Tag: Northumberland

Busy birdwatching

by on Sep.13, 2010, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

Even though we live in southeast Northumberland, we’ll never tire of getting out and about searching for new experiences for our clients.  Days out with clients are always exciting as well, because we never know exactly what we’ll see or what it will be doing.

Last Thursday we had a Southeast Northumberland/Druridge Bay safari with clients from a fairly wide geographical area; Jeff and Jean from Huddersfield, Lawrie and Linda from Glasgow and Yvonne from southwest Northumberland.  Starting at Newbiggin we managed a brief view of a Mediterranean Gull on the beach, and a small flock of Sanderling.  These little grey, white and black ‘clockwork toys’ are always entertaining as they scurry back and forth along the water’s edge.  The River Wansbeck was our next destination.  As expected there was a good sized flock of Lapwing roosting and Cormorants and Herons were doing what they do; standing with their wings out and just sort of standing respectively.  All of a sudden a wave of panic spread through the Lapwings.  We all scanned backwards, forwards, skywards but couldn’t see any cause.  Perhaps it was just a false alarm?  The birds settled but were up again within a minute, gradually settling back down with a great deal of conversation between them all.  Greenshanks flew by calling and the Lapwings were becoming increasingly jittery.  Even birds from distant streams were high in the air, forming the quite tight flocks that indicate the presence of a predator, something that creates anticipation wherever we’re birdwatching.  Eventually we found a distant Peregrine, and a big female Sparrowhawk slid menacingly through the trees opposite our watchpoint.  One or both of them was presumably the cause for concern.  Even the Great Black-backed Gulls flushed and flew overhead, giving calls of consternation.

Among the coastal waders, perhaps the best were three Common Snipe, unusually confiding and just a few metres away from us.  The fall of passerine migrants earlier in the week had left a few goodies behind.  Spotted and Pied Flycatchers were quite elusive, sallying forth and then back into cover, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs were picking their way through willows beside the path and, providing a visual feast to rival the gaudiest of birds from elsewhere in the world, six male Common Redstarts were along one short stretch of hedge.  There really is little to rival the beauty of these birds.

At the conclusion of our journey up the coast a bird as lacking in colour as the Redstart is bathed in it was a final wonderful sighting.  As we watched two Grey Herons perched in trees overhanging the River Coquet, a Little Egret flew by before returning and perching high in the treetops in a spot where we could watch it through the ‘scope.  There can’t be many better places to be birdwatching than the Northumberland coast in September 🙂

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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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Life begins at 40

by on Sep.06, 2010, under Birdwatching, North Sea, Northumberland

Friday was our long-awaited pelagic to the Farne Deeps.  We’d originally planned the trip for August 12th, but the weather put paid to that 🙁  Rescheduling to September 3rd meant that four of the original participants had to withdraw because of other commitments, but we were able to fill those places and have a reserve list.  Birdwatching from a boat in the North Sea, with the possibility of cetaceans as well, is always an enjoyable way to spend a day.

When I arrived at Royal Quays just after 7.30 I was surprised to see that nine of the other eleven participants were already there; obviously eager to join Northern Experience on our ‘voyage into the unknown’.

As we left the Tyne we soon began to began to find Guillemots, Razorbills and Puffins on the sea; all 3 species featuring regularly throughout the day.  Gannets, Fulmars and Kittiwakes were all seen in good numbers (Kittiwakes in particular) and we continued to head north northeast, getting further offshore from the Northumberland coast.

I was watching the depth plotter carefully as we approached the edge of the deep water and, as I stepped out of the wheelhouse, thinking that things could get very interesting quite soon, almost collapsed as Allan shouted “Dolphin!”.  Within a minute we’d got two stunning White-beaked Dolphins bow-riding.  They stayed with us for 40 minutes, and during that time there were at least another three a little distance from the boat.  I managed to get ‘a bit’ of video footage 🙂

As if all the excitement of having the dolphins around the boat wasn’t enough, Geoff Morgan spotted a Grey Phalarope (Red Phalarope for any readers in the US).  After Geoff’s initial call it was 4 mins before the bird was relocated; sitting on the sea in front of the boat as we continued along with the dolphins.  The phalarope, as well as an excellent bird to see in early September, was a milestone as it’s the 40th ‘seabird’ (defined as those covered by Peter Harrison’s excellent ‘Seabirds: an identification guide’) to be found on pelagic trips off Northumberland since the first NTBC organised trip in 1987.

