Tag: Heron

Halcyon Days; Otter Safari 13/10/2014

by on Oct.15, 2014, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

Monday was a day around Druridge Bay and the southeast Northumberland coast, and an extraordinary contrast with Sunday’s summery weather…

I collected Trish and Carol from Dunstan and we headed south along the coast.  Kingfisher is always a spectacular sight, and one flew under a bridge beneath our feet, adding a touch of sparkle to a day that was developing into cold, windy and gloomy.  Ducks are, for the most part, out of eclipse plumage now and Wigeon, Teal, Tufted Duck and Gadwall were all looking resplendent.  Little Grebes were engaged in non-stop fish catching, Curlew flew noisily by and a Little Egret was stalking elegantly along the River Coquet.  We were joined for the latter part of the day by Michael and Fiona and we settled into position to search for Otters.  In such gloomy windy conditions even my eternal optimism was dampened slightly, and although there were occasional panicky moments among the ducks, which included a beautifully elegant Pintail, the enigmatic predator didn’t put in an appearance.  What we did get though was a Starling murmuration so close we could hear the wingbeats, thousands and thousands of Pink-footed Geese flying to roost and flock after flock of Golden Plover and Lapwing appearing out of the gloom of the dusk sky and dropping into nearby fields.  Dusk is still my favourite time of the day, and if you’ve never experienced it surrounded by wildlife you really should give it a go, even the common birds are transformed by numbers and there’s always the chance of a mammal or two 🙂

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Comfort zone

by on May.03, 2011, under Birdwatching, Cheviot Valleys, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

I’ve been a general naturalist since an early age, but birdwatching has been the thing that has always gripped my imagination.  As a wildlife guide though, is that really enough?  That’s a question that seems to arise occasionally on internet forums.  I decided at an early stage of NEWT that I needed a much broader and deeper knowledge, so I spend a lot of time studying things that once upon a time (I’m ashamed to admit) I would have ignored, or even not noticed.  Every day that I spend with clients, I make an effort to learn from them, whilst imparting my own knowledge, skills and understanding of what we encounter.

On Thursday I led an afternoon of guided birdwatching around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  The blazing sunshine when I collected Karen from Newbiggin made it almost impossible to see anything in the bay but, as each small gull flew by, we checked for the identification features that would provide us with a Mediterranean Gull.  All proved to be Black-headed Gulls, and we headed north up the coast.  As we stood by the River Coquet, discussing how to separate Carrion Crow, Rook and Jackdaw in flight, I saw the tell-tale ghostly wings of a Med Gull as it drifted down towards the water’s edge.  Jet black hood, pristine white wingtips and, as perfect as if it was scripted, sitting next to an adult Black-headed Gull allowing easy comparison.  Some of our favourite birds followed; Marsh Harrier, Nuthatch, Heron and at least 17 Whimbrel.  During the afternoon I learned a feature of Wood Sorrel that will ensure I never misidentify it (again…).  Karen, you were right 🙂

Friday was something very different as we were headed inland to the Cheviots for a day searching for summer visitors.  After a few hours with a spectacular roll-call of the wildlife of the valleys, including Brown Hare, Roe Deer, Whinchat, Tree Pipit, Wheatear, Spotted Flycatcher, Red Grouse, Curlew and Lapwings (with chicks), we followed the track up a steep sided valley in search of a bird that Sue hadn’t seen before (and really wanted to).  As the sky darkened, the wind strengthened and chilled, and the first drops of icy rain began to fall, I spotted 2 distant birds flying down the valley.  I didn’t have any doubt about the identification so, when they eventually settled on the tops of the heather, I aimed the ‘scope in their direction and Sue enjoyed her first views of the ‘Mountain Blackbird’.  Ring Ouzels may often be seen on passage in the spring and autumn, but high in a remote valley, where you think the elements could give you a good working over at any time and the habitat supports so few species, is simply the right place to see them.  Another lesson learned; memorable sightings make you forget about the weather 🙂

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Maximising our chances

by on May.22, 2010, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Otter

So far this year, tracking down Otters has proved slightly more difficult than it did last year.  That’s one of the drawbacks of working with animals 😉  They’re generally not predictable.  That’s what makes a wildlife tour so much fun though, you just never know what you’re going to experience.

However, after a brief sighting on Thursday evening, I was happy that we’re still visiting the right areas of Northumberland to maximise our clients’ chances of connecting with this elusive, graceful predator.  I arrived at Newbiggin at 10am yesterday to collect Derek and Jacky for a mini-safari in Druridge Bay.  After our usual commentary on the industry and landscape of the area, as we drove towards Cresswell, it was time to settle and be patient.  I’d just finished explaining the two types of bird behaviour that usually accompany the appearance of an Otter, when there was a good example of the first; eight Tufted Ducks scattered from the edge of the pond.  Sure enough, it was less than 20 seconds before I spotted the tell-tale dark back breaking the surface and for the next few minutes we watched an adult Otter as it surfaced, dived and fed, all the while with a flock of Black-headed Gulls circling above it.  After a minute or two without any further sign I was sure it had disappeared into a channel in the reeds, probably going to rest after feeding.  The gulls began moving around the pond randomly; clearly they’d lost sight of the Otter as well.  Further entertainmant was provided by 3 Herons that were following each other around, and a Carrion Crow that was foolhardy enough to fly over several pairs of nesting Lapwings.

After the morning seemed to just fly past, I took Derek and Jacky back to Newbiggin and then returned to the office, before heading out in the evening to check another new Otter site and enjoy some relaxed birdwatching.  But that’s another story for another day…

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A day in the Bay, Birdwatching Northumberland (part 2)

by on May.22, 2010, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland

Our second day out with the winners of last year’s Birdwatching Northumberland  competition, was a day in Druridge Bay.  It provided a real contrast with our earlier trip to the Harthope Valley.

After collecting Jean and Andy from the Bamburgh Castle Inn we headed down to Embleton to collect Helen, our third client on this trip, pausing for a few minutes to watch a very obliging Brown Hare in a field near Chatton.  As we toured our usual sites the weather was more like the caribbean than Northumberland 🙂  Tufted Ducks, Shovelers, Herons, Mute Swans, Lapwings and Coots were around the coastal pools, Sedge, Reed and Willow Warblers, Whitethroats and Reed Buntings were singing from hedgerows, sedges, reeds and willows and Fulmars were arcing gracefully along the cliffs at Cresswell.  On a woodland walk along the River Blyth we heard more than we saw (as you would expect in mid-May) with Nuthatch, Chiffchaff and Great Spotted Woodpecker all being particularly vocal.  Eventually the two days of the Birdwatching Northumberland prize were over and I returned all of our clients to their respective holiday accommodation.

The day wasn’t finished for NEWT though; as dusk approached we were out on the coast, at separate locations, checking for Otters.  I did have one brief sighting, and on the journey home we began the process of redeveloping our Otter Safaris to make them an even better experience than they already are.

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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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