Tag: Snipe

Spring (Gentian) time in the hills

by on May.25, 2013, under Birdwatching, North Pennines, Northumberland

The ‘quality over quantity’ birdwatching in the North Pennines has been the predominant feature of our days out with clients in the last two months, and a ‘phone enquiry on Tuesday saw me collecting David and Margaret on Wednesday morning for a day birdwatching in the hills.

Red Grouse was the first of the upland specialities we encountered and, after a few single birds scattered across the moors we came across a pair with a brood of 10 chicks.  The adults watched us carefully as their offspring wandered about, completely unconcerned by our presence.  Lapwing and Curlew seemed to be everywhere and one Lapwing provided our only sighting of Snipe for the day, as it chased one over the road in front of us.  Oystercatcher, Redshank and Golden Plover were noisily displaying, Kestrels were stationary in the strong breeze and our first three Black Grouse were all seen distantly.  I was sure that we’d get much closer views of Blackcock and, sure enough, at the same spot where I photographed a displaying bird earlier this month, we came across what were probably the same two birds from that trip.

A walk at Cow Green reservoir brought a non-avian highlight as Spring Gentians were in bloom.  If you’ve never seen one, this is what they look like 🙂

Spring Gentian,Gentiana verna,Upper Teesdale,macro photography tuition,flower photography tuition,www.northernexperienceimages.co.uk

Spring Gentian,Gentiana verna,macro photography tuition,flower photography tuition,Upper Teesdale,www.northernexperienceimages.co.uk

After our walk we watched a small group of Blackcock as they engaged in their, slightly comical, lekking behaviour before heading back north east after another excellent day in the hills.

Comments Off on Spring (Gentian) time in the hills :, , , , , , , , , , more...

Watching the drama unfold

by on May.09, 2013, under Birdwatching, North Pennines, Northumberland

Towards the end of a day in the North Pennines with Tony and Caroline, I suggested that we should head back to a Black Grouse lek where we’d watched two Blackcock pottering about in the early afternoon…

Everything had been performing well.  Red Grouse and Black Grouse playing hide-and-seek-and-run-away-a-bit, Curlew, Redshank, Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Golden Plover and Snipe all displaying, Skylark and Meadow Pipit singing as they ascended skywards, a Wheatear on a midstream rock doing a credible impersonation of a Dipper and the mystery bird of last week’s trip revealed to be a Starling…with a pale crescent on it’s breast!

Now, we were overlooking a lek site that we regularly visit on our North Pennines trips.  Two hours earlier there had been just two Blackcock visible, now there were nine, or ten, or five, or two…every scan produced a different total as birds stopped feeding, sat down in the long vegetation and simply vanished.  A few minutes later they all stood up, started feeding and wandered about for a little while before repeating the process.  After another cycle of ‘feed-hide-reappear’, a minor skirmish developed in amongst the feeding birds.  Two Blackcock squared up to each other; wings spread, tails raised, leaping into the air and lashing out at each other.  All of the other birds suddenly became very alert, and then the fight stopped and they took flight to the nearby area of low vegetation where we’re used to seeing them display.  Other birds, previously unseen, arrived and soon there were 14 of them; arranged in pairs they began the dance that characterises the early mornings of the North Pennines, each bird facing one adversary, strutting around, leaping and cooing (although the wind was carrying that evocative song away from our ears).  Four pairs stopped, and adopted a much more relaxed posture, then two more pairs followed suit.  Soon only two birds were still displaying…and, bizarrely, the other 12 were standing in the exact positions where they’d been when they gave up, like an odd game of musical statues.  Finally one of the remaining combatants pulled his wings in, lowered his tail and raised his head.  The final lekking bird stopped soon after, and we assumed that he was the afternoon’s winner.  As the gladiatorial contest ended, all of the other birds came out of the trance that they appeared to be in and began feeding.  The defeated bird from the final pairing made a half-hearted attempt at resuming the battle, but soon desisted when the reigning champion headed menacingly in his direction.

Sometimes a wildlife experience is just breathtaking, and watching the lek, from the trigger that kicked it all off to the final mystifying tableau, has crashed into my all-time Top 5 🙂

Comments Off on Watching the drama unfold :, , , , , , , , , , more...

