Tag: Kingfisher

Dread; Otter Safari 15/10/2015

by on Oct.16, 2015, under Druridge Bay, Otter

The great thing or the worst thing (depending on your point of view…) with watching wildlife is the sheer unpredictability of it.  There’s always something to watch though, and if you watch for long enough it just gets even less predictable…

I collected Neil and Julia from Newbiggin and we headed towards Druridge Bay for an afternoon and evening searching for Otters.  Anybody who reads our blog regularly will know that Northumberland is a great place to look for Otters, but it usually involves some effort and patience.  45mins into the afternoon and Black-headed and Common Gulls rose in a ‘dread’ then started circling.  The only logical place to look was directly under them…and there was an Otter 🙂  We watched it for nearly an hour, until it eventually caught a huge Eel and vanished into the reeds.  During that hour there was a mass exodus of Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Shoveler, Little Grebe and Gadwall from one reedbed…and a Fox peered out from the reeds before coming out into the open.

The rest of the afternoon was a study of fascinating wildlife; Dippers were fighting with the victor eventually bursting into song, although not before it had been seen off itself by a Kingfisher, Hawthorns were dripping with Goldcrest, a Hebe bush was a mass of Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell and Red Admiral Butterflies and Buff-tailed Bumblebees, a second Kingfisher flew by before perching obligingly on a fence post, Grey Herons were stalking patiently in shallow water, a Little Egret perched high in a tree, a Little Owl fixed us with a withering stare and the afternooon headed towards sunset.  In beautiful orange light from the setting sun, Lapwing, Golden Plover, Curlew, Black-tailed Godwit, Turnstone, Redshank and Oystercatcher roosted as Dunlin busied themselves along the water’s edge, Snipe probed in the mud next to a reedbed and a Water Rail emerged from the gloom of the reeds into the gloom of dusk before slipping back out of sight.

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Every cloud…; Otter Safari 30/09/2015

by on Oct.01, 2015, under Druridge Bay, Otter

The unpredictability of wildlife is part of the attraction.  You never know what you’ll see, whether the species you’re searching for will put in an appearance or something completely unexpected will show up.  I’d collected Judith and Robin from their holiday cottage in Embleton and we were in and around Druridge Bay for the afternoon.  It started well with a spectacular splash of colour as Judith spotted a Kingfisher while Common Redshank, Spotted Redshank and Curlew probed the gooey estuarine mud.  Gadwall, Mallard, Little Grebe, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Snipe, Dunlin and Greenshank all looked stunning in quite beautiful light and we settled into position overlooking one of our regular Otter spots, unaware of just how extraordinary the evening was going to be…

Mirror-calm water, roosting Lapwing and Teal, an ever growing murmuration of Starlings and noisy Greylag Geese arriving to roost would be the ideal backdrop for an Otter.  Suddenly, unexpectedly, the murmuration plunged towards the reeds and birds funneled out of the swirling twisting mass down into the safety of the roost.  Starlings continued to arrive; ones, twos and groups of up to 50 had missed the display so just headed straight into the reeds.  Then the sussurating buzz stilled, and the birds left the reedbed en masse, joined in the air by Lapwings, as a Sparrowhawk flew low over their heads.  As they dropped back to the reeds, the far corner of the pool was shrouded in mist and the chilly tendrils of a sea fret were creeping over the dunes.  Soon the mist had enveloped everything around us, although it was barely reaching above head height.  The pinks and yellows of a 360 degree sunset added another touch of extraordinary to proceedings as the gloom was split by a noise not dissimilar to a car engine starting.  That was the Starlings again, leaving the reeds and suddenly bursting up out of the mist in front of us, a twisting writhing mass of birds trying to escape yet another fly-through by a Sparrowhawk.  Again they returned to the reeds, as a Barn Owl flew by above the mist, silhouetted against the sunset, and skein after skein of yapping Pink-footed Geese arrived for the night, dropping from the deep blue sky into the mist above the water.  After two unwelcome visits from the Sparrowhawk, the Starlings moved under cover of the mist into the reeds right in front of us,  For nearly five minutes, birds were streaming into their new roost site, as the whistles of Wigeon pierced the gloom and Teal and Lapwing departed for the night.

