Tag: Swallow

Living on the edge; Otter mini-Safari 05/08/21

by on Aug.06, 2021, under Druridge Bay

One thing that’s always impressed me about wildlife is the almost constant effort needed just to stay alive, contrasting with the technologically advanced, comfortable, lives that many of us lead…

I met up with Cath, Andy, Beth and Dan for an evening around Druridge Bay, and the weather was pleasant…particularly compared to what was forecast for the next few hours! Mute swans were feeding unhurriedly, grey herons were stalking along rushy edges, black-tailed godwits were wading and probing, and bumblebees were shifting position to take shelter underneath teasel heads – often a sign of a drop in temperature and approaching bad weather. Swallows, martins and swifts were hawking insects as a lone ruff flew through.

As the wind started to pick up, and the first of several heavy showers passed through, a great crested grebe with a single juvenile aggressively evicted a little grebe, also with a single juvenile, from a prime patch of amphibious bistort, as cormorants sat motionless, two Arctic skuas muscled their way into the stiffening breeze, and Sandwich, common and Arctic terns obligingly lined up alongside one another like an animated field guide to separating confusion species 🙂

Seven starlings was a start to a murmuration that eventually built to several hundred birds, as three marsh harriers went to roost and a sparrowhawk pestered and pursued the starlings repeatedly. We saw it pass by at least a dozen times without any apparent success by the time the starlings had all settled into the reeds, expending vital energy in a late evening attempt to feed before nightfall.

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Back on track and tracking the storm; Druridge Bay mini-Safari 04/07/21

by on Jul.05, 2021, under Druridge Bay

With so many postponed trips last year, it’s been great to get out again and start meeting clients who we’ve been chatting to via email for a long time 🙂 I arrived in Druridge Bay and met up with Phil, then Melanie, then Marjorie and Ollie for an evening searching for otters and other wildlife. The weather forecast was promising us heavy showers and the potential for thunderstorms, so I suggested our best option was to stay very local and try to avoid getting too wet…

There are two schools of thought about wildlife watching: stay put, immerse yourself, take in whatever’s in front of you, or roam and search. I frequently use both when I’m out and about on my own but with clients we usually move between sites so the stay put approach seemed to be a gamble 🙂

That gamble produced what must be one of our best mini-Safaris over the last 13 years…tiny avocet chicks, defended against ‘encroaching’ coots, moorhens, and lapwings by a furious adult, contrasted with another one of this year’s young that was close to adult size, alongside a wader line-up that also included common snipe, common redshank, ruff, black-tailed godwit, oystercatcher, dunlin, ringed plover, and curlew arriving to roost with their eerie cries cutting through the ethereal mist rising from the marsh as the first heavy shower approached. A grey heron was stalking through the rushes as teal, mallard, gadwall and shoveler dabbled in shallow water, Canada and greylag geese grazed beside pied and yellow wagtails foraging through the lush vegetation and the songs and calls of meadow pipit, common whitethroat, willow warbler, grasshopper warbler, chiffchaff and reed bunting filled the air as a noisy flock of common terns arrived. The crazy, leggy joie de vivre of roe deer triplets attracted the attention of Exmoor ponies, brown hares loped through recently harvested fields and then, as mute swans, tufted ducks and mallards all started to look concerned, Marjorie spotted the tell-tale ring of bright water as an otter surfaced nearby before slinking off just ahead of a torrential downpour that cleared to make way for a swarm of swifts, sand martins, house martins and swallows gorging themselves on newly emerged insects against the backdrop of a stormy sunset.

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This is the sound of the summer; otter mini-Safari 10/06/21

by on Jun.11, 2021, under Druridge Bay

As I arrived to meet up with with Peter and Melanie, and Kristina and Paul, for an evening in Druridge Bay, the sky overhead was fluffy white clouds on an azure background but away to the north it looked grey and ominous…

Tufted ducks and Canada geese were alert as a Marsh Harrier drifted by, mobbed by lapwings and gulls, and a whimbrel flew north with just one burst of its distinctive trill. Swifts, swallows and black-headed gulls were all feasting on an abundance of chironomid (non-biting!) midges and, as we paused to admire a common toad that was staring impassively at us from the footpath, a common snipe was drumming high overhead.

