Tag: Red Squirrel

Midwinter mammal magic; Otter and Squirrel Safari 10/01/2016

by on Jan.11, 2016, under Druridge Bay, Otter, Southeast Northumberland

Trips with more than one target species can be tricky, particularly if the different targets don’t occur at the same sites as each other…

I collected Lynn, Alan, Glynis and Michael from Swarland and we headed southeast towards Druridge Bay.  The weather forecast promised showers and the first of those, accompanied by a bone-chilling breeze, hit just as we reached our first site. What didn’t mind the weather though were the two Otter cubs that we were soon watching 🙂  We watched them for 30 mins as they fed synchronously in turbulent water; drifting , diving, bobbing up like corks and, after coming very close to us, eventually drifting away when they heard a dog-walker shouting at her errant pet.  A walk on the beach worked up an appetite for lunch and then we were off in search of our second target for the day.  Chaffinch, Bullfinch, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit and Great Spotted Woodpecker were all visiting feeding stations but in the icy breeze I wasn’t overly confident that we’d have any luck.  Checking a different clump of trees proved the key though, and we soon found ourselves just a few metres away from an apparently unconcerned Red Squirrel 🙂  As dusk approached, Little Grebe, Goldeneye and Mute Swan were silhouetted against water turned pink by a stunning sunset, and Lapwings flew by like gigantic moths in the half light.

Multi-mammal days are always fantastic.  Our one day record on a trip with clients is 8 species, but there’ll surely come a day (probably during the summer when we can search for bats at the end of the day) when we hit double figures!

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The Chase; Kielder Safari 14/10/2014

by on Oct.15, 2014, under Birdwatching, Kielder, Northumberland

We’ve always tended to stick to the coast during the autumn and winter, but our Dark Skies experiences are attracting a lot of interest, particularly with clients who’d like to combine a wildlife tour with stargazing.  Of course, the stargazing is rather weather dependent…

I collected Lorraine, Steve, Debbie and Gary from their holiday cottage in Longframlington and we headed west, along the Coquet Valley, nestled between the Cheviot Hills and Simonside and across into Kielder.  The border forests aren’t blessed with quantity of wildife at this time of the year, but there’s no doubting the quality 🙂  Red Squirrels were the main target species for the trip, which Lorraine had booked as a wedding anniversary surprise for Debbie and Gary, and they didn’t disappoint, with two animals engaged in a furious chase around the trees as they struggled for dominance over a feeder.  One quickly prevailed and began hoarding nuts, coming so close that you could almost reach out and touch it.  Ravens were soaring over the road, and the one bird that was present in good numbers, as expected, was Chaffinch.  We crossed over the border into Scotland, enjoying close views of Common Buzzards as they held position in the breeze above a ridge, a Kestrel perched on a telegraph pole and Stonechats in roadside vegetation.  A covey of Red Grouse burst from the heather, then another, and then the source of their distress drifted by – a ringtail Hen Harrier 🙂  The harrier quartered back and forth over the moor for a few minutes before dropping out of sight and we made our way onward over the desolate moorland road.

As daylight faded and roosting Cormorants squabbled noisily, a Roe Deer was grazing quietly by the water’s edge.  It came right down to the water to drink and then we could hear the splashing of ducks frantically trying to take off from the reeds.  Had the deer disturbed them? No, by the edge of the reeds an Otter made its way menacingly along from where the ducks had flushed…and then got out of the water, spooking the deer and chasing it a few metres up the bank 🙂  It would have had to be an optimistic Otter to try and predate a Roe Deer, so they may well have just startled each other.

We made our way back across Northumberland, hoping for a break in the weather and a starry sky but it wasn’t to be and the first drops of rain peppered the windscreen as we reached Longframlington.  Then I just had a short journey home to a delicious birthday dinner 🙂

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People watching; Red Squirrel Bespoke Safari 03/06/2014

by on Jun.10, 2014, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Harwood, Northumberland, Red Squirrel

I love watching wildlife, always have done since I was very young and I love watching wildlife with our clients.  Sometimes though, people are just as interesting…

I collected Richard and Jan from their b&b in Chatton and we headed down through the centre of Northumberland in search of the Red Squirrel.  Our first stop was one of our regular sites for squirrels, but didn’t produce the goods this time.  Next was what a friend described as the best ‘guaranteed’ site for Red Squirrel in Northumberland…no joy here either, although it looked perfect.  We weren’t the only people in the hide – a couple came in and he set up his camera while his wife tried to keep their dog quiet.  Then she dropped his tripod on the hide floor.  Unfortunate, and could happen to anyone, but likely to reduce the chance of seeing a squirrel.  Then it happened again, careless, but still not helping the cause of wildife watching.  Her husband didn’t even flinch as the tripod crashed to the floor and, when it happened for a third time, we were all wondereing if it was his wife’s way of trying to get his attention.  If it was she was failing spectacularly 😉 At that point we gave up and headed across towards the coast, where I’d planned to have our lunch stop at another site that has worked well for us on previous Red Squirrel trips.  Sure enough, as soup and sandwiches were consumed, a squirrel came down from the canopy in search of it’s lunch 🙂  It made off with a peanut and was soon back for more.

