Tag: Jay

Flight calls

by on Oct.10, 2011, under Birdwatching, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

I collected Brian from Newbiggin on Saturday for a one-to-one photography afternoon around southeast Northumberland.  It was good to find a photographer with the mantra of ‘wait, watch, wait some more’ and we settled among the trees in a dappled woodland.  Nuthatch, Treecreeper and Great Spotted Woodpecker all entertained us, Jays were chasing through the trees and Redwings passed overhead, their ‘seee’ calls still resonate deep inside me, nearly 40 years since I first heard them over our school field and then found a bundle of soft feathers where one had fallen prey to the local Kestrel.

We had a brief spell of reasonable light, but the afternoon was mainly characterised by drizzle and gloom; not ideal for photography, but an atmospheric background for the birds that were moving about pre-roost.  Then, more calls from the skies as we sat close to a small pond.  First, Pink-footed Geese, yapping distantly before coming into view like a distant swirl of smoke as they headed to roost.  Then a group of 8 Whooper Swans, heading north.  As they vanished into the gloom, the rain increased and brought dusk forward.

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Patience pays off

by on Aug.30, 2011, under Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Red Squirrel, Southeast Northumberland

Finding Red Squirrels on a Bank Holiday Monday had the potential to be a tricky task.  With a good weather forecast, all of our local woodlands were likely to be filled with visitors.  I headed up to Alnwick, to collect Tracy, Graham, Eleanor and Joe, before the rush started, and Sarah set off at the same time on a related mission…

By the time I arrived at our favourite squirrel site, with a car-load of clients, feeders had been checked and strategic areas baited.  Jays, Great Tits and Woodpigeons were all in the trees around us, and Eleanor soon picked out the sound of a Red Squirrel in the canopy high overhead.  We waited, patiently and quietly, and then Joe spotted movement along a branch and a Red Squirrel ran down the trunk of a nearby tree and tucked in to the provided feast.

After our woodland excursion a couple of hours of birdwatching in southeast Northumberland and Druridge Bay produced good sightings of Grey Heron, Little Grebe, Kestrel, Common Buzzard, Stock Dove and a juvenile Mediterranean Gull in amongst a mass of Black-headed Gulls from a landfill site.

Wildlife doesn’t perform to order, but when you’ve spent some time concentrating, listening and focusing on every sound and every movement there’s a good feeling when that effort is rewarded 🙂

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Thursday (part 1); summer morning birdwatching

by on Jun.19, 2010, under Birdwatching, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

An early start on Thursday saw us close to home, birdwatching in southeast Northumberland.  6am at Church Point as I collected Mick and Helen was sublime; warm, still and very quiet.  Starting with a woodland walk we had excellent views of Red Squirrel and Great Spotted Woodpecker.  In the bright sunshine our regular Little Owl was sitting at the entrance to it’s nest.  These conditions at this time of the year mean that insects feature prominently in our safaris; Blue-tailed Damselflies  and Silver Ground Carpet moths seemed to be everywhere that we walked.  Sedge Warblers  and  Reed Buntings were singing from the reedbeds and Grey Herons stalked patiently along the edges of coastal ponds.  The quality of conversation made the morning seem to fly past; environment, conservation, sustainability and renewable energy are all important things to NEWT and it’s always a pleasure to share our love of the northeast and it’s wildlife with clients who know the area and the countryside so well.  Mick’s keenness on video recording and photography of the wildlife he sees was enjoyable, and Helen managed to photograph a Sedge Warbler using her mobile ‘phone.  All too soon, Thursday (part 1) was over…

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On the trail of the otter…and then some

by on Jun.13, 2010, under Badger, Birdwatching, Northumberland, Otter, Red Squirrel, Southeast Northumberland

Yesterday was the first of several forthcoming days where we’re running multiple trips on the same day, and with 6 clients during the day, and 2 of them joining us for an evening safari as well, it was a day that could go really well, or not…

The primary target species for everyone was our old favourite, Otters. We started with a spot of birdwatching, and excellent views of the Little Owl that we should probably be adding to the NEWT payroll 😉  Our first Otter site didn’t produce the goods, although 2 Brown Hares chasing each other around a nearby field provided good entertainment.  Once we’d been there as long as I’d decided in advance of the trip, I had a hunch that another site, that has disappointed for several months now, might just produce the goods.  As we arrived I pointed out the location of a holt and suggested that the area around that was a good place to check.  Within a minute, Anthea had found 2 Otters, and we watched them for 75 mins as they fed, played, paddled along the surface, dodged in and out of the reeds and eventually vanished, probably to have an afternoon nap after their marathon feeding session.  A bit more birdwatching further up the coast produced excellent views of Common and Sandwich Terns and then it was time to return Liz & James and Kate & Take (pronounced Tarka – the most appropriate name for any participant in a NEWT trip so far) to their respective holiday locations and start the second trip of the day with Andy and Anthea.

Anthea is an Australian with a fascination for British wildlife and the day out was part of a target list that she has for a 3 month trip around Britain and Europe.  Red Squirrel was next on the list and patience and persistence paid off as we settled ourselves close to a feeding area and eventually had excellent views of at least 3 squirrels, and some very close Jays, Great Spotted Woodpeckers  and a Nuthatch.