Walking along the coastal path we were accompanied by the songs of common whitethroat, chiffchaff, willow warbler, reed warbler, skylark, meadow pipit and reed bunting, another marsh harrier was quartering reedbeds and fields and the loud song of a great reed warbler carried across fields on the southerly breeze as we came across northern marsh orchids and bloody cranesbill. As common and sandwich terns bathed in fresh water, a pair of great crested grebes radiated elegance, and the head of tiny chick put in a cameo appearance between it’s parent’s wings 🙂 A roe deer was grazing, unconcerned by our presence, on the edge of a reedbed and later in the evening we watched a younger deer that seemed to be struggling with the concept of needing to jump over a fence to get out of a field (despite having jumped over it to get in there in the first place!).

A starling murmuration contained around 100 birds and as a stunning sunset gave way to dusk, with Arcturus and the summer triangle prominent overhead, grey herons decided to end the day with a dispute over prime feeding spots.

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Druridge Bay bespoke birdwatching 27/05/21

by on May.28, 2021, under Druridge Bay

I arrived at Church Point to meet up with Sandra and Francis, and we set off for a day around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland, an alternative to the bespoke Farne Islands safari originally planned (a long time ago…) but currently not possible for circumstances that are beyond our control, and bafflingly inexplicable…

Starting with a riverside walk chiffchaffs, whitethroats, wrens, chaffinches and dunnocks were singing as we passed sea buckthorn, pygmy goats, and gadwall, mallards, mute swans, canada geese on a river watched over by cormorants perched on semi-submerged trees and branches.

Lunch at the Drift Cafe was accompanied by whitethroat, swallow and pied wagtail, all singing or calling from rooftops, aerials and telegraph poles around us. A stop at Cresswell Pond produced a very obliging Barn Owl, hunting along the edge of the pool and in the dunes before returning with prey to it’s nest, and we continued our journey north along the coast road.

Lapwings were chasing summer-plumaged dunlin who’d strayed too close to their chicks, avocets graced the pool edges with their elegance, whimbrel and curlew called as they flew over, before settling out of easy viewing range in the heat haze, gadwall, teal and mallard dabbled as little grebes and tufted ducks dived and a mute swan escorted her cygnets. Marsh harriers exchanged nest duties, taking it in turns to quarter the reedbeds, sandwich and common terns arrived to bathe in fresh water and a very showy sedge warbler kept returning to the same perch in a hawthorn bush. Our walk between dunes and fields had an impressive chorus line of whitethroats, skylarks, stonechats, a single reed warbler rhythmically chuntering from cover and the reeling of a grasshopper warbler from a tangle of brambles.

After so many years of NEWT, and the last year of hardly being able to work, it’s great to be out and about again with lovely clients enjoying our local wildlife 🙂

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Anticipation; Otter mini-Safari 19/05/21

by on May.20, 2021, under Druridge Bay, Otter

At this time of year our new ‘mini-Safari only’ approach means a late(ish) start so I can spend time earlier in the day doing other business jobs, and cooking. As I get older I’m getting better at timing things so I made a tartiflette, and a tomato and aubergine curry, and still had time to make a cuppa for the other member of the NEWT team before I headed out to meet up with Anthony, and Louise and Tony, ahead of an evening searching for otters around Druridge Bay

With the breeze in our faces, and some ominous looking weather ahead of us, we watched shelducks, common and Sandwich terns and mute swans until the rain had passed by, then we continued walking south. Some very obliging stonechats posed for photographs while whitethroats proved more elusive and grasshopper warblers, chiffchaffs and skylarks were singing, a calling lapwing had two fluffy chicks near a small puddle in a field and the eerie cries of curlew echoed across the fields. The next squally shower caught us in the open but we were soon settled, and sheltered, watching pairs of tufted ducks at close range as they dived for food and the heavy rain continued with glorious sunlight from the west. A roe deer was quietly grazing on the opposite bank, a whimbrel whistled it’s distinctive call as it flew north, and, as a barn owl flew by, I scanned the edge of the pool that was noticeably devoid of birds…and there were two young otters play-fighting 🙂 We watched them for 10 minutes then they vanished, before one reappeared and headed straight towards us before turning back and vanishing into the gloomy shadows of the reeds, underneath a glorious sunset. The walk back to the cars produced another barn owl and then, with the dusk air damp and hazy with insects, noctule bats swooped over the trees and bushes.

