Tag: Marsh Harrier

Punk’s not dead; Otter mini-Safari 22/01/22

by on Jan.23, 2022, under Druridge Bay

Yesterday was our first mini-Safari this year, after filling the first three weeks of the year with stargazing events and all of the planning for other projects we’re going to be involved in this year, so it was great to meet up with Clare and Lisa, then Monica and Michael, for a few hours around our local patch

The Wansbeck is a vast mudflat currently, and after a stop at the weir, where cormorant, little grebe and goldeneye were all feeding, we walked upriver to Castle Island. Scanning through the roosting gulls and dabbling ducks, a larger white bird was unhelpfully directly in the glare from the sun. There’s no mistaking the long thick legs and ruffled crest of a spoonbill though, and we found a spot where it was easier to see as it obligingly woke up, preened, looked around and then seemed to be on a mission as it marched along the muddy margins. Cormorants stretched, little egrets darted at small prey in the shallows, redshanks flew off calling, the eerie cries of curlew echoed along the valley and, uncharacteristically, a single fieldfare was hopping around a large paddock.

As dusk approached only five starlings appeared at a regular roost site as lapwings were scattered by a sparrowhawk and then teal and wigeon took to the air as a juvenile marsh harrier drifted over. Competing against the spoonbill in the hairstyle stakes, red-breasted mergansers paraded in front of us and the harrier reappeared…accompanied by a second juvenile, and then a male harrier joined the party and started talon-grappling with one of the juveniles as a Cetti’s warbler delivered it’s explosive calls from deep in the reeds and Jupiter shone through the evening twilight.

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Waves of panic; Otter mini-Safari 16/11/21

by on Nov.17, 2021, under Druridge Bay

The time of year when we have to start mini-Safaris early afternoon always seems to creep up before unexpectedly arriving.

I met up with James, Michael and Colin ahead of an afternoon around Druridge Bay searching for otters and our first site had played host to four of them earlier in the day! Regular ripples of panic spread through the wigeon out on the water and that turned into terror as a juvenile marsh harrier made it’s way up and down both sides of the water. A little egret flew over a wader roost that was mainly common redshank, with a sprinkling of turnstones and a couple of common snipe. Our second site for the afternoon had at least two marsh harriers, including the same juvenile we’d seen earlier, and as pink-footed geese yapped overhead, water rails squealed, a Cetti’s warbler belted out it’s song and starlings blew past like leaves on the wind, the flocks of coot, mallard, wigeon, shoveler and gadwall kept nervously moving away from one reedbed as roe deer grazed near the water’s edge and dusk took hold of the little remaining daylight.

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Living on the edge; Otter mini-Safari 05/08/21

by on Aug.06, 2021, under Druridge Bay

One thing that’s always impressed me about wildlife is the almost constant effort needed just to stay alive, contrasting with the technologically advanced, comfortable, lives that many of us lead…

I met up with Cath, Andy, Beth and Dan for an evening around Druridge Bay, and the weather was pleasant…particularly compared to what was forecast for the next few hours! Mute swans were feeding unhurriedly, grey herons were stalking along rushy edges, black-tailed godwits were wading and probing, and bumblebees were shifting position to take shelter underneath teasel heads – often a sign of a drop in temperature and approaching bad weather. Swallows, martins and swifts were hawking insects as a lone ruff flew through.

As the wind started to pick up, and the first of several heavy showers passed through, a great crested grebe with a single juvenile aggressively evicted a little grebe, also with a single juvenile, from a prime patch of amphibious bistort, as cormorants sat motionless, two Arctic skuas muscled their way into the stiffening breeze, and Sandwich, common and Arctic terns obligingly lined up alongside one another like an animated field guide to separating confusion species 🙂

Seven starlings was a start to a murmuration that eventually built to several hundred birds, as three marsh harriers went to roost and a sparrowhawk pestered and pursued the starlings repeatedly. We saw it pass by at least a dozen times without any apparent success by the time the starlings had all settled into the reeds, expending vital energy in a late evening attempt to feed before nightfall.

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summertime?; otter mini-Safari 13/06/21

by on Jun.14, 2021, under Druridge Bay

After a few very warm sunny days, it was grey and cooler when I arrived to meet up with Teresa and Pam for an evening in Druridge Bay

In the cooler conditions the dense clouds of chironomid midges had gone, but the songs of meadow pipit, reed bunting, skylark, willow warbler, common whitethroat and chiffchaff were all typical of an evening trip at this time of year. The chip-chip-chip calls of a snipe came from a clump of rushes and avocets were keeping watch over chicks and angrily pursuing crows that flew by, while lapwings harassed a marsh harrier, and common terns fished in front of us. A pair of great crested grebes were just a few metres away from where we’d seen them recently, mute swans brought their cygnets out from a reedbed, two male marsh harriers flew by in quick succession, the eerie cries of curlew drifted across the pools, grey herons squabbled over fishing spots, an otherwise uninspiring sunset painted the northern and western horizon with a pastel pink glow, and mini-murmurations of starlings formed and twisted and turned as Teresa spotted a dark sinuous shape that vanished behind the reeds in front of us.

