Tag: Grey Seals

Birdwatching on Holy Island 29/05/2013

by on Jun.03, 2013, under Birdwatching, Lindisfarne, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

After collecting Stephen for his second trip of the week, we drove north and met Susan near Holy Island, for her third trip in four days.  Our Lindisfarne safaris are always an interesting guessing game, other than in the winter when we know that we’ll find vast flocks of waders and wildfowl – although even then there’s the unknown quantity of wintering raptors.

We started down the coast in the shadow of Bamburgh Castle; sheltering from the wind and rain, we watched Gannets soaring effortlessly, Common Scoter and Eider riding the swell like the most accomplished surfers in the world, Fulmars and Kittiwakes fighting into the stiffening breeze and a Red-throated Diver sliding beneath the waves and resurfacing out of sight.

What would appear at first glance to be a long line of boulders, exposed at low tide, resolved through binoculars, as expected, into several thousand Grey Seals.  The ‘hook-nosed sea pigs’ (surely the most unflattering translation of the Latin name for any animal) were lazing on the exposed sand

On Holy Island itself the weather improved dramatically and we watched a flock of Ringed Plover and Dunlin in the harbour, with a surprise find in the form of a Little StintMeadow Pipits were song-flighting, Skylarks rose higher and higher, delivering their outstandingly complex songs, and Lapwings were tumbling over nearby fields as we worked our way slowly along a hedgerow getting close views of Dunnock and House Sparrow, and listening at close range to the repetitive notes of a Song Thrush.  Surprise find of the day was a group of eight Roe Deer between Chare Ends and the Straight Lonnen.  We’ve seen them on the island before, but never so many together at once.

After a day with two enthusiastic clients who had been excellent company on multiple trips during the week, it was time to drop Susan off and take Stephen back south.  Sometimes, I think what really makes our trips work is the clients that we have 🙂

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What does my office look like?

by on May.08, 2010, under Birdwatching, Lindisfarne, Northumberland

Occasionally I find myself pondering that question.  On Wednesday I left home early to drive to Seahouses and collect Carolyn and Brian, two clients who we first met last year.  As we headed up the coast through Bamburgh and towards the Lindisfarne NNR for a day of birdwatching, we stopped at each promising area.  Before we reached Holy Island itself we’d already had excellent views of 4 Harbour Porpoises, good views of three Whimbrel (alongside a Curlew for comparison) and a Brown Hare as well as the growing numbers of House Martins and Swifts.  A Sedge Warbler perched helpfully on top of a stunted Hawthorn as he belted out his song, a Whitethroat was elusive before eventually showing off the bright white throat feathers that give it it’s name and a Wheatear hopped along a drystone wall.  On the island we watched a Heron as it preened whilst hidden in a reed bed, listened to another Sedge Warbler and tried to locate a calling Water Rail.  Skylarks and pipits were unobtrusive in a sheep field that also contained at least 6 Wheatears and, once we’d left the island we watched over 1000 Grey Seals as they relaxed in the bright sunshine.

After dropping Carolyn and Brian back in Seahouses, I headed home, packed my bag and drove down the A1, out of Northumberland, to my sister’s house.  04:30 Thursday morning and I was on the road again, this time travelling to King’s Lynn.  Two days of being a student were relaxing and enjoyable, studying the acoustic signals used by cetaceans being my own personal highlight, before the north beckoned.  Finally, just before 10pm yesterday, I arrived back at home, headed to the ‘beer fridge’, sat down to a delicious Chinese meal with Sarah and then collapsed into bed.  With tomorrows “Beginners Birdwatching; Songs and Calls” being close to home we don’t have a really early start so this afternoon is a chance (something that’s going to happen less and less over the next few months) to catch up with e-mails, ‘phone calls and product planning/development.  It’s the great paradox of running your own business; many people choose that option in order to have more free time…but if your business is successful there’s a period, certainly during rapid growth/expansion, when 9 to 5 doesn’t look so bad after all.  Would I go back to that? What do you think? 😉