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Heron aid :-) Otter Safari 14/05/19

by on May.15, 2019, under Druridge Bay

Under warm sunshine I arrived in Newbiggin to collect Sue and Caroline, Ellen and Tom and Mark and Kay ahead of an afternoon and evening exploring NEWT’s favourite Otter locations around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland…

Walking through sun-dappled woodland with Robins, Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Chaffinches singing, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Nuthatch calling and Wrens furtively flitting through waterside vegetation we could hear the harsh cawing of two Carrion Crows from a bare treetop, and a few feet below them was the cause of their ire; a Grey Heron just minding its own business…although to be fair to the crows, a Grey Heron just standing still is probably up to something 😉

A Buzzard was soaring above the treetops, two more herons were playing cat-and-mouse with us along the river and then Mute Swans, Canada Geese, Greylag Geese, Shelduck, Mallard and Gadwall were all sedate in the afternoon sunshine and Common Sandpipers were sitting on a mid-river log as the short scratchy warble of a Whitethroat came from a bramble patch.

After our picnic spot overlooking the North Sea produced Sand Martins, Swallows, a Gannet heading south offshore and a Grey Seal bobbing around in the surf, the beautiful evening light was bathing Avocets, including several mating pairs, Lapwings, Curlew, Dunlin and a Grey Heron that found itself on the receiving end of an agitated Avocet…once the Avocet had given up on fighting with a Curlew 🙂

With dusk approaching and the waxing gibbous Moon illuminating the landscape Great Crested Grebes were nest-building, Black-headed Gulls were flycatching over the trees and the water and Canada Geese, Greylag Geese, Mallards and Tufted Ducks were all suddenly alert. With dusk taking hold and Vega, Arcturus and Capella all shining through the gloom the tufties took flight after all staring at the same spot, just out of sight behind a reedbed from our position…

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Waiting on the weather ;-) Druridge Bay Safari 26/04/19

by on Apr.27, 2019, under Druridge Bay

As I arrived in Newbiggin to collect Sue, Nick, Mandy and Ian for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland the sea was looking much calmer than it had done on Wednesday, but the sky was ominous and the forecast more so…

We started with a couple of riverside walks through woodland dripping with bird song. As Blackbirds and a Mistle Thrush fed in open grassland and Chiffchaff, Song Thrush, Chaffinch, Goldcrest and Robin sang from exposed, and not-so-exposed, perches, Grey Wagtails were flycatching from rocks in the fast flowing water and a pair of Dippers were taking food to their nest. Cormorants were perched on dead trees mid-river, Canada Geese were fighting and calling, Gadwall were dabbling serenely and a Grey Heron stalked patiently along the water’s edge in the shadow of the trees as the forecast weather seemed to have arrived, with cold rain driven on a southerly breeze making viewing a challenge.

The rain soon eased though and on the coast Mandy spotted a Barn Owl perched on a fence post, sheltered from the wind. It left it’s perch and was soon offering very obliging views as it quartered and hovered over rough grassland as a Meadow Pipit perched on a wall nearby and a handsome male Wheatear hopped along the track ahead of us. Avocets, Lapwings, Oystercatchers, Redshanks and a lone Curlew were standing in the shallows as Bar-tailed Godwits probed incessantly in the mud while wading belly deep in the wind-ruffled water and three Grey Herons did that very heron thing of flying around after each other rather than just accepting that there’s plenty of space for everyone to hunt in.

After an afternoon of what seemed like permanent dusk, light levels did start to dip towards darkness as a female Marsh Harrier quartered a roadside field, a Sparrowhawk hedge-hopped over the road in front of us, Pheasants and a Red-legged Partridge took their chances crossing the road, a Brown Hare loped away along tractor tracks through deep cover, a Roe Deer raced backwards and forwards through long grass and Coot, Moorhen, Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Teal, Mallard, Pochard, Great Crested and Little Grebe and Mute Swan were all on the water as the squealing of a Water Rail cut through the gloom before we headed back towards civilisation 🙂

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Shifting breeze; Bespoke Druridge Bay Safari 17/09/18

by on Sep.18, 2018, under Druridge Bay

Yesterday was a Bespoke Druridge Bay Safari for Russell and Elena and I was glad it was happening before the forecast deterioration in the weather over the next few days.  I collected them from Rothbury and we headed towards the coast and an afternoon and evening around NEWT’s local patch, which turned into an enlightening discussion about photography, food, fly fishing and Sea Buckthorn…

Tufted Ducks, Mallards and a very smart Wigeon were all illuminated by some very nice light and, as we watched a Little Stint scurrying around between Curlew, Lapwing, Common Redshank and Spotted Redshank there was obviously some unease among the waders.  Canada Geese and a Cormorant were looking very alert and the Lapwings took flight before settling again.  Then the cause of all the agitation appeared and we watched the Otter on and off for around 90 minutes before it disappeared next to a reedbed 🙂  Little Egrets were roosting in riverside trees and there was another outbreak of consternation as Mallards all hurried off and a flock of Black-headed Gulls circled something swimming across the river.  It was long and sleek like an Otter, but there was something about the way it was holding its head at an angle that just didn’t seem right…then the Grey Squirrel got out of the water and ran towards the trees!

