Tag: Ring Ouzel

Springtime in the hills; Bespoke Cheviot Valleys Safari 20/04/16

by on Apr.26, 2016, under Cheviot Valleys

mid-April can be a strange time inland.  Some summer visitors will have arrived, but you can never be quite sure which ones…

I collected Richard and Florence from West Acre House and we headed westwards towards the central massif of Northumberland.  An unexpected, and very pleasant, surprise was bumping into Dean from Cheviot View who was enjoying a walk in the glorious sunshine.  Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Great Crested Grebe, Canada Goose, Greylag Goose and Oystercatcher were all pottering around on old gravel pits as Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Blackcap all sang and fed, a Brown Hare loped through the trees and we headed deeper into the valleys as lunchtime approached, encountering Pheasant after Pheasant, and Red-legged Partridge after Red-legged Partridge, as well as Mistle Thrush and Song Thrush obligingly feeding next to each other and offering an opportunity for comparison as a Dipper bobbed up and down on a mid-stream rock before flying up to it’s concealed nest.  Red Grouse cackled, the trilling buzz of Lesser Redpoll punctuated the air overhead, the eerie cries of Curlew echoed around the valley, the swee-wee-wee-wee-wee of a nervous Common Sandpiper pierced the excited bubbling of the stream and Common Buzzards soared lazily on the warm breeze as the shocking yellow of a Grey Wagtail added a splash of colour to the dappled light of the valley bottom.  Swallow and Sand Martin harvested the bountiful insects overhead and, as we walked back down the valley towards the car, I could hear a simple song from the steeper ground above us.  Focusing my attention on the direction that the sound was coming from brought not one, not two, but three Ring Ouzels 🙂

Certainly felt like the spring…

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Embrace the weather; Druridge Bay Bespoke Birdwatching 07/10/2015

by on Oct.08, 2015, under Druridge Bay, Otter

Crisp clear winter nights for stargazing, calm conditions for our North Sea Pelagic trips and warm summer nights for Otter Safaris are all fantastic, but what really gets my heart racing is mist, drizzle and winds from the east in October…

I collected Tony from his b&b in Newbiggin for the first of three days of bespoke birdwatching, and we started just down the road at Church Point.  Walking north along the clifftop we were soon watching Rock Pipits, Wheatears, Dunlin, Purple Sandpiper, Curlew, Ringed Plover, Redshank, Sanderling, Gannet, Eider and a remarkably confiding Golden Plover.  I’d just suggested that we’d find a Snow Bunting ‘in the next 50 metres’ when one shuffled out from the sparse ground cover just in front of us 🙂  Staring at bushes and trees produced Blackcap, Robin, Dunnock, lots of Reed Bunting, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Ring Ouzel, three Yellow-browed Warblers, a Kestrel that was causing regular alarm, flocks of Golden Plover high overhead and an enjoyable chat with Alan.

Lunchtime brought the rain that had been forecast and the afternoon in Druridge Bay produced Little Egret, Grey Heron, Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Ring Ouzel, Redwing, flocks of Goldfinch and Linnet, a juvenile Marsh Harrier and an Otter that Tony spotted as it made it’s way along the edge of a reedbed.  And the rain continued…just what I was hoping for ahead of day two for Tony; a trip to Holy Island 🙂

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Wind tunnel; North Pennines Safari 06/06/2015

by on Jun.10, 2015, under Farne Islands, North Pennines

When I arrived at Waren Mill to collect Kevin and Chris, things weren’t looking promising for our planned Farne Islands Safari.  We drove down to the sea at Bamburgh and a quick look told me all I needed to know; there really was no chance of boats sailing out of Seahouses with the frothy white sea being driven by a strengthening southwesterly breeze.  A quick discussion revealed a few species that Chris hasn’t seen yet, and we headed southwest towards the North Pennines to try and catch up with a couple of those.

