Tag: Pintail

Charming; Bespoke Birdwatching 10/11/2014

by on Nov.22, 2014, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

Even after 40+ years birdwatching, there are times when I’m not sure whether the thing that excites me the most is a lone rarity, a life or death interaction involving one of the predators we encounter, or an impressive flock of something common…

I collected David and Dot from Gosforth and we made our way across to the coast for a day of mid-November birdwatching.  This proved to be a day of flocks; Pink-footed Geese rose then dropped in nearby fields, peppering the sky and cutting through the autumn air with their yapping calls.  Mini-murmurations of  Starlings twisted, turned, bunched and swirled, demonstrating that they don’t just reserve that spectacle for the fading light of evening.  Common Snipe were sitting in the vegetation close to the water’s edge, extraordinarily well camouflaged when asleep and only really betraying their presence once they woke up and started probing in the soft mud of the shallows.  Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Redshank, Curlew and Eider are almost a given on the coast in the winter, a lone Sanderling hurried back and forth in a flock of Ringed Plover and Teal, Wigeon and Goldeneye are eyecatching whether in flocks or alone.  Elegant Pintail glided by and Stonechats flicked their tails nervously perched in the tops of bushes in the dunes along the coast.  One isolated tree brought a memorable spectacle, with a charm of Goldfinches, and a lone Greenfinch.  For a couple of years now, a lot of our clients have reported increasing numbers of Goldfinch, and a tremendous decrease in Greenfinch.  No matter how numerous Goldfinch become, it’s hard to imagine that we could ever become blase about them; strikingly patterned, with their red face, black and white head and yellow wing flashes, and with liquid, twittering songs and calls, they really are quite charming 🙂

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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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A sting in the tale; Druridge Bay 10/04/2014

by on Apr.21, 2014, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland

With a holiday for a family wedding in Scotland looming, my last day out with clients for a couple of weeks was a mini-safari around Druridge Bay.  The unpredictable weather of recent weeks had been replaced by something much better as we headed north along the coast.

The remnants of winter birdwatching, in the shape of Wigeon, Goldeneye, Pintail and Red-breasted Merganser, were intermingled with the early spring in the elegant form of at least three Avocets, and a lone Whooper Swan, in the midst of a herd of Mute Swans, probably hasn’t made it’s mind up what it’s doing for the summer yet.  Towards the end of the afternoon a yapping flock of Pink-footed Geese flew north, quickly gaining altitude as if heading off towards Iceland…before encountering the stiff northwesterly wind and looping back round again…and again…and again, before they eventually gave it up as a bad job and settled on the water with the discordant sounds of Canada and Greylag Geese around them.  The comings and goings at a feeding station held the attention for some time, with Great Tits, Coal Tits, Blue Tits, Tree Sparrows and Chaffinches all clustering around the feeders.

Trips including young children can be a bit fraught but 3-year old Sylvie demonstrated a sharp eye for finding spiders, and 5-year old Felix, with some help from his little sister, wove a remarkable tale of a superhero Otter with a poisonous sting in it’s tail that I could have listened to for the rest of the day – a great way to finish work before NEWT’s first ‘proper’ holiday for a long time 🙂

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A trip with extra added bite; Otter Safari 02/04/2014

by on Apr.04, 2014, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

After a remarkably mild winter, Wednesday brought some weather with a bit of bite, the sort of day where you really need the wildlife to be performing at it’s best to take your mind off the conditions…

I collected Katherine and Brenda from Church Point for an afternoon/evening Otter Safari, and we headed north up the coast through Druridge Bay.  Our first stop was looking very promising; Goosanders, Grey Herons, Avocets, Wigeon, Teal, Pintail, Mallard, Curlew, Lapwing, Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Common Snipe, Turnstone…and a noticeable lack of birds in one corner of the pond 🙂 Always the first sign we look for when searching for Otters, so I was confident that there was one moving around close by.  It was looking so promising that I thought we should stay put and have lunch where we were.  I went back to the car to fetch our soup and sandwiches and when I got back to the hide, less than 5mins later, I was greeted with “You’re not going to believe it, but there’s an Otter just over there.”  Sure enough, Brenda’s directions had me looking in exactly the spot where it next surfaced 🙂  After a few minutes it went out of sight, before reappearing 30mins later, spreading panic amongst the ducks that were roosting at the water’s edge.  Then, as mysteriously as it first appeared, it dived and didn’t resurface where it could be seen.

