Tag: Shag

Birds in Flight; Bespoke Photography 19/06/15

by on Jun.26, 2015, under Farne Islands

Our Bespoke Photography ‘Birds in Flight’ workshop was a day out for Max and Nigel – Max’s prize for winning the ‘Young Person’s’ category at last years North East Wildlife Photography Awards.
We met up at Newbiggin and drove up the coast to Seahouses.  Before sailing across to the islands, we had a session covering ‘birds in flight’ techniques and camera settings, with Kittiwakes and Fulmars as the guinea pigs for Max to practice various techniques.  In a stiff breeze, the birds were proving quite challenging – passing a few feet above our heads into the breeze and then racing back with the wind at their tails 🙂  Once on St Cuthbert II we were soon surrounded by an almost limitless supply of photographic subjects; Grey Seal, Shag, Cormorant, Razorbill, Guillemot, Gannet, Puffin, Kittiwake, Fulmar, Common, Arctic and Sandwich Terns and, the most surprising sight of the day, a Rock Pipit dripping with water and holding a small fish!  It was a great day out with two talented photographers, and I’m hoping to see more of Max’s images displayed at the wildlife photography awards evening on July 9th 🙂

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Divebombed; Farne Islands Safari 03/06/2015

by on Jun.04, 2015, under Farne Islands

Wednesday’s weather was a complete contrast to Tuesday as I collected Mike and Janet from Dunstan Steads.  This was their second trip with NEWT, after a Lindisfarne trip last November, and today we were heading across to the Farne Islands.

Starting on dry land, we watched Grey Seals lazing in the sunshine as Skylarks soared overhead, Sandwich Terns plunged into the sea and Gannets soared by on the gentle breeze.  Crossing to the islands on St Cuthbert II, we soon had streams of Guillemots, Puffins and Razorbills passing by as Grey Seals popped their heads up out of the water around us and Kittiwakes called their name around the cliffs.  Once landed on Inner Farne we came under attack by the feisty Arctic Terns 🙂  Common Terns and Sandwich Terns kept themselves to themselves as Black-headed Gulls attempted to rob any Puffins that flew back in with fish, Common Eider and Shags continued incubating eggs and brooding chicks, apparently unconcerned by the presence of so many people, and amidst the mayhem and noise of the tern colony one call stood out.  ‘Choo-it, choo-it’ grabbed the attention as a ghostly Roseate Tern flew around the lighthouse and then off towards the mainland, and we had another four encounters with this beautiful species befopre we departed for the mainland 🙂

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“I really love otters”; Bespoke Otter Safari 10-11/04/2015

by on Apr.14, 2015, under Druridge Bay, Farne Islands, Southeast Northumberland

Friday and Saturday saw a two day bespoke safari for Fran and Georgia, arranged by their mum back in early December.

I collected the girls from The Swan and we headed towards Druridge Bay.  We weren’t too far along the road when Georgia asked if we’d seen any Otters recently.  I told them about Thursday’s sightings, and there was an obvious raising of excitement levels in the car…and, with typical wildlife unpredictability, we managed to get right through Friday without an Otter sighting 🙁  Dippers zipping back and forth along the River Blyth were entertaining, a drake Garganey on the Wansbeck was stunning, Little Egrets and Avocets were elegant, but of the sinuous stealthy predator there was no sign.  We returned to The Swan and I started revising our plans for Saturday…

Saturday 05:00 and I stumble sleepily to the bathroom.  There’s one thing I really don’t want to hear, and that’s a howling gale.  This wasn’t looking promising; our plan for the day was a Seal Cruise around the Farne Islands, and then more time searching for Otters, and neither of those would be helped by the hoolie that I could hear whistling through the trees in our garden.  We arrived in Seahouses for our sailing on Glad Tidings V, and the sea was looking ever so slightly lumpy.  We did manage to sail though, and were rewarded with Cormorant, Shag, Guillemot, Eider, Kittiwake and the two stars of the morning – Puffin and Grey Seal.  Back on dry land we resumed the search for Otters, and the wind strengthened so that we could hear an eerie whistling around trees, bridges and us!  With a wind chill factor taking temperatures down to bone-chilling, and a hail storm pinging ice off our heads, we were having to suffer for our wildlife…and still no Otters.  Sarah was out and about checking other locations and sending regular texts to let me know where she’d checked.  Our final backup plan was an 06:00 start on Sunday, but I don’t think anyone was really too keen on that idea.

