Tag: Magpie

London buses; Bespoke Red Squirrel Safari 25/06/19

by on Jun.26, 2019, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

Yesterday was one of those days with a very specific target, this time one of our favourite mammals, and a real Northumberland specialty, Red Squirrel

I collected Lynne and Rob from Lowick and we headed down the Northumberland coast towards Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. I’d got an itinerary in mind, based around good wildlife locations that have squirrel feeders. Plan A was the site where I was sure we’d find squirrels but they weren’t showing so we headed off to Plan B. We’ve been stocking feeders there and Sarah had replenished them all on Monday evening…and every scrap of food had gone by the time we arrived there on Tuesday morning! The extraordinary number of Jays flying around, as Goldcrests sang from dense dark conifer plantations and Bullfinches called from pathside hedgerows, may have been a clue to where all the food had gone and the only squirrel we saw was a Grey Squirrel. Plan C was a site we haven’t visited for a couple of years, and the well-stocked squirrel feeders there were a very positive sign, but Great Tits, Coal Tits, Chaffinches and a Magpie were the only visitors to the feeding station while we were there. Plan D is a site that has produced some memorable squirrel experiences for our clients over the years, but it’s also a site that is periodically overrun by Grey Squirrels and the unstocked squirrel feeders left me less than optimistic, although a small flock of Bullfinches added a touch of colour in the increasing gloom as the first raindrops began to fall.

Finally to Plan E…which was a reprise of Plan A. No sign of any squirrels but it’s always good to catch-up with Anthony – and in the 30s I looked away from the feeders to tell him where we’d been during the day…one popped up on top of a feeder! It’s always a relief to get a target species safely observed then, as Lynne used her ‘phone to photograph the squirrel through the eyepiece of our telescope a second one appeared and they disputed the right to be on the feeder. Then a third Red Squirrel appeared above the feeder as the second one launched a sneaky attack from below and the squirrel occupying the feeder was knocked clean out of the tree. Like London buses, you wait ages and then three come along together 🙂

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Gloom; Druridge Bay mini-Safari 23/06/19

by on Jun.24, 2019, under Druridge Bay

The NEWT team had been out for a walk yesterday afternoon, in bright, hot sunshine but by the time I arrived in Newbiggin to collect Gordon, Judy and Mike, for an evening exploring Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland, it was a few degrees cooler and no longer sunny…

We started with a riverside walk and with Song Thrushes singing from the trees around us, and Great Spotted Woodpeckers posing obligingly for a minute or so as Mallard ducklings skittered across the water, our attention was drawn to a commotion in the trees on the opposite side of the river. Jays, Magpies and Blackbirds were all hopping around the branches and alarm-calling although we couldn’t see the source of their annoyance.

With the gloom getting gloomier we watched Avocets preening and feeding, a Grey Heron stalking patiently in shallow water, Lapwings, Curlews and Black-headed Gulls, with a 1st summer Mediterranean Gull, roosting as Reed and Sedge Warblers flitted in and out of cover, Reed Buntings sang their simple songs from the reed tops and a Barn Owl ghosted along the water’s edge before settling on a fence post.

A Kestrel hanging almost motionless above the cliff top indicated that the direction of the wind that was starting to bring the first drops of rain was north easterly as Mute Swans fed in an impressive group, Great Crested Grebes still managed to radiate elegance in the enveloping gloom of dusk and the staccato laughing cries of Little Grebes echoed across the water as we headed back to the car and down the coast to Newbiggin.