After achieving our main aim for the day we spent the rest of the afternoon around Druridge BayAvocet, Spoonbill, Little Egret, Bearded Tit, Black-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover, Great Crested Grebe and much more made for an excellent afternoon birdwatching. following on from a morning of squirrelwatching and peoplewatching 🙂

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Kettling; Kielder Safari 23/04/2014

by on Apr.25, 2014, under Birdwatching, Kielder, Northumberland

The alarm went off at 06:00 on Wednesday, and my heart sank as I looked out of the window…heavy mist, not ideal for any of our tours, but particularly not good for a day in Kielder.  I drove to Kingston Park to collect Steph and we headed west in much more promising conditions; low cloud in some valleys, but some sunshine too.  We collected Paul and Trish from Wark, and then Ivan from Tower Knowe and headed into the forest.  It was a bit cool and misty for any raptors to be up and about, but two Common Crossbill flew by and the air around us was filled with the descending silvery cadence of Willow Warblers as Woodpigeons, Stock Doves and Carrion Crows caused a brief quickening of the heart rate as they flew between plantations.

A walk to the Bakethin reserve produced lots of Siskin, and Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Teal, Oystercatcher, Cormorant and Common Sandpiper were around the water’s edge.  As we got back to the car park, which provided good views of Treecreepers, Paul spotted a raptor high overhead, and binoculars resolved it into the impressive shape of an Osprey.

Over the border into Scotland we were soon encountering Common Buzzards, lots of them, and a remarkable number of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits.  We reached our picnic spot and, as soup, sandwiches and carrot cake were consumed, raptors began to appear above the skyline.  First Common Buzzards, then a female Hen Harrier, followed soon after by a skydancing grey male 🙂  Then more Common Buzzards, and more Common Buzzards At one point we had between four and six birds behind us, while higher up the valley at least ten were kettling in one thermal along with a Peregrine 🙂  Absolute heaven for any birdwatcher who enjoys raptors…and who doesn’t?  Along the stream Reed Buntings were pretending to be Dippers, but we did eventually find the genuine article, which obligingly bobbed up and down on a rock before diving into the fast flowing water, and Wheatears were perched on old stone walls.  On the hillsides high above the valley bottom, Wild Goats were grazing as we enjoyed close views of Common Buzzards both perched and flying, and Red Grouse were found as we crossed the moors back towards England.

We finished the trip with an uncountable number of Chaffinches and a real Northumberland speciality as a Red Squirrel ran around on the ground before deciding to hang upside down on a peanut cage, and it was time to reverse the route and drop everyone off.

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Look who’s stalking; bespoke photography 24/03/2014

by on Mar.29, 2014, under Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast, Photography

Monday was a day with the potential to go either way, and I was nervous.  I first met John when himself and Helen were on a North Sea pelagic in June last year and we found this little beauty.  This trip was something altogether different though – Helen had arranged a one-to-one photography day.  Our one-to-one days focus on whatever our clients would like to work on – sometimes techniques (exposure/composition/fieldcraft etc.), sometimes species (Black Grouse, Otter and Red Squirrel are just some of the ones we’ve helped clients to photograph) – and John’s request was to develop his techniques for getting good images of shorebirds.  Now, using fieldcraft developed over 40yrs is one thing when I’m in the field on my own…teaching it, with our subject right where it can see us, is slightly more challenging 😉

I collected John from home in Morpeth and we headed north until we were in the impressive shadow of Bamburgh CastlePurple Sandpiper, Oystercatcher, Turnstone and Eider were all approached with stealth and patience before we made our way down the Northumberland coast to Druridge Bay, stopping off and stalking Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Sanderling, Redshank, Grey Plover, Ringed Plover and Dunlin and finishing the day’s photography with the slightly easier proposition of Reed Bunting, Blue Tit and Lesser Redpoll at a feeding station before admiring the Red-necked Grebe that I first found back in mid-February – now in a much more attractive plumage than it was five weeks ago.

John very kindly supplied some of his images from the day, for which we’re very grateful, so here they are 🙂  You can click on them to see the full size images, and please do get in touch with us if you’d like to get more from your camera equipment.

