coquet nature lover

Friday, 8 July 2016

A walk by River Coquet in Northumberland

Coquet nature lover on and around the Coquet


What and where is the Coquet?

In case you aren't familiar with this part of the world, the Coquet is a river with its source in the remote Cheviot Hills, marking the border between England and Scotland. Twisting and turning in a more or less easterly direction for forty miles through the county of Northumberland, the Coquet finally flows into the North Sea at Amble.

I started this walk downstream at Warkworth (just five minutes drive north from Amble) taking the path that runs alongside the river. Whether you continue to walk along the riverside, row a boat or take a short hike up to visit the castle, it's up to you - you won't go far wrong - there is an incredible amount to see for nature lovers and if you are a history lover, the castle is a bonus!

Warkworth is a fantastic location for nature lovers - as well as the riverside walks, there are amazing beach hikes too.. Seriously, I saw several white beaked dolphins here earlier this year - how fantastic! The RSPB reserve of Coquet Island is also close by so if you want great views of seals and sea birds, book a boat trip round the island with Puffin Cruises, based at Amble. You will see puffins galore and rare roseate terns also breed on the island in the spring.


song thrush with its beautiful speckled front

female mallard with chick (Fr-Canard colvert D-Stockente)

Dose of cute

Grey heron on the riverbank (Fr-Héron cendré D-Fischreiher)

Which way do I go... right?

...or left?

decision made!

Heading upstream - still along the riverside path

When you think how the source of the river Coquet is in the Cheviots, the following french expression which translates to 'little streams make big rivers' springs to mind. In English, we are perhaps more likely to say 'mighty oaks from little acorns grow' but what it really means is that great things often start from small beginnings. This certainly applies to the Coquet and its surrounding area which has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) .

 'les petits ruisseaux font les grandes rivières'

foxglove on the riverbank

Further upstream, in the heart of the Coquet valley, there is pasture land where you will find sheep and cattle grazing. 

Word of warning... If you are walking in the countryside, keep on the look out for cows with calves. You need to follow the warning signs and always keep well away from the cattle or you could be putting your life at risk.  The photos below were taken with a zoom lens with the animals on the other side of the fence.

Oystercatchers (Fr-Huitrier pie D-Austernfischer)

In the photo below you can see the winding river with its shingle beds where oystercatchers lay their eggs. These wading birds are quite easy to identify with their black and white plumage and very brightly coloured orange bills. Although you are more likely to see them on the coast, in the spring, they head inland to breed in the river valleys.

To the right of the photo, sand martins burrow into the banks to make their nests. I first spotted these summer visitors back in May but sadly, they will be heading south to Africa sometime next month. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to take a photo of them yet as they fly so low and at great speed. 

Instead of building a nest, oystercatchers lay their eggs in a scrape in the ground as you can see in the photo below. It's all rather a risky business - especially with the flooding of the Coquet valley over the ten years!  Anyhow, I watched this oystercatcher and his mate sitting on their eggs day in, day out, for what seemed like ages.  Amazingly, at least two chicks hatched out! I only managed to take a photo of one of them as they are well camouflaged and blend into the shingle - unlike their parents with their distinctive plumage and bright beaks!

beautiful baby oystercatcher!
oystercatcher with his beady eye - on the lookout for worms
Click here to help you identify this bird
oystercatcher's call 


Otters in the Coquet

The population of otters in Northumberland declined a lot in the last century due to the polluted waters and the fact that they were also hunted. The rivers are now much cleaner and with the plentiful supply of fish, the numbers have been steadily increasing in the Coquet.

Last month, when I was walking by the river early one warm summer evening, I heard a plopping sound.  Thinking it was a large fish, I looked across the far side of the bank and yes, there was an otter diving. I watched it dive and surface for almost half an hour and luckily I was also able to take a few close up shots. It was the first time in my life I had seen an otter in the wild and the sense of elation I felt was amazing!  Unfortunately I haven't seen it since but I continue to listen out for the 'plop' as they dive into the water followed by the huge ripples. You need to be patient as it can take a good half minute for them to re-surface.

Now you may not think this first photo of an otter is worth publishing but, considering I took it with my iPhone, I think it's not too bad! To be honest, this is the sort of view you are more likely to have unless you have your binoculars with you so bear this in mind when you go otter spotting! Look under the bough of the tree on the right hand side of the far bank and you will see the head to the right, with the body and tail to the left. I also have a video that I have tried to post but without success to date.

Spot the otter!

Turning to swim on your back,        
Each silent, thigh-shaking kick
Re-tilting the light,
Heaving the cool at your neck

(extract from The Otter by Seamus Heaney)

'turning to swim on your back'

're-tilting the light'

Time for supper
possibly a lamprey?  Can you help me identify it?

Summer visitors breeding on the Coquet

Here is a common sandpiper (Fr-Chevalier guignette D-Flussuferläufer) flying downstream.  These small wading birds tend to arrive in the north of England in the spring and head off again in August after the breeding season. I find it more usual to see two birds together rather than the solitary bird in the photo below. Common sandpipers make quite a distinctive call on take-off (described by experts as a 'shrill, three-note twee-see-see') so be ready to scan the river if you hear this sort of sound!

Click here to hear its flight call
common sandpiper
Common sandpiper

Here we have a willow warbler (Fr-Pouillot fitis D-Fitis) with an insect in its beak. This photo was also taken by the riverside where alder trees are fairly common as they like damp locations - the Coquet valley being ideal!

'plutôt oiseau des bois que oiseau de cage'
willow warbler perched on alder tree

Click here to hear the song as they are usually quite difficult to spot amongst the foliage

and to finish... an old favourite

Song thrush (Fr-Grive musicienne D-Singdrossel)
nearly always found singing from a high perch
Click here to hear its song


So that's it for this post. Hope you enjoyed it! Stay tuned as if the weather stays fine, I'm planning a trip on the ferry to Coquet Island soon.  I should be back with shots of seals and if I am lucky, some photos of those rare summer sea birds that visit our shores!


  1. Lovely photos

  2. The otters are adorable!

  3. Thanks. I hope to see them again but it's not that easy to spot them as they travel such huge distances on the river.

  4. Wonderful photos of wildlife!

  5. I love your photo of the cute Oystercatcher chick

  6. Happy to have found your blog via your comments on the Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park birds blog. I'm a Northumbrian living in London and a regular visitor to London's lovely parks - but there's no place as beautiful as Northumberland.

    1. Thank you and welcome! I hope you enjoy my blog and it evokes good memories of your your beautiful home county.