Moorland meanderings

by on May.02, 2013, under Birdwatching, North Pennines, Northumberland

As I collected Jenny and Rob for a day in the North Pennines, the weather looked promising, although a little breezy, and we were quickly in the hills.  The song of Lapwing, Curlew, Snipe, Redshank, Golden Plover and Oystercatcher carried on the breeze as we found our first Black Grouse of the day – a Blackcock and two Greyhens.  Red Grouse seemed to be filling every available bit of moorland and we had an ‘is it or isn’t it?’ moment with an upright, backlit, black bird on an old barn that seemed to show a pale crescent on the throat/breast.  It flew out of sight and we were left wondering (I’ve been back and do know what it is, but you’ll have to wait for my next blog post…).

Our afternoon finished with eight Blackcocks lekking, but probably the stars of the day were one of our smaller moorland birds, as we came across a succession of Wheatears.  Strikingly handsome male, and subtly beautiful female, Northern Wheatears are always a pleasure to see, but the real surprise was a group of six birds together.  Big, upright, and flushed underneath with pinky-orange, these birds were Greenland Wheatears.  Migration doesn’t happen only on the coast 🙂

Comments Off on Moorland meanderings :, , , , , , , , , more...

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 🙂

Comments Off on Black Grouse Bonanza Day 1; Nothing to grouse about :, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , more...

Like a different world

by on Jun.09, 2011, under Birdwatching, North Pennines, Photography

I had 2 days in the North Pennines late last week; a one-to-one photography day and a birdwatching trip.  Separated by just 48hrs, the days could hardly have been any different.

The photography day took place in gales that were so strong, I had to choose the direction of the car carefully when parked so that we could open the doors, and plan the route as we went along so that Michael would be in a position to get shots from his side of our mobile hide, with as little interference as possible from the weather.  As well as serving up Black Grouse, Red Grouse, Golden Plover, Curlew and Short-eared Owl I had a stint as photographer’s assistant, holding my Cubelite in place so that it acted as a diffuser and windshield as Michael enjoyed having some of the area’s flora in front of his macro lens.

2 days later and I collected Mandy, Sara and Stevan from Jesmond and headed west again.  As we crossed the remote moorland roads and walked in Upper Teesdale, we found Snipe, Curlew, Meadow Pipit, Skylark and Wheatear all displaying.  We had excellent views of 2 Greyhens and a Blackcock was dozing in the afternoon sunshine.  Common Sandpipers were flitting about across the water and the Mountain Pansies were glorious in the sunlight.  All too soon, it was time to head back towards civilisation.

Comments Off on Like a different world :, , , , , , , , , , , more...

Sights and sounds; North Pennines 10/05/2011

by on May.10, 2011, under Birdwatching, North Pennines, Northumberland

With a run of 3 North Pennines trips in 6 days, I’m going to be seeing a lot of what is rapidly becoming my favourite birdwatching location (outside of the Northumberland coast in mid-October of course…).

05:30 and the incessant ringing of the alarm clock lets me know that it’s time to be up and about.  Within an hour I’m on my way to Hebburn and then heading west with Kathleen and Brian, 2 of our Prestige Clients, in the car.

The elements aren’t playing fair; a biting cold wind just adds to the ‘feel’ of the North Pennines, but even the stinging raindrops don’t dampen the enthusiasm.  An imperious Blackcock, taking shelter from the wind behind a dry stone wall, allows a prolonged view (we weren’t to know that he was the first of no less than 21 Black Grouse that we were going to enjoy, including 7 birds lekking as we had our lunch).  Red Grouse popped up like Meerkats from the heather as we passed, Lapwing, Curlew and Snipe were all calling over their territories, Skylarks were singing a song that was carried far on the wind and a Golden Plover called plaintively as its little shockingly yellow chicks bobbed up and down around it.  A Stoat dashing across the road in front of us, quickly vanished into the heather; the predator’s route signposted by the string of Meadow Pipits flushing as it passed.

One down, two to go…and I might go there early on Thursday myself when I’m in the area for a Northern Experience Holidays business meeting.  Addicted?

Comments Off on Sights and sounds; North Pennines 10/05/2011 :, , , , , , , , more...

