Druridge Bay

Wouldn’t that be a great title for the next book in the ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ series (Game of Thrones)?  I’ve met a few people over the last 10 years who expected Puffins to be much larger than they actually are, so the idea of unleashing a horde of them on your enemies could have some merit…

Alex, Jess and Tom had booked two days out with us – Saturday and Sunday – both of which had a forecast that couldn’t have been clearer that we wouldn’t be able to sail either around Coquet Island or to the Farnes so we’d hastily rescheduled to Monday and Tuesday, with ‘gentler’ sea conditions forecast.  I collected them from Embleton and we headed south down the coast to our local patch, Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland, pausing at Cullernose Point to have a look at the Kittiwakes and Fulmars.

Late July is a great time to watch waders on the Northumberland coast and Avocet, Dunlin, Knot, Curlew Sandpiper, Ruff, Lapwing, Common Snipe, Curlew, Common Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit, Ringed Plover and Little Ringed Plover were all impressive, but outshone by a stunning summer-plumaged Grey Plover.  A Little Owl was perched quietly by a farm building and our next port of call brought a Little Gull and an Otter that was feeding next to some apparently unconcerned Mute Swans and some very concerned Tufted Ducks 🙂

Then it was time to head off for a sailing around Coquet Island with Dave Gray’s Puffin Cruises.  The stiff southeasterly and a bit of swell meant a very steady crossing was in order.  As we sailed along the Coquet a raft of 27 Goosanders were near the Warkworth side of the river and as we made the short sea crossing Puffins, Sandwich, Arctic and Common Terns and Grey Seals began to appear.  Ghostly pale Roseate Terns were sitting on the nesting terraces that have been constructed for them and one or two were picked out as they flew by as a veritable storm of Puffins whirled around above the island.

Heading back home at the end of the afternoon I was looking forward to an evening at the Battlesteads Observatory and then Tuesday’s trip to Inner Farne.  I was starting to feel a bit peaky though, but that’s a whole other story…

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Autumn arrivals; Otter Safari 04/10/17

by on Oct.06, 2017, under Druridge Bay

There’s something special about birds with ‘Little’ in their name, unsurprisingly quite little and I can’t think of a single one that isn’t a delight to watch…

I collected Calvin from Church Point ahead of an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland searching for Otters, and the first spots of drizzle were in the air on a stiff westerly breeze.  We could soon hear the distinctive yapping calls of Pink-footed Geese high overhead, and there was an almost continuous passage of these winter visitors from the north for around 7 hours no matter where we were on the coast.  A party of Whooper Swans dropped in, bathing and calling before probably continuing south (we came across what looked to be the same birds a few miles further down the coast later in the afternoon) as a juvenile Marsh Harrier quartered the reedbeds, hanging in the breeze.  A very obliging Little Owl was preening itself on top of a stone wall, Goosanders sailed menacingly out from bankside vegetation, four Little Grebes were plundering a shoal of small fish and the passage of geese continued.  A nice wader roost included Curlew, Lapwing, Redshank, Dunlin and three really smart looking Little Stints before another juvenile Marsh Harrier drifted by, scattering them all and revealing the presence of two Curlew Sandpipers which quickly vanished away to the north in light drizzle.  The most surprising bird of the afternoon was a Green Woodpecker that flew across the track at Druridge Pools – checking with Ipin, it turns out that there are only two previous records for the site!

As dusk approached the forecast drizzle arrived and, as geese continued to pass high overhead, Grey Herons and Little Egrets flew to roost in the gloom.

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Grand finale; Druridge Bay Bespoke mini-Safari 24/08/16

by on Aug.28, 2016, under Druridge Bay, Northumberland Coast, Southeast Northumberland

Wednesday brought a first for me – arriving at Church Point to collect Lucy, Jon, Hattie and Lily, the car park was completely full!  That’s nice weather for you though…