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Waiting on the weather ;-) Druridge Bay Safari 26/04/19

by on Apr.27, 2019, under Druridge Bay

As I arrived in Newbiggin to collect Sue, Nick, Mandy and Ian for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland the sea was looking much calmer than it had done on Wednesday, but the sky was ominous and the forecast more so…

We started with a couple of riverside walks through woodland dripping with bird song. As Blackbirds and a Mistle Thrush fed in open grassland and Chiffchaff, Song Thrush, Chaffinch, Goldcrest and Robin sang from exposed, and not-so-exposed, perches, Grey Wagtails were flycatching from rocks in the fast flowing water and a pair of Dippers were taking food to their nest. Cormorants were perched on dead trees mid-river, Canada Geese were fighting and calling, Gadwall were dabbling serenely and a Grey Heron stalked patiently along the water’s edge in the shadow of the trees as the forecast weather seemed to have arrived, with cold rain driven on a southerly breeze making viewing a challenge.

The rain soon eased though and on the coast Mandy spotted a Barn Owl perched on a fence post, sheltered from the wind. It left it’s perch and was soon offering very obliging views as it quartered and hovered over rough grassland as a Meadow Pipit perched on a wall nearby and a handsome male Wheatear hopped along the track ahead of us. Avocets, Lapwings, Oystercatchers, Redshanks and a lone Curlew were standing in the shallows as Bar-tailed Godwits probed incessantly in the mud while wading belly deep in the wind-ruffled water and three Grey Herons did that very heron thing of flying around after each other rather than just accepting that there’s plenty of space for everyone to hunt in.

After an afternoon of what seemed like permanent dusk, light levels did start to dip towards darkness as a female Marsh Harrier quartered a roadside field, a Sparrowhawk hedge-hopped over the road in front of us, Pheasants and a Red-legged Partridge took their chances crossing the road, a Brown Hare loped away along tractor tracks through deep cover, a Roe Deer raced backwards and forwards through long grass and Coot, Moorhen, Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Teal, Mallard, Pochard, Great Crested and Little Grebe and Mute Swan were all on the water as the squealing of a Water Rail cut through the gloom before we headed back towards civilisation 🙂

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A walk in the woods 01/11/18

by on Nov.02, 2018, under Choppington Woods

It’s been a difficult couple of weeks in the NEWT household.  We’d had a week away in and around Glencoe checking locations for a landscape photography holiday I’m leading over Christmas, then a couple of days after we got back home I wasn’t feeling well.  Sarah took me to see our GP and they sent me straight to the excellent Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital in Cramlington.  Four days later I was discharged, limited to a liquid-only diet and with surgery scheduled for early January.  Luckily I’m well enough to work, as we’ve got a very busy November ahead of us.  This week has been mainly recuperation at home, but I need to keep my mind and body active and daily walks in the woods behind our house are the best medicine…

With the light of day fading to dusk, the harsh ‘chek’ calls of Jackdaws and deep ‘rawk’ of Rooks gathering together to roost were layered with the staccato ratting of Magpies.  The woods are familiar and comforting, and a place to clear my mind.  We’ve walked them countless times over the last 18 years and the benches, interpretation boards, boardwalk/dipping platform and well-surfaced paths were the result of a successful funding bid that I presented back in 2009.  We know which intersections of the footpaths and tracks will produce the pungent scent of Red Fox, temporarily overwhelming the sweet earthy smell of Autumn decay and the heady perfume of Himalayan Balsam, which areas of the wood will have Goldcrest and Long-tailed Tit and where to search for Red Squirrel and the other inhabitants of this reclaimed colliery site.  Woodpigeons were gathering in treetops frosted orange by the setting Sun and, applying the shape, shadow and shine elements of concealment I chose a position on the shaded side of an Ivy-covered hedge.  Willow Tits and Coal Tits gave quiet alarm calls as a Sparrowhawk flew along the hedge and a Kestrel hovered over the field in the half-light.  Jays were crossing between plantations, Roe Deer ventured out from cover to forage close to the field edge, Redwings arrived to roost and the chacking calls so typical of pre-roost Blackbirds penetrated the crisp, cold air under a clear blue sky layered over the pastel pink of the Belt of Venus away to the east as I had a feeling that there was something close by.  A brief whirr of wings so I turned my head slowly…and found myself eye to eye with a handsome cock Pheasant 🙂

