Tag: Whimbrel

Showstopper; Otter Safari 04/06/2015

by on Jun.10, 2015, under Druridge Bay, Southeast Northumberland

Every so often, there’ll be an experience during a trip with clients that is simply jaw-dropping…

I arrived at Church Point in summary weather and set off with six clients to explore Druridge Bay and south east Northumberland in search of OttersAvocets with eggs and chicks were delicately, elegantly beautiful, a Whimbrel flew around, calling noisily, Great Crested Grebes with chicks rivalled the Avocets in elegance, a Cuckoo made its way along a fence line, the rhythmic song of Reed Warbler provided an aural backdrop for much of the afternoon and a Roe Deer appeared from a reedbed at dusk before clearing a fence and bounding away.

The jaw-dropping moment came, not with an Otter, but with another predator.  Usually when we encounter a Barn Owl you get a brief view before it heads off elsewhere to hunt.  This time though we had a prolonged view with the ghostly white bird no more than 20m away from us at times as it quartered rough grassland, hovering in beautiful golden light, a translucent-winged, silent angel of death scouring the ground below for small rodents to dispatch.

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Lifers; Druridge Bay birdwatching 13/08/2014

by on Aug.25, 2014, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland

It isn’t unusual for our clients to see species for the first time on one of our tours, but it’s much less usual for me to see something new…

I collected Chris from home in Gosforth and we headed out towards the coast and Druridge Bay.  It’s always a great pleasure to have Chris out on a tour with us, although this one held the possibility of an early, and sudden, finish as his step-daughter was due to have her second child.  Mid-August is still an excellent time for wading birds and the selection on offer was impressive; Dunlin, Knot, Avocet, Lapwing, Curlew, Whimbrel, Redshank, Ruff, Common Sandpiper and Oystercatcher were perhaps overshadowed by one of Chris’ two lifers for the day; Stilt Sandpiper 🙂  Pied, Yellow and Grey Wagtails were all flycatching close to water and a 2cy male Marsh Harrier managed to be both impressive and educational at the same time.

Chris’ other lifer for the day was a new bird for me too.  Gulls aren’t everybody’s cup of tea, but the Caspian Gull in Amble Harbour was an impressive bird; a whole lesson in structure, behaviour, moult and ageing all wrapped up in in one ‘large white-headed gull’; the alternative to ‘little brown jobs’ for birders who prefer staring at mud rather than bushes 🙂

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Twitching; Druridge Bay 29/07/2014

by on Aug.05, 2014, under Birdwatching, Northumberland

I collected Stephen from home in North Shields and we headed north to Druridge Bay for an afternoon and evening of birdwatching.  Late July can produce some very good birds, and this was to be no exception…

Mediterranean Gull is a bit of a southeast Northumberland speciality, and the ghostly white adult drifting across the field of view of Stephen’s new binoculars was a lifer for him.  The rest of the afternoon was dominated by waders, with flocks of Curlew, Redshank, Oystercatcher, Lapwing and Black-tailed Godwit all flushing in alarm at an unseen (at least by us) menace.  The banks of the River Aln produced Curlew, Whimbrel, Greenshank, Spotted Redshank and four Little Egrets.  We bumped into a few of NEWT’s other clients during the afternoon and, when Len and Gill calmly mentioned that there was Stilt Sandpiper at Cresswell, we restructured the afternoon 🙂  Arriving at Cresswell, the news wasn’t good; the bird had apparently disappeared into long grass on the edge of the pool four hours earlier and hadn’t reappeared.  Knot, Dunlin, Common Snipe, Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Curlew, Lapwing, Golden Plover and Avocet are all very nice birds, but they’re no Stilt Sandpiper.  We decided to head down the coast and have something to eat while scanning the sea.  As we left Cresswell, Gill said that they’d ‘phone me if the bird reappeared so I took my mobile off silent although, with a four and a half gap since the last sighting, I wasn’t overly optimistic.  Ten minutes later, I’d just poured the soup and we were enjoying our picnic when my ‘phone rang.  I didn’t manage to get it out of my pocket in time to answer it, but it soon rang again and this time it was a call from Ipin “Martin, it’s back”.

Stephen had his second lifer of the afternoon, and late July was doing what it does really well – excellent waders 🙂

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Stumbling across a twitch

by on Sep.11, 2013, under Bamburgh Castle, Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

Late August/early September is an exciting time on the Northumberland coast; wader passage is still ongoing, wintering wildfowl are arriving and you just never know what could turn up…

I collected Andy and Lia from Alnwick and we set off for a day birdwatching on the Northumberland coast from Bamburgh to Druridge BayKnot, Turnstone, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Sanderling and some very elusive Purple Sandpipers started the day for us, as Linnets fluttered around in the long grass, Meadow and Rock Pipits were around the tideline, Gannets were soaring majestically by and Eider and Common Scoter were bobbing around just beyond the surf and a mixed flock of Common and Sandwich Terns were flushed by walkers before settling back on the rocks close to the breaking surf.  Offshore a small flock of birds grabbed my attention, and through the telescope resolved into one of Northumberland’s winter specialities; seven Pale-bellied Brent Geese steadily heading north were our first of the autumn.