North Pennines Beauty

by on Apr.28, 2011, under Birdwatching, North Pennines, Photography

All of the areas we visit with our clients have something special about them, but the North Pennines is often our choice for a day out on our own.  The area is vast, with open landscapes, big skies and narrow valleys, and there’s always a feeling that this is somewhere really special.

A 7am start heralded the first part of the prize (a trip into the North Pennines to photograph Black Grouse) for the under 13 category winner in the Northumberland Wildlife Trust photography competition.  Driving through dense fog all the way to beyond Haydon Bridge didn’t inspire confidence, but visibility at our first stop revealed a flock of Golden Plover, Curlews displaying over the moors and a Brown Hare.  As we headed over a road that I always expect to produce memorable sightings, we weren’t disappointed; Jonathan spotted a bird perched on a dry stone wall, and it turned out to be a Greyhen.  Now, we see lots of Blackcocks on our North Pennines trips, but greyhens much less often.  This one was sitting there with a purpose, as 2 Blackcocks were lekking in an adjacent field.  Strutting, cooing and displaying their undertail coverts they somehow added an even more ethereal note to the sun-bathed moorland surrounded by mist-filled valleys.  The air was drenched with the song of Skylarks, Snipe were calling, Lapwings were doing that thing that they do (I’ve tried to put it into words…but I can’t do it justice!) and a nearby field contained at least 16 Wheatears.  On over the moors, Red Grouse bobbed their heads up and down, watching our progress, and we had the closest views of a Blackcock that I’ve ever had; iridescent and imperious in the morning sunlight.  It may be just about the best place in the world 🙂

Comments Off on North Pennines Beauty :, , , , , more...

The hills are alive…

by on Mar.23, 2011, under Birdwatching, North Pennines, Northumberland, Photography

…with the sound of Meadow Pipits.

Yesterday morning I decided to set out from home nice and early, so that I could spend a few hours in the North Pennines before exhibiting at the Tourism Fair in Hexham.

Birdwatching in Northumberland’s southwestern reaches is (almost always) about quality rather than quantity.  Although it may seem sacrilegous, I prefer the dawn chorus on the moors to the one in our woodlands and gardens.  Meadow Pipits (in almost overwhelming numbers after the dearth of sightings during the winter), Skylarks, Curlew, Lapwing, ‘drumming’ Snipe and the beautiful haunting calls of Golden Plover all contribute to a near sensory overload.

Raven and Merlin were both top-quality birds for the morning (both, frustratingly, between my position and the Sun, so only allowing record shots).  Two species that always bring a particular quality to birdwatching, and photography, in the North Pennines are the two perpetually controversial/contentious species; Red Grouse and Black Grouse.  We’ve been taking clients to see and photograph these two species since we first started NEWT, and the opportunity to wander the moors with my camera yesterday, enveloped by birdsong, was the sort of experience that our clients appreciate so much.  Our North Pennines Safari Days rarely fail to encounter both grouse species, and we organise bespoke photography packages and holidays in the area as well, so give us a call and join us on one of our tours to this remarkable area of southwest Northumberland.

Red Grouse, bird photography, wildlife photography tuition, wildlife photography holidays, wildlife photography courses

Red Grouse, bird photography, wildlife photography tuition, wildlife photography holidays, wildlife photography courses

Black Grouse, bird photography, wildlife photography tuition, wildlife photography holidays, wildlife photography courses

Black Grouse, bird photography, wildlife photography tuition, wildlife photography holidays, wildlife photography courses

Black Grouse, bird photography, wildlife photography tuition, wildlife photography holidays, wildlife photography courses

Comments Off on The hills are alive… :, , , , , , , , , , more...

Remote birdwatching on Northumberland’s borders

by on Jun.13, 2010, under Birdwatching, North Pennines, Northumberland

The North Pennines may not have the highest species density of any of the areas that we visit but, in terms of peace, tranquility and solitude, it takes some beating.

On Friday morning I drove to Corbridge to collect Lesley and David, two of our Prestige clients, for a day of birdwatching around Northumberland’s remote border.  As we headed southwest the landscape became wilder and with less of any obvious human influence.  Curlew, Lapwing, Golden Plover and Snipe may be common sights on the coast in the winter but, on remote moorland in the spring, they’re transformed into something other-worldly.

