Tag: Kingfisher

“…and a Common Seal in a dead tree”; Otter Safari 02/12/16

by on Dec.04, 2016, under Druridge Bay, Otter, Southeast Northumberland

From the Fascinating ‘Life on Earth’ back in the 1970’s, through to the jaw-dropping ‘Planet Earth II‘ that’s currently showing on the BBC (2 episodes to go, ‘Grasslands’ this evening and ‘Cities’ next Sunday!), I’ve always enjoyed David Attenborough’s programmes.  Recent series have included a section at the end of each programme, detailing the planning and effort that went into capturing a particular sequence.  Those sections are really important, as they make it clear just how wildlife doesn’t work to a script…

I collected Emma and Kevin from Newbiggin and we set off for a day in search of Otters around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  My interest was piqued fairly quickly, as Emma removed her camera from it’s bag with a Nikon 200-500mm lens attached – the same lens that I’m currently thinking about buying 🙂  It was a great opportunity to see the lens in action, and to see some of Emma’s stunning images from their safari in Tanzania, but would Northumberland’s wildlife perform for the camera?  As Emma said “You can’t just rock up and expect wildlife to be there in front of you”…

Arriving at our first site I caught a brief glimpse of something dark rolling at the surface and vanishing into the flat calm water.  Otter? or Cormorant?  A loud squawk from a Black-headed Gull caught my attention, and we turned to see two gulls circling over one patch of water.  Look under them, look under them…and there’s an Otter 🙂  Twisting, turning and diving, the adult Otter caught a fish and headed towards a fallen tree…and a small cub swam out to greet it!  Kevin quickly spotted a second cub, and once the adult was out of the water, it was obvious that she’d got three cubs.  The cubs were staying close to the bank as mum headed out into deeper water to catch fish and, each time she swam away from them they’d start calling to her.  Swimming in the shallows, clambering over boulders and fallen trees, scattering terrified Goldeneye, Goosander, Little Grebe and Cormorant as a Kingfisher flashed by, and eventually disappearing, presumably for a nap after a busy couple of hours, this was a strong contender for ‘best Otter sighting for NEWT’ 🙂  Another sighting late afternoon, at a different site (where we know there’s a female with three cubs), provided an interesting observation of Otter behaviour.  This time the female was catching food and taking it out of sight, presumably to her cubs.  While she was still hunting in front of us I noticed Goldeneye and Teal scattering from another part of the pool…and there was an Otter cub.  Eventually the female stopped feeding and headed towards the cub before escorting it back to where we suspected it’s siblings were hiding. passing right in front of us on the way 🙂

A mind-blowing Starling murmuration and Roe Deer drinking at the water’s edge at dusk finished off a day of highlights so, with a certain amount of artistic licence, and to be sung to the tune of the ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’…

20,000 Starling swirling, 9 Sanderling scurrying, 8 Pink-footed Geese yapping, 7 Shorelark shuffling, 6 Otters swimming, 5 Eiiiiddderr Ducks, 4 Cormorants fishing, 3 Sparrowhawk hunting, 2 Lions dozing, and a Common Seal in a dead tree.

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Strategy; Bespoke Otter mini-Safari 13/11/16

by on Nov.15, 2016, under Druridge Bay, Otter, Southeast Northumberland

Sunday was Claire and Sophie’s 2nd trip with NEWT, following a wildlife safari on the coast in 2014.  As we left Newbiggin the first scattered drops of rain hit the windscreen…

Arriving at our first location, Claire asked if she’d remembered correctly how to search for Otters, and started scanning an area of water that was noticeably devoid of ducks…then almost immediately answered her own question with another one “what’s this in front of me?  It’s an Otter” 🙂  We watched the cub as it fed on small fish and then it caught a much larger one which it took into the reeds.  Through the telescope we could see the dark shape of the Otter wriggling among the reeds, as a second cub came into view and started feeding.  Scattering Goldeneye, Mallard, Long-tailed Duck, Tufted Duck, Teal, Wigeon and Little Grebe as it continued in it’s relentless search for food we lost sight of it for a little while before it reappeared and made it’s way towards us before finally vanishing behind the reeds.  By now the rain was hammering down and we headed to our second site for the afternoon.  Under a leaden grey sky, with a chill wind and persistent rain we watched until it was too dark too see.  Grey Heron and Cormorant had been and gone and a Kingfisher dived repeatedly into the water from the bankside, silhouetted against the last meagre scraps of daylight.