Further south, waders were still the main focus of our day;  Dunlin, Redshank, Greenshank, Snipe, Whimbrel, Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit and Ruff were all pottering about in the water’s edge.  When we arrived at East Chevington to look for the Spotted Crake, there were a few local birders already there.  With an astonishing amount of luck, we’d arrived just as a White-rumped Sandpiper was being watched 🙂  Not the easiest of birds to identify, but as it wandered around a flock of sleeping Teal with Dunlin and Snipe alongside for comparison it stood out quite well.

Another cracking day’s birdwatching, with a proper rarity to add a touch of the unusual 🙂

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Change of plan

by on May.20, 2013, under Birdwatching, Cheviot Valleys, Druridge Bay, North Sea, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

Snow on Monday, glorious weather on Tuesday…and torrential rain on Wednesday 🙁  When I arrived to collect David and Janet for their Prestige Tour in the Cheviot Valleys we quickly decided to head towards the Northumberland coast instead as that would offer the chance of plenty of birdwatching with the prospect of being able to shelter from the worst of the weather.

Starting at Stag Rocks, we watched flocks of Eider and Common Scoter as they rolled up and over the substantial waves and a Grey Seal swam just beyond the breaking surf.  One thing that was immediately obvious was that there was a movement of Gannets; birds were flying over the rocks and more could be seen offshore.  Heading down the coast, the intensity of the rain increased and we had our second seawatch of the day, this time just south of Cresswell.  An almost continuous passage of Gannets was evident as they headed north, flocks of Kittiwakes and Guillemots were passing by, the occasional Fulmar arced up above the clifftops and a single Manx Shearwater easily outpaced the GannetsAvocets sat tight as the rain hammered down around them and, when the deluge finally ceased and blue sky and sunshine replaced the gloom, we watched a male Marsh Harrier as he quartered a nearby field before soaring heavenwards. A Great Crested Grebe sailed by serenely, a Whimbrel flew north, five Brown Hares were engaged in some half-hearted chasing and Swifts, Swallows, House Martins and Sand Martins all took advantage of the feast of insects that had been stirred to activity by the improvement in the weather.

Even in poor weather, Northumberland can produce some excellent birdwatching 🙂

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Spotting the Otter

by on Jun.28, 2012, under Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast, Otter

They’re the sort of words I always want hear at the start of a day out with clients “The sole reason for coming to Northumberland on this holiday was to see an Otter“.  So, no pressure there, then…

I collected Ann and Glyn from their b&b in Seahouses and we set out on an exploration of the best birdwatching and otter spotting locations on the Northumberland coast around Druridge BayAvocet and Whimbrel were among the birdwatching highlights of the afternoon then, as dusk approached, it looked as though everything was going to go wrong; wave after wave of torrential rain battered down so the surface of the pond looked as if it were boiling and columns of mist were drifting across our field of view.

I was still confident though.  The ducks, swans and other waterbirds were looking nervous, and that’s always a good sign.  Then it happened, as Ann said “what’s that over there by the reeds?”,  I got the end of the reedbed in view, steadied my binoculars, and an Otter surfaced before swimming along, allowing all of us to get it in focus, and vanishing into the reeds;  Ann had managed to see her first wild Otter and she’d found it herself 🙂 As the rain cleared a Long-eared Owl flew straight toward us and the Otter reappeared, this time trying to grab a Moorhen that was perched half-way up the reeds.  It twisted and turned, sleek and sinuous, and once again sought the cover of the vegetation at the water’s edge.  As the waterfowl settled and began to look much less worried, we left the hide and waded back to the car 😉

I managed a good bonus bird myself on the drive back down the coast as a Little Owl flew from a roadside fencepost.

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Lightning strikes twice

by on May.11, 2012, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Harwood, Northumberland

Trips with existing clients are always a pleasure, not only because it’s very gratifying to get a booking from someone we’ve taken out before, but also because we already have shared memories.  I had 3 things vivid in my mind from when I took Pete and Janet out in September 2008 – it rained, we saw 11 adult Mediterranean Gulls on the beach at Newbiggin and Janet found an Otter.