Ring Ouzel was first up on our revised ‘shopping list’ and we got out of the car, only to discover that it was now so windy that standing upright was a challenge!  We were close to a nest site, and I’ve spent enough years there to know that the birds feed in an area of short grass and clumps of rush just below the narrow secluded valley where they nest.  A couple of minutes later I was scanning along the line of a drystone wall – and a male Ring Ouzel hopped out from behind a clump of rush 🙂  After a few minutes, enjoying good views of the ‘Mountain Blackbird’ as he crossed the rough pasture, we continued on our way.  Curlew, Red Grouse, Golden Plover, Lapwing and a Woodcock, contentedly digging worms out of the earth, were all seen as we headed towards the next species on Chris’s target list.  Black Grouse can be a difficult bird to find in the middle of the day, but I knew where I would expect them to be, and Kevin quickly spotted a dark head, with the tell-tale huge red eyebrow, poking up from the dense grassland.  More Black Grouse followed and we headed across to the coast in search of a third lifer for Chris.  The howling wind appeared to be driving a storm in our direction, and we just managed to find a Roseate Tern before the first rain drops started pattering on our heads 🙂

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A hailstorm of quality; Cheviots Prestige Tour 19/05/2015

by on May.22, 2015, under Cheviot Valleys

As I arrived at Spindrift to collect David and Margaret for their second trip with NEWT, following a day in the North Pennines in 2013, I was thinking about how to structure the rest of the day.  The weather forecast suggested that there would be heavy showers by early afternoon, so I thought it would make sense to do a longer walk before then, and check sites that we could park near as the afternoon wore on and the weather deteriorated…

One of the main target species for our trips into the Cheviot Valleys is Ring Ouzel, so hearing a male in full song as you get out of the car is always a good start 🙂  He was singing from a dry stone wall, as his mate hopped around on the grass below and a second pair of ouzels flew over calling.  A pair of Whinchats were on a heather covered hillside where a Red Grouse was sunning herself, as Grey Wagtails and Dippers bobbed up and down on midstream rocks, the buzzing song of a Common Redpoll revealed the presence of this attractive finch overhead and a Tree Pipit parachuted down from the sky.  A few spots of rain soon cleared to give much brighter conditions and Common Buzzards soared and lazily hovered over the valley tops as a Cuckoo called persistently but remained hidden from view.  Then the sky started to darken and a few drops of rain quickly turned into a heavy hailstorm with rumbling thunder adding to the extraordinary atmospheric conditions.  The hailstorm moved away down the valley and we made our way back to the car, stopping to admire a male Ring Ouzel feeding only 30m away from us, in a field rendered white with hail.  Common Sandpipers bobbed along the stream edge and more Common Buzzards soared against the steep sides of the valley.

There were two species that David and Margaret were both very keen to see during the day, and I thought I knew just the place for them.  So, in mid-afternoon we found ourselves in a beautiful, atmospheric area of woodland…marvelling at the beauty of a pair of Common Redstarts and watching a mating pair of Pied Flycatchers, with all four birds in the same tree at one point 🙂  As we headed back to Seahouses, we could see some impressive storms in every direction, so I suspected I might have a challenging drive back home at the end of the day…

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Weasily identifiable; Lindisfarne Safari 20/04/2015

by on Apr.21, 2015, under Lindisfarne

April is when we start to spend more time visiting our inland areas, but the coast can still deliver real quality, and quantity, at this time of the year too.

I collected Sue and Colin from Beadnell and we headed north to Holy Island.  Crossing the causeway we paused to watch Eider and Red-breasted Merganser in the channel under the road.  The mudflats produced Redshank, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Grey Plover and Bar-tailed Godwit, as well as a lot, and it really was a lot, of Grey Seals.  Close to 2000 were hauled out and soon began their eerie moaning.  Black-tailed Godwit and Teal were sleeping by the edge of the Rocket Pool, a lone Brent Goose was kept company by a herd of sheep, Meadow Pipits, Goldfinches and Skylarks were hurrying back and forth, a Redwing was foraging on the ground close to the field edge, a Sedge Warbler was singing it’s repetitive song from the reeds by the Lough as a Common Snipe put in a typically brief appearance and 12 Roe Deer were grazing near the Straight Lonnen.  Then we struck gold…walking slowly along the Hawthorns, a bird flushed from beside us.  The views were only brief but the white breast band, and silvery wing flashes, identified the bird as a male Ring Ouzel.  We continued walking slowly along the lonnen, and the bird kept a few metres ahead of us.  Then we lost track of it but stopped to watch two Blackbirds grubbing about in the undergrowth…and the ouzel called from a tree we’d already passed.  We turned as it flew out of hiding…followed by another, then another, and another and finally, a fifth male Ring Ouzel 🙂