A connection with nature allows us to disconnect, even if only for a short while, from our connection with everyday life.  It’s good for body and soul and so many of our clients comment that one of the things they most enjoy about their days out with NEWT is just how relaxing it is to be taken away from work and the stresses of life.  Applying that to myself is working well too 🙂

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A tiding; Bespoke Otter Safari 27/11/17

by on Nov.28, 2017, under Druridge Bay, Otter, Southeast Northumberland

Yesterday was a rearranged trip from late March; Trevor had booked an bespoke Otter Safari for Linda’s birthday, then two days before the original date I was knocked off my bike by a car and had a heavy fall that saw me unable to work for a week (and is still causing some ongoing niggles).  I suggested then that we reschedule for the back end of the year, so I had my fingers crossed that my suggestion would work out as planned…

There was a slight spanner in the works though, an icy cold westerly ‘breeze’.  At our first site Mallards and Tufted Ducks were showing a lot of wary interest in one area of reeds but whatever had grabbed their attention remained out of site as Water Rails squealed, Teal, Gadwall and Wigeon slept, sheltered from the wind, and Cormorant, Little Grebe, Goldeneye and Red-breasted Merganser plundered the water of small fish.  As I scanned the edge of a reedbed that’s now so familiar I could probably sketch from memory every reed, stone and fallen branch along the water’s edge there was a small dark shape that shouldn’t have been there.  At distance and through binoculars I couldn’t be certain but I was fairly confident…and through the ‘scope there was a Kingfisher 🙂  A very excited Linda had got one of the three species on her bucket list right there in full view of the telescope, and once it had vanished we headed off in search of another one of those three.

Within seconds of scanning the water there was an Otter.  We watched it through the ‘scope for a few minutes and then headed along the bank to get a closer view, and while we were out of sight in the trees it did that typical Otter thing of vanishing completely!  In the icy breeze it had probably eaten it’s fill and headed off to a warm cosy sheltered spot in the trees on the opposite bank.  The second of Linda’s bucket list species was on the list, and I told her my favourite spot for the third (as it’s in the Scottish highlands, so quite a way from NEWT’s patch).

The bright light of early afternoon brought at least 6 Kestrels, hovering into the wind, with one of them being subjected to almost continuous harassment from a Carrion Crow, and three Sparrowhawks, including one that passed within a few metres of us as it battled into the wind and another that was being harassed by a crow.  More squealing Water Rails provided a discordant accompaniment to vocal Whooper Swans as Lapwings were tossed like leaves on the breeze and a dusk roost of Magpies, with at least 42 birds, raised the question of what the collective noun is.  By the power of mobile data and Google we ended up with charm, murder, gulp and – the one we thought most appropriate – a tiding 🙂

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Welcome home to Northumberland; Bespoke Coast Safari 28/04/16

by on May.03, 2016, under Druridge Bay, Otter

As I arrived at Church Point to collect Tom and Sue, the weather was slightly breezy but dry.  The forecast suggested that it might be showery later during the afternoon and promised a bit of a contrast with Tom and Sue’s home country of Australia. Tom’s a Northumbrian so I was really looking forward to showing him parts of the coast that he wasn’t familiar with, hopefully with the weather showcasing Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland at its best…

Cormorants air-dried their wings in the stiffening breeze and a Coot took umbrage at a Moorhen that was doing nothing more sinister than just wandering along the water’s edge, Woodpigeons, Jackdaws, Greylag Geese and Canada Geese speckled the dark grey sky.  A typically nervous Great Spotted Woodpecker watched us warily from behind a tree trunk, Tree Sparrows were chipping in the hedgerows, a Magpie was going back and forth presumably from it’s nest, Robins flicked across paths just ahead of us, Curlew, Redshank and Oystercatcher probed in the mud in conditions that were starting to resemble the winter and a Little Egret was a shockingly bright bundle of white feathers in an ever darkening vista of Northumberland’s coastal wildlife as Avocets, delicate visions in black and white, swept their heads from side to side through shallow water in seach of food.