With such a long day, sustenance came in the form of a meal at The Swan before we were on our way again.  Myriads of Rabbits were along the roads and we made our way along the heavily wooded valley of a small stream and got into position opposite a Badger sett.  A Red Fox walked along the hillside before vanishing into the undergrowth and causing consternation in all of the birds that were settling to roost.  It re-appeared just up the track from where were sitting and ran up the hill behind us, then a 2nd Fox crossed the hillside.  Soon we were treated to the sight of not one, not two, but three Badgers crossing a clearing.  As the light levels in the wood dropped to unmanageable we relocated to a feeding area that’s popular with Badgers and Foxes where we watched another Fox as it stalked along an edge, apparently invisible to the Rabbits that were sitting on the grass.  As we walked back to the Land Rover we added mammals #7 and #8 to the day list; Common Pipistrelle and Daubenton’s Bat.  A long day, but a really, really excellent one 🙂

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2 out of 3

by on Jun.02, 2010, under Badger, Birdwatching, Northumberland, Otter, Red Squirrel, Southeast Northumberland

As the damp, dreary weather of yesterday was giving way to brighter conditions I found myself heading up the coast to collect clients from Craster.  Our targets for the evening were Red Squirrel, Otter and Badger; in that order of priority, so an evening safari in Southeast Northumberland had been planned to try and encompass all three species.  A walk along the River Blyth produced what could well be a ‘must see’ for natural history enthusiasts over the coming years.  Scampering along branches and leaping through the canopy, our first target entertained as it made it’s way through the trees – causing agitation in two Great Spotted Woodpeckers which had been feeding quietly before the squirrel’s appearance.  A Jay allowed us an unusually close approach before it vanished into the trees and Dippers were zipping back and forth along the river as we returned to the Land Rover, and we set out to search for Otters.  It wasn’t to be, although some compensation came in the shape of a Barn Owl, drifting along the dunes and then catching a vole before revealing the location of it’s nest by taking the food back to the waiting mouths.  That’s the great thing about running birdwatching and wildlife tours; it may be unpredictable, but there’s always something to enjoy and appreciate.

With heavy drizzle hampering visibility, we made our way to a site where Badgers would hopefully be out and about.  Sure enough, James spotted one as soon as we arrived, and a second movement on the hillside was probably another one, although it slipped out of sight in the undergrowth soon after being spotted.

Finding 2 out of 3 elusive mammals that we were looking for was a good success rate and, with some new sites for Otters  that we’ve been monitoring, our bespoke ‘multi-mammal’ trips are sure to prove popular this summer.

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Garden Birdwatch

by on Mar.27, 2010, under Choppington Woods

I had not planned to have a birding weekend this weekend – with fine weather forecast and no appointments that would take me out of the house for more than an hour or so, this is the first weekend this year that I have been able to get into the garden, and it needs a lot of tidying up. Although some would say that the “wild” effect was good, there is wild and there is wild! Following an early(ish) morning run by the River Wansbeck, where Jays were active in the overhead canopy, Moorhen and Mallard were on the river and the sound of a Mute Swan in flight just over our heads alerted us to its presence, it was back home for more physical effort in the garden. It was clear that the garden was already a hive of activity. Blackbirds have been busy gathering nesting material, Dunnocks are dancing for their lives (which could keep me entertained all morning) and the air was filled with the sound of Robins and Great Tits. I am having a rest from the garden now, but the birds are still active, now that they can get back onto the feeders without me in the way!

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Big Garden Birdwatch

by on Feb.01, 2010, under Birdwatching, Surveys

We had a leisurely hour of birdwatching yesterday morning.  With all of the feeders stocked with top class bird food from Poltross, and a bacon and egg butty and a mug of coffee in hand, we settled down into our respective positions on either side of the kitchen.  With commentary on the dismantling of Andy Murray in the background, binoculars were trained on the feeders, the ground, the shrubbery and the Ash tree.  After a slow start, things began to gather pace and we finished with 76 birds of 20 species;

Collared Dove 4

Wood Pigeon 2

Jackdaw 1

Carrion Crow 1

House Sparrow 1

Starling 7

Blue Tit 2

Great Tit 3

Coal Tit 7

Willow Tit 2

Long-tailed Tit 3

Chaffinch 14

Greenfinch 5

Goldfinch 2

Bullfinch 4

Goldcrest 1

Robin 6

Dunnock 2

Blackbird 5

Redwing 4

There were a few absentees as well, all seen regularly in the days leading up to the Big Garden Birdwatch;


Great Spotted Woodpecker



Maybe 25 species in 1hr is a target to aim for in our garden next year.