We started our afternoon around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland with a search for Red Squirrel.  With lots of people around it wasn’t entirely surprising that our quarry eluded us, but Chaffinch, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Goldfinch and Dunnock were all benefiting from the supply of free food as everyone tried to get to grips with the contact calls of Chiffchaff and Willow WarblerDragonflies were hawking around the tree tops and a range of insects finished up in our sample pot before being released back to the plants we’d taken them from.  On to wetter habitats and an attempt to catch a Blue-tailed Damselfly ended comically when it flew from its perch and settled on my finger instead 🙂  Common Snipe, Curlew Sandpiper, Common Redshank, Ruff, Curlew and Lapwing were a nice little haul of waders and a calling Greenshank stayed out of sight as Little Egrets stalked along the water’s edge and Grey Herons tried to remain inconspicuous amongst the clumps of rush.  I was called on to answer some tricky questions during the afternoon – “would a Grey Squirrel attack a person?” was slightly easier to answer than “what sort of cloud is that?” 😉

As often is the case, there was a discussion about best wildlife of the trip.  Common Snipe and Cinnabar Moth caterpillar both got the seal of approval, although the vote did come before we were heading back down the coast and a Barn Owl was quartering the roadside fields.  Death on silent wings, beautifully backlit by the later afternoon sun and the finale to Jon’s 40th birthday wildlife tour 🙂

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Bittern by the birdwatching bug; Druridge Bay 01/10/2013

by on Oct.03, 2013, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland

The cold wind that had developed during Monday was still whipping across the Northumberland coast as I collected Sara from Church Point for an afternoon birdwatching around Druridge Bay.  Newbiggin Bay was an impressive mass of rolling swell and white water as we headed along the coast.

Damp, cold and misty were the conditions for the afternoon, but there were plenty of birds to hold our attention.  with Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Dunlin, Lapwing, Curlew Sandpiper and Golden Plover still around from the day before it was good to find another wader species; a small flock of Dunlin flying by caught my eye, not so much because they were Dunlin, but because there were two smaller birds flying with them.  Small enough to only be stints of some description, they resolved through the telescope into Little Stints and, as Sara watched them through the ‘scope, I sent a text to Ipin, so that he could get them on his patch list for the year…and he repaid me by describing me as Scotland Gate’s second best wildlife tour leader 🙂

In the increasing murk we headed to East Chevington and had two Bramblings flying overhead and calling.  A reported Corncrake didn’t show itself, but there was an odd call, that I’ve never heard before, coming from a patch of rank grass just a few metres away from us…

Probably the bird of the afternoon was an unexpected surprise; as Sara watched the assembled waders through the ‘scope, and skeins of Pink-footed Geese lifted from nearby fields with calls rising to a crescendo as they approached the pool, I was scanning around the water’s edge…and a Bittern walked out of the reeds and into full view 🙂  For a few minutes we were treated to excellent views of this strange skulking heron.  It seemed to be confused as to where it was in relation to the reeds as it suddenly stood upright and stretched it’s head and neck skyward in the classic ‘bitterning’ pose.  When it finally took flight, it was mobbed by a flock of Lapwings before dropping out of sight into a reedbed…where it was soon joined by the members of a Starling murmuration 🙂

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Stoats, Sandpipers, Starlings and Sparrowhawks; Druridge Bay birdwatching 30/09/2013

by on Oct.02, 2013, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast, Southeast Northumberland

With a brisk southeasterly wind rattling the Northumberland coast, I arrived in Alnmouth on Monday morning to collect John, Annie and Steve for a day of bespoke birdwatching.

Starting with a seawatch, Gannets were streaming south , occasionally pausing to circle and then plunge into the sea, and Common Scoter were dotted amongst the rafts of Eider, appearing for brief periods as they rode up and over the considerable swell.

Heading south to Druridge Bay produced the expected crop of passage waders; Redshank, Curlew, Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Lapwing and Ruff were expected and two Curlew Sandpipers were a nice find.  Teal, Mallard, Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Goosander and Pintail provided wildfowl interest and skeins of Canada, Greylag and Pink-footed Geese, which we’d seen earlier in the afternoon as they fed in nearby fields, began to arrive at their overnight roosts.  A Stoat was all energy as it raced backwards and forwards, exploring every nook and cranny along the edge of the water and, as dusk approached, we watched one of the great wildlife spectacles as a murmuration of Starlings swirled above a reedbed before dropping in to roost.  The mass of birds attracted the attention of a Sparrowhawk, and the female raptor made several low passes through the tops of the reeds above the roosting Starlings.  They weren’t going to be tricked into flying out and becoming an easier target though, and the Sparrowhawk soon settled on a fence post.  Then a second Sparrowhawk appeared, this time a male, and the two birds perched on adjacent fence posts, allowing an excellent comparison of their gender differences.  As we headed off, in the fading light and bitterly cold wind, it looked like they would be going without their supper…

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Not so Ruff

by on Sep.13, 2012, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

Wading birds seem to hold a fascination for so many birdwatchers, from beginners all the way to birders with decades of experience, and Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland at this time of year is often very productive.