18:30 and the wind shifted from west to southwest and weakened slightly, the sun came out and I started to feel more optimistic.  I had one decision left to make though, and that was which of our two options for sunset to go for…

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Mud, glorious mud; Lindisfarne Safari 28/11/2014

by on Dec.02, 2014, under Birdwatching, Holy Island, North Sea, Northumberland Coast

The Northumberland coast in the late autumn is a birdwatching destination that I’ll never tire of.  Even in weather that could best be described as inclement, there’s a wealth of wildlife to enjoy.

I collected Mike and Janet from the Dunstanburgh Castle Hotel and we headed north for a day birdwatching around Lindisfarne and the North Northumberland coast.  Starting with a walk around Holy Island village, a harsh chuckling call betrayed the presence of a Fieldfare in a small tree. Two others joined it, before they all departed noisily.  Then more chuckling Fieldfare, and the high seee calls of Redwing, carried through the air from high overhead and we could make out, in the mist, a mixed flock of these thrushes arriving high from the north east and bypassing the island on their way across to the mainland.  A Sparrowhawk raced by, hedge-hopping and swerving out of sight behind The Heugh, as thousands of Pale-bellied Brent Geese flew out onto the exposed mud of the wildfowl refuge area and Shag, Eider and Red-breasted Merganser dived just offshore.  A couple of very obliging Rock Pipits showed the subtle, dusky beauty that can only be appreciated with close views and Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Redshank, Oystercatcher and Grey Plover were reaping the rich bounty of the mud, as Dark-bellied Brent Geese settled in the newly exposed mud of the harbour, and the high whistling calls of drake Teal carried across to us from the Rocket Field, a Little Auk flew along the main street through the village.  Crossing back to the mainland, a Little Egret was stalking through the shallows along the roadside and Curlew and Oystercatcher were so close we could have almost reached out of the car and touched them.  As the falling tide exposed sandbars, Grey Seals were moaning eerily and splashing about in shallow water.  Suddenly, there were thousands of Wigeon and Golden Plover in the air.  They settled but then flushed again so I started a methodical check of every rock that I could see on the mud.  Then I found what I was looking for – a rock that was just too vertical…and the view through our ‘scope revealed the impressive muscular menace of a female Peregrine 🙂  She shuffled around and took off, only to settle on another rock closer to us.  Our attention was drawn to a charm of Goldfinches feeding nearby, and the Peregrine departed while we weren’t looking.

As the weather moved through in waves of varying grot, we watched a group of three Roe Deer grazing in a roadside field, and then headed a bit further down the coast.  Dusk was approaching rapidly as we watched more waders feeding busily as the tide rose, Lapwings flew over like giant bats and thousands of Black-headed and Common Gulls arrived to roost.  Wave after wave of mist and drizzle, wave after wave of birds, wave after wave of  waves 🙂

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Sealed; Bespoke North Northumberland Coast Safari 22/08/2014

by on Aug.25, 2014, under Bamburgh Castle, Birdwatching, Farne Islands, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

After some poor sea conditions recently, things looked more promising for Friday’s trip; a seal cruise around the Farne Islands, followed by a few hours of birdwatching along the North Northumberland coast.  A change is as good as a rest, and the North Northumberland coast is quite a change from the sand dunes and coastal pools of Druridge Bay 🙂

I collected Anne-Marie, Dave, Melanie and Mike from the Queen’s Head in Berwick and we drove to Seahouses for our sailing on Glad Tidings V, which thankfully was fairly smooth, and featured plenty of wildlife.  Gannets were soaring by, Kittiwakes were still on their cliff-edge nest sites in good numbers as Fulmars arced over them, Grey Seals were hauled out on rocks and bobbing around in the water, two Common Guillemots were still sitting on the rocks, Cormorants and Shags were drying their wings in the stiff breeze, Sandwich Terns called as they flew back to the islands and, unexpectedly, five Puffins were seen with beakfuls of fish.  Photographing Puffins in flight can be a challenge on land, with lots of birds to choose from, and a bird appearing unexpectedly at sea is an even harder proposition but Anne-Marie and Melanie responded with lightning fast reflexes to capture these late breeding birds.