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A bit of this…

by on Jan.25, 2010, under Birdwatching, Choppington Woods, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Surveys

The last few days have been fairly quiet, although quite varied.  On Thursday I was at the North Northumberland Tourism Association AGM at Paxton House.  On arrival the car park was close to full, with just a couple of spaces not occupied.  I reversed my Mondeo into one of them, thinking that the snow sounded very crunchy, and went into the meeting.  For me the highlight of the event was a talk by Laurie Campbell, covering things that he’s photographed in and around North Northumberland.  Returning to my car and the inevitable…it wouldn’t move anywhere with the wheels spinning on the snow.  Luckily Chris Calvert from Bamburgh Castle was leaving at the same time and, along with Verity from the Grace Darling Museum, he helped to push the car clear of the snow.  I wouldn’t have had that problem in the Landrover…

On Friday I chaired a committee meeting of the Southeast Northumberland Tourism Association.  As a new project, all of the committee are putting in a lot of effort and our AGM will be in February, the website should be up and running soon and we’re designing a leaflet to highlight the tourist attractions in our area.

On Sunday we carried out our WeBS count (a week late but the Birdwatching Northumberland Press Trip coincided with the scheduled count date).  Northeasterly winds at the start of the month have deposited huge volumes of sand a long way up the beach (and along the footpath in Cresswell village) almost to the height of the dunes in some places.  The highlight was a loose group of divers on the sea, 15 Red-throated, 2 Great Northern and 1 Black-throated.  As we approached the Chibburn mouth, the end of our survey section, Sarah commented on the sheer walls of sand next to the Chibburn as it wound it’s way down the beach.  Not surprisingly, Sarah took the sensible approach and walked well away from the edge…at least I earned some brownie points by removing Sarah’s ‘scope and tripod from my shoulder and throwing it clear as the sand gave way beneath my feet.

Now I’ve got a day in the office and it’s gloomy and overcast.  Two Jays and a Great Spotted Woodpecker are in the apple tree and Siskins have started visiting the feeders (after merely flirting with the boundary of our garden earlier in the winter).  Lesser Redpolls are still around the edge of Choppington Woods.  Can we set a new high total for our garden when it’s the Big Garden Birdwatch next weekend?

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Winter walks

by on Dec.26, 2009, under Birdwatching, Choppington Woods, Druridge Bay, Family and friends, Northumberland

There’s little that’s better than going for a walk with snow on the ground.  On Christmas Day I took dad for a walk around Choppington Woods, mainly so we weren’t under Sarah’s feet 😉  Today all three of us walked along the River Blyth and through the dunes in Druridge Bay.  The traditional boxing Day pheasant shoots in the woodland of Druridge Bay provided an ‘interesting’ aural backdrop.  I’ve had some fascinating conversations about hunting recently, with wildlife photographers and with friends who have hunted for several years.  What some people may find surprising is that two apparently disparate groups have much in common; not least a love and appreciation of the countryside.    Wildlife- and birdwatching with a camera may have a very different outcome (certainly for the wildlife) from hunting, with the only thing getting fired being a camera shutter, and the only things getting shot being images of wildlife, but there’s a lot we can learn as photographers and wildlife watchers, from the techniques employed by hunters.  Wildlife crime may still be a major issue in many areas, but that’s a topic for another blog on another day.

With NEWT events on Holy Island, in the Harthope Valley and around Lee Moor Farm before the end of the year, and places to go and things to photograph on our days ‘off’ in-between, we’re looking forward to the last five days of 2009.  Here are a few images from today:

It may be a cliche...

It may be a cliche...

Captured in the split-second before it noticed me

Captured in the split-second before it noticed me

Northumberland's iconic mammal

Northumberland's iconic mammal

Dashing through the snow

Dashing through the snow

Roe doe and Roe buck

Roe doe and Roe buck

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Another waiting room

by on Dec.20, 2009, under Birdwatching, Family and friends, Surveys

With a busy schedule over the Christmas and New Year period, this weekend is our chance to visit friends and family in Derbyshire and East Yorkshire.

I spent most of Friday afternoon filling all of our bird and squirrel feeders.  The Jays were around again, screaming at me from the Ash tree at the bottom of the garden.  The Coal Tits were rather bolder, perching just above my head and settling into ‘angry little bird’ mode.  After all the feeders were replenished, it seems I need to pay a visit to my good friend Martin over in Haltwhistle to re-stock our extension with sacks of bird food 🙂

We drove down to Derbyshire in the snow on Friday evening.  The roads were fine, but the carpark at Wetherby Services was a proper nightmare.  A delicious casserole and a glass of wine awaited us at the end of the journey.  Saturday dawned clear, bright and snowy and we spent the day visiting friends.  Saturday evening’s entertainment was a meal in Derby with Sarah’s parents and her youngest sister and other half, followed by a theatre visit to see The Snow Queen. Or so we thought…

As we walked from the car park towards the restaurant, the pavements were glistening with ice.  Which is when Sarah’s mum went base over apex and heard her leg break. 🙁 We had an ‘interesting’ 5 hours in the  Royal Derby Hospital, followed by a takeaway pizza.  The best laid plans…

Now we’re on our way back north, and conditions look perfect for carrying out our next two offshore surveys on Tuesday and Wednesday.  Best wrap up warm.

Get well soon mum.  And enjoy putting your feet up over Christmas 🙂

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