As well as the birds mentioned previously we also found;

Manx Shearwater 4

Sooty Shearwater 4

Arctic Skua 4

Great Skua 9

Typically, the Manx Shearwaters and Arctic Skuas stayed well away from the boat but the Sooty Shearwaters  and Great Skuas were much more obliging 🙂

By the end of the day, nearly everyone on board had enjoyed lifers; the White-beaked Dolphins were a much sought-after species for Joanne and the result of a lot of effort 🙂  With the battalion of long lenses on the boat, there’ll be plenty of good quality images for the White-beaked Dolphin identification catalogue that forms part of the Northeast Cetacean Project.  We’ll be running at least two trips out to the Farne Deeps next year (date and cost tbc) so get in touch soon to register your interest.  With only 12 places available they’ll fill quickly.

After the 10hr marathon of the Farne Deeps, our 8hr pelagic on Saturday was just like a pleasure cruise 🙂  Again we had good numbers of Kittiwake, Gannet and Fulmar,  as well as some very obliging Sooty Shearwaters.  With some of South Tyneside’s finest on board, I was half-hoping that one of them would point his camera at the sky and randomly photograph a Cape Gannet 🙂  Sadly, it wasn’t to be.  Never mind, there’s always next week…and the week after…and next year.

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When the north wind blows

by on Aug.16, 2010, under Birdwatching, Northumberland

We had a couple of disappointments at the end of last week, both due to the weather.  First we had to postpone our Farne Deeps Pelagic and then I was booked on a trip to the Dogger Bank, which also fell victim to the strong northerlies.  Both trips have been rescheduled though so, fingers crossed, they will happen eventually.  We’ve got a few places available for the Farne Deeps on September 3rd, although most of our original participants quickly arranged days off work when I gave them the new date, so call us on 01670 827465 to reserve your place on this groundbreaking trip.

With Friday morning clear in my diary I managed a spot of seawatching; that most esoteric form of birdwatching.  Then we had a couple of nights in Whitby, followed by a visit to Chesterfield for a Christening, and then home again late last night.  While we were away there was a missed call on my mobile; Alan Tilmouth wondering if we’d be interested in a trip across to the Longstone if Saturday’s Thrush Nightingale had remained there overnight.  As it was it hadn’t, and we were away anyway.  Then, last night came the news of a Booted/Sykes’s Warbler at Hadston Links.  With a frantic two weeks ahead of us, I had to work hard to convince myself that I had the time to go and see the bird 😉

Booted/Sykes's Warbler, Hadston Links, Northumberland 16/08/2010

 

Booted/Sykes's Warbler, Hadston Links, Northumberland 16/08/2010

Now these two species are a tricky pair to separate and, despite information put out by various bird information services earlier today, I know that the ID isn’t considered to be cut and dried.  For what it’s worth, I’ll stick my neck out and say that, on balance, I’m leaning towards Booted Warbler.  The real problem though is that in some images it looks very much like a Booted Warbler, in some it looks like Sykes’s.  In real life it was just as perplexing, apparently morphing from one to the other.  Is it a Booted Warbler, fluffing itself up against the cold (the opinion I expressed to another local blogger after I saw the bird this morning), or a Sykes’s Warbler that occasionally looks sleeker than expected?

Another remarkable warbler earned a local birder, and occasional Northern Experience Pelagic participant, a major honour this month.  Dougie Holden, the finder of the Trow Quarry Eastern Crowned Warbler, won the Carl Zeiss Award, which is presented for the photograph or set of photographs considered to have been the most instructive during BBRC’s assessment of rarities over the previous year.

As if all these rare warblers weren’t enough to be going on with, I went into the kitchen this morning only to find Sarah staring intently through her binoculars.  Wood Warbler is an extraordinary bird for a southeast Northumberland garden, but there it was.  Neither of us had that down as the next addition to the garden list but, as with most of the really good birds on our list, it’s no surprise that Sarah found it 🙂

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Variety Show

by on Aug.05, 2010, under Badger, Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

Yesterday we had an afternoon/evening safari around southeast Northumberland and Druridge Bay, an exciting prospect as these are producing some of our most memorable sightings.