Back on dry land we had our lunch in the impressive shadow of Bamburgh Castle, as Eiders bobbed around just beyond the breaking surf, and then we explored the coast as the tide fell.  Little Egrets have become a frequent feature of our coastal trips, and two birds flew by at quite close range.  Dozens of Grey Seals could be seen ‘bottling’ at high tide and then, as the water receded, exposing patches of mud, we started encountering waders.  Redshank, Ringed Plover, Curlew, Lapwing, Dunlin  and Oystercatcher were joined by Knot, Ruff and Greenshank as more Little Egrets, and a flock of Teal, flew by.

Heading back to Berwick we could see poor weather to the north and to the east, and I got caught in some heavy rain as I drove south on the way home, but we’d had a day where the only water that landed on us was the spray from the bow of the boat 🙂

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Challenge; Farne Islands Photography 20/07/14

by on Jul.28, 2014, under Birdwatching, Farne Islands, Northumberland

Our rearranged Farne Islands photography workshop was a second day out with NEWT for Bryan, and a chance for him to take on the challenge of Puffins in flight 😉  We sailed across to the islands on Glad Tidings IV (returning at the end of the afternoon on St Cuthbert III), and amidst the chaos of Arctic, Sandwich and Common Terns, Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Guillemots, Razorbills and Shags we worked on camera settings for action photography, but also on the elusive, almost instinctive skills that need to be developed to capture flight photographs of such a fast moving target.  At one point we swapped cameras, with Bryan taking on the physical challenge of the substantial lump of kit that is a Nikon D300s and 70-200mm f2.8 lens 🙂  As he settled into a smooth panning action, aided by the weight of my camera/lens, and began taking the shot at just the right time, he switched back to his camera with Puffin after Puffin captured through the lens, and I grabbed a couple of shots myself 🙂

Atlantic Puffin,Fratercula arctica,Inner Farne,Farne Islands,Northumberland,photography workshops,photography holidays,photography tuition

Atlantic Puffin,Fratercula arctica,Inner Farne,Farne Islands,Northumberland,photography workshops,photography holidays,photography tuition

Black-headed Gull,Chroicocephalus ridibundus,Atlantic Puffin,Fratercula arctica,Inner Farne,Farne Islands,Northumberland,photography workshops,photography holidays,photography tuition

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Farne Islands; Beginners Photography Workshop 28/06/2014

by on Jul.02, 2014, under Birdwatching, Farne Islands, Northumberland, Photography

Saturday afternoon was our Farne Islands Beginners Photography workshop.  I picked Peter up from Eshott as I headed north, and we met up with Doug at Seahouses harbour.  This was Peter’s fourth trip this week (on his birthday, following his North Pennines trip on Friday – his wedding anniversary!).  Doug had been out with me before too, on our Coastal Dawn photography workshop in March, although the weather was a bit more amenable this time round 🙂  Settings for wildlife and action photography are very different to the settings for extracting a landscape image from the gloom of an early spring morning, so I ran through the settings on Doug’s camera with my recommendations for how to improve his chances of catching ‘the moment’.

Perhaps the greatest skill a photographer needs on Inner Farne is the ability to tune out the chaos that surrounds them.  Common and Arctic Terns form an angry buzzing cloud around the heads of visitors to the island, the harsh calls of Sandwich Terns cut through you as they fly to and from their colony, Puffins shoot by with beakfuls of sandeels, so close that you can feel the rush of air from their wingbeats and the clifftops are covered in Shags, Kittiwakes, Razorbills and Guillemots as Fulmars soar by on stiff outstretched wings.  Around the Puffin burrows, groups of Black-headed Gulls sit and wait for the return of what should, on the face of it, be an easy meal.  It doesn’t always work out that way though, and the melee provides excellent photo opportunities.  That chaos is the Farne Islands strength as a location for our photography workshops though.  The wildlife is approachable and obliging, so it’s a great place to concentrate on learning, and practicing, new photography techniques.