Common Eider, Somateria mollissima, Northumberland, photography tuition, bird photography, one to one photography, bird photography holidays

Common Eider

Turnstone, Arenaria interpres, Purple Sandpiper, Calidris maritima, Northumberland, photography tuition, bird photography, one to one photography, bird photography holidays

Purple Sandpiper and Turnstone

Oystercatcher, Haematopus ostralegus, Northumberland, photography tuition, bird photography, one to one photography, bird photography holidays

Oystercatcher

Common Redshank, Tringa totanus, Northumberland, photography tuition, bird photography, one to one photography, bird photography holidays

Common Redshank

Sanderling, Calidris alba, Northumberland, photography tuition, bird photography, one to one photography, bird photography holidays

Sanderling

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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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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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Eye to eye with the predator; Bespoke Photography 21/10/2013

by on Oct.31, 2013, under Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast, Photography, Southeast Northumberland

The chilly morning air was biting as I arrived in Seahouses to collect Peter, Caroline and Aidan.  With camera gear loaded into the back of the car we headed down the Northumberland coast with two species in particular on our target list for the day – one relatively easy, one slightly less so…

I’d planned the morning to take in a couple of sites for Red Squirrel, and the early afternoon to stake out a regular Otter spot.  So, Red Squirrel is the relatively easy species out of those two…but the first rule of wildlife photography should be ‘wildlife doesn’t perform to order’ and both sites we visited, which have healthy populations of Red Squirrel, didn’t produce any sightings.  That’s often the case though when it’s damp, cool and breezy, so we headed on in search of our second target for the day.  After a brief stake out of a handsome male Stonechat we made our way to the edge of a pond, and were told by another birdwatcher who was there that he’d seen an Otter just 15mins earlier, and it had headed across the pond.  I looked across in the direction he thought it had gone…and the entire bank was lined with ducks and geese.  A good sign; the Otter had obviously spooked them out of the water but it must be still somewhere in the pond, as all of the birds were staring intently.  I couldn’t see any disturbance in the water in that direction though and I was just remarking that I thought the Otter could still be nearby, when it surfaced in front of us 🙂  For the next couple of hours we were treated to regular feeding sorties as the sinuous mustelid caught fish after fish, including at least one large FlounderCormorants and Grey Herons were fishing too, a Water Rail put in a couple of typically fleeting appearances, Common Snipe were prodding, probing and miraculously vanishing in short vegetation, Lapwing, Curlew and Redshank were roosting, calling and occasionally flushing, Mallard and Teal kept standing to attention every time the Otter was close by, a murmuration of Starlings away to the north disbanded into smaller flocks that flew straight over our heads and seven Little Gulls danced their dainty flight back and forth over the pond.  Perhaps the moment of the day though, was when the Otter appeared around the edge of a reedbed and started straight into Aidan’s camera lens.  The second rule of wildlife photography should be ‘…and sometimes it does’ 🙂

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Four seasons in one day

by on Apr.16, 2013, under Birdwatching, Kielder, Northumberland

Last week’s Kielder Safari was at the back end of that period of wintry weather that seemed to have been around for quite some time, and the snow provided one of the highlights of the day.

I collected Lucy, Mark and ‘the Mums’, Pat and Alison, from their holiday cottage in Falstone and we set out to explore the border forests.  Coal Tits, Great Tits, Blue Tits, Greenfinches and Chaffinches…and Chaffinches…and Chaffinches were seen in the forested areas and there seemed to be a small movement of Blackbirds, with four males in quick succession heading west along one steep sided valley.

Dipper was on the target list for the day, and a stop at one of our favourite spots just south of the Scottish border produced not one, but two birds; dipping, swimming, flying, calling – a whole range of Dipper behaviour 🙂  Another riverside stop at a ‘staked out’ spot produced views of a gaudy drake Mandarin, looking so odd in the cold and gloom of the mid afternoon as he made his way along the edge of the water.

Wild Goats feature in most, if not all, of our Kielder trips and we had them on open moorland as well as a small group in amongst the trees along a forest track.  Also out on the open moors, Red Grouse took a little bit of effort to find (as they often do in strong cold winds), and a Common Buzzard caused momentary panic as it looked particularly narrow-winged and pale.

As the afternoon wore on, and the skies were suddenly blue and the landscape bathed in sunlight, it was a great contrast to the start of the day.  Just a few hours earlier we were standing on the edge of a steep forested valley, looking across to one of our most reliable sites for Goshawk, watching as a succession of snow storms moved along the valley, driven by the strong easterly wind, and the very edge of the snow just peppered our position. ‘The Mums’ retreated to the car (and who could blame them?) the Goshawks and Red Squirrels stayed in the shelter of trees (and who could blame them?) and comparisons were drawn with New Zealand, Canada, and the possibility of four seasons in one day.  The forest and Kielder Water may be a man-made landscape, but it has the feel of a remote wilderness area, and some excellent wildlife too 🙂

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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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