Over on the mainland we had our picnic lunch as the eerie calls of Curlew floated through the heat haze across the mudflats and Sue spotted a Weasel.  It was running in and out of the vegetation so I started pishing…and it popped up and began running in our direction, sitting up on its hindlegs and staring straight at us 🙂  Eventually it got back on with whatever it was doing, and it put in repeat appearances for a few minutes.  A Brown Hare gave tantalising close views before vanishing into the crops and we finished in the shadow of Bamburgh Castle with Sand Martins hawking insects over the beach, Eiders bobbing in the gentle swell, a pair of Common Scoter slightly further from the shore, more Grey Seals, plunge-diving Sandwich Terns and lines of Gannets heading, mainly, north.  Not a bad range of wildlife for seven hours in mid-April 🙂

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Ringing the changes; Druridge Bay 18/04/2015

by on Apr.21, 2015, under Birdwatching, Cheviot Valleys, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

Saturday saw Roger returning for a second day out with NEWT, after Kielder in May 2012, and, as he was stopping at The Swan, we chatted on Friday evening about the possible options.

Although Druridge Bay was still planned to be the focus of part of the day, we decided to start with a quick trip into the Cheviot Valleys first.  Lapwings were displaying, newly arrived Willow Warblers seemed to have comandeered almost every bush and tree, Dippers were bobbing up and down on mid-stream rocks, a Peregrine soared along the top edge of the valley as Red Grouse chuckled and chuntered from the heather-clad slopes below and then, in a bare tree in a narrow steep sided valley, a real prize – a stunning male Ring Ouzel 🙂  Roger spotted another Peregrine and then a female Ring Ouzel perched obligingly in another bare tree.

The coast had lots of what we would expect…but the ‘quality over quantity’ of the hills won out on the day 🙂

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Scouring the moors; North Pennines birdwatching 25/06/2013

by on Jun.26, 2013, under Birdwatching, North Pennines, Northumberland

Returning clients have become a bit of a theme for NEWT in the last couple of years, and it’s always lovely to meet up and hear what our clients have been doing, and seeing, since they were last out with us.

Mike and Maggie were visiting Northumberland again, and their day out with me this year was to be a bespoke birdwatching and photography experience in the North Pennines.  As soon as we were on the higher ground, Curlew, Golden Plover, Lapwing and Red Grouse were all found with chicks, Redshank were calling noisily from nearby rushy fields and Skylark and Meadow Pipits were singing overhead.  More Red Grouse and Golden Plover became targets for Mike’s camera and a Ring Ouzel feeding in a grassy field flew up onto a dry stone wall, next to another ouzel, as a third flew across the road behind us.  As we dropped from the high ridge between Weardale and Upper Teesdale, an unexpected bonus bird was sitting in the middle of the road.  The unmistakeable ‘built like a breeze block’ figure of a Woodcock was just sitting there.  As we watched, it called, and two Woodcock chicks came out of the long grass to join it 🙂  Creeping along on short legs and big feet, the adult bobbed up and down, like a Jack Snipe on steroids, as it led it’s young across into the dense cover of the grass on the opposite side of the road.

Our post-lunch walk produced Golden Plover, Ringed Plover, Grey Wagtail, Red Grouse, a single Spring Gentian and a female Ring Ouzel, gathering food by a  fast flowing stream.  The journey back towards Allendale was enlivened by the impressive wingspan and mad staring yellow eyes of a Short-eared Owl as it quartered the high moorland.  There was one species on our target list for the day that was still missing though, and we’d already checked almost all of our usual sites.  Then, as we crossed back into Northumberland, I slowed the car almost to a standstill and mentioned that the next field on the left, in between the clumps of rush closest to the road, was a regular spot for Black Grouse… 🙂

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One Cuckoo flew over the pipit’s nest; birdwatching in the Cheviot Valleys 09/06/2013

by on Jun.11, 2013, under Birdwatching, Cheviot Valleys, Northumberland

Sunday was another trip into the Cheviot Valleys, with two of our returning clients.  We first met Pete and Janet at the Bird Fair in 2008 and this was their third trip with us (plus a trip that they organised for their local Natural History Society in 2009).  It’s always a pleasure to meet up with them, and the prospect of a trip into the Cheviots was a mouthwatering one.  You just never know what you’ll find, or see…

The trip started with two species that we didn’t find on our Cheviots trip on Thursday; two Brown Hares were sitting by the ‘wader puddle’ and, one of our target species for the day – two Ring Ouzels flew over us, calling, as we started the first of the days walks.  Janet soon spotted a juvenile Dipper, and we watched as an adult flew in and fed it.  Grey Wagtails were all along the valley, a Spotted Flycatcher was living up to it’s name admirably and a very obliging Tree Pipit perched close to the path.  As on Thursday’s trip we heard, but couldn’t see, a Common Redstart.