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Sandwich Tern,Sterna sandvicensis,Inner Farne,Farne Islands,bird photography courses,bird photography tuition,Northumberland,bird photography holidays

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We’ve still got a few spaces available for our Farne Islands photography workshop this Saturday (July 5th), so give us a call on 01670 827465 if you’d like to come along 🙂

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A game of two halves; Farne Islands Safari 24/06/2014

by on Jul.01, 2014, under Birdwatching, Farne Islands, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

Even when you can see inclement weather ahead of you, there’s usually a light at the end of the tunnel 🙂

I collected Stephen from home in North Shields, and then Peter from his holiday cottage at Eshott, and we headed north towards the Northumberland coast and the Farne Islands, our destination for the afternoon.  The first half of the day was planned to be a walk along the coast from High Newton, but the deteriorating weather made that an unwelcoming prospect and instead we had a ‘car as a hide’ morning of birdwatching.  A Spoonbill in Budle Bay was an unexpected find and the eerie calls of Grey Seals carried through the mist and drizzle across the low-tide mudflats.

Then the light at the end of the tunnel appeared, well not so much a light as an incandescent ball of wildlife magic.  We were eating lunch, and looking forward to the journey across to the islands, when Peter said “They look like dolphins off the end of the rocks”.  I lifted my binoculars and the view was filled with Bottlenose Dolphins 🙂  We watched as they passed close to the shore, then they settled and began feeding between Bamburgh Castle and Inner Farne.  A quick text to William meant that, by the time we arrived at the harbour, all of his skippers knew where the dolphins were and our journey across to the islands included several minutes with them bow-riding our boat.  I’ve been studying this group of dolphins for the last three months, and some inital findings are in MARINElife’s press release.  Following a cruise around the islands, we landed on Inner Farne.  One of the wardens mentioned that the Bridled Tern had been seen, and a quick sacn soon revealed it’s location in amongst the roosting Arctic, Common and Sandwich Terns.  Here are a few pictures of this stunning seabird from last year on Inner Farne

Bridled Tern,Onychoprion anaethetus,Farne Islands,Northumberland,bird photography, bird photography tuition,bird photography holidays,Northern Experience Images

Bridled Tern,Onychoprion anaethetus,Farne Islands,Northumberland,bird photography, bird photography tuition,bird photography holidays,Northern Experience Images

Bridled Tern,Onychoprion anaethetus,Farne Islands,Northumberland,bird photography, bird photography tuition,bird photography holidays,Northern Experience Images

Bridled Tern,Onychoprion anaethetus,Farne Islands,Northumberland,bird photography, bird photography tuition,bird photography holidays,Northern Experience Images

Bridled Tern,Onychoprion anaethetus,Farne Islands,Northumberland,bird photography, bird photography tuition,bird photography holidays,Northern Experience Images

After an hour amongst the Guillemots, Kittiwakes, Fulmars, Shags and terns, we crossed back to the mainland and headed south.  Miserable morning, magical afternoon 🙂


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Bottlenose Dolphins; Farne Islands safari 06/06/2014

by on Jun.11, 2014, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Farne Islands, Northumberland

Whenever I head out for a  day guiding clients, I have a plan.  Occasionally we deviate from that plan…

I was heading to collect Liz and Mark from the Lord Crewe in Bamburgh, for their Farne Islands prestige tour, and I thought I knew what we’d be doing throughout the day – a walk along the coast in the morning, picnic lunch overlooking the Farne Islands and then the 13:00 sailing on Glad Tidings.  Simple, straightforward and a routine we’ve followed so many times with almost military precision.