I collected Pete and Janet from their holiday cottage in Embleton, and we headed across to Sharperton to collect David and Mary.  They’re all members of the same Natural History Society, who were our first group booking, back in 2009, and we always enjoy catching up with them, and the other members of their group, at the Bird Fair each August.  Tuesday was a bespoke trip, combining Harwood and Druridge Bay, and the weather forecast suggested that it wouldn’t rain…

As we approached Harwood a Roe Deer crossed the track, walked into the trees and then stopped to watch us.  This was the first of 11 that we saw on our journey through the forest (well, it was about 11, and if I say 11, it’ll help the punchline to this post!).

Harwood again produced memorable sightings; Roe Deer, Tree Pipit, at least 3 Cuckoos, Siskins, plenty of Crossbills, more Roe Deer and a mouth-wateringly attractive male Common Redstart.  A list of species can never really do justice to just how good encounters with wildlife can be though; as 2 Roe Deer bounded across the clearfell area beside the track, 2 Cuckoos were engaged in a frantic chase, calling frequently and mobbed by Meadow Pipits every time they left the safety of the trees, while the male Redstart flicked along the edge of a nearby plantation, red tail shivering as he perched on a tree stump, black face contrasting with his white forehead and supercilium, the subtle grey of his crown and mantle and the orangy-red of his breast.

As we tucked in to our picnic lunch, overlooking a very calm North Sea, the first drops of icy rain began to patter down.  Then, a comment from Janet to set the pulse racing “I’m sure I just saw a fin”.  With such calm water the sudden appearance of black shapes at the surface stood out, and Janet had found yet another exciting mammal on a NEWT safari.  This time it wasn’t the sleek, sinuous predator of our lakes and rivers, but another sleek, sinuous predator. We watched for several minutes as the pod of Bottlenose Dolphins moved slowly south.  At least 6 animals, including a very small calf, they surfaced lazily every 30seconds or thereabouts as I texted observers further south to let them know what was coming.

Avocet, Garganey (2 handsome drakes), Common Sandpiper, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, clouds of Swifts, Swallows and martins, and weather best described as changeable, all contributed to an excellent afternoon around Druridge before I completed our circular route, dropping Pete and Janet, and then David and Mary.  See you at the BirdFair 🙂

So, it rained, we saw 11(ish) Roe Deer in Harwood and Janet found some Bottlenose Dolphins

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Birding with a touch of luxury

by on Mar.31, 2012, under Bamburgh Castle, Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Kielder, Northumberland

Delivering a birding package for the first time with a new partner is always a mixture of excitement and worry; will the experience we deliver to our clients blend well with the standards of service, accommodation and food that are provided?  Our exclusive Doxford Hall birding break on Thursday and Friday didn’t hold too many worries though – I’ve attended conferences and other events there before and, having known David Hunter since he was at Matfen Hall, I knew that the entire Doxford experience would be a memorable one for all the right reasons.

I arrived first thing Thursday morning to collect Paul and Sue, who had won their exclusive birding break in a competition that ourselves and Doxford Hall ran recently in Birdwatch magazine.  Our original plan of Druridge Bay on Thursday, Lindisfarne on Friday, had been altered following a ‘phone call during the week from Sue – there was one species they particularly wanted to see, and our recent blog posts had revealed that now might be a good time…so, after a day of hectic communication with the Forestry Commission to arrange access through Kielder, and check where along our route there would be any forestry activity, our first trip headed inland.  We started at Harwood in near-perfect weather conditions; warm, sunny and with a good breeze.  Common Buzzards, Common Crossbills, Siskins and a very vocal Raven were all seen but no Goshawk so we continued west.  Once we were in Kielder another Raven entertained us, tumbling and cronking over a remote farmhouse in the warm afternoon sunshine before soaring heavenwards and then dropping back out of the sky alongside its mate.  We stopped to scan over another plantation, where I’ve watched Goshawks previously, and I soon spotted a bird just above the trees. He quickly got into a thermal and rose until we lost sight of him.  I suggested that we just needed to wait for a Common Buzzard to drift over the Gos’ territory, and we began a patient vigil.  Eventually a Common Buzzard did appear, we all lifted our binoculars to focus on it…and a distant speck in the binoculars above the buzzard grew rapidly larger as the Goshawk dropped out of the sky.  The intruder thought better of hanging around and quickly folded it’s wings back and crossed the valley like an arrow.  Having shepherded the buzzard away, the Phantom of the Forest rose quickly again to resume his sentinel watch.  More Common Crossbills and Common Buzzards followed as we travelled down the valley back towards civilisation, and 2 pairs of Mandarin brought a touch of stunning colour to the afternoon.