We headed on up the coast in conditions that were becoming less entertaining, with a brutal southeasterly wind that seemed to drive the cold and damp through every layer of clothing that could be mustered.  Noisy Black-headed Gulls were dive-bombing Canada Geese, Little Grebes were just being their cute selves, Sand Martins swirled back and forth over the River Aln, Coot and Moorhen busied themselves around the reedbeds and Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Blackbird, Mistle Thrush, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove and Wren were all singing.

Probably a more wintry day than any day out we had during the winter, enriched by the sleek, sinuous menace of the Otter 🙂

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A trio of Grebes and a splash in the gloom

by on Feb.20, 2014, under Northumberland, Northumberland Coast, Southeast Northumberland

Tuesday and Wednesday were mini-safaris for one family, but different participants each day; Sue, Phil, Sandra and Inez on Tuesday and Sue (again), Jacqui, Paul and Hannah on Wednesday.

Both days featured lots of waders and wildfowl; Redshank, Common Snipe, Curlew, Lapwing, Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwit, Goldeneye, Pintail, Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Mallard, Teal, Wigeon and Red-breasted Merganser were all very obliging, with the ducks particularly stunning, and the Goldeneye engaging in their quite captivating display.  Moorhens picking scraps off a skeleton at the edge of Cresswell Pond were described as ‘totally gross’ by Inez, and it isn’t easy to argue with that summation 🙂

Although the two days were similar, there were some notable differences; Tuesday produced Slavonian and Red-necked Grebes, alongside the Little Grebes that we saw on both days, and Wednesday featured Water Rail and Roe Deer.  Wednesday also produced a very brief Otter encounter, as a dark shape rolled at the surface in the deepening gloom, crossed the river and rolled again as the local Mallards stared in terror into the darkness.

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Winter Wonderland Day One 04/12/2013

by on Dec.06, 2013, under Bamburgh Castle, Birdwatching, Holy Island, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast, Southeast Northumberland

As I met up with David for breakfast at The Swan on Wednesday morning, ahead of two days on the Northumberland coast, we’d already switched our itinerary round.  The plan to visit Holy Island on Thursday looked as though it might be slightly impacted by the weather, so we switched Druridge Bay to that day instead.

The drive north on the A1 was in glorious weather, with Common Buzzards soaring low over plantations in the chill of the early morning and we were soon on Holy Island in a stiffening breeze, carefully stalking towards a flock of Dark-bellied Brent Geese that posed for David’s camera.  Bar-tailed Godwits, and a lone Black-tailed Godwit were probing the exposed mud of the harbour at low tide and Wigeon and Teal were on the Rocket Pool.  A Common Kestrel was hovering nearby and, as the tide turned, we headed to the causeway to see what would be pushed towards us by the advancing water.  Redshank, Curlew, Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwit, Shelduck and a Little Egret all fed along the swelling channels

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and then a mass of Pale-bellied Brent Geese flew in from the south.  As the water began to lap at the edge of the causeway we drove back on to the mainland, and headed to a quiet stretch of shoreline where I knew David could use the cover of a hedgerow to approach a flock of Pale-bellied Brents whilst avoiding detection.

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Using the car as a photographic hide (something of a theme  for the holiday!) we got very close views of a flock of Wigeon,

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and then we settled in the iconic shadow of Bamburgh Castle and scanned the sea in temperatures that were now bone-chilling 🙂  Purple Sandpipers, Turnstones, Oystercatchers and Redshank were roosting just above the water line and beyond the rafts of Eider were flocks of Common Scoter, with one large group of females looking stunningly orange in the beautiful late afternoon sunlight.  Long-tailed Ducks played hide and seek, utilising their propensity for diving, and the developing swell, to keep me on my toes as I located a group with the ‘scope so that David could see them.  Scanning the scoter flocks paid dividends as a female Velvet Scoter rose up and over one advancing wave crest, Red-throated Divers cruised along in their eternal search for fish and a last scan before we headed back down the coast produced a Slavonian Grebe.  As it turned dark, the clear sky afforded excellent ‘scope views of the crescent Venus, and the thinnest sliver of crescent Moon.  So soon after New Moon would be a spring tide, and the one forecast for the following day was predicted to be a big one…