Around lunchtime I started to receive calls about Bottlenose Dolphins, 5 past Newbiggin and 20-40 E of St Mary’s.  When I arrived at Church Point at 14:40, the dolphins had departed but a Harbour Porpoise was close inshore.  Once our clients had arrived we set off up the coast.  First stop produced a juvenile Little Owl, lazing in the afternoon sunshine.  A seawatching session revealed plenty of Gannets and Sandwich Terns, and Katie quickly spotted more Harbour Porpoises.  The rest of the afternoon’s birdwatching produced excellent views of Lapwing, Common Sandpiper, Dunlin, Greenshank, Common Tern and some very entertaining Grey Herons.  Non-birdy interest included Small Copper and Dark Green Fritillary butterflies, Blue-tailed Damselfly and a Common Frog.  I chose a picnic spot giving us a wide view over the increasingly calm sea, producing further sightings of Harbour Porpoise, a distant group of Bottlenose Dolphins and a Peregrine.

Then we were on our way to the evening’s final destination.  As we walked, quietly, through a heavily shaded steep wooded valley, I began to question myself; could we really be succesful with a group of 6 clients, when we were searching for an animal that is so easily disturbed?  A Red Fox crossed the path ahead of us, although everyone other than Alice was looking the other way.  I allowed everyone to settle into position on one side of the valley and we waited.  In what seemed like no time at all, a stripy black-and-white head appeared from the undergrowth on the opposite side of the stream and our first Badger of the evening came trotting along.  It paused briefly and then crossed the stream before vanishing up the hill behind us.  After 30 mins, and another 6 Badgers!, we headed back to the Landy.  With the bat detector switched on, we listened to, and had close views of, Common Pipistrelle and Daubenton’s Bat.  Family bookings are always interesting, but the enthusiasm and cheerfulness of Emma, Katie and Alice made it such an enjoyable day (not forgetting the three older members of the group of course).

We’ll be running afternoon/evening safaris throughout the year, so give us a call on 01670 827465 to arrange your own Northern Experience 🙂

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Anniversary flowers

by on Jul.27, 2010, under Birdwatching, Family and friends, Northumberland

I was giving a talk last night and realised just how important the final week of July has been over the last few years; 7 years ago we were married, 6 years ago I’d just returned from leading a week of birdwatching and whalewatching on Mull, 3 years ago I was in my final week as a teacher and 2 years ago we had our first bespoke tour for clients wanting to experience the wildlife and birdwatching that Northumberland has to offer.

We spent our wedding anniversary on Holy Island, and here are some of the orchids we found;

Common Spotted Orchid, Holy Island, Northumberland 26/07/2010

Northern Marsh Orchid, Holy Island, Northumberland 26/07/2010

Marsh Helleborine, Holy Island, Northumberland 26/07/2010

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A real challenge

by on Jul.02, 2010, under Birdwatching, Natural History, Northumberland

In the 17 years that I’ve lived here, I’ve always believed that Northumberland is one of the finest counties for birdwatching in the whole of the UK.  That belief played a big part in reaching the decision to launch NEWT, and it’s why we’re such an enthusiastic member of the Birdwatching Northumberland Consortium.  We’ll be at the Bird Fair in August (Marquee 1, Stand 53/54) so come along to meet us and find out just how good Northumberland is.

This morning, though, my attention is on mammals.  We don’t do too badly for them either; Badger, Red Fox, Grey Seal, Red Squirrel, Roe Deer, Weasel, Stoat and Brown Hare all feature regularly on our safaris and, on our Northern Experience Pelagics, there’s the possibility of Minke Whale, White-beaked Dolphin, Harbour Porpoise and other cetaceans.  We’ve had some random sightings as well; a Bank Vole that sat munching on a leaf just a few feet away from us and a Mole that walked into a hide we were sitting in were both bizarre (especially the Mole; I hadn’t seen a live one for a long, long time).

With the exciting news earlier this week of the first confirmed evidence in 16 years of Pine Marten in Northumberland, we’ve got a new challenge 🙂  We’ve spent some time in the last couple of years checking likely sites and following up reports that we’ve received.  Some of those have been very tantalising, and the species may be more widespread than people imagine.  Otters and Badgers are fairly difficult, but we’ve developed an excellent track record with those two species.  Pine Marten is going to be an altogether different proposition, but we relish a challenge.

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Thursday (part 2); birdwatching and badgers

by on Jun.19, 2010, under Badger, Birdwatching, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

After collecting Gill and Richard from Bamburgh, mid-afternoon Thursday, we had another southeast Northumberland safari.  This one was scheduled to finish at dusk, “a 50-year quest to see a live Badger”.  No pressure there then 🙂  As so often, with late finishes, the final hour was simply magical.  We’d made our way to the hillside opposite a Badger sett that we’ve been watching for a few weeks.  Within a minute of settling into our watching position the tables were turned and we found ourselves under the baleful glare of a Tawny Owl.  Still in good daylight, our first Badger of the evening walked across the hillside opposite.  Over the next 40 mins we had 7 sightings of at least 5 BadgersPipistrelles flicked back and forward across our field of view, Blackbirds, Robins, Wrens and Mistle Thrushes were all alarming from the trees around our watchpoint and we enjoyed all of this with the Badgers carrying on with their dusk perambulations around the woods, safe and undisturbed by anything we were doing.

