Tag: Woodcock

Enchanted evening

by on Nov.23, 2012, under Birdwatching, Choppington Woods, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

As the air cools, a pall of pale ghostly mist hangs just above the ground in a wildflower meadow dropping away ahead of me.  I’m on a woodland edge, standing on a soft cushion of fallen larch and pine needles.  Standing still and blending in, the mist wraps me in its cooling blanket as a flock of Goldcrests move through the trees just behind my vantage point.  Overhead Redwings, Rooks and Jackdaws head to roost as a Carrion Crow caws defiantly from the top of a tall larch and Wood Pigeons flutter up and down at tree-top height.  The incessant screeching of Jays and chatter of Blackbirds betrays the presence of a Tawny Owl; stirring in preparation for its nocturnal foray, it soon tires of the harassment and heads deeper into the wood.  A Woodcock appears at the same point where I emerged from the trees just a few minutes ago, having followed my route alongside the gurgling stream.  Away over the fields I can see a Barn Owl, hunting close to the site where it raised this year’s young hoolets, and Roe Deer nervously make their way out into the open.  As the light fades and I head for home, it’s hard to believe that I’m on the edge of the most densely populated area of Northumberland and walking through a mixed woodland where there were once three coal mines, including one of the first deep-shaft mines anywhere in the world.  For now though, it’s just me and the wildlife…

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Caught short

by on Jun.22, 2012, under Birdwatching, North Pennines, Northumberland, Photography

Tuesday was Christina’s second day out with us this week, and we had a very specific target for our afternoon and evening of birdwatching and photography, luckily I’d already spent a lot of time this year checking out breeding locations for the species concerned…

As the stunning weather illuminated the North Pennines AONB in beautiful light, Mountain Pansies and Cotton Grass were gently swaying in the breeze, Curlews and Lapwings were calling as they traversed the fellsides, Skylarks were singing from high overhead, Ring Ouzels and Mistle Thrushes flitted from tree to boulder to grassy slope and back again, a lone Woodcock (presumably with a faulty body clock) was roding in bright sunshine and there, on a fence post not 50 metres away was our quarry; stretching, posturing and delivering a haughty stare with piercing yellow eyes, the Short-eared Owl sat obligingly as Christina rattled off frame after frame of pin sharp owl portraits.  The owl was just one small part of the whole experience, but it was the part that the afternoon had been structured to deliver and it slotted into its appointed place in the vast landscape and soundscape.  Our wildlife doesn’t always perform to plan (and it would be rather dull and predictable if it did!), but when everything comes together perfectly it feels sublime.

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North Pennines Wild Watch

by on May.23, 2012, under Birdwatching, North Pennines

We’ve had the first two bird ID sessions for the North Pennines WildWatch project already, and both have produced some excellent sightings during the ‘in the field’ bit of the course.

The first session, at Eggleston, produced one outstanding bird – at least for those in the group who weren’t impatiently hurrying back for their bread, cheese and soup…as a group of us watched a Song Thrush gathering food, I looked skywards (a good habit to get into, you never know what could be overhead) and there was an Osprey 🙂 Bird of the day/month/year for those who were lucky enough to see it.

One of my favourite species rounded off the first session, and the second session around Muggleswick as well, as we watched Woodcock roding and chasing each other.  The end of the first session produced another exciting bird that was missed by the group that headed straight back to the cars, as a few of us heard, and then saw, a Tawny Owl.

Both sessions concentrated on identifying birds by song and call, with paticipants getting to grips with Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Blackbird, Blackcap, Willow Warbler,  and Chiffchaff amongst others, and the third session, at Lambley, will have the same focus.  I changed approach between the first two sessions, and I’m busy restructuring the course for the third session based on the teaching/learning experiences gained during the first two.  I knew there was a reason we bought a parabolic microphone (there’s a reason for everything, we just don’t always realise it at the time…) 😉

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by on Oct.28, 2011, under Birdwatching, Holy Island, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

The last 2 days were spent running 2 Prestige Tours for Peter and Alison, and the Northumberland coast delivered plenty of birdwatching gems.

