Tag: Whinchat

Sound

by on May.22, 2012, under Birdwatching, Cheviot Valleys, Northumberland

As I collected Jason and Jane for a bespoke day of birdwatching in the beautiful Cheviot valleys, the first few raindrops pattered against the windscreeen of the car.  As we headed south from Melkington the rain stopped and visibility improved, so I was sure were in for an excellent day.

The day featured all of the species we would expect; Roe Deer, Brown Hare, Raven, Dipper,Grey Wagtail, Common Sandpiper, Tree Pipit, Redstart and Red Grouse amongst many but a few of the regulars put on a really special performance.

Cuckoos were calling along the valley but frustratingly staying out of view, until a handsome male flew across the track ahead of us and then perched in full view.  A pair of Whinchat provided another highlight as they flitted along a stream, dashing from rock to rock like Grey Wagtails, tails flicking as they sallied across the adjacent hillside.

Soon after I collected them, Jason had mentioned that he’d never seen a Ring Ouzel.  No pressure there, then 😉  As we started our first walk of the day, I could hear a Ring Ouzel singing, and soon located him at the top of a distant tree.  More followed, including a pair sitting together on a fence, but probably the best of the seven that we found was a singing male; high in a narrow gully his song reverberated beautifully off the surrounding rock carrying over a distance at which he was just a black speck through our binoculars, his song was as clear as if he was just along the hillside.  As the wind and rain finally arrived, and we discussed sustainability and conservation (I really should write a book…), his song continued, although he shifted the side of the gully he was on to shelter from the rain.  A remote valley exposed to the elements, a real mountain specialist putting on a performance for us, stimulating insightful thoughts from Jason and Jane…another memorable day at ‘the office’ 🙂

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Border patrol

by on May.19, 2011, under Birdwatching, Kielder, Northumberland

After a day on the coast, yesterday brought something completely different as I headed towards Whitelee Farm and Byrness to collect John and Natalie, and then Bert, for a Kielder Safari.

As we drove along a remote track through the forest, we came across some of the wildlife that makes Kielder such a special place; Roe Deer trotted across the track ahead of us, family parties of Common Crossbills were adorning the tops of spuce trees like christmas decorations, a Red Squirrel eyeballed us from halfway up a tree, a Common Buzzard tolerated a closer approach than usual, but not for long,  and a pair of Wheatears watched as we passed by.

North of the border we were entertained by several pairs of Whinchat (surely one of the most attractive birds we have in Britain), including a male who started singing from his perch just a few metres away, a Dipper that was whizzing up and down the stream where we sat to have our lunch, a Red Grouse playing hide-and-seek with us in the heather and the elegant beauty of a male Hen Harrier, still retaining his grace as he battled into the howling gale that made our hot soup at lunchtime all the better.

Whether it’s the remoteness, the landscape, the species that you rarely, if ever, find elsewhere or just the lack of other people; our inland locations – Kielder, the Cheviot Valleys and the North Pennines always produce memorable birdwatching experiences, for our clients and for ourselves as well!

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Comfort zone

by on May.03, 2011, under Birdwatching, Cheviot Valleys, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

I’ve been a general naturalist since an early age, but birdwatching has been the thing that has always gripped my imagination.  As a wildlife guide though, is that really enough?  That’s a question that seems to arise occasionally on internet forums.  I decided at an early stage of NEWT that I needed a much broader and deeper knowledge, so I spend a lot of time studying things that once upon a time (I’m ashamed to admit) I would have ignored, or even not noticed.  Every day that I spend with clients, I make an effort to learn from them, whilst imparting my own knowledge, skills and understanding of what we encounter.

On Thursday I led an afternoon of guided birdwatching around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  The blazing sunshine when I collected Karen from Newbiggin made it almost impossible to see anything in the bay but, as each small gull flew by, we checked for the identification features that would provide us with a Mediterranean Gull.  All proved to be Black-headed Gulls, and we headed north up the coast.  As we stood by the River Coquet, discussing how to separate Carrion Crow, Rook and Jackdaw in flight, I saw the tell-tale ghostly wings of a Med Gull as it drifted down towards the water’s edge.  Jet black hood, pristine white wingtips and, as perfect as if it was scripted, sitting next to an adult Black-headed Gull allowing easy comparison.  Some of our favourite birds followed; Marsh Harrier, Nuthatch, Heron and at least 17 Whimbrel.  During the afternoon I learned a feature of Wood Sorrel that will ensure I never misidentify it (again…).  Karen, you were right 🙂

Friday was something very different as we were headed inland to the Cheviots for a day searching for summer visitors.  After a few hours with a spectacular roll-call of the wildlife of the valleys, including Brown Hare, Roe Deer, Whinchat, Tree Pipit, Wheatear, Spotted Flycatcher, Red Grouse, Curlew and Lapwings (with chicks), we followed the track up a steep sided valley in search of a bird that Sue hadn’t seen before (and really wanted to).  As the sky darkened, the wind strengthened and chilled, and the first drops of icy rain began to fall, I spotted 2 distant birds flying down the valley.  I didn’t have any doubt about the identification so, when they eventually settled on the tops of the heather, I aimed the ‘scope in their direction and Sue enjoyed her first views of the ‘Mountain Blackbird’.  Ring Ouzels may often be seen on passage in the spring and autumn, but high in a remote valley, where you think the elements could give you a good working over at any time and the habitat supports so few species, is simply the right place to see them.  Another lesson learned; memorable sightings make you forget about the weather 🙂

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British Birdwatching Fair 2010

by on Aug.25, 2010, under Birdwatching, Family and friends, North Pennines, North Sea, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

We’ve been away for a few days, as part of the Birdwatching Northumberland consortium at the British Birdwatching Fair 2010.

