Tag: Stonechat

When the wind blows; Whales, waders and wildfowl 4-7/09/2015

by on Sep.11, 2015, under Druridge Bay, Lindisfarne, Northumberland Coast

Last weekend was our ‘Whales, waders and wildfowl’ mini-break, with an extension to include our Farne Deeps pelagic.

Day -1 (Friday 04/09/15).  A late cancellation left Sandra and Linda as the only guests on the holiday, and with conditions unsuitable for being offshore, we headed to the far north of the county.  Fulmars and Gannets were battling into the stiff breeze and Eiders were riding the deep troughs and towering crests of the waves that were pounding the shoreline.  Bar-tailed Godwit busied themselves along the water’s edge and the eerie moaning of Grey Seal and haunting cries of Curlew, carried on the rushing wind, enveloped us in the atmosphere of Holy Island in the early autumn.  By mid-afternoon, the wind had died down and the sea was calming – had the forecasters got it wrong…

Day 1 (Saturday 05/09/15).  04:00 and I wake up to the sound of a strengthening northerly 🙂  Throughout the day, we were close to the sea and could see the amount of swell close to the shore.  Linnets, Goldfinches, Meadow Pipits and Greenfinches were tossed like leaves on the breeze as they ventured from the cover of bushes along the dunes, a stunning male Stonechat looked equally uncomfortable and Lapwing, Redshank, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Dunlin and Black-tailed Godwit were roosting facing into the wind as Grey Herons sat motionless and a Little Egret still radiated elegance as it’s feathers were disarranged by the now rather stiff wind.  Always impressive, a male Marsh Harrier flew by before vanishing over a distant ridge, and the day finished with Wigeon, Teal, Gadwall, Mallard, Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit and 30 Little Grebes.

Day 2 (Sunday 06/09/15).  No breeze, bright warm sunshine 🙂  An extraordinary contrast to the preceding days, and with close views of Cormorant and Eider as they dived in calm water.  The Cormorants spent a lot of time standing with wings spread in heraldic pose, drying them before heading back into the water, always an impressive sight.  Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallard, Teal, Tufted Duck, Little Grebe and Mute Swan were swimming lazily around in the afternoon sunshine and a huge flock of gulls, roosting, bathing and following the plough, exploded into the air like a burst eiderdown as a Common Buzzard drifted over.  Dinner at the excellent Ashianna in Bedlington ended the holiday after three great days with Sandra and Linda 🙂

Our next holiday is Winter Wonderland in early December, so give us a call on 01670 827465 to find out more and to book your place now 🙂

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Autumn passage; Northumberland Coast Bespoke Birdwatching 01/09/2015

by on Sep.03, 2015, under Druridge Bay

The start of the month brought returning clients, David and Mary who were out with us in 2009 and 2012 and who we see at the Bird Fair each August.

Starting at Newbiggin we set out south down the coast and soon found ourselves standing on a track with nine Blackbirds ahead of us, along with Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Goldfinches, Linnets and House SparrowsLittle Grebes slept and dived as young Grey Herons stalked along the water’s edge and demonstrated just how inelegant they are in flight – and especially in landing 🙂  A lunchtime stop overlooking the North Sea produced rafts of Eider, Fulmars arcing effortlessly over the waves and a Harbour Porpoise feeding just offshore as Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Turnstone explored the shoreline.  The afternoon was dominated by waders; Black-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Lapwing, Ruff, Curlew, Common Sandpiper, Dunlin. Greenshank, Oystercatchers arriving for their high-tide roost stunning in beautiful light against a dark brooding sky and Common Snipe demonstrating their exceptional camouflage in amongst clumps of rush.  Stonechats flicked their tails nervously from precarious perches on barbed wire and Goldfinches, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs swarmed in rank vegetation and nearby trees.

See you at the Bird Fair next year 🙂

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Porpoiseful birdwatching; Druridge Bay Safari 06/07/2015

by on Jul.08, 2015, under Druridge Bay

mid-Summer can be a quiet time for birdwatching, but there are some days where everything just falls into place…

I arrived in Seahouses to collect Nigel and Barbara for a day birdwatching further south on the Northumberland coast, and we headed towards Druridge Bay in beautiful hot summer weather.  With a flat calm sea we started with a little while seawatching.  Gannet, Sandwich Tern, Eider and Fulmar were all flying by, but our attention was gripped by at least 6 Harbour Porpoise, including a mother with a very small calf 🙂  Moving on we watched the elegant trio of Little Egret, Avocet and Black-tailed Godwit.  There were at least 22 of the latter, in a mixed roosting flock with Lapwing, Wigeon, Curlew and 9 Mediterranean Gulls of varying age.  More gull interest came in the form of 8 Little Gulls, also with a range of ages.  A Sedge Warbler clambered to the top of the reeds briefly before dropping out of sight and breaking into song, a male Linnet looked garishly pink, male Stonechat and male Reed Bunting vied for the award of ‘most attractive’ and we steadily made our way north.  Male and female Marsh Harriers impressed, as they always do, Great Crested Grebe sailed serenely by and our wader count for the day rose, with Common Sandpiper, Oystercatcher and Redshank.  A quick ID masterclass was helped by Herring, Lesser Black-backed and Great Black-backed Gulls all sitting in a line, surrounded on both sides by Cormorants.