After returning Gill and Richard to Bamburgh, through what seemed to be a blizzard of moths, it was time to head home.  3 Barn Owls between Bamburgh and Seahouses were an excellent start to the journey and, near Rennington, I had to stop and wait as a Red Fox cub walked across the road in front of the Land Rover.  Back home it was time to sleep, ahead of Friday’s Otter Safari.

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Landscape photography and birdwatching on the Northumberland coast

by on Jun.19, 2010, under Birdwatching, Farne Islands, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast, Photography

This has been one of our busiest weeks since we started NEWT, and I’ve only just got around to finding the time to sit in our office and blog about the last few days.

Tuesday saw Mike, one of our returning clients, coming for his second day out with NEWT, including some photography tuition in the Northumberland Coast AONB and a birdwatching trip across to the Farne Islands.

After a session on exposure theory, covering topics such as exposure values, ND filters and average metering (the bane of photographers everywhere) and a bit of practice with slow shutter speeds to creatively blur the rising tide it was time to head across to Inner Farne.

No matter how many times I visit the Farne Islands, I’m always awestruck by just how good the experience is;  Grey Seals, Common, Sandwich and Arctic Terns, Eiders, Kittiwakes, Fulmars, Guillemots, Puffins and Razorbills all offer excellent photo opportunities so plenty of memory cards are a must.

Common Guillemots (including a 'bridled' Guillemot) after a successful fishing trip

Razorbills

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On the trail of the otter…and then some

by on Jun.13, 2010, under Badger, Birdwatching, Northumberland, Otter, Red Squirrel, Southeast Northumberland

Yesterday was the first of several forthcoming days where we’re running multiple trips on the same day, and with 6 clients during the day, and 2 of them joining us for an evening safari as well, it was a day that could go really well, or not…

The primary target species for everyone was our old favourite, Otters. We started with a spot of birdwatching, and excellent views of the Little Owl that we should probably be adding to the NEWT payroll 😉  Our first Otter site didn’t produce the goods, although 2 Brown Hares chasing each other around a nearby field provided good entertainment.  Once we’d been there as long as I’d decided in advance of the trip, I had a hunch that another site, that has disappointed for several months now, might just produce the goods.  As we arrived I pointed out the location of a holt and suggested that the area around that was a good place to check.  Within a minute, Anthea had found 2 Otters, and we watched them for 75 mins as they fed, played, paddled along the surface, dodged in and out of the reeds and eventually vanished, probably to have an afternoon nap after their marathon feeding session.  A bit more birdwatching further up the coast produced excellent views of Common and Sandwich Terns and then it was time to return Liz & James and Kate & Take (pronounced Tarka – the most appropriate name for any participant in a NEWT trip so far) to their respective holiday locations and start the second trip of the day with Andy and Anthea.

Anthea is an Australian with a fascination for British wildlife and the day out was part of a target list that she has for a 3 month trip around Britain and Europe.  Red Squirrel was next on the list and patience and persistence paid off as we settled ourselves close to a feeding area and eventually had excellent views of at least 3 squirrels, and some very close Jays, Great Spotted Woodpeckers  and a Nuthatch.

With such a long day, sustenance came in the form of a meal at The Swan before we were on our way again.  Myriads of Rabbits were along the roads and we made our way along the heavily wooded valley of a small stream and got into position opposite a Badger sett.  A Red Fox walked along the hillside before vanishing into the undergrowth and causing consternation in all of the birds that were settling to roost.  It re-appeared just up the track from where were sitting and ran up the hill behind us, then a 2nd Fox crossed the hillside.  Soon we were treated to the sight of not one, not two, but three Badgers crossing a clearing.  As the light levels in the wood dropped to unmanageable we relocated to a feeding area that’s popular with Badgers and Foxes where we watched another Fox as it stalked along an edge, apparently invisible to the Rabbits that were sitting on the grass.  As we walked back to the Land Rover we added mammals #7 and #8 to the day list; Common Pipistrelle and Daubenton’s Bat.  A long day, but a really, really excellent one 🙂

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