Our picnic spot overlooking a fairly calm North Sea brought Fulmars and Gannets, and a walk along a well vegetated track produced lots of bees, relatively docile in the cooling evening air, and a Red Admiral as well as plenty of Speckled Wood butterflies.  As dusk approached Swallows and House Martins were gorging themselves on a myriad of flying insects and there was more unrest among roosting birds.  First a sudden departure of Cormorants, then ducks scattered and an Otter appeared briefly before vanishing into the reeds next to a group of Mute Swans.  A female Marsh Harrier caused even more panic then, with Water Rails squealing all around us, a Sparrowhawk was harassed by Carrion Crows and Pink-footed Geese arrived in noisy yapping flocks against a darkening sky with Mars, Saturn and the Moon all bright away to the south there was another kerfuffle against the reeds and not one, not two, not three, but four Otters feeding in the shallows as the light levels dropped to ‘challenging’ 😉  Fade to black…

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Early Autumn mist; Bespoke Otter Safari 05/09/18

by on Sep.06, 2018, under Druridge Bay

I collected David and Jean from Holystone in warm sunshine, ahead of an afternoon and evening around our favourite spots for Otters in Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland

Little Egrets were patrolling the shallows, darting at small fish, Redshanks were calling noisily and the hedgerows, with plump sweet blackberries, were playing host to lots of Speckled Wood butterfliesLong-tailed Tits were calling but stayed out of sight and a fisherman told us he’d seen 4 Otters on Monday.  With Otter activity this week at two other sites we were planning to visit it was looking promising…

A Merlin launched an extraordinary agile pursuit of a Sand Martin, as House Martins, Sand Martins and Swallows gorged themselves on an impressive hatch of flying insects that had also attracted the attention of a Little Gull, delicate and no less agile than the Merlin.  Waders and wildfowl were present in big numbers on the coastal pools; Mallard, Tufted Duck, Teal, Wigeon, Canada Geese, Redshank, Greenshank, Dunlin, Curlew and Lapwing were all roosting or feeding and, as dusk approached and the squeals of Water Rail cut through the ethereal mist that was suddenly lifting from the water’s surface beneath a murmuration of Starlings preparing to spend a night in the reeds, Greylag Geese began to arrive. dozens and dozens of them noisily heralding their approach as they tumbled out of the sky to the shallow water below.  With Mars shining red in the sky away to the southeast, ripples of panic started spreading through the birds as they made a sharp exit from the two spots where I would have expected an Otter to appear…

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Waiting for the weather; Druridge Bay Bespoke Birdwatching 13/08/18

by on Aug.15, 2018, under Druridge Bay

With a fairly awful weather forecast for Sunday, we’d rescheduled Linda and Peter’s day with NEWT around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland for Monday, where the forecast suggested it would rain until lunchtime and then improve after that…

Pre-lunch it was indeed lovely weather for ducks and Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Shoveler and Tufted Duck all provided slightly more of an ID challenge than usual with the drakes now in eclipse plumage.  Hundreds of Greylag Geese were roosting as an assortment of waders fed around them; Avocet, Lapwing, Dunlin, elegant Black-tailed Godwit, Ruff, Knot, Curlew, Common Redshank and a Greenshank that heralded it’s arrival with a strident “tyeu tyeu tyeu”.  Water Rails were nervously dashing in and out of the reed edge as Moorhens fed more boldly away from the edge, Coots demonstrated that they have none of the nervousness of their relatives and Sand Martins, House Martins and Swallows enjoyed a feast of flying insects in the warm, humid air..  Lunch overlooking the North Sea brought Gannets and Fulmars soaring effortlessly over the water.  Walking along a narrow hedge-lined track a Sparrowhawk burst through the bushes, carrying a hapless bird as Tree Sparrows delivered a noisy lament for the fallen.

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