Grim weather, great wildife and great clients.  What more could you want ? 🙂

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Wax(w)ing lyrical about wildlife; Otter Safari 09/11/16

by on Nov.10, 2016, under Druridge Bay

There are a few species that really epitomise winter wildlife-watching, and they include my favourite bird, one of my favourite mammals, and another bird that never fails to excite…

I collected Andy from Whitley Bay (it’s great to have him back from Mull for a few months over the winter!) and we had an interesting chat about plankton sampling and microscopy as we drove up the coast to collect Genine from Newbiggin.  Genine’s last trip with NEWT was a breathtaking pelagic in early September, and now we were out in search of Otters and any other birds and wildlife that we could find around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  I suggested that we started with a quick search for Waxwings, just a few minutes down the road.  As we approached where they’d been seen the previous day, a flock flushed from a rowan tree where they were gorging themselves on berries.  We watched them land in the bare branches of a tall tree nearby and counted at least 120 birds, with another 60 flying around and landing in trees just along the road.  In the cold and damp, we started our search for Otters, and were soon watching one as it fed on small fish.  With hardly a breath of wind, the water was flat calm and we tracked the Otter‘s movement by the trail of bubbles it left each time it submerged before, after around half an hour, it left the water and vanished up the bank and behind a fallen tree.  Curlew, Lapwing, Common Redshank and Oystercatcher were probing the mud along the water’s edge and a flash of electric blue heralded the arrival of a Kingfisher, which played a game of hide and seek with us as Goldfinch and Bullfinch perched in the tops of trees, the disembodied weak winter song of a Robin came from the depths of a hawthorn and two Sparrowhawks tussled in mid-air overhead before one gave up the fight and flew well away.  Long-tailed Duck, Common Scoter, Common Eider, Goldeneye, Wigeon, Mallard, Red-breasted Merganser and Tufted Duck were a nice haul of wildfowl as Little Grebe warily watched the spot where the Otter had vanished and Long-tailed Tits called unseen from nearby bushes.

The approach of dusk brought thousands of Starlings in a swirling murmuration before they dropped into the reedbeds for the night as the high-pitched yapping of Pink-footed Geese and the discordant honking of Greylag Geese betrayed the presence of skein after skein arriving from feeding areas to the south of us.  Squealing Water Rails remained hidden and, as the last rays of daylight filtered through from the western horizon, Whooper Swans arrived.  Big, ghostly and quiet on their approach, as they hit the water they began whooping and their haunting voices accompanied our walk back to the car in the dark.

Proper wintry cold, almost continuous drizzle, stunning wildlife and lovely clients – just a great way to spend a day in mid-November 🙂  We’ll be running Otter Safaris, Druridge Bay Safaris and Lindisfarne Safaris right through the winter, so get in touch, wrap up warm and come and join us for a day searching for Northumberland’s fantastic wildlife!

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Iridescence in the gloom; Otter mini-Safari 09/10/16

by on Oct.11, 2016, under Druridge Bay

Sunday’s Otter mini-Safari started at Church Point with an intense rainbow visible away to the east, and variable weather conditions depending on which direction we looked…

I collected Gemma and Jay, then Arthur and Gill and we headed up into Druridge Bay to start our search.  Pink-footed Geese, one of the great harbingers of the coming winter, were grazing in roadside fields, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Coot, Moorhen, Teal, Gadwall, Cormorant, Little Grebe and Great Crested Grebe were all looking just too relaxed, Starlings were starting to assemble ready for the evening’s murmuration and Greylag and Canada Geese filled the air with a cacophony that most would find it hard to describe as pleasant 🙂  Grey Herons and Little Egrets stalked along the water’s edge at dusk as skeins of geese flew to roost, Mallard and Teal scattered nervously from one heavily shaded area close to the bankside but the cause of their distress remained unseen and, in the gloom of fading light, a flash of iridescent blue as a Kingfisher flew by and perched on a rock just upstream from us before plunging into the water and returning to its perch with a small fish.  That was repeated with the bird using a range of rocks, twigs and branches as a perch before it vanished into a bush as two Grey Herons engaged in a noisy dispute and disturbed it’s hunting.