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This is the sound of the summer; otter mini-Safari 10/06/21

by on Jun.11, 2021, under Druridge Bay

As I arrived to meet up with with Peter and Melanie, and Kristina and Paul, for an evening in Druridge Bay, the sky overhead was fluffy white clouds on an azure background but away to the north it looked grey and ominous…

Tufted ducks and Canada geese were alert as a Marsh Harrier drifted by, mobbed by lapwings and gulls, and a whimbrel flew north with just one burst of its distinctive trill. Swifts, swallows and black-headed gulls were all feasting on an abundance of chironomid (non-biting!) midges and, as we paused to admire a common toad that was staring impassively at us from the footpath, a common snipe was drumming high overhead.

Walking along the coastal path we were accompanied by the songs of common whitethroat, chiffchaff, willow warbler, reed warbler, skylark, meadow pipit and reed bunting, another marsh harrier was quartering reedbeds and fields and the loud song of a great reed warbler carried across fields on the southerly breeze as we came across northern marsh orchids and bloody cranesbill. As common and sandwich terns bathed in fresh water, a pair of great crested grebes radiated elegance, and the head of tiny chick put in a cameo appearance between it’s parent’s wings 🙂 A roe deer was grazing, unconcerned by our presence, on the edge of a reedbed and later in the evening we watched a younger deer that seemed to be struggling with the concept of needing to jump over a fence to get out of a field (despite having jumped over it to get in there in the first place!).

A starling murmuration contained around 100 birds and as a stunning sunset gave way to dusk, with Arcturus and the summer triangle prominent overhead, grey herons decided to end the day with a dispute over prime feeding spots.

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Druridge Bay bespoke birdwatching 27/05/21

by on May.28, 2021, under Druridge Bay

I arrived at Church Point to meet up with Sandra and Francis, and we set off for a day around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland, an alternative to the bespoke Farne Islands safari originally planned (a long time ago…) but currently not possible for circumstances that are beyond our control, and bafflingly inexplicable…

Starting with a riverside walk chiffchaffs, whitethroats, wrens, chaffinches and dunnocks were singing as we passed sea buckthorn, pygmy goats, and gadwall, mallards, mute swans, canada geese on a river watched over by cormorants perched on semi-submerged trees and branches.

Lunch at the Drift Cafe was accompanied by whitethroat, swallow and pied wagtail, all singing or calling from rooftops, aerials and telegraph poles around us. A stop at Cresswell Pond produced a very obliging Barn Owl, hunting along the edge of the pool and in the dunes before returning with prey to it’s nest, and we continued our journey north along the coast road.

Lapwings were chasing summer-plumaged dunlin who’d strayed too close to their chicks, avocets graced the pool edges with their elegance, whimbrel and curlew called as they flew over, before settling out of easy viewing range in the heat haze, gadwall, teal and mallard dabbled as little grebes and tufted ducks dived and a mute swan escorted her cygnets. Marsh harriers exchanged nest duties, taking it in turns to quarter the reedbeds, sandwich and common terns arrived to bathe in fresh water and a very showy sedge warbler kept returning to the same perch in a hawthorn bush. Our walk between dunes and fields had an impressive chorus line of whitethroats, skylarks, stonechats, a single reed warbler rhythmically chuntering from cover and the reeling of a grasshopper warbler from a tangle of brambles.

After so many years of NEWT, and the last year of hardly being able to work, it’s great to be out and about again with lovely clients enjoying our local wildlife 🙂

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Wading through the sublime light; Druridge Bay mini-Safari 20/08/2020

by on Aug.21, 2020, under Druridge Bay

I arrived to meet Paul and Helen ahead of a few hours around Druridge Bay and we set off to walk south along the coast…

A mixed wader/gull/tern roost produced Lapwing, Golden Plover, Dunlin, Knot, Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit, Little Ringed Plover, Common Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Sandwich Tern and Common, Black-headed, Herring and Great Black-backed Gull as Grey Herons stalked the water’s edge and three Marsh Harriers quartered back and forth along the reeds. The waders all lifted a couple of times and Teal, Mallard, Gadwall, Shoveler and Coot all looked panicky but we couldn’t see what was causing all of the concern.