Every so often, something happens that leaves us marveling at nature…and Sunday provided an extraordinary spectacle.  As we sat eating our lunch by a small stream, enjoying close views of Lesser Redpoll (a species we’d been hearing all morning although only seeing as small flying dots) I noticed a bird flying across the valley.  Initially it looked like a Kestrel – until I raised my binoculars and the pointy-winged, long-tailed, shape resolved into a Cuckoo.  It headed down into the heather and was immediately chased by a pair of Meadow Pipits.  They pursued it part way across the valley and it dropped out of sight behind the trees…only to reappear a minute later, chased by more pipits.  Landing in exactly the same spot in the heather it was chased away for a second time, by four pipits.  It rose higher and then began soaring, with the flap-flap-glide that is so characteristic of a Sparrowhawk.  More Meadow Pipits joined the attack, presumably revealing their nest locations, and the bird suddenly closed its wings and dropped like a stone, out of sight behind the trees.  A minute later and the Cuckoo was heading across the valley again, dropping back in the same spot as previously.  This time it was driven off by a pair of Red Grouse, that came charging down from near the summit of the hill, and it flew back and out of sight behind the trees, only to reappear a few seconds later with more Meadow Pipits in tow.  In total we watched it make ten visits to what was presumably a Meadow Pipit nest that it was targeting.  By the ninth visit it spent several seconds on the ground with angry pipits swirling around it’s head, which we could see sticking up above the heather, and the tenth visit was a prolonged one too.  After that it flew back across the valley and didn’t reappear, so perhaps it had been successful in laying an egg in the pipit nest.

Our final walk of the day produced another example of birds defending their nesting territory, as the plaintive cries of a pair of Curlew echoed around the steep valley sides and we looked up to see them flying at a Common Buzzard.  The buzzard continued on it’s way and the Curlews dropped out of sight above the ridge, only to reappear a few seconds later as a second buzzard flew down the valley.  Excellent weather, stunning scenery and clients whose enthusiasm and knowledge adds so much to the day 🙂

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North Pennines Birdwatching 13/05/13

by on May.14, 2013, under Birdwatching, North Pennines, Northumberland

I collected Andreas ahead of a day of birdwatching in the North Pennines with two things in mind; Andreas’ target list for the day (Red Grouse, Black Grouse, Ring Ouzel) and the weather forecast (sleet and snow showers, temps as low as 7C)…

Glorious and breezy weather accompanied our journey southwest and we were soon at the first of our regular Black Grouse sites.  We arrived there just ahead of the first of the day’s snow showers – which saw the temperature plummet all the way down to 1C!  We soon found our first Red Grouse of the day, as Curlews displayed overhead, and a third of Andreas’ target list had been achieved.  An unexpected find by Andreas was a Woodcock, tucked into the vegetation as we made our way across from Allendale to Weardale.

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Soon after the Woodcock we came across a displaying Common Snipe, and then our first Black Grouse of the day; a male sitting on a drystone wall, iridescent blue in the sunshine, followed by this bird, half-heartedly displaying while another one fed close by.  Two out of three…

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Brilliant sunshine was followed by snow, was followed by brilliant sunshine, was followed by snow, and that pattern continued throughout the rest of the day.

As we headed for our regular lunch spot, Andreas spotted a female Ring Ouzel, and completed his target list for the day 🙂  As the sunshine bathed the landscape around us, a very confiding Lapwing allowed some easy photography.

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After watching two Blackcock lekking, with seven other birds pottering about nearby, we headed northeast.  The heaviest snow of the day accompanied our journey out of the hills, a reminder that conditions on high ground can be poor at any time…but the reward for braving our remotest landscapes is some really high quality birdwatching.

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Black Grouse Bonanza Day 1; Nothing to grouse about

by on Apr.22, 2013, under Birdwatching, North Pennines, Northumberland

As I drove to Peth Head Cottage on Thursday afternoon, the rain was hammering against the car windscreen.  Friday’s forecast was good though so, after a meal at The Travellers Rest in Slaley, I reminded Derek and Deirdre that we would have an early start the next morning.

