Tag: Lesser Redpoll

Six of the best; Cheviot Valleys and Druridge Bay 09/06/2014

by on Jun.13, 2014, under Birdwatching, Cheviot Valleys, Druridge Bay, Northumberland

Monday’s trip was a birdwatching tour of two of Northumberland’s excellent locations; the Cheviot Valleys in the morning, and Druridge Bay in the afternoon.

I collected John, Graham, Andy, Sue, Sue and Lesley from their cottage in Shilbottle and we set off inland towards the imposing landscape of the Cheviot massif.  As we got out of the car and donned waterproofs we had the first rain shower of the day, but it quickly passed and the path began gaining in altitude as Oystercatchers perched on fence posts, swallows and martins hawked back and forth through air buzzing with insects in the warm, humid conditions and Willow Warblers and Chaffinches competed with their congeners in a singing contest.  The plaintive cries of Curlew echoed around the steep valley sides, the high calls of Siskin and the buzzy rattle of Lesser Redpoll  came from overhead and one of the archetypal valley birds put in an appearance as we found a succession of adult and juvenile Dippers.  A lone Common Buzzard hovered high over the moors in search of prey and a Peregrine repeatedly rose above the skyline before dropping back down in a prolonged attack on an unfortunate, and unseen, victim.

Lunch overlooking the sea was accompanied by Fulmars gliding gracefully back and forth on stiff wings, before we switched our attention to waders, wildfowl and waterbirdsLittle Egrets and Grey Herons were stalking menacingly along shallow pool edges, at least 50 Black-tailed Godwits were roosting, and a small group of Little Gulls looked diminutive alongside Black-headed Gulls (which aren’t all that big themselves!).  Reed Buntings were singing their rather repetitive song, Sedge and Reed Warblers flew by before vanishing into the depths of the reedbeds and we enjoyed the sight of delicate and dainty, yet incredibly feisty, AvocetsGreat Crested Grebes were feeding their stripy offspring, Arctic, Common and Sandwich Terns perched obligingly, allowing easy comparison, and the afternoon brought an unexpected surprise in the shape of no less than six Spoonbills.  They did little more exciting than occasionally wake up and preen for a short while before nodding off again, but the sight of six of these impressive birds together wrapped up the day nicely 🙂

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Look who’s stalking; bespoke photography 24/03/2014

by on Mar.29, 2014, under Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast, Photography

Monday was a day with the potential to go either way, and I was nervous.  I first met John when himself and Helen were on a North Sea pelagic in June last year and we found this little beauty.  This trip was something altogether different though – Helen had arranged a one-to-one photography day.  Our one-to-one days focus on whatever our clients would like to work on – sometimes techniques (exposure/composition/fieldcraft etc.), sometimes species (Black Grouse, Otter and Red Squirrel are just some of the ones we’ve helped clients to photograph) – and John’s request was to develop his techniques for getting good images of shorebirds.  Now, using fieldcraft developed over 40yrs is one thing when I’m in the field on my own…teaching it, with our subject right where it can see us, is slightly more challenging 😉

I collected John from home in Morpeth and we headed north until we were in the impressive shadow of Bamburgh CastlePurple Sandpiper, Oystercatcher, Turnstone and Eider were all approached with stealth and patience before we made our way down the Northumberland coast to Druridge Bay, stopping off and stalking Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Sanderling, Redshank, Grey Plover, Ringed Plover and Dunlin and finishing the day’s photography with the slightly easier proposition of Reed Bunting, Blue Tit and Lesser Redpoll at a feeding station before admiring the Red-necked Grebe that I first found back in mid-February – now in a much more attractive plumage than it was five weeks ago.

John very kindly supplied some of his images from the day, for which we’re very grateful, so here they are 🙂  You can click on them to see the full size images, and please do get in touch with us if you’d like to get more from your camera equipment.