Great Crested Grebes comported themselves with their usual elegance as more Cormorants stood hunched in the wind and then, as Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler must have been wondering if they were in the right place at the right time of year, the heavens unleashed hail, sleet and snow from an apocalyptic sky and a Water Rail scurried mouse-like between reedbeds as two Otter cubs appeared just beyond the grebes 🙂  Their first appearance was fleeting, just a few seconds before they vanished from sight behind a reedbed.  Then they were back, and porpoising side by side, back and forth, before once again heading into the shelter of the reeds.

As Fulmars soared along the clifftops and Gannets rode the uplift just above the waves offshore, we ended the day with the clouds overhead breaking to reveal blue sky and sunshine in a remarkable area of glorious weather that was surrounded in every direction by leaden grey clouds and storms.  Atmospheric wildlife watching…

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Zzzzzzzzzz; Badger mini-safari 31/05/2014

by on Jun.02, 2014, under Badger, Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Red Fox

After dropping John, David and Sheila back in Alnwick after their bespoke photography trip to the Farne Islands, I met up with Sarah to have something to eat and then I was on my way to Alnmouth to collect Zoe, Richard, Ella, Luke and Charlie.  This was their second trip with NEWT, following an evening mini-safari in late May last year.

One of the species from last year’s trip put in an impressive appearance again, as we watched a Barn Owl hunting along one edge of a pool, while an Avocet fed at the other side, Reed Buntings seemed to be everywhere we looked and a small group of Little Gulls looked tiny alongside nearby Black-headed Gulls.  Soon, light levels had faded to the point where it was time to head off in search of our main quarry for the evening.  Positioning ourselves in a spot that looks over an area where Badgers are regularly seen, we sat quietly.  Almost immediately myself and Ella noticed something black-and-white moving in the vegetation opposite us.. That turned out to be a false alarm though as it revealed itself to be a Magpie 🙂  Things were quiet, although distantly I could hear the alarm calls of Blackbirds, Robins andWrens.  Then another gentle sound just on the edge of hearing; ZZZZzzzzZZZZzzzzZZZZzzzz.  It was warm and humid so it wouldn’t be a great surprise to encounter lots of insects…although these Z’s were coming from Luke and Charlie!  That’s how relaxing it is to just sit and watch for wildlife…

Out of the corner of my eye I caught some movement away along the track.. Had I imagined it?  Maybe it was a dog walker having an evening stroll?  No more movement…and then a Red Fox trotted across the clearing in front of us.  A second fox followed soon after, and then a Badger, big and ghostly pale, as an attempt was made to wake the boys without making too much noise 🙂  Another fox, this time a cub, sat watching us for a few minutes, and Luke spotted that there was a Badger in the undergrowth just beyond it.  More fox sightings followed, and then a final Badger, as the light reached a point where even the sharpest of eyes would struggle to penetrate the gloom.  The drive back to Alnmouth had one last good mammal for us, as a Brown Hare loped along the road a few metres ahead of the car 🙂

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Never work with children or animals…

by on Feb.18, 2014, under Northumberland, Photography, Southeast Northumberland

Back when I was a teacher, and developing demonstration experiments, I came across a piece of advice that has stuck with me since then ‘prior practice prevents poor presentation’.  It served me well; it’s far better to accidentally set fire to the ceiling tiles in your classroom when there’s just yourself, a lab technician and a fire extinguisher there.  And what did I learn from that incident? Make sure your class are sitting towards the back of the room, and keep the fire extinguisher close to hand 😉

We apply a similar philosophy with NEWT.  Recce sites consistently and, even when a site is regularly producing sightings of the target species, keep searching for new sites too.  Preparation for our beginners photography workshop at the weekend involved baiting three locations with hazelnuts, to maximise the chances of Red Squirrels appearing right in front of us in a photogenic location with lighting angles worked out well in advance.  We visited the sites on Saturday in poor weather conditions and re-baited with over a pound of nuts.  Sunday dawned and I met up with Bryan.  His previous trip with us had been a successful search for Otters, and Red Squirrels have always been an easier mammal to track down…