I collected Reg and Val (for their second trip within a week) and Nick from Church Point and we started with one of our favourite birds, and one that always impresses, Mediterranean Gull.  With the strong breeze driving sand across our field of vision, there was a real wild feel to the experience of watching the birds as they withstood the elements.

Heading north along the coast we witnessed one of the oddest pieces of fieldcraft that I’ve seen with clients.  Checking out a small subsidence pond, we were enjoying the sight of Dunlin, Ringed Plovers, Common Redshank and a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper all probing and prodding through the mud at the water’s edge.  Another birdwatcher made his way stealthily to the wall along the roadside, and settled to watch the birds from a crouched position.  Good fieldcraft, the birds continued feeding appearing completely unconcerned by his presence.  Then, when he was ready to leave, he popped up like a jack-in-the-box flushing all of the birds!  As the flock eventually settled back down, there was no sign of the Curlew Sandpiper.  It’s an important lesson that fieldcraft skills should always be applied when retreating from your position as well as when approaching it 🙂

Cresswell Pond continued the wader theme, with some very obliging Common Snipe, Dunlin, Ruff and both Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits (standing alongside one another and allowing excellent comparison of the differences between these species).

At East Chevington, Reg spotted a distant bird perched on a fence post and commented that it didn’t look quite right for a Crow.  Tucked down against the wind, the view through our telescope soon revealed that the bird was a juvenile Marsh Harrier.  It remained perched for several minutes, regularly turning it’s head to reveal a lovely orange/cream crown contrasting with the uniform dark-brown of the rest of it’s plumage.  Hundreds of Lapwings and Starlings were flying back and forth, twisting and turning against the very stiff breeze, Cormorants sat motionless and we headed back to Newbiggin at the end of our day.

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Mud, Murmurations, Med Gulls and Marsh Harriers

by on Sep.07, 2012, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

Sometimes, just one animal or bird can make a trip a special experience for our clients.  Other times it’s the scenery.  Maybe a combination of the weather, Northumberland’s stunning skies and the ‘atmosphere’.  Occasionally, it’s a little bit of each.

I collected Keith and Anne from their home in the Tyne valley, and headed east towards Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  As we scoured the woods for Red Squirrels, the high winds made it impossible to pick out any movement that might have been our quarry.  Dragonflies hawked around the edges of the trees and some rather late tadpoles were wriggling around in shallow ponds.  A quick stop at Church Point, produced the hoped-for Mediterranean Gulls; beautiful ghostly pale adults hanging in the breeze over our heads.

Then we were on our way up the coast in search of mud, glorious mud.  Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Redshank, (Grey) Red Knot and an immaculate Curlew Sandpiper were all found at very close range and then noisy skeins of Greylag and Canada Geese filled the air around us.  Alarmed by the sudden appearance of a juvenile Marsh Harrier, the geese lifted from where they were feeding and headed straight for the nearest pool…where they encountered an adult Marsh Harrier, hanging almost motionless above a reed bed, held in position by the wind.  Small groups of Starlings started to appear, tossed around like leaves on the breeze, merging to form a murmuration.  The late evening light made the haystacks in nearby fields seem to glow, the sky was quite breathtaking and, as dusk rapidly advanced and the wind strengthened, flocks of Golden Plover and Curlew arrived to roost as we headed west again.

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Feels autumnal

by on Aug.28, 2012, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Otter, Southeast Northumberland, Wildlife

As I drove through the rolling hills of rural Northumberland to the west of Morpeth, the weather was looking superb; blue sky, sunshine, a nice breeze.  I collected Mark and Nicola and we headed back towards the coastal plain, for an afternoon of birdwatching around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.