Starlings were roosting among the waders and a large flock speckled the sky before heading away out of sight to the north as Stonechats and Linnets perched on top of scattered bushed in the dunes, beautifully illuminated by low angle diffuse sunlight. One male Stonechat was sharing a prominent perch with an undeniably cute juvenile Common Whitethroat and the raucous calls of Pheasant came from rough pasture as Silver Y moths were nectaring busily on Red Clover.

With the Sun setting away to the west, and the Summer Triangle of Vega, Altair and Deneb about to make an appearance through a break in the clouds, a Sparrowhawk flew low over the dunes and a Barn Owl ghosted across the path ahead of us before making its way along dips in the dunes and eventually heading away north as daylight faded to darkness and the calls of Greylag Geese coming to roost accompanied our departure.

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Druridge Bay mini-Safari 12/08/2020

by on Aug.13, 2020, under Druridge Bay

With COVID19 having brought about some changes to how we deliver our mini-Safaris, I arrived at Druridge Bay to collect John and Jo for NEWT’s first land-based tour since February…

Our tour model for the last 12 years has been built around the use of the NEWTmobile (initially our Land Rover Defender, and more recently the Galaxy) to transport our clients between wildlife watching locations. Our new model involves still visiting a couple of locations on each mini-Safari, but walking between sites and I was curious how that would work.

Stonechats and Linnets were perched on top of bushes along the coastal path as a Cuckoo flew towards us before vanishing into a dip in the dunes and a Marsh Harrier was quartering a field edge below the setting Sun. As the harrier settled on a fence post, a Barn Owl took it’s place patrolling the same edge, below the Sun and above a Brown Hare that allowed occasional glimpses as it made it’s way along the back of a field. Skeins of Greylag Geese were scattered across the background of a stunning orange sunset as a second Cuckoo took off and flew along a fence line before looping around a patch of Sea Buckthorn and vanishing into the bushes.

As the Sun dipped below the horizon and Vega shone almost directly overhead, Grey Herons were chasing each other from favoured feeding spots and a Barn Owl appeared in front of us and plunged into the grass just a few metres away before emerging and flying off with it’s prey! Then, with light levels fading rapidly a Long-eared Owl flew head-on towards us.

I like our new model: see more, cover more ground, don’t have dead time traveling 🙂

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Halcyon days; Otter Safari 19/12/19

by on Dec.27, 2019, under Druridge Bay

After a couple of weeks where we didn’t have any scheduled trips it was a nice change of scenery to have a day out around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland and I collected Kev from Woodhorn as the rain started to fall…

Mid-morning produced a trio of great birds. A 1st winter Glaucous Gull had just settled back into a roost when Kev spotted a Kingfisher perched in front of us as a stunning drake Pintail up-ended just beyond it. Mallard, Gadwall, Teal, Wigeon, Tufted Duck and Little Grebe all scattered in panic as a young male Marsh Harrier drifted over the pool and along the reeds where Water Rails were squealing.

Our picnic spot produced a Fulmar arcing over the sea in sight of cliff-edge nest sites and Redshank, Curlew, Turnstone and Oystercatcher all flew from rocks and along the shore.

The afternoon brought more Goldeneye and Little Grebe, another Kingfisher in the deepening gloom of dusk, noisy flocks of Pink-footed, Greylag and Canada Geese and a remarkable flock of possibly as many as 50 Greenfinches as Cormorants perched menacingly on fallen trees and Grey Herons stalked through the shallows.

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Murmuration; Bespoke Druridge Bay Safari 21/10/19

by on Oct.31, 2019, under Druridge Bay

Late October and big flocks of stuff are starting to feature more and more prominently…

I collected Caroline, Ian and Ted from Embleton and we headed down the coast towards NEWT’s local patch, Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. Little Grebes were diving in calm water as Cormorants sat on long dead branches and a Kingfisher raced past as Little Egrets and Grey Herons demonstrated very different approaches to hunting; debonair darting and dashing and steady, stealthy menace.

A Common Buzzard was perched on a fence as flocks of Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Goldeneye and Gadwall drifted quietly on the water and Lapwings flushed in alarm as Curlews left a nearby field, their eerie cries cutting through the cool air.

As dusk approached and the squeals of Water Rails emanated from the reedbeds a Starling murmuration grew into a swirling cloud against the darkening sky. Twisting one way then another and then splitting, rejoining and tightening as a Marsh Harrier chanced it’s luck in a desparate attempt to grab a bird from the writhing amorphous mass while high overhead the high yapping calls of skein after skein of Pink-footed Geese continued as daylight faded to black and we made our way back north.

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