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Passing storms; Druridge Bay 08/09/16

by on Sep.12, 2016, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

As a wildlife guide I’ve become ever so slightly obsessed with the weather, and weather forecasts…

I arrived at Church Point to collect Steve and Christine ahead of a day around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland, and looking inland there seemed to be a lot of low, dense, cloud.  The forecast suggested showers late morning, and a brighter afternoon, so we headed north along the coast with the intention of spending the first hour or so out in the open, before seeking the shelter of the various Druridge Bay hides once the poor weather arrived.  A Kingfisher flew by, whistling, adding a touch of sparkling iridescence to the gloom as the first few raindrops began to add a dimpled pattern to the water’s surface.  Suddenly it was dark, really dark, and the rain intensified as we drove to our next location.  Then the heavens opened while Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Curlew, Cormorant and Grey Heron just got on with whatever they were doing.  House Martins and Swallows strung out in lines along telephone wires must have been seeing the long journey south as an even more attractive prospect 🙂 More Cormorants followed, as did even heavier rainfall, and then the weather started to break – passing through an extraordinary transition where we had bright sunshine, heavy rain and an incredibly intense rainbow low above the horizon as a juvenile Marsh Harrier quartered the nearby reedbeds.  Lunch time overlooking the North Sea produced a beach with plenty of Ringed Plover scuttling around and then, for  the afternoon, glorious sunshine brought out Painted Lady butterflies and dragonflies that weren’t going to hang around to be identified!  Two more juvenile Marsh Harriers obligingly settled amongst clumps of rush before one of them engaged in a fruitless pursuit of an adult Moorhen, during which it flushed lots of Common Snipe.  Our final juvenile Marsh Harrier delivered probably the most impressive spectacle of the day as it disturbed Lapwing and Curlew, forming a dense nervous cloud of birds as it passed by, and at least 17 Little Egrets.  We finished the day with a walk through some mixed woodland in vastly improved weather, although the trees were now bending in the rapidly strengthening breeze.

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Between the storms; Bespoke Otter Photography 31/01/2016

by on Feb.01, 2016, under Druridge Bay, Otter

I collected Gill and Stuart from The Swan, ahead of a day in search of photographable Otters, and the most noticeable thing was the gentle breeze and lack of rain/sleet/hail/snow 🙂  Always a good start…

After a morning of Treecreepers, Moorhen, Little Grebe, Long-tailed Tits, mirror-calm water, two separate incidents where Mallards, Mute Swans and Black-headed Gulls all gave an indication that they’d spotted a predator and lots of entertaining discussion about the ethics of wildlife photography (and the brilliance of the Nikon D810) we had lunch overlooking the remarkably calm North Sea, with a flock of Eider offshore and Fulmars arcing along the cliff tops.  I’d seen two Otter cubs on Thursday, when I was getting in some recce work before the arrival of Storm Gertrude, so I’d already decided where we’d be spending the afternoon.  Goldeneye and Little Grebe were sitting quietly on the water, a lone Little Egret was stalking through the shallows and Cormorants, those briefly convincing Otter lookalikes, were busy eating their way through plenty of small fish.  Then, the change in behaviour I was looking for; Redshank scattered and Cormorants took off as if they’d rather be anywhere other than where they’d been feeding.  Looking like a rock moving slowly through the shallow water the adult Otter was hunting, head and tail submerged and it’s impressive muscular torso above the water line 🙂  Then, much closer to us, an Otter cub diving persistently, crunching it’s prey each time it surfaced.  Closer and closer, until it obligingly got out of the water in front of us.  A second cub was slightly more distant, and we’d got three separate Otters in view as a Kingfisher treated us to repeated fly-bys on what seemed to be a regular feeding circuit.

As Black-headed and Herring Gulls passed overhead in the rapidly deepening gloom of dusk and a strengthening cold breeze brought persistent drizzle we headed back to the car after nearly three hours with the Otters. You just don’t notice the cold and wet when you’re enjoying yourself 🙂

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Targets; Prestige Otter safari 26/11/2015

by on Nov.27, 2015, under Druridge Bay, Otter

Thursday was a trip I’d been looking forward to for a long time; Stephen and Helen had been out with us on a Kielder safari back in 2009, and our targets for the latest trip were Kingfisher and Otter.  A slight change of plan saw Stephen taking the trip with Ruth, rather than with her daughter, and we headed coastwards from Shilbottle.  With two very active Otter sites just a day earlier, I decided that we’d switch Wednesday afternoon’s site to the morning, as that would leave us with a very reliable back-up site if needed…

Goosander and Red-breasted Merganser were feeding incessantly, and a Cormorant was drying it’s wings in that fantastic heraldic pose.  I continued scanning and when Stephen said “Martin, on that triangular rock over there, there’s something Otter shaped…” I turned around to see that the Cormorant had gone…and had been replaced by three Otters 🙂  These were the two cubs from Wednesday afternoon again, and their mum!  As Little Egrets disputed prime feeding spots, Curlew and Redshank kept a wary eye on the Otters but continued probing the gooey mud just a few metres away from them.  You almost couldn’t make it up, but our other target for the day turned up and perched on a stick just in front of us while we were watching the Otters!  With a flash of electric blue the Kingfisher was soon on it’s way again, as a Sparrowhawk cruised along the tree tops nearby.