Some of the North Pennines flowers are quite stunning as well; Mountain Pansy, Scottish Asphodel, swathes of Cotton Grass waving in the breeze and, my own favourite, Spring Gentian.  we found no less than 20 gentians, including a group of 11 at a spot where last year there were only 4.  As we used a hand lens to admire the remarkable structures of lichens on the rocks in a deep narrow gorge, the bird species that are typical of that habitat type entertained us; a family of Dippers were feeding in the fast-flowing water, with the juveniles clearly hesitant to take the plunge, Grey Wagtails were flycatching and a Ring Ouzel flew from a pile of boulders.  The afternoon continued with a family of Red Grouse and then a small group of Black Grouse. As is often the case these were all Blackcock, engaging in some half-hearted lekking in the afternoon sunshine.

After returning Lesley and David to their holiday cottage, stumbling across a Hobby mobbed by hirundines on the way, I headed home, then out to a 30th birthday party (Happy Birthday Kerry!), then to The Swan before going home, checking everything in readiness for Saturday’s 2 Safaris, and hitting the pillow.

Comments Off on Remote birdwatching on Northumberland’s borders :, , , , , , , , , , , , , , more...

Birdwatching; Northumberland in the rain

by on Jun.08, 2010, under Birdwatching, Cheviot Valleys, Northumberland

I’ve always maintained that, whatever the weather (with the possible exception of a howling gale), it’s always possible to have a really good day birdwatching in Northumberland.  Yesterday’s forecast didn’t promise too much in the way of good weather though and, as it turned out, we had to contend with drizzly rain for the whole day.

I collected Reg and Val from Newcastle and we set off towards the Harthope Valley.  This is one of NEWT’s favourite locations; spectacular scenery, excellent birdwatching and the all important absence of crowds.  A holiday group from another birdwatching company were in the valley as well, though.  Just before we reached the turning for Langleeford, a Brown Hare was sitting in a roadside field.  As we’re in June, and all of the trees are in leaf, a lot of our birding was done by ear.  Grasshopper Warbler was a nice find, Oystercatchers were chasing each other up and down the valley, a Cuckoo flew past, pursued by Meadow Pipits, the shivering trill of a Wood Warbler could be heard over the running water and Grey Wagtail, Common Sandpiper  and Dipper were all along the water’s edge.  Willow Warblers were singing from all around, Siskin and Redpoll were picked up on call and then eventually gave excellent views, Snipe were displaying over a recently planted area on the opposite side of the valley, Curlews were singing their haunting song (so much more appropriate on windswept, remote moorland than on the coast) and then I heard it; a call that is familiar in the winter, but not in the Cheviot valleys in June.  I was still trying to convince myself that I’d misheard the call, when the bird appeared in front of us – unmistakeable really, there was a Twite. I looked, looked away, looked again;  no, I wasn’t imagining it.  It’s a species that’s suspected to breed in tiny numbers in Northumberland, although there seems to be a lack of confirmed records for the breeding season.  Perhaps it was passing through, or maybe, just maybe, there is a breeding site in the Cheviots.

After the excitement of such an unexpected find, we had one major target species left for the day.  Ring Ouzel is another bird that you may find on coastal headlands in the autumn, and there are sporadic wintering records as well, but the place to see them is surely the remote upland valleys where they breed.  As we made our way up a steep-sided valley we had excellent views of a recently fledged Dipper, and I could hear an ouzel singing.  We continued and then the bird appeared overhead, flying from one side of the valley to the other, singing as it crossed.  It dropped out of sight, still singing, before retracing it’s route over the valley again.  This time we knew where it had landed so we crept along a track towards it.  Patience and persistence paid off (as they so often do) and we enjoyed prolonged views of the bird as it sang from a clump of heather on the skyline.  The rain was becoming colder and more persistent so we headed back to the car and then down the A697 back to civilisation.

Comments Off on Birdwatching; Northumberland in the rain :, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , more...

Looking for something?

Use the form below to search the site:

Still not finding what you're looking for? Drop a comment on a post or contact us so we can take care of it!

Archives

All entries, chronologically...