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Magic moments

by on Jan.18, 2010, under Birdwatching, Northumberland Coast

We’ve spent the last 3 days running a birdwatching press trip on the Northumberland coast.  Now, I’m not going to spoil the undoubtedly excellent article that will be written about the trip, but this morning we had one of those experiences that just take your breath away.  After a full day around the Lindisfarne NNR and a full day in Druridge Bay, this morning was the conclusion of the trip…and the best weather of the 3 days.  A bitingly cold northwesterly wind, beautiful blue skies and a choppy-looking sea as we stood on a cliff-top set the scene and then the main players came into view; first one Merlin darted in front of us, then a second.  As they were pair-hunting a Rock Pipit, which headed skywards to try and evade them, the kill seemed inevitable.  It was, as the hapless pipit was first caught and then tossed through the air from the male to his (presumed) mate.  We only just missed seeing a Grey Seal catch and kill a Herring Gull as well.  Nature may sometimes be cruel, but it’s inspiring, breathtaking and unpredictable.

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An icy grip

by on Dec.21, 2009, under Birdwatching, Grey Seal, Lindisfarne, Northumberland, Photography

I’m resolute in my belief that the winter is an excellent time to visit Northumberland.  It’s relaxing and quiet (not that it’s ever really anything else), there’s a lot of wildlife (ditto) and we often get stunning weather that showcases our remarkable landscape at it’s best.

Today was a day when everything came together just the way you hope.  As I drove up the A1 Kestrels, Common Buzzards and Roe Deer were all in roadside fields and Redwings and Fieldfares were hedge-hopping from one side of the road to the other.

I collected Tracey, Guy and Connor (and Ghillie – their collie dog) just after lunch, from their holiday cottage near Belford, and we headed to Holy Island.  The sea by the ends of the causeway was frozen and a sprinkling of snow covered the dunes.  As we crossed towards the island a Merlin flushed from a roadside post and we stopped to admire the beautiful diffused light that illuminated the mudflats.  Our walk on the island was on ground frozen solid, and covered with ice and snow.  The wind was bitingly cold but Grey Seals, Meadow Pipits, Shags, Curlews, Eiders, Red-breasted Mergansers,  Pale-Bellied Brent Geese and flocks of Teal heading towards the mainland all diverted the attention.  As we headed back to the mainland a handsome male Stonechat played hide-and-seek with us along the edge of the causeway, but persistence paid off and Tracey and Guy managed some good shots.  I love having keen photographers on our safaris – especially ones who really appreciate the quality of light that we enjoy up here – so we made several stops as the changing light produced a series of photo opportunities.  I can only hope that we get similar conditions for our first Beginners Photography workshop in January.  The rising tide and fluffy pink clouds of the late afternoon combined with Bamburgh Castle in the snow to offer more memorable images, while we were watching Oystercatchers, Turnstones, Redshanks and a Ringed Plover on the frozen beach.  The route back was made easier by being in a Landrover, and the steady journey allowed us to pick out Brown Hares in the snow-covered fields – seven in total, standing sentinel-like as we approached.  Once I was back on the ice-free A1 and travelling south it was like a different world  to the one I’d been in for the last few hours.  Environmental escapism at it’s best.

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Seal of approval

by on Dec.06, 2009, under Birdwatching, Farne Islands, Grey Seal, Lindisfarne

Saturday was scheduled for our “Seal And Seaduck Special”  (sounds like a really bad curry concocted by the Farnes wardens to see them through the ‘hard times’, is in fact a 4 hour NEWT cruise around the Farne Islands and Holy Island).

The weather forecast hadn’t been particularly promising (that’s not entirely true – it had been promising…heavy rain and howling southeasterlies) but a ‘phone call to William on Friday raised the possibility that we would be able to run the trip.  As we arrived at Seahouses Harbour we could see Glad Tidings VI approaching with the wardens safely on board and their zodiac towed behind.  We had time to welcome David Steel back onto the mainland and then we all boarded and set out into a noticeable swell. 