The conditions looked good for raptors, and it wasn’t too long before we had our first Common Buzzards of the afternoon.  Then another raptor appeared, soaring just overhead.  With long, thin wings, and a long narrow tail, it didn’t look like another buzzard, but it had the sun behind it so was a difficult to view silhouette.  Eventually it moved away to the north and, as it engaged in some mid-air sparring with one of the buzzards, its identity was revealed; juvenile Marsh Harrier.  As the two protagonists drifted further north, the orange crown of the harrier flashed in the sunlight as the bird soared in circles, contrasting with the rich dark chocolate brown of the rest of its plumage.

Reaching the coast, we stopped off at Newbiggin to look for Mediterranean Gulls and it didn’t take too long before we spotted our first as it flew across from the southern end of the bay and landed on the beach right in front of us.  More followed, including a juvenile bird, and Nicola soon commented that, regardless of any plumage differences, the structure of the birds was noticeably different to the nearby Black-headed Gulls.  Leaving the Meds behind we began our journey along the coastal road through Druridge Bay.  A quick check of the Bewick Drift Flash produced 9 Ruff, 10 Dunlin and a Curlew Sandpiper and we spent a little while comparing the differences between the two sandpipers as well as having a very close view of just how different male and female Ruff are in terms of size.

Our picnic stop, overlooking the North Sea, produced a beach filled with Ringed Plovers, and a lone Sanderling, as well as soaring Fulmars and rafts of Eiders, bobbing in the gentle swell far below us.  It was starting to turn colder, breezier, and the first drops of rain started to fall.  Cresswell Pond was very productive, as it has been for a few weeks now, but a few species really stood out;  a Spoonbill, which had been at East Chevington during the afternoon, flew in and made its way right round the edge of the pond, sweeping that extraordinary bill from side to side in search of food, Yellow Wagtails arrived to roost and sat along the base of the reeds, where they provoked a very aggressive response from the Common Snipe that were feeding there and a Barn Owl came out following a heavy shower and caught a vole in the dunes away to the north before carrying it within a few metres of where we were sitting.

The finale to the trip came beside a fast flowing river, downstream was dark, inky blackness, but upstream the water was lit by the eerie glow from a nearby town.  Daubenton’s Bats were trawling the water surface, their presence betrayed by the expanding circles where they’d gaffed prey at the surface.  Then, a ripple too big to be from a bat; and an Otter surfaced for a few moments before disappearing into the dark.

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Wading through August

by on Aug.23, 2012, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

August is always a stressful month for NEWT.  As well as leading our regular safari days, it’s British Birdwatching Fair month, and the week leading up to the Bird Fair is always frantic; checking that we’ve got everything for the stand, mounting a new series of limited edition prints for sale, liaising with all of the other Birdwatching Northumberland partners to make sure that everybody knows exactly which aspects of the project they’re  responsible for, and making sure that we’ve got a supply of local beer for the 4pm ‘free bar’ on our stand 🙂

Then, after a busy three days, it’s all over and we head north…this year to the thankfully cooler temperatures of Northumberland.  From leaving Rutland at 6pm on Sunday to arriving back in Northumberland just after 10pm, the temperature drop was an impressive 14C.

Yesterday was our first post-BirdFair trip, a day of birdwatching around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  I collected Alex from Church Point, and we started with a good scan of the beach. 4 Mediterranean Gulls were close by and a small group of waders contained Oystercatcher, Common Redshank, Sanderling and Ringed Plover. Waders proved to be a theme for the day and we added Common Sandpiper, Spotted Redshank, Lapwing, Ruff, Dunlin, Knot, Curlew Sandpiper, Curlew, Greenshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Turnstone, Wood Sandpiper, Common Snipe, Golden Plover and Avocet to the day list as we made our way around NEWT’s local area.  With an impressive supporting cast that included Water Rail, 3 Little Egrets and a Spoonbill it was a great day to be watching the edges of our local ponds, and a real education in just how much inward and outward movement of birds there is from the feeding and roosting wader flocks that grace southeast Northumberland at this time of the year.  It was a great day too, to appreciate just how friendly and helpful local birdwatchers are in Northumberland – many thanks to Len and Gill for pointing us in the direction of the Wood Sandpiper, and Gill’s sharp eyes picked out the Spotted Redshank which then vanished without trace soon after being found and appreciated 🙂

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