Common Eider, Somateria mollissima, Northumberland, photography tuition, bird photography, one to one photography, bird photography holidays

Common Eider

Turnstone, Arenaria interpres, Purple Sandpiper, Calidris maritima, Northumberland, photography tuition, bird photography, one to one photography, bird photography holidays

Purple Sandpiper and Turnstone

Oystercatcher, Haematopus ostralegus, Northumberland, photography tuition, bird photography, one to one photography, bird photography holidays

Oystercatcher

Common Redshank, Tringa totanus, Northumberland, photography tuition, bird photography, one to one photography, bird photography holidays

Common Redshank

Sanderling, Calidris alba, Northumberland, photography tuition, bird photography, one to one photography, bird photography holidays

Sanderling

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One Cuckoo flew over the pipit’s nest; birdwatching in the Cheviot Valleys 09/06/2013

by on Jun.11, 2013, under Birdwatching, Cheviot Valleys, Northumberland

Sunday was another trip into the Cheviot Valleys, with two of our returning clients.  We first met Pete and Janet at the Bird Fair in 2008 and this was their third trip with us (plus a trip that they organised for their local Natural History Society in 2009).  It’s always a pleasure to meet up with them, and the prospect of a trip into the Cheviots was a mouthwatering one.  You just never know what you’ll find, or see…

The trip started with two species that we didn’t find on our Cheviots trip on Thursday; two Brown Hares were sitting by the ‘wader puddle’ and, one of our target species for the day – two Ring Ouzels flew over us, calling, as we started the first of the days walks.  Janet soon spotted a juvenile Dipper, and we watched as an adult flew in and fed it.  Grey Wagtails were all along the valley, a Spotted Flycatcher was living up to it’s name admirably and a very obliging Tree Pipit perched close to the path.  As on Thursday’s trip we heard, but couldn’t see, a Common Redstart.

Every so often, something happens that leaves us marveling at nature…and Sunday provided an extraordinary spectacle.  As we sat eating our lunch by a small stream, enjoying close views of Lesser Redpoll (a species we’d been hearing all morning although only seeing as small flying dots) I noticed a bird flying across the valley.  Initially it looked like a Kestrel – until I raised my binoculars and the pointy-winged, long-tailed, shape resolved into a Cuckoo.  It headed down into the heather and was immediately chased by a pair of Meadow Pipits.  They pursued it part way across the valley and it dropped out of sight behind the trees…only to reappear a minute later, chased by more pipits.  Landing in exactly the same spot in the heather it was chased away for a second time, by four pipits.  It rose higher and then began soaring, with the flap-flap-glide that is so characteristic of a Sparrowhawk.  More Meadow Pipits joined the attack, presumably revealing their nest locations, and the bird suddenly closed its wings and dropped like a stone, out of sight behind the trees.  A minute later and the Cuckoo was heading across the valley again, dropping back in the same spot as previously.  This time it was driven off by a pair of Red Grouse, that came charging down from near the summit of the hill, and it flew back and out of sight behind the trees, only to reappear a few seconds later with more Meadow Pipits in tow.  In total we watched it make ten visits to what was presumably a Meadow Pipit nest that it was targeting.  By the ninth visit it spent several seconds on the ground with angry pipits swirling around it’s head, which we could see sticking up above the heather, and the tenth visit was a prolonged one too.  After that it flew back across the valley and didn’t reappear, so perhaps it had been successful in laying an egg in the pipit nest.

Our final walk of the day produced another example of birds defending their nesting territory, as the plaintive cries of a pair of Curlew echoed around the steep valley sides and we looked up to see them flying at a Common Buzzard.  The buzzard continued on it’s way and the Curlews dropped out of sight above the ridge, only to reappear a few seconds later as a second buzzard flew down the valley.  Excellent weather, stunning scenery and clients whose enthusiasm and knowledge adds so much to the day 🙂

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From the office window

by on Feb.21, 2013, under Birdwatching, Choppington Woods, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

I’m easily distracted and always have been, but also quite obsessive.  Maybe an odd combination, but it seems to work for me.  With an office window that looks over several allotments and gardens, as well as the 76ha of mixed woodland that is Choppington Woods Local Nature Reserve, I’m quite keen on keeping a close eye on what turns up in the garden…