The weather couldn’t have been better; bright sunshine always helps.  Coal Tits, Great Tits, Blue Tits, Long-tailed Tits, Chaffinches, Blackbirds and Magpies seemed to be everywhere around us.  However, not any sight of a squirrel 🙂 They’d cleaned out the nuts from all of the sites we’d baited, so we re-baited, and waited.  The likely explanation is that the combination of a stiff cold breeze and the extraordinary number of people walking their dogs through the woods meant that they were keeping their heads down.  So I’ve set up a baiting area in a much quieter piece of woodland, and invited Bryan to come along for a session photographing the squirrels there once I’ve determined the best angles and times of day.  No matter how much preparation you put in, sometimes the unpredictable nature of wildlife still gets the better of you 🙂

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Big Garden Birdwatch 2013

by on Jan.31, 2013, under Birdwatching, Choppington Woods, Family and friends, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

Last weekend was the Big Garden Birdwatch and we followed tradition by sitting in our kitchen with a mug of coffee, and a bacon and tomato sandwich, having topped up all of the feeders the evening before.  An hour later, we’d racked up a list of 21 species; Blackbird 3, Jackdaw 2, Collared Dove 2, Robin 3, Chaffinch 20, Great Tit 3, Coal Tit 3, Magpie 1, Blue Tit 2, Dunnock 1, Goldfinch 8, Jay 1, Bullfinch 1, House Sparrow 1, Greenfinch 1, Woodpigeon 2, Redwing 1, Tree Sparrow 1, Song Thrush 1, Sparrowhawk 1, Brambling 2. Quite a successful hour, although most species weren’t present in the numbers we would have expected and, as usual, several species that had been visiting the garden in recent days (Marsh Tit, Willow Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Siskin, Great Spotted Woodpecker) failed to appear during the 1 hour of the survey.  Easy birding, and part of a huge national survey.  If you didn’t do it this year, give it a go in 2014 🙂

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Hide and seek

by on Oct.31, 2012, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast, Southeast Northumberland

Sunday was a Prestige Otter Safari for Chris and Sophie.  It was Chris’ birthday and, as I collected them from Berwick in some pretty horrible conditions, I was hoping that we would drive south into better weather.  Sure enough, we did pass out from under the rain clouds, but the day stayed quite gloomy and windy.  I’d already had an excellent start to the day’s birdwatching, with a flock of 14 Waxwings flying alongside the road as I approached Berwick.  I’m often asked what my favourite bird is, and usually reply that it’s impossible to have a favourite…but Waxwings have a special place at the top of my list 🙂

Down in southeast Northumberland we found an adult Mediterranean Gull, and Chris proved to be remarkably eagle-eyed – picking out a sleeping Jack Snipe in an area of cut reeds.  On the water the usual suspects (Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Shoveler, Gadwall) were joined by some less regular species; Scaup, Pintail and a pair of Long-tailed Ducks. Some surprising entertainment was provided by a Merlin which spent several minutes harassing a Magpie, and then there was a sudden movement of Goldeneye, Coot and Moorhen away from a reedbed.  They stared intently at the reeds for a few minutes before drifting back towards the edge, then repeated the whole process twice more!  There was something in the reeds that was causing concern, but it didn’t reveal itself (not an unusual occurrence in strong winds – and who could blame anything for staying sheltered?).  We moved on to another pool…and had a repeat performance, this time with Pochard, Goldeneye, Teal, Tufted Duck and Whooper Swan being a bit on edge.  Sometimes wildlife can be frustrating…

Given the low temperatures and high wind, it seemed a little over-optimistic to get the bat detector out.  However, just to confirm that you can’t ever predict wildlife, we had at least two or three Common Pipistrelles, including some frenzied feeding activity around a streetlight, before heading back up the coast.

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