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Timing; Northumberland Coast 17/09/2015

by on Sep.23, 2015, under Bamburgh Castle, Druridge Bay, Northumberland Coast

Seasonality in wildlife watching is an important consideration, but ‘micro-timing’ shouldn’t be overlooked.  There’s a time of day when we rarely meet anyone else on our tours, and I don’t entirely understand why…

Thursday was Day Five for Clare and Peter, and I collected them from The Swan before heading north to start our day on the coast.  The rising tide brought Turnstone, Redshank, Curlew, Purple Sandpiper and Ringed Plover towards us as Common Eider drifted on the swell and innumerable Gannets circled above what must have been a huge shoal of fish.  Bar-tailed Godwits, probing in the sand, were moved towards the pebbly shore by the inexorable tide until eventually they abandoned feeding and roosted on a rocky outcrop alongside Curlew.  In the rising tidal reaches of a river, a Dipper entertained us by diving headlong into the water, a female Goosander sailed serenely into view before diving and re-emerging back under the riverside vegetation, Grey Wagtails added a stunning splash of colour and a Kingfisher raced by.

As dusk approached a Starling murmuration was passed by a Marsh Harrier and a noisy roost of geese included Canada, Greylag, Pink-footed and – my favourite wildfowl escapees – Bar-headed Geese.  A lone Ruff remained when the roosting Lapwings took flight, but was then joined by a Redshank.  Dusk is, by some considerable margin, my favourite time of the day – regardless of habitat type – and it was a great finish to a great week guiding Clare and Peter around Northumberland’s well known, and some less well known, birdwatching hotspots 🙂  We hope they’ll be back soon to explore more!

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Life, the universe and everything; Otter Safari 04/04/2015

by on Apr.07, 2015, under Druridge Bay, Otter, Southeast Northumberland

As I arrived at The Swan to collect Alan, Sarah and Sam it was looking like a glorious spring day.  The plan for the day was to search all of our regular Otter sites around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  Chiffchaff, Chaffinch and Robin were all singing, Little Egret were stalking through the shallows (almost a permanent feature of our coastal trips now), Cormorant and Goldeneye caused momentary panic as they slipped beneath the water’s surface, Stonechats tail-flicked atop coastal bushes and Meadow Pipits were song-flighting.  Towards the end of the day we came across a species that is always attention-grabbing, as a Kingfisher flew downstream towards us before crossing the river and perching in a low bush, sitting obligingly as we trained our ‘scopes on it.

As we travelled between sites, Sam’s unquenchable thirst for knowledge generated a keenly contested quiz.  Not on wildlife though, this was a quiz on the solar system and astronomy!  Now, I thought my knowledge of the universe was good, but thanks to an enthusiastic 7 year old, I finished the day with it expanded 🙂

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Good Friday, great Friday; 03/04/2015

by on Apr.03, 2015, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

After two unsuccessful searches for Otters in the last week, I decided to spend some time this morning out in the field on my own.  Time to track down the elusive predator and get a handle on current activity patterns…

A cold north-easterly and persistent rain maybe aren’t the best of conditions to be sitting around on the edges of rivers and ponds, but putting in the hard hours on my own when the opportunity arises is how we manage to deliver great wildlife experiences for our clients.  Wildlife watching may rely to a certain extent on a good deal of luck, but being in the right place at the right time means that the odds are stacked in our favour (as much as they can be when wildlife is involved!).