The afternoon brought thousands of yapping Pink-footed Geese, as flocks of Starling and Lapwing took to the air, then as dusk approached, a Dipper raced along a river below our feet and a Barn Owl ghosted by; a quality end to a quality day 🙂

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Five star Otter watching; Otter Safari 25/11/2015

by on Nov.27, 2015, under Druridge Bay, Otter

I collected Eve from The Swan and we headed towards the coast for a day searching for Otters around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  I’d seen two Otter cubs on Monday afternoon and Tuesday afternoon, while I was out searching for berries to make Sea Buckthorn vodka, so I’d already got the plan for the afternoon firmly sorted…

Having the morning to play with, we headed off in the direction of another recent Otter sighting.  Hardly any birds on the water, and ducks, geese and swans all along the bank, is a promising sign and, soon after a Common Buzzard glided past us on the cool breeze, I spotted the tell-tale dark shape rolling and diving.  The Otter soon resurfaced, alongside a second, and then a third 🙂  We watched them for 45mins, before they did the very typical Otter trick of diving and then vanishing.  Ten minutes later and the birds were all back on the water, apparently unconcerned, so we knew it was time to move on.  As we’re approaching the winter, the ducks are in fantastic condition; Wigeon, Teal, Goldeneye, Mallard, Gadwall and Tufted Duck are all stunning birds once they’re out of eclipse plumage and a real wildfowl highlight was four Bean Geese flying northeast.

As the afternoon turned dull and dark, with a spectacular sky at sunset, Little Egrets were stalking through the shallows, a Kingfisher gave tantalisingly brief views and there were the two Otter cubs 🙂  Playing and feeding around a semi-submerged tree close to the water’s edge we had another 45 mins of Otter action before they slipped out of sight and into the darkness of the late afternoon.

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Northerlies; Otter Safari 21/11/2015

by on Nov.23, 2015, under Druridge Bay, Otter

Approaching Scots Gap, to collect Teresa, Lisa, Scott and Brett for an Otter Safari around Druridge Bay, the overnight snow made the road ‘interesting’ in places.  The icy fingers of the northerly wind probed and poked at exposed skin and we headed down towards the coast…

Just a few miles along the road we came across a big flock of Fieldfare and Redwing, those beautiful Scandinavian thrushes, and ahead of us we could see snow falling on the coast.  Incredibly, apart from a light flurry of snow at Druridge Pools, it stayed away for the rest of the day.  Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Goldeneye, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Goosander, Red-breasted Merganser, Coot and Little Grebe were all braving the choppy water, as Redshank, Oystercatcher and Curlew all probed the gooey mud along the water’s edge as the biting wind dug deeper and we resembled the images of early antarctic expeditions.  Out of the wind, the low single figure temperatures didn’t feel so bad, and…was that something diving close to the reflection of the sun?  Choppy water and dazzling reflected sunlight aren’t a great combination, but a dark shape surfaced – and there was our first Otter for the day 🙂  It dived and resurfaced, this time with another young Otter alongside it, and we watched them on and off for an hour before they disappeared in the direction of the setting sun.  A Kingfisher, iridescent blue in the gloom of a waterside bush, and Little Egrets, seemingly luminous against the dark mud, caught tiny fish as we headed back inland under a stunning starry sky.

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More wildlife in the mist; Otter Safari 04/11/2015

by on Nov.06, 2015, under Druridge Bay, Otter

Heading to Bamburgh to collect Michelle and Pam, I was feeling optimistic that the mist was going to lift and we’d have good weather…

As it turned out, the mist came and went throughout the day – but the wildlife was the usual high quality that the Northumberland coast delivers throughout the year.  A singing Dipper broke off from proclaiming his territory in order to dive into the river as another Dipper bobbed up and down on a nearby rock.  Otter site ‘B’ looked promising as we arrived – Little Grebe, Gadwall, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Teal and Wigeon were all clustered on one edge of the water so I scanned the large area of bird-free open water…and there was an Otter 🙂  After entertaining us for 45 minutes it vanished into the reeds and we continued along the coast.  Whooper Swans called in the mist and Gannets were plunging into the sea as we made our way to Site ‘A’…where an Otter cub was sitting on a rock 🙂  It was soon in the water feeding within 30m of us, as Little Egrets and a Kingfisher added a surreal luminance to the misty afternoon, then it seemed to realise it’s mum and sibling weren’t around and decided to go in search of them.  Initially that involved getting out of the water and persistently calling – while running straight towards us!  Soon it was back in the water and we followed it’s progress by the bright water of it’s wake as it disappeared into the mist and murk of the late afternoon.

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