On Wednesday we were covering Holy Island and the Northumberland coast, and planned to spend the morning on Holy Island and then come off at lunchtime just before the tide covered the causeway (remember – the crossing times are published for a reason, don’t drive into the North Sea, it won’t end well!).  A thorough check around the village, and the Heugh, produced 2 Black Redstarts, Blackcaps, lots of Blackbirds, Fieldfares, Redwings and an intriguing Chiffchaff (almost sandy brown above, very unlike our breeding birds).  Grey Seals and Pale-bellied Brent Geese were out on the mud, Dark-bellied Brent Geese, Wigeon and Teal were roosting on the Rocket Field and a Woodcock was flying circuits of the village.  As well as an almost continuous wave of thrushes leaving the island, the distinctive flight calls of Skylarks and Lesser Redpolls could be picked out.

Once we were off the island, I’d decided to head north to Goswick.  Another Black Redstart and a Yellow-browed Warbler were around Coastgurad Cottage, and we made our way through the dunes.  The adult drake Black Scoter was still present, although less than easy to see with a line of rolling surf impeding the view.  As the tide rose, flocks of Bar-tailed Godwit, Knot, Dunlin and Grey Plover rose from the exposed sandbar, shuffling along to the next ‘dry’ spot.  A Short-eared Owl was seen coming in-off, harrassed by Herring Gulls before finally finding sanctuary on the Snook, and then the bird of the day (well, I think so anyway) appeared just behind us.  Tracking south along the coast a juvenile Rough-legged Buzzard was given a bit of a going over by the local corvids.

Heading back towards Seahouses we stopped off at Harkess Rocks,  where Purple Sandpipers, Turnstones, Redshank and Oystercatchers were all flitting from rock to rock and Eider were bobbing about just offshore as daylight faded and it was time to return Peter and Alison to their holiday accommodation.

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Talking birdwatching

by on Dec.09, 2010, under Birdwatching, Family and friends, North Pennines

Woodcock are continuing to feature in our birdwatching at the moment.  Martin saw two more yesterday; one flying ahead of the car as he drove through Ashington and another one flying over our house, as Lee from G&S Organics was delivering our weekly groceries.

Yesterday evening we were out and about again.  This time it wasn’t a nocturnal birdwatching trip but a much more sociable occasion, meeting up with a friend for a meal and a few drinks.

Nick was already in the pub, with a pint of Guinness in hand, when we arrived.  The conversation through the evening focused primarily on raptors; a real obsession for all three of us.  He didn’t make it to this year’s North of England Raptor Conference so we filled him in on the highlights.  As our discussions covered population ecology, persecution, identification and migration patterns, the time raced by and soon we were driving back through the snowy wastes of Northumberland.  Unsurprisingly, most of our discussion had focussed on the Hen Harrier; probably the most persecuted raptor in Britain.  Our study area covers twelve 10km squares in southwest Northumberland, notable for having no breeding Hen Harriers, although a vast amount of suitable habitat.  There’s a lack of Peregrines as well, although at one site they can often be seen displaying in the early spring…

On our North Pennines tours, the lack of raptors is often commented on by our clients.  When we explain the reasons, and back this up with our own observations and experiences from the harrier nest we monitored in North Tynedale, we’re generally met with looks of incredulity, horror or dismay.  Who knows, maybe 2011 will be the year when the Hen Harrier starts to make a comeback on the moors of Northern England?  Don’t hold your breath though…

Now, after a morning which Martin spent being interviewed for the BBC Politics Show (which will be shown at 12:00 on Sunday 11th December), it’s time to process another batch of Gift Voucher orders and finalise details for this Saturday’s boat trip around the Farne Islands and Holy Island.  Gift Vouchers are an ideal present, and our final boat trip of the year looks like being a really good one, so give us a call on 01670 827465 to book.

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by on Dec.08, 2010, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Family and friends, Northumberland

When Sarah arrived home from work at 19:30 yesterday, I suggested a spot of nocturnal motorised birdwatching.

We headed north past Ellington and up to Widdrington before turning towards the coast and down through Druridge.  With the thermometer hitting -7C, the ungritted roads were a bit of a challenge.  Following some recent big counts of Woodcock it was no great surprise that they flushed regularly from the roadside as we passed.  Our main target for the drive was Barn Owl, and we eventually found one perched on a post beside the Spine Road near Blyth.  Bird of the evening though was a stunning Long-eared Owl, on a fence post by the edge of the road.  As we passed slowly, on the skating rink of a road surface, it turned it’s head imperiously, following us with those piercing orange eyes.  Over the last 3 years we’ve shared views of all of Northumberland’s regularly occurring owls with our clients, but for sheer ‘other-worldliness’ you really can’t beat Long-eared Owl.