A lone Chiffchaff was optimistically delivering it’s song from the shelter of a small bush, Little Egret, Cormorant, Goldeneye and Red-breasted Merganser were all making a dent in the local fish population, Grey Herons somehow managed to look even more miserable than usual, Sand Martins were probably wondering why they’d arrived back in Northumberland already and then the discomfort of sitting in the rain paid off.  First a Kingfisher flew along the water’s edge; bright orange and electric blue shining through the gloom.  As I watched it’s progress through the drizzle, three Goldeneye crossed my field of view, all apparently in a hurry to be somewhere else – and that ‘somewhere else’ proved to be anywhere that the two Otters weren’t 🙂

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Plan A, Plan B; Otter Safari 07/02/2015

by on Feb.10, 2015, under Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Otter

A question I’ve been asked a few times recently is “What if we hadn’t seen an Otter there?”.  The answer, of course, is that we have a Plan B (and Plan C and Plan D as well, just in case…).

I collected Bing and Martin and we headed out towards the coast for their bespoke Otter Safari.  Just over an hour later, and Plan A wasn’t looking good; there were Cormorants, Goldeneye and Little Grebes as far as the eye could see, but no sign of our target species…however, good things come to those who wait, and when Bing mentioned that she’d just seen something diving I looked across in the same direction, and up popped an Otter 🙂  Here’s an image of an Otter at ‘Plan A’ in mid-January.

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We watched it for a few minutes before it slipped out of sight, and I thought it would be sensible to put Plan B into action.  First though, it was time for lunch.  We paid a visit to probably the most endearing star of our recent days out

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and then we sat on a cliff top as Turnstone, Sanderling, Grey Plover, Ringed Plover, Oystercatcher, Bar-tailed Godwit and Curlew scurried, stalked, prodded and probed their way along the shoreline below us.  Plan B proved to be much more successful, as we watched an Otter as it startled Redshank, Curlew, Mallards, Canada Geese and Greylag Geese.  We lost track of it for a few minutes, then suddenly it was right in front of us, getting out of the water briefly, before heading off into the reflection of the sun, and creating the typical ‘ring of bright water’, each time it surfaced 🙂  A Stoat provided some entertainment, as they always do – this one was photographed on New Year’s Day, when we were checking Plans A, B, C and D 🙂

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Another species that we’ve been watching regularly over the last few weeks provided a vivid splash of colour in the fading light of the afternoon,

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and then it was time to return Bing and Martin to their hotel, with the goal of seeing an Otter in the wild reached via Plan A and Plan B 🙂  If you’d like to search for Otters in the wild, or any of Northumberland’s other stunning wildlife, then give us a call on 01670 827465 – wildlife is unpredictable, but the one thing we can guarantee is that we’ll always do everything we can to make sure you’re in the right place at the right time!

 

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Under a darkening sky; Northumberland Coast 27/10/2014

by on Oct.28, 2014, under Birdwatching, Dark Skies, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

Yesterday was a safari day on the Northumberland coast, with a plan to enjoy the birdwatching around our regular Otter sites and then a stargazing session in Druridge Bay.

I collected John and Pam from home in Cullercoats and we drove up the coast.  As we ate our picnic lunch in the shadow of Bamburgh Castle, we could see Gannets diving offshore, beyond the rafts of Common Eider that were surfing the gentle swell.  Kestrels were seen throughout the afternoon and a real ‘from the car’ bonus came in the shape of three Roe Deer.  As so often happens as we approach the winter, wildfowl dominated the birdwatching.  As well as the Eiders, with males resplendent in their breeding finery, Teal, Mallard and Goldeneye looked at their best.  As a Grey Wagtail perched on a mid-stream rock, and fish swirled and leapt from the water, a male Kingfisher perched on a branch overhanging the river, flocks of geese peppered the sky wherever we were, and a flock of Greylag Geese began to flush as the search and rescue helicopter passed noisily overhead.  Whooper Swans looked as stunning as ever, flocks of Lapwing and Golden Plover swirled in the stiff breeze  and, as dusk approached, Pink-footed Geese began arriving to roost.  Flock after flock of Pink-feet appeared out of the gloom, announcing their imminent arrival with their yapping calls, eventually in near darkness when they were just a black speckling against the dark grey brooding clouds.