However, just before I arrived in Bamburgh, Alan P. played a wild card 🙂 “Hi Martin, the dolphins are in Newbiggin Bay”.  This introduced another option for the morning…a drive south to try and catch up with the pod of Bottlenose Dolphins that have been hanging around the north east coast since late March. I presented the options to Liz and Mark and they didn’t hesitate to decide on a wild dolphin chase 🙂  Alan was sending texts to keep me up-to-date with the location of the pod, so the latest information I had as we reached southeast Northumberland was that they’d headed south.  A day earlier I’d tracked them down the coast at the same time of day, so I thought they may well have repeated their movements.  It isn’t always that simple though, so I headed for a viewpoint that would give us the widest possible spread of coastline in view.  That strategy proved the best one as, away to the north, but further offshore than they’d been earlier in the morning, we could see a dark dorsal fin breaking the surface close behind a small fishing boat 🙂  Having located the pod distantly, we headed for a much closer viewpoint, and enjoyed prolonged views of ~16 Bottlenose Dolphins as they surfaced, breached, and charged through what was presumably a large shoal of Mackerel.  As the pod headed north, it was time for us to do the same so that I could get the day back on track.

Lunch was followed by a trip to Inner Farne in a stiff cold breeze.  The cliffs were echoing with the onomatopaeic calls of Kittiwake, Puffins, Guillemots and Razorbills were coming off the clifftops like guided missiles as they headed out to fish, Gannets soared effortlessly by on the breeze, Fulmars arced around the cliff faces on stiff wings, Grey Seals were hauled out, soaking up the rays, and Cormorant and Shag seemed to be causing confusion amongst some passengers on the boat.  As we waited to land at the Inner Farne jetty, a call stood out from the general background mayhem of a seabird breeding colony; ‘choo-it, choo-it’, so distinctive, and a ghostly pale Roseate Tern flew just above our heads before landing with the Arctic, Sandwich and Common Terns roosting near the jetty.  On the island we ducked to avoid the attention of some rather agitated Arctic Terns, and concentrated on Liz’s aim for the afternoon – getting a good photograph of a Puffin 🙂  There were plenty of obliging models to choose from, and we watched as birds returning to their burrows with beaks filled with sandeel were mobbed by Black-headed Gulls.  After the chaos of the island, we finished the afternoon relaxing in the dunes at Bamburgh, eating carrot cake as Meadow Pipits and Skylarks sang and displayed in the sky around us 🙂

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Drizzle; Farne Islands Press Trip 04/06/2014

by on Jun.10, 2014, under Birdwatching, Farne Islands, Northumberland

Seeing a familiar location, in unfamiliar conditions, can be like visiting somewhere for the first time.  Over the years nearly all of our trips to the Farne Islands have been in glorious weather.  I could never be blase about the islands, but sometimes I hope for a new experience…

I arrived at Seahouses Harbour just after 11:30 to meet up with Melanie and Gustavo.  Melanie is a journalist from Germany, currently writing a piece about Northumberland, and I’d been asked to be her guide to the Northumberland coast (Farne Islands, Bamburgh Castle, Holy Island).  We hit a snag straight away – they’d been delayed in Alnwick and didn’t arrive in Seahouses in time for our sailing around the islands!  A quick change of our booking, and a drive to Bamburgh for the quickest tour of the castle imaginable (thanks to Chris and his staff) and we were back in Seahouses for the 13:30 sailing.  The earlier sailing had gone out in fine weather, but this one was cold, densely overcast and drizzly; very, very drizzly.  The sea was mirror calm all around the islands, disturbed only by the patter of raindrops, revealing huge rafts of Puffins, Guillemots andRazorbillsKittiwakes shrieked from the cliff faces, Fulmars glided effortlessly overhead and Grey Seals watched warily as we passed by.  Common, Arctic andSandwich Terns were fishing, Shags and Cormorants were standing, sentinel like, on the rocks and Gannets passed by on their way to and from distant feeding grounds.

It really did feel like a completely different experience to usual, and Holy Island in the rain, although it’s a very special place too, was going to struggle to match that strange other-worldliness of a seabird colony in the gloom 🙂

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