Tag: Red Fox

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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Damp, dark woodland; Badger safari 17/05/2014

by on May.23, 2014, under Badger, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

During Thursday’s Otter Safari, we were chatting about the different mammals that can be encountered in Northumberland and Albert asked whether we had many Badgers in Northumberland.  I described their distribution, and how we go about finding and watching them, and before the evening was finished we’d arranged a Badger mini-safari for Saturday.

On my way to collect Albert and Elisabeth I was listening to commentary on the FA Cup final and suffered the heartbreak of Aaron Ramsey’s extra time winner for Arsenal (there’s a big cat, not found in Northumberland, that’s very close to my heart!).  We made our way to our regular Badger site, and settled into position.  Song Thrushes, Blackbirds, Robins andWrens were all calling as daylight faded, and then the Tawny Owls started hooting and ‘ke-wick’ ing.  At one point there were at least three owls calling, including one close to our spot, and one perched tantalisingly hidden in the canopy high overhead.  As on so many of our Badger trips, the first mammals to appear were Red Foxes – with an adult and two cubs running about on the hillside opposite us, occasionally pausing to stare across the valley with gloom-piercing eyes.  One Badger appeared as well; probably the largest that I’ve ever seen, running along the same track that the foxes had been on, before making it’s way along a trail through the vegetation and into the gloom.

Sitting with clients who have a real appreciation of mammals, on a damp woodland floor, as daylight fades and the world becomes one of owls, foxes, badgers and inexplicable noises, is one of my favourite things…and for a few hours it even took my mind off ‘that’ goal 🙂

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On silent wings; Northumberland coast 26/04/2014

by on May.06, 2014, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

There are some species that are favourites with particular clients, there are others that may be fairly common but still have good wildlife experience appeal, and then there are a select few that have everybody watching their every move…

I arrived at Church Point and quickly located Carol, Dave, Megan and Emily.  Our carload was soon complete with the arrival of Mr and Mrs Robertson and we headed north along the Northumberland coast.  Our aim for the afternoon was to visit several Otter sites, in the hope of catching sight of the elusive sinuous predator.  Cold and windy isn’t an ideal weather condition for the search and it turned out that the closest we came (probably) was a sudden panic and ducks heading purposefully away from a reedbed, and an unseen menace.  Throughout the afternoon and evening there was plenty of avian interest; male Ruff, part way to breeding plumage, Grey Herons, stalking menacingly along the waters edge, Little Grebes, diving before surfacing with tiny fish, the cartoon-like Goosanders and Red-breasted Mergansers, noisy Greylag and Canada Geese and delicate, dainty Avocets, suddenly transformed into a furious vision of Hell when a female Marsh Harrier drifted foolishly over their pond.  As dark descended, Moorhens were making their way along the river side and Emily demonstrated remarkable hearing, picking out the squeaking of a shrew in the bankside vegetation. Eerie mammalian screeching from the woodland on the other side of the river was probably an altercation between Red Foxes as the last remnants of daylight gave way to the dark.

The moment that had everyone’s attention focused came at sunset, in beautiful light.  We were almost back at the car when I spotted a familiar shape hovering above the dunes.  It dipped out of sight, before lifting from the grasses and heading towards us.  It dipped again, then perched on a fencepost before resuming the hunt.  Subtly coloured with mesmerising black eyes that are quite unforgettable the ‘Ghost Owl’, ‘Death Owl’, ‘Hushwing’ or simply Barn Owl has a rich folklore and really is one of those select few species that you’ll never tire of watching 🙂

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Fantastic Mr Fox; Moorland and Coast 07/03/2014

by on Mar.14, 2014, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Harwood, Northumberland

One of the best bits of being outside and searching for wildlife is the how everything around you ties together to create an experience; the landscape, the wildlife and the weather all come together to produce whatever they may…

I collected Paul and Jeanette from their holiday accommodation in Warkworth and we started out down the coast towards Druridge Bay.  Originally the plan had been Harwood and then the coast, but weather conditions suggested it would be better to reverse that.  Then there was a sudden change from the poor conditions and it was looking like a glorious morning after all so we reverted to Plan A.  The Northumbrian weather responded by throwing everything it could at us; sunshine, azure blue skies, fluffy white clouds, torrential rain and brutal biting winds all came, went and came again 🙂 There was no sign of any Goshawk activity in the good spells but you could hardly blame them 🙂  Eventually we retreated back down to the coastal plain…and had the same sequence of changeable weather all over again!  Feeding stations were a hive of bird activity, with Chaffinches, Long-tailed Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit and a very bright male Siskin all entertaining us, but Red Squirrels weren’t to be seen.  Some of our coastal ponds have been producing regular Otter sightings over the last few months…but the most notable thing was that the howling gale was generating waves that you could have surfed on!  Tree Sparrows and Goldfinches were clinging on to branches as the wind buffeted them and, as Curlew, Lapwing and a nice mini-murmuration of Starlings were tossed about on the breeze, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye; Mallard, Wigeon, Teal, Shelduck and Slavonian, Red-necked, Great Crested and Little Grebe struggled in the waves.