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Mulling things over, a wild goose chase and some garden ticks

by on Dec.07, 2010, under Birdwatching, Family and friends, Northumberland

Most of the last week has been spent working on various admin type things ready for 2011, and clearing snow and ice.

On Friday we both went along to Choppington First School to help with clearing the car park so that school could re-open yesterday.  As a business that values sustainability we’re committed to supporting our local community, and this certainly fitted the bill, as well as providing good exercise.  Along with the Head, the caretaker and one of the teachers we’d made good progress when 2 contractors turned up, having been engaged by Northumberland County Council, to clear the car park.  So, we then watched the entertaining spectacle of a JCB and a snow plough racing around the car park, clearing it completely in 20 minutes.

Saturday saw us clearing the 2.5′ wall of ice and snow that was blocking Martin’s car on the drive.  Mulled wine and a mince pie afterwards seemed like an appropriate reward 😉

Of course, we’ve still managed to fit in some birdwatching 🙂

Sunday was Goose Count day.  The East Chevington access road was a treacherous sheet of ice and compacted snow, so we parked near the main road and walked up to the pools.  With most of the North Pool frozen, goose numbers were lower than we would expect for December.  Highlights of the walk were at least 15 Woodcock, and 3 Barn Owls  that drifted along the hedgerows just after dawn.

Monday is Martin’s ‘office day’, and the vantage point of the office window allowed him to add 2 more species to the garden list; Woodcock and Tree Sparrow.  It’s still white-over outside, but maybe there’s a thaw on the way…

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Sport Relief

by on Mar.22, 2010, under Family and friends

I spent yesterday in an unfamiliar role; as support to The Swan Striders (Sarah and Kirsty) as they took part in the Sport Relief mile at Druridge Bay Country Park.  This is the first step in a grand plan that should eventually see them completing a marathon.  As they only began their training regime a couple of weeks ago, and Kirsty tore a calf muscle last week, it was impossible to guess how they would perform.  Needless to say, they both finished the mile (well, 1.4 miles…) still running, in a time of 16:47.  I’m a proud husband 🙂

My own health improvements are taking the form of lots of walks (I’d love to run with the girls but one of my knees is very unstable).  After the Alnwick Tourism Fair on Friday I walked the 4 miles up to Morpeth to collect Sarah’s car from the garage where it had been for it’s MOT.  Against the prevailing wind I knocked 5 mins off the time it took in the other direction with the wind behind me.  Progress…and now we’re going to set a series of targets for me, probably culminating in the Three Peaks.  As ever there was a wildlife angle to my walk; although an unexpected one as I flushed a Woodcock from under a hedge near Hepscott.  Yellowhammers, Skylarks and Reed Buntings were singing and there’s a vibrant fresh feel to the countryside.  Can you feel it?

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Classic arrival conditions?

by on Dec.08, 2009, under Birdwatching, Northumberland

After the Seal and Seaduck Special on Saturday, we opted for a birdwatching walk on Sunday.  The original plan was to leave my car at Alnmouth, drive to Craster in Sarah’s car and then walk the coastal path between the two villages.  As we set off from Craster it looked good for our walk, but within 15 minutes we were caught up in a howling southerly and driving icy rain.  Eventually, after slightly less than half of our planned route we admitted defeat and returned to Craster harbour.  Then the weather improved…sitting and enjoying our picnic at the harbourside, watching Turnstones, Redshanks and Oystercatchers, we were alerted to the presence of a dumpy brown bird coming ‘in-off’ as everything scattered from the harbour wall.  Thoughts of Little Owl, or something rarer, quickly vanished as the bird’s very long bill became evident.  Now, mid-October in a howling northeasterly is the time we would expect to find Woodcock arriving on the coast, but early December in a 25mph southerly?  It landed just a few feet from us, in the middle of the track, and sat for about 20 seconds before flying low up the road out of the village.

After 2 days out and about, the payback was a day of housework/admin on Monday.  So, I decided to ‘sort out’ our bookshelves.  Always a bad idea as I’m easily distracted, and re-arranging our books invariably leads to “hmm, I haven’t looked at that for a while”…

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