19/04/2013 05:00…the incessant ringing of the alarm pierced the depths of my sleep and I jumped out of bed, showered and opened my bedroom window.  The dawn chorus, mainly Blackbirds, Robins and Song Thrushes, was deafening, and the last remnants of rain were pattering down as we set off across the moors to a Black Grouse lek.  Roe Deer were watching us from a roadside field and a Tawny Owl flew across in front of us, no doubt heading for a secluded daytime roosting site.  First lek site, no birds, second lek site two Greyhens and a distant altercation between two Blackcock along a drystone wall as Curlew, Snipe, Oystercatcher and Lapwing displayed nearby and a Common Buzzard lumbered its way across the horizon.  A third site produced the goods though as, adjacent to a field filled with summer-plumaged Golden Plover, two Blackcock were strutting their stuff for the benefit of three Greyhens…who watched them with what appeared to be complete indifference 🙂

After returning to Peth Head for a delicious, and very filling, breakfast (accompanied by Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Siskins, Robins, Dunnocks and a Reed Bunting on the feeders just outside the dining room window) we set out again.  By now, the sun was up, bathing the moors in sublime warm tones, and Derek spotted the tell-tale white flash of a displaying Blackcock.  This bird was strutting around next to two Greyhens, head down, tail up, pausing occasionally to stand bolt upright before jumping in the air and singing.  Just beyond the lekking lothario, a Short-eared Owl was quartering the moor.  Backwards and forwards on long narrow wings, the owl flew closer to our position, until eventually binoculars were put down when the field of view was completely filled with yellow-eyed menace as the owl flew over the bonnet of the car before veering away just inches from the windscreen.

Deeper into the North Pennines AONB, over moorland liberally sprinkled with pairs of Red Grouse, flocks of Golden Plover flying around and giving their plaintive call, with a Dunlin easily picked out in one flock by it’s small size, and farmland with Brown Hares chasing each other, Derek’s sharp eyes picked out a bird on telegraph wires…and we had our first Ring Ouzel of the trip.  Singing it’s simple song, this could well have been the bird that I watched with Sarah in late March. A pair of Ring Ouzels followed soon after, staying just ahead of the car as we traversed a narrow road high above Weardale.  Deirdre spotted several displaying Blackcock and we passed from Weardale into Upper Teesdale.  Walking the remote moors produced close views of Red Grouse, Golden Plover, Wheatear, Skylark and Meadow Pipit before a completely unexpected find; for a second I wasn’t sure what I was watching, as a large brown and white bird drifted over the moor with deep lazy wingbeats, but as I lifted my binoculars I could barely contain my excitement as I let Derek and Deirdre know that there was an Osprey flying by!  We watched the bird as it hovered and then dived into a nearby reservoir, but it’s departure route took it out of sight so we didn’t see if it was successful in its hunt.  A pair of Goosander were feeding along the reservoir edge and, as they eventually crossed the open water, they picked up a Tufted Duck for company.

I had a hunch that Black Grouse would be lekking late afternoon, so we returned to a site that had held just one resting Blackcock earlier in the day.  Sure enough, ‘the boys’ had gathered for a bit of a barney; 15 of them had turned up – seven obvious pairs of combatants and one bird sitting off to one side holding his wings, head and tail in the typical display posture but just standing still and watching the series of duels that were taking place in front of him.  A couple of them broke out into physical fights, and all of the birds were calling as the lek reached a crescendo before, as if someone had flicked a switch, they suddenly lowered their undertail coverts, lifted their heads, folded their wings back in and started nonchalantly pottering around the gladiatorial arena as if nothing had happened.  Just as exciting though, was what was going on above the lek.  In my field of view I could see a Curlew drop almost vertically before heading skyward again.  I raised my binoculars to follow it’s path and as it dropped again it was harassing, with the assistance of a flock of Black-headed Gulls, a male Goshawk! Open moorland may not be typical habitat for this fearsome inhabitant of our upland forests, but it isn’t the first time we’ve seen one out of context in late April.

Back across the moors to Hexhamshire we saw more Red Grouse, more Black Grouse and, after a quick stop back at Peth Head we headed out to eat at the Dipton Mill Inn.  We followed that with a drive into Slaley Forest for Woodcock and Tawny Owls then, before retiring to bed, I stood in the dark outside the cottage and listened as at least four Tawny Owls called from close by.  A superb end to an excellent day 🙂

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