Our final destination for the day was one of our favourite Badger setts.  There was rustling in the scrub on the valley sides, but no stripy black-and-white head appeared, at least not before it was too dark to see.  What did come along though was a Red Fox.  Unusually obliging, this one trotted along just above the sett before stopping and fixing us with a stare.  It didn’t bolt, as foxes so often do, but watched us, and some passing dog walkers, before continuing with its exploration of the hillside.  Often underrated, undervalued, frequently despised…but a thoroughly engaging animal if you take time to watch the almost feline grace of this wild canine.

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Home from home

by on Jan.16, 2014, under Birdwatching, Choppington Woods, Northumberland

During our quieter times of the year, I spend much of each day dealing with NEWT’s admin stuff.  I try to get out and enjoy some fresh air every day though…

It’s mid-January and it really should be cold; frozen ground, a dusting of snow, hoar frost on leaves and branches.  Instead, there’s a distinct air of early Autumn as I head out of the house and along the track to Choppington Woods.  The cold damp air coats everything in a thin layer of moisture, including me.  I soon give up using my binoculars as no sooner do I dry them than they’re fogged up again.  Instead, I rely on my hearing.  The thin high calls of Goldcrests emanate from the depths of the coniferous parts of the wood while the short sharp notes of Blackbirds surround me as they head to roost.  Then, from a hidden perch near the edge of one plantation, one of my favourite bird sounds lifts the gloom.  The tremulous hooting of a Tawny Owl, a sound that I’ll never tire of hearing.  We have at least two birds singing in the wee hours of the morning currently, both audible from our bedroom, and if they wake me up with their territorial caterwauling I’m not too bothered; I just lie there and listen to them, marveling at the rich complexity.  The bird on the plantation edge proves a master of disguise until, in response to a series of quavering hoots lower down the hill, it begins to move through the trees.  I follow it’s progress until it vanishes into the gloom and darkness of the canopy and I continue my walk.  Lost in my thoughts as daylight fades and everything begins to blur into the monochrome  realm of the owls, my reverie is disturbed as a Common Buzzard flaps laboriously over a plantation of Silver Birch. Like Cinderella, the buzzard is out and about perilously late, struggling to get home on time.

Now it’s near dark, and I’ve still got the final plantation to negotiate before I’m back home.  Some footpaths are good, some footpaths are bad…and some seem to gather water like a sponge.  As the clarty ground clings to my boots, trying to bind me to the earth, a Red Fox trots by, delivering what can only be a look of contempt at my ungainly struggle 🙂

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Watching the wildlife; Otter Safari 24/06/2013

by on Jun.26, 2013, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast, Otter, Southeast Northumberland

Sunday morning, and the weather forecast of impending doom brought the not unexpected ‘phone call that saw clients transferring from Sunday’s to Monday’s Otter Safari.  Monday afternoon, and the weather looked reasonable as I collected Ken and Rosemary from The Swan and then we drove to the coast and collected Paul, and Lisa and Steve, from Church Point.

I’d seen at least ten Otters in the last month, so I was fairly confident that an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay, southeast Northumberland and the Northumberland coast would have a higher-than-average chance of successfully locating our target species for the trip.  What we found raising interest in the local Mallards and Tufted Ducks in the mid-afternoon sunshine wasn’t an Otter, but the birds’ behaviour of slowly swimming along a reedbed, just a few metres from the shore, was a good indication of the predator they had spotted and we watched as a Red Fox slowly made it’s way along the edge of the pond followed by an ever-expanding entourage of ducks 🙂  At least eight Little Gulls provided some undeniably cute birdwatching interest and we continued our search.  The next mammal to join the day list was Rabbit, under-rated and attractive, but still not an Otter.  Flocks of geese and ducks seemed to be responding to some hidden menace;  getting out of the water, cackling as if startled, getting back in the water, getting out of the water…but still no sign of an Otter.

As dusk approached, and a Roe Deer walked slowly along the edge of the pond, there was a change in the mood of the assembled ducks; suddenly alert, feeding stopped and heads were raised as high as their outstretched necks would allow.  A pair of Greylag Geese were doing the same and Paul soon spotted the cause of their consternation as the head, then the sinuous body, and finally the tail, of an Otter broke the surface 🙂  Heading into a small bay in the reeds it soon slipped out of sight, only to reappear a few minutes later; twisting and turning as it fed close to the reeds.  Common Pipistrelle, as we walked back to the car, and Brown Hare, as we drove back towards Newbiggin, were mammals #5 and #6 for the day and the trip was rounded off with a Barn Owl, flying from a fence post as we passed by.

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Glorious

by on May.19, 2013, under Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

After the snow of last Monday, Tuesday brought two mini-safaris.  The first was a recce trip for a TV production company, assisting with checking out potential filming locations on the Northumberland coast.  The weather was glorious; beautiful blue sky, fluffy white clouds and a gentle breeze.  The peace and tranquility captured what Northumberland is all about – somewhere that you can relax and simply enjoy the countryside around you.