Nigel had mentioned a species that they hadn’t managed to see previously, and as the cold wind cut through the overcast conditions – did I forget to mention the weather had changed 😉 – we went in search of it.  “Curlew…curlew…curlew…stripy mean-looking face with shorter bill”, and there was another ‘lifer’ for Nigel and Barbara – a Whimbrel, and a great way to end the day 🙂

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Spring arrivals; Druridge Bay Safari 30/04/2015

by on May.05, 2015, under Druridge Bay

It’s been a cold windy spring, and a few of our summer visitors seemed a bit tardy; we found our first Sand Martin and Chiffchaff later than we would have expected, but the day has been coming when things would start to happen…

I collected Jan and Peter from Church Point and we set out to spend the day exploring Druridge Bay.  It was, unsurprisingly, cold and very windy again but that didn’t impact on our day birdwatching.  Skylarks soared and sang, Marsh Harriers drifted over reedbeds and fields close to the coast and an impressive range of waders performed obligingly; Oystercatcher, Curlew, Ringed Plover, Avocet, Turnstone, Dunlin, Sanderling and Black-tailed Godwit – the latter three species resplendent in breeding plumage – demonstrated why this is such a popular group of species with birdwatchers.  The godwit in particular stood out; clothed in chestnut and a vision of elegance to rival the Little Egret that was stalking along the water’s edge nearby.  Moorhen and Coot crept furtively along the edge of reedbeds, Stonechat and Meadow Pipit flicked their tails nervously at the tops of bushes in the dunes and an eye-catching fly-catching adult Little Gull was easily picked out from amongst Black-headed Gulls.  Seawatching over lunchtime is a regular feature of our Druridge Bay trips and Eider, Gannet, Manx Shearwater and Common Guillemot could all be seen offshore as Fulmars soared and arced along the clifftops a few metres way from us. Wheatears and a Whinchat flitted from tussock to tussock, strikingly beautiful as they always are at this time of the year, and then a sign that the summer is nearly here; hundreds of Sand Martins were flycatching above every pool on the coast as a group of six House Martins flew in, battling against the strengthening breeze with the imperative to head north driving them on.  Then, a Swift, and another, then six more.  Eight of these scythe-winged masters of the air flew by us, rocking from side-to-side into the wind as they headed to join the feast above the water.

I love those days when we concentrate on looking for a single species, but a day birdwatching with clients and just enjoying, and marvelling, at everything that comes along is pretty much as good as it gets for a birdwatching guide 🙂 As Jan and Peter headed across to Bellingham, and I took the shorter journey back to the office, I was wondering if perhaps the summer weather was on the way…

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Life, the universe and everything; Otter Safari 04/04/2015

by on Apr.07, 2015, under Druridge Bay, Otter, Southeast Northumberland

As I arrived at The Swan to collect Alan, Sarah and Sam it was looking like a glorious spring day.  The plan for the day was to search all of our regular Otter sites around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  Chiffchaff, Chaffinch and Robin were all singing, Little Egret were stalking through the shallows (almost a permanent feature of our coastal trips now), Cormorant and Goldeneye caused momentary panic as they slipped beneath the water’s surface, Stonechats tail-flicked atop coastal bushes and Meadow Pipits were song-flighting.  Towards the end of the day we came across a species that is always attention-grabbing, as a Kingfisher flew downstream towards us before crossing the river and perching in a low bush, sitting obligingly as we trained our ‘scopes on it.

As we travelled between sites, Sam’s unquenchable thirst for knowledge generated a keenly contested quiz.  Not on wildlife though, this was a quiz on the solar system and astronomy!  Now, I thought my knowledge of the universe was good, but thanks to an enthusiastic 7 year old, I finished the day with it expanded 🙂

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Charming; Bespoke Birdwatching 10/11/2014

by on Nov.22, 2014, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

Even after 40+ years birdwatching, there are times when I’m not sure whether the thing that excites me the most is a lone rarity, a life or death interaction involving one of the predators we encounter, or an impressive flock of something common…