With the shaded areas of the garden still carrying a light veneer of frost, and a stiff southeasterly breeze cutting to the bone as I filled the feeders yesterday morning, a Common Buzzard soared overhead as the Coal Tits perched just a few feet above me, providing encouragement for me to hurry up and fill the feeders.  As soon as I was back inside, the tree was a mass of excitement.  Chaffinches were dropping in from every direction and I settled to checking through the birds on the feeders, and on the ground below them, hoping that the Bramblings we’ve had for the last few couple of months would be still around.  What I found instead were visitors that were even more unusual in the context of our feeding station – 3 Lesser Redpolls were picking at fallen seed on the ground and a Goldcrest was hurrying around the edges of the shrubbery nearby.  The Redpolls were just another episode in what has been an unusual winter in our garden; our first garden record of Marsh Tit, second record of Tree Sparrow (2 birds which have been with us every day for a few months now), third record of Nuthatch, the return of Willow Tit after nearly a two year absence, regular sightings of Brambling and occasional Treecreeper have made this a winter where we really couldn’t predict what would be on the feeders whenever we checked them.

As I sat down to write this, I glanced out of the window and my eye immediately fell on seven bulky finches in our neighbour’s Silver Birch trees.  As one of the birds was hanging upside down while feeding, lifting my binoculars only confirmed what I already knew; another infrequent visitor had put in an appearance this winter.  I opened the window, and heard the metallic ‘chip-chip’ as the flock of Common Crossbills flew into the pines behind our house.  Now, what was I meant to be doing ? 🙂

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Kielder Safari 05/04/2012

by on Apr.07, 2012, under Birdwatching, Kielder, Northumberland

After Tuesday’s snow, sleet and general murk, and Wednesday’s icy breeze, I prepared for Thursday’s Kielder Safari by loading as many layers of technical clothing as I could into the back of the car…but, as I headed north to Felton to collect Lindsay and Abbie, I was glad that I’d included sunglasses in my kit list for the day 🙂

We drove west through Rothbury, Elsdon and Otterburn, in absolutely stunning light that really showed Northumberland at it’s best, along roads where the verges were still snow-covered and the temperature was sub-zero, past flocks of Fieldfares and Redwings gathering pre-migration, to collect Victoria and Paul from Bellingham before heading along the forest tracks towards Hawkhope.  Only a few hundred yards from the public road we were soon watching a stunning male Common Crossbill.  More Crossbills followed, then some outrageously bright Siskins. Common Buzzards were soaring over the plantations (it turned out to be a excellent raptor day – although the ‘Phantom of the Forest’ eluded us), Chaffinches seemed to be along every step of the way, Great Spotted Woodpeckers played their usual game of hide-and-seek and even the humble Meadow Pipits were subjected to great scrutiny.  As Lindsay commented as we watched one pipit, elevated above it’s usual status of LBJ by the superb light, “it’s nice to have views in the field, of a feature that you’ve read about in a field guide”.  He was referring to the long hind-claw of the pipit and, with our subject perched just a few metres away and very obliging, this led on to a discussion of pipit identification.  When we finally returned to the C200 we’d been off-road for over two and a half hours – a new longevity record for that 10 mile section of our route, and an excellent measure of just how many birds we’d stopped and studied.

Up over the border our lunch break, after watching a pair of Curlews as they called on a bit of high moorland, was accompanied by a pair of Ravens chasing off a Kestrel that had strayed over their nest site, a territorial skirmish involving 2 pairs of Common Buzzards, Pied Wagtails flycatching over the stream and 3 Goosanders looking resplendentOur post-lunch walk produced more Common Buzzards, another Kestrel, a Peregrine powering it’s way down the valley and a small group of Wild Goats including a tiny kid.  As we returned to the car a pair of Ravens appeared along the ridge, soared up against the sky and then began tumbling and calling.

Our final section of the trip was the Forest Drive between Kielder and Byrness; currently closed to the public because of forestry activity, and the state of the road surface, we’d been given permission by the Forestry Commission to use the track, which we had to ourselves for the afternoon.  A Raven soared close to a Common Buzzard, a pair of Stonechats were next to the road at Kielderhead and we came across an excellent mixed flock of finches; Common Crossbills, Siskins and Lesser Redpolls (which we’d earlier heard but not seen) in one small area of spruce, pine and birch.