The trip had a really good social event feel to it (as all of our pelagic trips tend to do); all three NEWT guides were on board, one of our clients was on her 5th trip with us (this time bringing two of her friends, for a trip they’ll probably never forget – for all the right reasons) and our friends Tim and Vera from Cottingburn House in Morpeth were among the other passengers.  Once we were across at the islands there were a lot of seals, and many of them were ‘singing’ their mournful song; surely the source of many legends of sea-monsters and mermaids.  1347 pups have been born on the islands this year and most of them have departed or moulted out of their cute baby fur already.  A Peregrine Falcon entertained everyone on board as it perched on the Pele Tower on Inner Farne before being pursued towards the Wideopens by a Herring Gull.  The next leg of our journey took us up to Holy Island and several Red-throated Divers flew by and a Great Northern Diver was on the water near Guile Point.  The weather changed at this point and sunlight illuminated Lindisfarne Castle.  We then began a slow run down the coast in search of seaduck.  Flocks of Common Scoter scattered well ahead of our arrival but Sarah managed to get some good images, showing the typical appearance of a flock of flying scoters;

Common Scoters (Melanitta nigra)

Common Scoters (Melanitta nigra)

Common Scoters (Melanitta nigra)

Common Scoters (Melanitta nigra)

We also encountered one of the most beautiful birds that winters off Northumberland – Long-tailed Duck.  Camera shy?  These birds made the scoters look like they were hogging the limelight;

Long-tailed Duck, the 'Stag Light' and St Aidan's Church

Long-tailed Duck, the 'Stag Light' and St Aidan's Church

The increasingly choppy seas were making photography frustrating but Sarah stuck gamely to it.  As she was using my camera, and a lens that she wasn’t familiar with, it was even more challenging than pelagic photography usually is.  As we passed by Bamburgh Castle (as impressive from the sea, if not more so, than it is from land) and then Monk’s House the tide turned the last 10 minutes of the cruise into a real experience.  That’s always the point when somebody on board reveals that they usually feel seasick on the boating lake in their local park…

Nobody was adversely affected by the swell, everyone saw plenty of seals, and the flocks of seaduck flying around us added up to a real winter pelagic treat.  We couldn’t have asked for more from our final journey into the North Sea for 2009.

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A harrowing story…

by on Nov.26, 2009, under Farne Islands, Grey Seal

of suffering and depravation. That’s the ongoing tale of heroics, kelp crisps and seal milk over on the Farne Islands blog. I’ve always been impressed by the majesty of the North Sea, particularly when it’s crashing against the east coast in the early winter. It can’t be much fun for the lads out on the Farnes though, with food supplies almost exhausted and beer just a distant memory…

I was once asked to list my top 5 birdwatching experiences and the Farne Islands are right near the top of that list. The islands feature regularly on the NEWT itinerary; between April-October we run Seal Safaris, from May-July we include landing trips, and in November and December we have our exclusive ‘Tystie Trek’ and ‘Seal and Seaduck Special’ cruises.

A seabird colony at the height of the breeding season is a thing of great wonder. One of our trips this year was for a journalist from Coast magazine, who we took across to the islands to give her the experience of our beginners birdwatching courses and we arranged an interview with the Head Warden, David Steel, for her as well. At this time of year the birds (well most of them anyway) may be gone but the seals are there. There can’t be many creatures more resilient…but the Farne islands wardens are giving it a go.

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And we’ve also…

by on Aug.26, 2008, under Wildlife

Had several very successful tours with clients. August 11th saw us venturing across to the Farne Islands on one of our Seal Safaris, excellent views of the Grey Seals were had by all, as well as brief views of two adult Puffins flying by and a Puffin chick that had only recently entered the water. The Cheviots were a little damp on August 18th but a break in the rain produced Peregrine, Merlin, Buzzard, no less than six Black Grouse and a Hare. August 19th saw us visiting the Grey Seals on the Farne Islands again before heading up the coast and across onto Holy Island to search for more seals and wading birds, then back down the coast as far as Amble. 20th involved an early start (for some…) and a walk along the Blyth. Heavy overnight rain had left the river as a raging torrent the colour of milky coffee and the highlight of the morning was a Red Squirrel making it’s way through the trees on the opposite bank of the river as Jays screamed at us from their hidden vantage points. Druridge Bay trip later the same day and we were treated to large roosts of Lapwing and Oystercatcher as well as a mystery mammal running across the roof of the hide we were sitting in at Hauxley. By the time we raced outside it had disappeared into the trees…
August 21st and we were back in Druridge Bay. Highlights were a Common Toad that was walking up the path ahead of us, Noctule Bat flying past (and picked up later on our bat detector) and, due to the incredibly clear sky, excellent views of Jupiter and it’s moons through the telescope – leading to an impromptu astronomy extension to our evening.

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