Sunday, 19 April 2009

Upland Birding

Marsh Marigold
River East Allen

Wild Pansy


18th Apr. I was looking forward to the Local Group fieldtrip to Allenheads if for no other reason than to leave behind the mist, cloud and cold that had been covering the north east coastal areas these last few days. On arrival in the village I thought I was going to be unlucky as it was on with outer coverings, scarf, gloves and fleece hat! At least it was dry! This upland area of Northumberland close to the border with Durham has a wealth of history, with industrial archaeological remains of the lead mining industry, lime kilns and now empty upland farmsteads. I wished that time had allowed for a little more exploration of these aspects, but today was in the main for bird watching and as it turned out there was certainly no lack of birds to watch! Allenheads has claims to be the highest village in England, but there again, so does Nenthead in Cumbria, so I suppose you make your own choice on the matter. We were certainly in the upland area.

Some members were treated to sightings of Red Kite on the outward journey. Lapwing, Snipe and Sparrowhawk were also amongst birds seen from the coach. We were soon walking through woodland listening to the many songs and calls of the birdlife. One member of the group, who is unsighted, was of much help here, often picking up calls before other members. Our first Willow Warblers were found and seemed to compete with the Song Thrushes as the most dominant songsters. Other typical woodland birds were heard and this included the loud repetitive call of a Nuthatch from high in the trees. A Yellowhammer was heard briefly too.

We were soon onto higher ground and moor land which offered fine views of the area and as the day went on the views became ever clearer as the cloud broke and the sun shone. We caught sight of 2 unmistakeable Grey Partridge in flight early on the walk and they were to be the first of several seen and heard today. The air was full of the sound of Lapwing, Curlew and Oystercatchers. The former seeming to be in flight everywhere one looked. A couple of Golden Plover, bearing the wonderful breeding plumage were seen briefly in flight and later on the walk a small flock of them were found. There were fleeting views of Snipe, whilst Red Grouse were calling, it seemed from a little higher on the moor, and one member on his first trip with the group had a sighting of a Black Grouse which sadly landed behind a wall, not to be seen again by other members. One or two other members who had decided to take shorter walks nearer to the village also found Black Grouse and heard Great Spotted Woodpecker.

Good views were had of Common Buzzard and Kestrel. I had a brief sighting of a Merlin as it landed in a field. It quickly disappeared behind the ridges of the field not to be seen again so I was unable to point it out to others. Although whilst trying to locate the bird we did find Mistle Thrush! It was shortly after this that we stopped for lunch. I seem to remember that it was in this area that we found Skylarks and Meadow Pipits. Two Fieldfare were seen a few members at some point along the way. The views at this point were at their best and the crumbling derelict farm buildings were dotting the area. A Stock Dove flew from one of the buildings. Also at this point I confess that I dropped back from the group so as to enjoy the quiet and peace of the area and to take one or two photographs. I listened to the calls of the Meadow Pipits and distant Red Grouse. Our first Wheatears were found on this part of the walk and these were certainly my first of the year. It was good to find them in such beautiful surroundings.

We began the second part of the walk on lower ground on the banks of the River East Allen. By now it was bright and warm. The area offered some wonderful botanic interest which included patches of Marsh Marigold Caltha palustris, Lesser Celandine Ranunculus ficaria, Wild Pansies Viola tricolor and an attractive patch of Wood Anemone Anemone nemorosa, no where near woodland as can be the case.

The walk along the river bank brought us sightings of Willow Warblers in large numbers and several pairs of very attractive Wheatears. Pairs of Pied and Grey Wagtail were also found on the rocky areas of the river. Grey Wagtails are one of my favourite birds, but seeing the Pied Wagtails in this light and by the water made me think what stunning birds they are too. I’m afraid I never did see the Dipper, but several members did and our new member who had seen the Black Grouse found a Water Vole in the river. I missed this too, but our new member was having a successful day! Swallows and Sand Martins were found too, but I didn’t think in large numbers. One member had a fleeting sighting of Siskin and later better views of Siskin on bird feeders along with Goldfinches.

As we left the area of the river we headed for slightly higher ground again for a slightly more quickly paced walk back to the village, but not before have a good sighting of the flock of Golden Plover, as someone noted returning to their breeding grounds. With everyone impressed with that stunning plumage once again. We had also found an unexpected pair of Teal on one of the pools and on another larger pool we had found a number of Greylag and Canada Geese with a lone Moorhen. Mallards had been seen in flight on a few occasions throughout the day. Lesser Black Backed Gull also joined the growing list of bird species.

An enjoyable and fun day had been had by everyone, and as we completed the ‘ever popular’ bird list at the car park in the sun I think we all agreed that the group list of 62 species (soon to become 63 with a Grey Heron sighted on the return journey) had been a good one. So with House Martin flying above our heads and many group members now with sun tanned faces, or were they just tired I wonder, we were soon off on our return to the city.
As I now sit at my computer on Sunday evening, typing the report of the previous day, I have the windows open so as to listen to the song of a Willow Warbler in the garden, which is such a good reminder of the previous day in the uplands of Northumberland.


  1. Well written detailed report of your field trip. Common Sandpiper at the lake today, no sign of the grebes or little gull AM.

  2. Cheers Brian. I'll take a look at the lake today. I found a Common Sand there last autumn (on migration I assume) It seemed attracted to the small reed bed put in by the council. I wonder if the same one has returned. :-) Brian