We dropped Victoria and Paul back in Bellingham, and headed east towards the coastal plain as the light faded at the end of a 12 hour Safari Day.  12 hour days as a birdwatching guide, in some extraordinary landscapes with stunning wildlife, leave you feeling energised…don’t think I would have said the same while I was a teacher 🙂

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Breaking new ground

by on Mar.26, 2012, under Birdwatching, Harwood, Northumberland

Since we started NEWT we’ve always tried to innovate and keep our tours refreshed.  Saturday gave me the opportunity to do something that really was innovative – our first Harwood Safari.  We’ve walked the route 5 times during the last 3 winters, but driving it was something of an unknown quantity.

As a business we’re happy to support the Northumberland Wildlife Trust.  As well as being a corporate member of the trust, we sponsor the under 13 and 13-18 age categories of the NWT Annual Photography competition.  Saturday’s Harwood trip was the prize for last year’s 13-18 winner and his dad.  When I collected them from Newbiggin it was worryingly misty, but as we headed inland the mist began to lift.

We started at the viewpoint near Winter’s Gibbet, where Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Crossbill, Siskin, Goldcrest, Lesser Redpoll and Chiffchaff were all calling or singing.  As the mist over the forest lifted, it was time to break new ground as we headed off along tracks with no vehicle access to the public.  More Crossbills and Siskins were in the trackside trees and Common Buzzards were soaring high overhead giving their mewing calls.  Soon after lunch we stopped to check out a distant raptor over the plantation on the opposite side of a clearfell area.  Within a minute we were watching 3 Common Buzzards…and a pair of Goshawks that had risen out of the trees to shepherd the buzzards away!  As the buzzards moved on the Goshawks quickly melted back into the obscurity of the trees.

A stop to search for Adders didn’t produce any of these fearsome reptiles, but we did find a dozen Common Lizards, lazing in the sunshine and then scuttling out of sight.

Our first Harwood Safari, the air filled with raptors, trees filled with Crossbills…looks like a winner 🙂

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Rough…

by on Oct.28, 2011, under Birdwatching, Holy Island, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

The last 2 days were spent running 2 Prestige Tours for Peter and Alison, and the Northumberland coast delivered plenty of birdwatching gems.

On Wednesday we were covering Holy Island and the Northumberland coast, and planned to spend the morning on Holy Island and then come off at lunchtime just before the tide covered the causeway (remember – the crossing times are published for a reason, don’t drive into the North Sea, it won’t end well!).  A thorough check around the village, and the Heugh, produced 2 Black Redstarts, Blackcaps, lots of Blackbirds, Fieldfares, Redwings and an intriguing Chiffchaff (almost sandy brown above, very unlike our breeding birds).  Grey Seals and Pale-bellied Brent Geese were out on the mud, Dark-bellied Brent Geese, Wigeon and Teal were roosting on the Rocket Field and a Woodcock was flying circuits of the village.  As well as an almost continuous wave of thrushes leaving the island, the distinctive flight calls of Skylarks and Lesser Redpolls could be picked out.

Once we were off the island, I’d decided to head north to Goswick.  Another Black Redstart and a Yellow-browed Warbler were around Coastgurad Cottage, and we made our way through the dunes.  The adult drake Black Scoter was still present, although less than easy to see with a line of rolling surf impeding the view.  As the tide rose, flocks of Bar-tailed Godwit, Knot, Dunlin and Grey Plover rose from the exposed sandbar, shuffling along to the next ‘dry’ spot.  A Short-eared Owl was seen coming in-off, harrassed by Herring Gulls before finally finding sanctuary on the Snook, and then the bird of the day (well, I think so anyway) appeared just behind us.  Tracking south along the coast a juvenile Rough-legged Buzzard was given a bit of a going over by the local corvids.

Heading back towards Seahouses we stopped off at Harkess Rocks,  where Purple Sandpipers, Turnstones, Redshank and Oystercatchers were all flitting from rock to rock and Eider were bobbing about just offshore as daylight faded and it was time to return Peter and Alison to their holiday accommodation.