I collected David and Dot from Gosforth and we made our way across to the coast for a day of mid-November birdwatching.  This proved to be a day of flocks; Pink-footed Geese rose then dropped in nearby fields, peppering the sky and cutting through the autumn air with their yapping calls.  Mini-murmurations of  Starlings twisted, turned, bunched and swirled, demonstrating that they don’t just reserve that spectacle for the fading light of evening.  Common Snipe were sitting in the vegetation close to the water’s edge, extraordinarily well camouflaged when asleep and only really betraying their presence once they woke up and started probing in the soft mud of the shallows.  Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Redshank, Curlew and Eider are almost a given on the coast in the winter, a lone Sanderling hurried back and forth in a flock of Ringed Plover and Teal, Wigeon and Goldeneye are eyecatching whether in flocks or alone.  Elegant Pintail glided by and Stonechats flicked their tails nervously perched in the tops of bushes in the dunes along the coast.  One isolated tree brought a memorable spectacle, with a charm of Goldfinches, and a lone Greenfinch.  For a couple of years now, a lot of our clients have reported increasing numbers of Goldfinch, and a tremendous decrease in Greenfinch.  No matter how numerous Goldfinch become, it’s hard to imagine that we could ever become blase about them; strikingly patterned, with their red face, black and white head and yellow wing flashes, and with liquid, twittering songs and calls, they really are quite charming 🙂

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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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Five star birdwatching; Northumberland Coast 20/02/14

by on Feb.23, 2014, under Birdwatching, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

Our fourth trip this week was a day birdwatching with Simon, who was back again after previous trips including a stunning Farne Deeps pelagic in 2012.  We’d spoken in advance of the trip and Simon was keen to add a few of Northumberland’s wintering birds to his life list; divers, grebes, Purple Sandpiper and Brambling were all mentioned as desirable.

When I arrived to collect him on Thursday morning, I was still wrestling with the challenge of heading inland for Brambling, yet leaving plenty of time to explore the Northumberland coast.  That worry was quickly taken away, as putting a feeder up outside the holiday cottage meant that Simon had found one of the species on his wish list himself 🙂  Covering most of the coast from north to south produced five lifers;  Red-throated Divers just beyond the surf, Long-tailed Ducks including a breathtakingly beautiful drake, Purple Sandpipers unobtrusively poking around in rock pools, displaying Goldeneye rivaling the attractiveness of the Long-tailed Ducks and, as the afternoon light faded and the rain finally arrived, a very obliging Water RailTwite, Stonechat, Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting, Skylark, Marsh Harrier, Slavonian, Little and Red-necked Grebes, Shelduck, Bar-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Grey and Golden Plover, Lapwing, Gannet, Curlew, Teal, Mallard and Wigeon may have been reduced to a supporting role for the day, but all combined to produce an excellent day’s birdwatching on the Northumberland coast 🙂

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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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Dragons

by on Oct.17, 2012, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

Our returning clients theme continued last week, when I collected Elaine and Sue for an Otter Safari, concentrating mainly around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  We first met between Christmas and New Year 2008 when they joined myself and Sarah on a guided walk on Holy Island.  On that day Elaine photographed this stunning Stonechat

Common Stonechat,bird photography,bird photography tuition,Northumberland

and we also had a brief view of a Jack Snipe as it flushed ahead of us.

Last Wednesday we set off up the coast, stopping to check our favourite Little Owl site.  Elaine spotted the bird, as it was mobbed by no less than six Magpies.  It fixed it’s tormentors with what can only be described as a look of utter contempt and they gradually drifted away.  Cresswell Pond produced a persistently-bobbing Jack Snipe, tucked in amongst the reeds and much more obliging than our 2008 bird on Holy Island, and plenty of Common Snipe like this one, again photographed by Elaine.

Common Snipe,Northumberland,bird photography,bird photography courses,bird photography holidays

Curlew, Golden Plover, Lapwing, Dunlin, Redshank and Oystercatcher were all roosting around pool edges and the change out of eclipse plumage was very noticeable among the ducks, with drake Teal looking particularly good.  As the warm autumn sunshine bathed the landscape around us, the air was suddenly filled with dragonflies and Elaine captured this portrait of a stunning Migrant Hawker.

dragonfly,Migrant Hawker,Northumberland,macro photography,macro photography workshop,insect photography,insect photography workshop

There’s something captivating about dragonflies and, as myself and Sue concentrated on scanning reed edges for any indication that an Otter was lurking, Elaine returned to the spot where the dragonfly had been earlier.  Within a matter of minutes the temperature fell slightly and insect activity ceased.I’m not sure we have any finer insect than Migrant Hawker, and you can see from Elaine’s photo what a stunner it is.

As sunset neared and we searched for any sign of our quarry, we watched a Starling murmuration developing as a herd of Whooper Swans flew between distant fields.  Just before it got dark the Whoopers appeared overhead, giving their eerie call and dropping into their overnight roost site.  After a really enjoyable day out, we returned to our starting point and I looked forward (with good reason!) to seeing Elaine’s images from the day, which I’m really happy to be able to post in our blog – thank you Elaine :-).

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