The second trip of the day began as I collected Neil and Ann from The Swan, and we headed out on a journey along the coast.  Avocets were sitting on nests, Reed Warblers, Sedge Warblers and Reed Buntings were all singing and an incredibly bright Yellow Wagtail walked along the water’s edge.  With a bit of persistence we located a Grasshopper Warbler singing from a reedbed, body quivering as it delivered it’s ‘reeling’ song with it’s head turning slowly from side-to-side.  As we continued northwards we came across the first of three Barn Owls for the evening.  As dusk approached Roe Deer came out of hiding, a Red Fox ran across directly in front of us carrying prey, Common Pipistrelles flitted backwards and forwards against the darkening sky and the assembled ducks, geese and swans started acting very nervously.  I’d checked that site with Sarah two days earlier and watched a very obliging Otter as it fed.  Today though it remained hidden in the reeds, almost certainly the cause of panic amongst the wildfowl…

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Creatures of the night

by on May.02, 2013, under Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

Even after 40+ years of wildlife-watching, there are still (in fact, quite often) occasions when I see something that’s really quite special.

After an afternoon around Druridge Bay and Southeast Northumberland with Michael and Wendy, we were heading for one of NEWT’s favourite spots along the River Wansbeck.  The afternoon had produced some excellent birdwatching, with four Yellow Wagtails, including one bird that was almost canary yellow, a White Wagtail, four Avocets, a female Marsh Harrier, and a Peregrine hunting pigeons.  As we passed Ellington a Barn Owl flew low across the road from our right, narrowly missing the oncoming traffic and quickly gained elevation above our side of the road with what appeared to be a look of surprise on it’s face 🙂

Surprise of the day came as we walked along the Wansbeck.  In still quite good light, a Daubenton’s Bat was hawking low over the water.  It’s a species we’ve encountered frequently on our trips, but never in such good light that we could really appreciate the beautiful red-brown of it’s upperparts and the white underside.  As darkness fell, and we headed back to our starting point, another red-brown mammal finished the day for us, as a Red Fox trotted across the road.

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“You should have been here yesterday…”

by on Dec.12, 2012, under Northumberland, Red Fox, Red Squirrel, Southeast Northumberland

On days when one species doesn’t appear, the supporting cast can often be equally stunning.

An icy breeze was whistling around the car as I collected Matt and Kate for a day searching for Otters and other wildlife around southeast Northumberland.  We started with a riverside walk and were soon enjoying excellent views of a Kingfisher, stunning orange and electric blue, as it perched, hovered, dived and whizzed backwards and forwards along the river.  A Grey Wagtail bobbed around, oblivious to our presence, and a Little Grebe dived in the gravelly shallows.

Our next port of call produced a mixture of pleasure and sadness; while we were watching three Red Squirrels a Grey Squirrel appeared 🙁 Northumberland is probably the best place to see Red Squirrel in England, and the southeast of the county still has a few sites where excellent views can be obtained, but the arrival of Greys is often followed by the rapid spread of parapox through the local Red population.

A stop at East Chevington produced lots of Tufted Ducks and Goldeneye, more Little Grebes and a Grey Heron…and a strengthening breeze and increasing cloud cover.  If there was an Otter about, it was doing the sensible thing and keeping itself hidden away out of the wind.  Whooper Swans were sitting in a flooded field, with Mute Swans nearby for ease of comparison, and everything we encountered was facing into the wind to minimise heat loss.

Our final site for the day was another stretch of river; one that we walk regularly ourselves, and where we’d had up-to-date info about Otter activity.  A stunning Red Fox watched us inquisitively from the opposite side of the river, Moorhens swam back and forth with that curious jerky motion that they have and, as daylight gave way to darkness and a Tawny Owl called nearby, a succession of dog walkers commented “you should have been here yesterday…”.

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An eventful evening

by on Jun.17, 2011, under Badger, Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Red Fox, Red Squirrel, Southeast Northumberland

Thursday was my 3rd consecutive late finish.

Before setting off for a ‘Red Squirrel and Badger Safari’ I had a few admin things to get done including some more planning for the Birdwatching Northumberland stand at this year’s British Bird Fair (I’ve got 2 lecture slots at the Bird Fair this year!).

After collecting our picnic from The Swan, I headed to Church Point to collect Vince and Karin for their second safari day this week.  Some unexpected birdwatching highlights included a Little Tern and a Cuckoo.  A group of Tufted Ducks staring at a reedbed, and a clearly annoyed Mute Swan staring at the same reedbed and hissing, suggested that we were close to an Otter but in the blazing sunshine it stayed in the shade of the reeds and out of sight.

The first of the day’s targets was achieved with possibly the reddest Red Squirrel I’ve ever seen, simply stunning as it ran along the sun-dappled canopy, and then it was time to position ourselves close to our favourite Badger sett.  Would the badgers come close?  would they only appear when it was too dark to really appreciate what magnificent animals they are? all worries were eased when, in broad daylight, our first Badger of the evening came trotting along only 5m away, apparently oblivious to our presence.  Another 3 Badgers followed, as well as 3 Red Foxes, and Tawny Owls were calling from the trees around us.

Of all of our tours, our evening mammal trips perhaps have the greatest unpredictability and the most remarkable ‘atmosphere’ of them all.  It’s still my favourite time of the day 🙂

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