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Valley of tranquility

by on Sep.06, 2010, under Birdwatching, Cheviot Valleys, North Pennines, Northumberland

Although our Cheviot Valleys and North Pennines safaris are concentrated in the springtime, we run a few trips to those inland areas in the late summer and early autumn.  The final day of August was a trip to the Cheviots, and it could hardly have been better; the weather was wonderful, there were hardly any other people to be seen anywhere and the wildlife was, well, as good and varied as we would expect.

After collecting Hamish and Vanessa we drove past Morpeth then up the A697 and through the ford at Coldgate Mill.  The Happy Valley was deserted and peaceful; a Slow Worm was basking in the dappled light between gorse bushes, Small Copper butterflies (a personal favourite) were feeding and sunning themselves and there were even a few Silver Y moths.  We get these migrants in our trap occasionally, and I’ve seen them in profusion on the coast, but these were well inland.  

Camera-shy Silver Y

Goldcrests were calling, and eventually spotted, Spotted Flycatchers, Treecreepers and Long-tailed Tits were all found in one tree, Robins seemed to be everywhere we went and the first of the day’s Common Buzzards, rising rapidly in a thermal, suggested that searching skywards could be productive for birdwatching.

After lunch we walked along the far end of the valley.  Red Grouse were cackling hysterically on one side of the valley, at the same time as we could hear a shooting party on the other.  Siskins and Lesser Redpolls were feeding around the treetops, although they did pause briefly so we had a chance to look at them.  The warm sunshine and excellent visibility mean that it did turn out to be a raptor day; as well as Common Buzzards there were regular Common Kestrels and a Sparrowhawk then, as we walked back to the car park, a Peregrine  soared majestically and menacingly against the blue sky overhead.  Sadly our only Adder of the day was roadkill, although it had gathered an interesting collection of flies and beetles.

One thing that our safaris have proved to be is a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.  If you need to get away from it all then give us a call, or if you know somebody who would benefit from a day of chilled out wildlife watching then our gift vouchers could be just the thing they need 🙂

Hamish kindly provided some images from the day (including the Silver Y that really didn’t want to be photographed) and my own favourites are here;

Mother Nature ages trees better than any bonsai artist can!

 

Northumberland heather in bloom

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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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Snowbound

by on Jan.07, 2010, under Birdwatching, Choppington Woods

OK, not quite, but since December 31st we’ve had about a foot of snow in total.  I cancelled our Otter Safari on Tuesday for safety reasons.  That decision proved to be the right one as we had heavy snowfall on Tuesday afternoon, making the roads even more hazardous than they already were.  I drove to Wallsend to collect Sarah from work, and the 13 miles took 80 minutes – and that was mainly on 3 of Northumberland’s major roads (A1068, A19 and A1058).  Cars were sliding from one lane to the next and I’m amazed that I didn’t witness any collisions.  We’ve been using the Landrover for the last couple of weeks so when Sarah wanted her car to drive to work yesterday we had to dig it out of the snow.  I can’t recall having to do that in the 17 years that we’ve lived up here.

For the last day and a bit I’ve had a throat infection so I’ve stayed in the house.  That hasn’t been a huge burden though as it’s allowed me to spend a lot of time watching (and filming) the birds around our feeding station.  For as long as I can remember, birdwatching has been something that’s always been an option when I’m unwell.  The Brambling that Sarah found on Sunday is still around, Long-tailed Tits are visiting much more frequently than they ever have before, the Blackbird count has risen to 9, at least 5 Robins are trying to hold dominion over the patio and flocks of Siskin and Lesser Redpoll are patrolling the edge of Choppington Woods and the bottom of our allotment.  Yesterday even a Goldcrest joined the chirping masses around the apple tree.  With niger seed, peanuts, fat balls, mixed seed and windfall apples our garden is like an all-you-can-eat buffet.  The one notable absentee from our usual list of visitors is Great Spotted Woodpecker, although we did see one in the woods on New Year’s Day.  Has one of our neighbours set up a more attractive feeding station?  We’d better raise our game, just in case.

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