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Stoats, Sandpipers, Starlings and Sparrowhawks; Druridge Bay birdwatching 30/09/2013

by on Oct.02, 2013, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast, Southeast Northumberland

With a brisk southeasterly wind rattling the Northumberland coast, I arrived in Alnmouth on Monday morning to collect John, Annie and Steve for a day of bespoke birdwatching.

Starting with a seawatch, Gannets were streaming south , occasionally pausing to circle and then plunge into the sea, and Common Scoter were dotted amongst the rafts of Eider, appearing for brief periods as they rode up and over the considerable swell.

Heading south to Druridge Bay produced the expected crop of passage waders; Redshank, Curlew, Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Lapwing and Ruff were expected and two Curlew Sandpipers were a nice find.  Teal, Mallard, Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Goosander and Pintail provided wildfowl interest and skeins of Canada, Greylag and Pink-footed Geese, which we’d seen earlier in the afternoon as they fed in nearby fields, began to arrive at their overnight roosts.  A Stoat was all energy as it raced backwards and forwards, exploring every nook and cranny along the edge of the water and, as dusk approached, we watched one of the great wildlife spectacles as a murmuration of Starlings swirled above a reedbed before dropping in to roost.  The mass of birds attracted the attention of a Sparrowhawk, and the female raptor made several low passes through the tops of the reeds above the roosting Starlings.  They weren’t going to be tricked into flying out and becoming an easier target though, and the Sparrowhawk soon settled on a fence post.  Then a second Sparrowhawk appeared, this time a male, and the two birds perched on adjacent fence posts, allowing an excellent comparison of their gender differences.  As we headed off, in the fading light and bitterly cold wind, it looked like they would be going without their supper…

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Waders; Druridge Bay 19/09/2013

by on Sep.23, 2013, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland

Looking out of the office window, it was hard to reconcile the actual weather with the forecast.  I packed the car and set off for Newbiggin to collect Dan and Mary for a Druridge Bay mini-safari…and, just as I reached Church Point, the heavens opened 🙁  Not to worry – even in inclement conditions we can usually find somewhere to shelter and watch the wildlife.

This was surely going to be a morning to enjoy the bird’s that are comfortable in wet weather, seemingly unconcerned by wind and rain.  Close views of Dunlin, Ruff, Curlew, Redshank and Snipe were possible, and a group of Pintail were wandering around with the Teal, Mallard, Wigeon and Tufted Ducks.  After a morning that just seemed to fly by, and a fascinating one with the opportunity to chat with a professional photographer, we headed back to Newbiggin…as the weather improved 🙂

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“Not at all like a Pintail”

by on Sep.03, 2013, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland

How do you know what a particular species is?  That’s a frequently asked question on our tours and, fortunately, some species have a characteristic that makes them memorable.

I collected Christine and Jean from just north of Morpeth and we headed down to Church Point to collect Sue and Ray.  Our evening mini-safari was concentrating on Druridge Bay and the southeast Northumberland coast.  Late August is always an interesting time to be on the coast, with passage waders moving through, but also the occasional surprise among the wildfowl too.  Scanning through the Mallards, Teal, Tufted Duck and Gadwall, I saw three ducks flying in.  The unmistakeable black beaks and elegant demeanour of the new arrivals marked them out immediately as Pintail.  A beautiful duck in breeding plumage, but still very distinctive in plainer dress too and we watched them and discussed just how they differ from other ducks.

Later in the trip Christine described a dress worn recently by a TV presenter as ‘glaiky’.  Now, that’s a word I haven’t heard for a while.  It’s usually used to describe a person who is odd, daft, thoughtless, foolish, clumsy.  When Sue asked what it meant Jean had an excellent answer “Inelegant, not at all like a Pintail“.  Then, she turned to me and said “Ha. See, I was paying attention”.  So, from now on, Pintail will be described as not glaiky 🙂

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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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