Tag: Dark-bellied Brent Goose

Never mind the Balearics…

by on Oct.12, 2013, under Birdwatching, North Sea

…here’s the Bonxies.

Watching the weather forecast during the week, and having a day on Holy Island on Thursday with Malcolm (trip report to come soon!), convinced me that there was somewhere I needed to be at dawn on Friday.  Arriving at Church Point in the half-light there were a few cars already parked, and a wander along to the point with Mike H found the owners of those cars already intently scanning the angry-looking sea.  Andy McL, Tim C., Eric B., David D. and Jimmy S. were all clustered around the ‘seawatching hut’.

It would be good to be able to report that I’m thoroughly domesticated and house-trained and, after the few hours I’d planned to spend seawatching, I went home, via the supermarket to do the grocery shopping, and did all of the housework.  However, back in what Sarah refers to as ‘the world according to Martin’ that couple of hours to see if there was any movement of seabirds turned into a plan to stay until 12:00…then mid-afternoon…and finally, as the light faded to the point where you could hallucinate the sort of sightings that Ellington’s second best birdwatcher * was enjoying a few miles to the north of us, I gave up just after 18:00.  11 hours on Church Point, but a not-too-shabby day list;

Black Guillemot 1

Great Crested Grebe 1

Pale-bellied Brent Goose 20

Dark-bellied Brent Goose 2

Long-tailed Duck 4

Goldeneye 9

Velvet Scoter 15

Shoveler 24

Red-throated Diver 24

Black-throated Diver 3

Great Northern Diver 7

Manx Shearwater 53

Sooty Shearwater 62

Balearic Shearwater 2

Great Skua 261

Pomarine Skua 3

Long-tailed Skua 3

Arctic Skua 8

Red-breasted Merganser 7

Little Gull 3

Arctic Tern 1

‘blue’ Fulmar 12

Short-eared Owl 1

*Ellington’s best birdwatcher is, and it really goes without saying, Iain’s better half, Janet 🙂

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Northumberland at its best

by on Feb.25, 2013, under Bamburgh Castle, Birdwatching, Holy Island, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

As we walked home from The Swan on Friday night, serenaded by the tremulous song of a Tawny Owl, the air was damp and chilly.  With a Lindisfarne mini-safari on Saturday morning I was hoping that the weather would be fine, and the forecast suggested it would be…

So, when the alarm went off and I looked out of the window, I was quite surprised that there was a good covering of snow.  A few minutes later the snow started again, and I wondered what conditions would be like in the north of the county.  It turned out that we were near the northern edge of the snow, and as soon as I was through Morpeth and on the A1 there was just an occasional light flurry, and no snow on the ground.

I collected Emily and Warren from St Cuthbert’s House and we headed straight for Holy Island so that we would be on the island for a couple of hours before the tide encroached onto the causeway.  Dark-bellied Brent Geese were roosting and bathing in the Rocket Pools, Curlews were feeding in the fields by the Crooked Lonnen and a lone Fieldfare hopped along the track ahead of us.  We could see that the weather was doing something ‘interesting’ out beyond the Farne Islands, and the icy wind coming in off the sea made it a day to really appreciate the resilience of our wintering birds.  As we left the island, flocks of Lapwings were being blown on the breeze, Pale-bellied Brent Geese and Bar-tailed Godwits were working their way along the edge of the incoming tide and Eider and Long-tailed Duck were in the South Low, competing for the title of ‘most attractive duck of the day’.  Kestrels were a regular feature of the morning, and we enjoyed good views of nine very obliging Roe Deer.

Driving back down the coast, I could see that the ‘interesting’ weather seemed to be over Bamburgh Castle and Seahouses, so it was no surprise that snow started to fall as we passed Budle Bay.  Then it got heavier…and heavier.  Eventually, as we reached Stag Rocks, there was an incredible blizzard coming in off the North Sea, reducing visibility to only as far as the shore.  Emily jumped out of the car as soon as we’d stopped, revelling in the snowfall; I’m not the only one who enjoys the winter and really loves snow 🙂  As the blizzard passed over us and made its way inland, the Farne Islands gradually faded into view and we made our way back to Seahouses.

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Here for the weather?

by on Jan.30, 2012, under Birdwatching, Holy Island, Lindisfarne, Northumberland

Just as I arrived at Harkess Rocks to collect Andy and Helen for an afternoon of birdwatching around the Holy Island of Lindisfarne and the North Northumberland coast, the first drops of sleety rain began splattering on the windscreen.  We haven’t really had any sort of winter yet, apart from an hour of snow on December 16th, but yesterday afternoon did feel positively chilly.  Undaunted by the easterly wind and icy showers we enjoyed the wader and wildfowl spectacle that is the Northumberland coast in the winter.  Curlews  singing as they flew by must have a joie de vivre that lets them vent that emotional haunting call wherever they may be.  Other wading birds entertained as they probed, prodded and buried their bills face-deep in the mud; Grey Plovers, Bar-tailed Godwits, Redshanks and Oystercatchers were all making the most of the exposed mud at low tide.  A big flock of Yellowhammers, Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Goldfinches, Tree Sparrows, House Sparrows and Reed Buntings held our attention for a good while and wildfowl were well represented with Shelduck, Eider, Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Goosander and Pintail.  As we watched a very obliging Dark-bellied Brent Goose, it was a sobering thought that our wintering birds are generally here because conditions in the areas where they breed are too harsh at this time of the year.  Mammals were braving the cold too; 7 Roe Deer, a Brown Hare and 5 Common Seals made a not too shabby mammal list for the afternoon.

I often reflect on my decision to return to Northumberland from Arizona, and as we watched that lone Brent Goose, with the biting wind driving waves of showery rain, were my thoughts of the warmth and sunshine of Tucson?  No, what I was thinking was that this is the weather I came home for…and the reason that good outdoor clothing is a necessity 😉

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It’s Sunday, so it must be Lindisfarne

by on Mar.21, 2011, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Holy Island, Lindisfarne, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

After enjoying an all too brief view of the ‘super Moon’ on Saturday as I drove eastwards across Northumberland on my way home from the North Pennines, we’d got something completely different in the booking diary for Sunday; guided birdwatching on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne.  Having Sarah along as an additional guide was a real bonus as well.

Gillian and Roger are existing clients, and this time we’d got other members of the family along as well – Roddy, Lucy and Alec.  We’ve done plenty of family trips with young children, but a request to see “Seals, Lions and Tigers” from a 2-year old was a new experience for us!  We managed one of those three 😉

Black-tailed Godwit (a stunning bird, well on it’s way to breeding plumage), Pale-bellied and Dark-bellied Brent Geese, Oystercatchers, Bar-tailed Godwits, Red-breasted Mergansers and Long-tailed Ducks were all well appreciated.  Gillian picked out a tiny dark dot, high overhead, as a Skylark sang his evocative melody, and Roger spotted a Goldcrest, with a very very gold crest, as we ascended The Heugh.  18 Whooper Swans flew over the island, accompanied by a single Bewick’s Swan.  With that species so scarce in Northumberland during the winter, we wondered if it was the same bird that we first found, a few miles down the coast, in late December.  All too soon, it was time to return the family to the starting point of the tour and make our way down the Northumberland coast, along Druridge Bay and back to the office.

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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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