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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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The magic of dusk; Otter Safari 20/08/2014

by on Aug.25, 2014, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland

After four consecutive successful Otter Safaris since mid-July, I was fairly sure that dusk would be the best time to search for them, and the afternoon could be spent enjoying some excellent birdwatching with the added possibility of stumbling across an Otter in broad daylight…

I arrived in Craster to collect Dave and Naomi and we headed south towards Druridge Bay.  We started with Grey Wagtails bobbing up and down on mid-stream rocks, as Salmon hungrily seized flies from the water’s surface, and then moved on to large roosting flocks of Sandwich Tern, Black-headed Gull, Curlew, Oystercatcher and Lapwing with two Little Egrets standing sentinel-like on an elevated bank above the roost.  Knot, Dunlin, Ruff, Wood Sandpiper, Redshank, Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Common Snipe and Black-tailed Godwit added to the wader haul for the afternoon and real surprise came in the shape of a Kingfisher over Cresswell Pond.  Ghostly white Mediterranean Gulls drifted over Newbiggin and, as dusk approached, Naomi started spotting mammals.  First a Roebuck, prancing, leaping and sparring with tall plant stems like a boxer with a punchbag.  Then, the big one; an Otter 🙂  Swimming towards us, we followed it’s dives by the trail of bubbles on the water’s surface, before  it eventually disappeared below the edge of the reedbed that we were looking over, with just the tell-tale ‘ring of bright water’ as it surfaced.  After a few minutes without any sign, the Otter, or a second one, reappeared.  As we each gave directions to where the Otter was, it quickly became apparent that we weren’t all watching the same animal.  Then there were two together to our left, and a third away to our right 🙂  At least three Otters, including the smallest cub that I’ve ever seen, and we eventually left, when the light levels had fallen so low that binoculars were all but a hindrance.  As we walked back to the car a Barn Owl passed by, carrying prey, as skeins of Canada and Greylag Geese flew noisily south.

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Northumberland Winter Bird Race 2013

by on Jan.09, 2013, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

After a relaxing break over Christmas and New Year, last Saturday was one of the most eagerly anticipated events of the year; the Northumberland Winter Bird Race.

A simple set of rules; start any time you like after midnight, teams of four (or three…or five…), three members of the team must positively identify a species for it to be counted, get to the Three Horse Shoes between 17:00-17:30 and be ready to declare your team total at 18:00.

The starting point for our, vaguely planned, itinerary for the day was to be the NEWT office at 06:00.  As Sarah opened the door at 05:45, when our other team members (NTBC Field Trips officer Trevor, and local legend the Liverbirder) arrived, bird #1 was added to the list as a vocal Tawny Owlsang his haunting melody from the churchyard opposite our house.  #2 Barn Owl (the first of at least five found around dawn and dusk)joined the list as we headed north in Gordon’s car for our first ‘only one chance’ species…Red Grouse duly obliged and we’d made a flying start.  Down on the coast a stunning sunrise also brought Little Egret for the list, as well as occasional good-natured banter with two other teams that had started in the north (including ‘The Tiddlers’) and three more hours in North Northumberland, coupled with Gordon’s local knowledge of Cramlington, which brought us a Kingfisher that we pointed out to several curious dog walkers, saw us reach #85 by midday.  The afternoon proved much more testing, and some excellent birds including Smew, Slavonian Grebe, Mediterranean Gull and a fly-by Bittern, took us to a total of 105 by the time we’d eventually given up on trying to tick Goldfinch on call in the dark 🙂

Four of the other five teams were already at the Three Horse Shoes by the time we arrived.  Species missed were being compared and there was a general feeling that it had been a difficult day.  We were only one species short of our best winter bird race total (achieved the last time that we didn’t have an itinerary planned to the nth degree…) but were expecting to be somewhere round 5th out of 6 (historically we’ve been a much stronger Spring bird race team).  With other teams declaring totals of 98, 101, 103, 104 and 108, we’d exceeded all expectations and finished 2nd, with 105 species out of a cumulative total across all 6 teams of 129 🙂 To put the day in context, the highest total for Northumberland in a Winter Bird Race is 126 for a single team…

Looking forward to early January 2014 already!

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