Dinner at Doxford Hall on Thursday evening was exceptional (outstanding food and outstanding levels of service throughout the 2 days), and having clients with such an enthusiasm for birding, and fantastic sense of humour, made it even better.  After dinner conversation did reveal that there was an obvious gap in their life-lists though…

Friday’s plan was simple; head to the coast and then bird our way down it to finish in Druridge Bay late afternoon.  We started at Harkess Rocks, in the shadow of Bamburgh Castle, with a very nice flock of 79 Purple Sandpipers.  In the heavy swell a flock of Common Scoters proved elusive, Common Eiders dived through the surf, small rafts of Common Guillemot and Razorbill bobbed about, Gannets soared effortlessly, Sandwich Terns were feeding just offshore and Long-tailed Ducks and Red-breasted Mergansers in breeding finery were a reminder that our winter visitors are about to pack their bags and head north.  Red-throated Divers, including one bird with a very red tinge to it’s throat, were typically elusive, diving just as we got onto them.  I’d got another species in mind though and, when I found one, it was sitting obligingly next to a Red-throated Diver.  Soon, Paul and Sue were admiring the elegant structure, neat contrasty plumage and white flank patch of their first Black-throated Diver. 2 days, 2 lifers 🙂

We headed south and, after watching an adult Mediterranean Gull, and two 2nd calendar year birds, winter and spring came together with flocks of Greylag and Pink-footed Geese, and a Short-eared Owl, being characteristic of the last 5 months of our coastal trips, Green Sandpiper and Whimbrel on passage and a male Marsh Harrier drifting over a coastal reedbed.

In beautiful afternoon light, with the sound of the roaring surf of the North Sea crashing into the east coast, the Short-eared Owl quartering a nearby reedbed and a pair of Great Crested Grebes displaying on the pool in front of us, a couple of comments by Sue – two of many memorable ones during the trip 😉 – summed things up nicely “chilled-out birding” and “we like the view from Martin’s office” 🙂

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A matter of timing

by on Aug.31, 2011, under Bamburgh Castle, Birdwatching, Holy Island, Northumberland

Being in the right place at the right time is so critical to everything we do; if we’re searching for Otters we need to be there when they rise from their slumber and become active, if Badgers are the target for the trip then arriving the correct length of time before sunset is important, and if we’re visiting Holy Island then timing is a real key to success.

I set off up the A1 with Jo on board, and collected Paul from Bamburgh.  The plan for the day was a simple one; spend a few hours birdwatching on Holy Island, then leave as the tide was rising and check sites down the coast towards Bamburgh.  From the top of the Heugh, we scanned across the sandflats whilst listening to the ghostly moaning of a group of Grey Seals.  An Arctic Skua was harassing the roosting terns and gulls, Curlew and Bar-tailed Godwits were probing along the water’s edge, Grey Plover, many of them still in their incredibly beautiful breeding plumage, seemed to be everywhere that we looked and a Kestrel chased a Peregrine through the dunes around Snook House.  Back on the mainland we found a Whimbrel in a group of Curlew, our second Peregrine of the day beat a menacing path along the shoreline and there was a real surprise in the shape of 5 Pale-bellied Brent Geese.  Budle Bay produced a Little Egret, a flock of 150+ Grey Plover and a distant feeding frenzy of Gannets that could be seen above the breaking surf.  Finally, as the tide begin to crash against the dunes in the shadow of Bamburgh Castle, we watched as a flock of Knot, Turnstone, Oystercatcher, Redshank, Sanderling and Dunlin braved the onrushing waves for longer than the human visitors to the beach 🙂

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Crossing the causeway

by on Aug.26, 2011, under Bamburgh Castle, Birdwatching, Farne Islands, Holy Island, Northumberland

In what appeared to be worsening weather, I drove north to Bamburgh to collect Lyndsey and Petter for their Lindisfarne Safari…and then things improved dramatically, with warm sunshine tempered by a cool southerly breeze 🙂  We started in the shadow of Bamburgh Castle, with Common Eider on the water, Turnstones on the rocks and Sandwich Terns and Gannets fishing just offshore.  A stop at Budle Bay revealed a Greenshank amongst the masses of roosting Redshank and we continued to Holy Island itself.  Waders continued to be the theme of the afternoon, with Ringed Plover, Golden Plover, Dunlin, Curlew and Lapwing all either roosting or feeding on the mudflats close by and Whimbrel calling as they passed through.  As the tide fell, Grey Seals could be seen hauling themselves out of the water, ‘bottling’ in the afternoon warmth, swimming along with a remarkable turn of pace for such big animals, and splashing around like kids in a paddling pool.

Late August, sunny weather, masses of visitors on Holy Island…and the wildlife is still as good as ever 🙂

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