Thursday started very early for Martin, with a North Pennines Prestige Tour for clients who were staying at Wallfoot in Carlisle.  Managing to avoid the worst of the weather, avian highlights included Merlin, Goldcrest, Nuthatch, Red Grouse, Black Grouse, Whinchat and Wheatear.  The long drive down the M6 didn’t, unfortunately, miss the heavy rain.  However, a late arrival at the White Lion in Whissendine, and a few beers in the bar with such luminaries as Ipin set Martin up nicely for an early start on Friday.

Sarah was at work (in her ‘proper’ job) so, apart from attending a couple of lectures, Martin was on the Birdwatching Northumberland stand for all of the first day.

Saturday we planned to work ‘split’ shifts, but with Martin again spending most of his time on the stand; apart from another couple of lectures and one or two chats with clients, colleagues, suppliers, competitors and collaborators (both old and new).

Another excellent curry at the White Lion, and a ‘few’ beers, on Sataurday night was followed by the dawning of the final day of Bird Fair 2010.  One of us was a bit ‘under the weather’ but perked up in time to give his talk ‘The North Sea – a new birding frontier’ at 3.30pm.  What could have been a bit of a graveyard shift managed to generate a lot of interest, with 134 bird fair attendees making their way to the lecture marquee to enjoy a brief history of the Northumberland pelagics.  There were a few questions at the end of the lecture, then Martin was stopped and asked some more, for the next 10 minutes, as he headed back to the stand – where other people who had been in the lecture were waiting to ask more questions.

After three days at the Bird Fair we’d made a lot of new contacts, renewed some old acquaintances and we’ll shortly be entering exciting partnerships with some big names in the birding world.  Just a few very busy weeks to come first…

A final night in the midlands was followed by the journey north on Monday, and then a Prestige Tour yesterday.  Beginning with  an actively feeding Dipper was a good start then, with a particular request for wading birds, it was good to strike a rich vein on the coast; Green and Common Sandpipers, Greenshank, Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Curlew, Whimbrel, Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Dunlin and Ruff.  What seemed to go down better than all of the other birds though were the always impressive Grey Herons.

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Setting the scene

by on May.31, 2010, under Birdwatching, Northumberland

Sunday started with a journey to inland Northumberland, birdwatching on some heather moorland in order to complete our final 2 ‘early season’ visits for the BTO Bird Atlas.  Contrary to the forecast weather, it was cold, windy and drizzly.  However, we set off and were eventually rewarded with a dramatic improvement as the sun came out and so did the birds.  Alongside all of the Willow Warblers, Chaffinches, Skylarks and Meadow Pipits the highlights were at least 3 Spotted Flycatchers and a stunning male Whinchat.  A pair of Curlew began alarming as we crossed the moorland, constantly changing position to draw us away from their nest location.

After a walk of just over 5 miles we headed home and decided that we would venture out towards dusk in search of badgers.  We’ve got an Otter and Badger trip on Thursday so we needed to check on the current status of a couple of setts that we’ve been watching for some time.  As we settled into position, with what appeared to be a horde of bats flying around, Blackbirds and Mistle Thrushes were alarming (as they often do late in the day).  Soon, movement on the hillside opposite revealed our first badger of the evening.  Very grey, with cream stripes, it came out of a sett, squatted on a patch of bare earth and then vanished into the undergrowth.  A second animal quickly followed, much more gingery than the first, and then a third, starkly black and white.  It really is a privilege to sit and watch these magnificent animals as they go about their business (no pun intended).

After such a successful evening, getting a ‘phone call earlier today “can you take us out to look for Red Squirrels, Otters and Badgers tomorrow please” was exactly what we wanted.  Once upon a time I wouldn’t have been happy working on a Bank Holiday weekend, now it’s an enjoyable part of my career choice.  Just over 2 years in, and I don’t regret even a tiny part of that decision.

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Slow, slow

by on May.20, 2010, under Birdwatching, Cheviot Valleys, Northumberland

Yesterday was the first of two days out with the winners of last year’s Birdwatching Northumberland prize draw.  After collecting Andy and Jean from the Bamburgh Castle Inn our destination was the Harthope Valley in the Cheviots.  It’s one of our favourite locations; stunning landscape, interesting geology and, of course, excellent wildlife.  As we reached the start of the valley we stopped to check on a Dipper nest, and there was one of the adults sitting on a rock in the river, so close that we didn’t need binoculars.  Further upstream we watched a pair of Grey Wagtails, eventually locating their nest in the tangled exposed roots of a riverside tree, before setting off in search of Ring Ouzels.  It wasn’t too long before we heard a singing male, but he remained stubbornly out of sight.  As we climbed higher up the valley the song seemed to be coming from somewhere else and careful scanning of the area revealed our quarry, perched on the remnants of a dry stone wall.  A pair of Red Grouse, with at least 7 chicks, were very obliging and a pair of Whinchat were flitting around in the heather.  After lunch we were treated to more Grey Wagtails, including a bird singing and displaying high overhead, and these were a real highlight of the day, a singing Dipper, Tree PipitRedstartCuckoo, a plethora of Willow Warblers and the shivering trill of a Wood Warbler.  Andy was keen to take a photograph of a Green Tiger Beetle and, eventually, one sat still for long enough to allow him to get close to it.

Green Tiger Beetle

The non-bird highlight of the day though came as we walked back to the Land Rover; a pair of Slow Worms locked in a mating embrace.  A remarkable end to an excellent day captured on camera by Andy, who kindly sent me the images to add to our blog.

This embrace can last for up to 10 hours!

That doesn't look comfortable

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