Monday, 31 May 2010

Dumfries and Galloway Action. Part 3 of 3

Before the Rains.

The sun shines on the righteous!


View from the Foghorn

Mull Of Galloway

A Relaxing Closure.

Day Five

There was rain forecast for today so I a decision was made to swop the programme around a little and go to Mersehead today where we would have the benefit of hides for at least part of the time. It proved to be a wise decision although the weather was not as dire as forecast. This is one of my favourite RSPB reserves and I had visited several times in winter, but never in spring or summer. I like reserves which only have basic amenities as I am never drawn to the tea and jam scones that seem to be such a draw at some other reserves although I accept that it gets the punters in. Crowds are never a problem at Mersehead, and long may it last! I had wanted to try and arrange a guided walk to look at the flora on the reserve, but sadly once again an e-mail I had sent to the reserve asking for advice had been ignored. We did have a very helpful guy advise us on the day we visited however. A volunteer I suspect.

I recommended that we do the long walk through the reserve and along the Solway beach whilst it was dry and so we did. Another wise decision as it proved. Apart from a handful of other visitors we were the only ones around, although I understand that a group of school children where using the facilities at some point. The walk brought us species such as Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Common Buzzard, Dunlin, Curlew, Whitethroat, Reed Warbler (I’m positive I heard one), Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Chaffinch, Linnet, Goldfinch, Reed Bunting and Yellowhammer. The walk was a treat even with some threatening clouds at times. I know those who had not visited before were most impressed. It was good to see the reserves at this time of year and so very different from a winter visit. Still no woodpecker though!

It has to be said that the ponds were very quiet in deed and not at all like the busy winter time when there are so many waterfowl. I personally didn’t mind too much having had my share of waterfowl throughout a long winter. We found the likes of Cormorant, Mute Swan, Grey Heron, Canada Geese, one lone Barnacle Goose (injured apparently and unable to migrate north), Shelduck, Mallard, Shoveller, Moorhen and Coot. It was good to watch the changing scene as the whole area misted over and the heavy showers came, and they were certainly heavy! I was glad to be under cover. They petered out quite quickly and we moved to another hide and escaped getting wet at any point during the day. There were numbers of Sand Martins at the second hide. There had been other woodland birds, but it had been much quieter than previous visits but no less atmospheric and enjoyable. Everyone had really enjoyed the walk and the day it’s self. We decided to give a possible stop at the Theaves Centre a miss on this occasion and made straight for Newton Stewart at the end of the day. With rain still threatening, this evening was the only one that I missed out my river walk and had an early night.

Day Six

Day six was upon us so fast! I simply think it was because we had had such an action packed week that the time had flown by. Anyway, after breakfast we were soon off to the Mull of Galloway. There was a shower on the outward journey and we drove through the most beautiful rainbow I can ever remember seeing. I think the pot of cold was to come in the form of birds! The drive along Luce Bay is very pleasant indeed and we had Common Buzzards on the outward and return journey.

On arrival at Mull of Galloway I thought to myself that there wasn’t going to be enough here to keep us occupied very long. I was wrong. By now we had blue skies and sun again and we could clearly see Northern Ireland and Rathlin Island at the north tip, an island some of us had visited three years previously. I found Cinnabar Moths, Wall Brown and Small White Butterflies early on. The cliffs were home to large patches of Thrift, Sea Campion and Birdsfoot Trefoil.

We found Wheatears (one of which seemed to be almost tame and following us around), Stonechat (the only ones of the week), Rock Pipit, Meadow Pipit, and Linnet amongst others. The first sea birds to take the eye were Gannets and the many Kittiwakes nesting on the cliffs below us and calling as they flew close by. Numbers of Fulmar were also soon picked out. Of course we also soon found flocks of Black Guillemot, Guillemot and Razorbill. No Puffins were seen and I understand they have a problem on the reserve from rodents. I failed to find Twite too!

We spent sometime by the foghorn. Easy to walk down the steps to it, not so easy to walk back up! I have a problem with heights but it didn’t really trouble me today as there was so much to keep my attention focused upon and the weather ensured we where here at the best possible time to look around the wide expanse of sea and land around us. I definitely needed some more quiet time alone.

One of the lesser experienced members of our little group pointed out a bird on the cliffs that she didn’t know quite what it was. Well done ‘her’ for spotting it, as it then provided us with about thirty minutes of viewing. It was a male Peregrine Falcon plucking and eating what looked to be a large seabird. The Peregrine gave everyone great views. The guy from the centre came down to keep an eye on us and find out what we were doing. His words not mine. Apparently there have been problems with disturbance of the Peregrines in the past. This one certainly gave me a great sighting. Certainly one of the best I have had of this species. I thought to myself that this was likely to be our last new species for the trip but I was once again wrong. We watched the Sand Martins which were nesting in the weathered cliff side and took photos before dragging ourselves off. We had to leave the area sometime and we had planned to stop for a short time at Glenwan Gardens on our return journey.

Now I can take or leave gardens as a rule. I usually leave them as I am more interested in other things, but I have to say I was pleased I visited this one and I would strongly recommend a visit. Much of the area is still moorland and wild and it has a good selection of wild plants still along with birds of which I will omit the Peacock, handsome chap though he was. The gardens provided us with our one and only woodpecker of the week, a Great Spotted Woodpecker and our only Bullfinch. There was also numbers of Song Thrush, Blackbird, Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Wren, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Chaffinch and Yellowhammers. The cultivated area of the garden is very nice and worth a visit and looks over Luce Bay and towards Mull of Galloway. After a cuppa tea we were off back to the hotel for our last dinner and last walk along by the river. The walk tonight was a little less tranquil as the local youth were out en masse with their beer and cider, but none were of any trouble I have to add.

Day Seven
The drizzling rain of the following morning made a return home far easier, but only after having had a group photo taken. We had chosen the correct week without a doubt. Dumfries and Galloway is a fantastic area with so much to offer. We left with a bird list of ninety-three species. If I had to pick one special bird i think it would have to be the Wood Warbler. Birds had been the main focus, but they had not been the only focus and had they been I’m sure the list could have been extended. We also had a large list of plants, some of them new to me. The group had gelled really well and were a good bunch of people to spend the week with. All different in their own way, but all enthusiastic, and all with a sense of humour. I had a great week and we have Southern Ireland in our sights for next spring.. I now have a few days to recover before going off to Orkney and Shetland, touch wood.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Dumfries and Galloway Action. Part 2 of 3.

Overlooking the River Cree. On the ascent.

My quiet time overlooking the Galloway Hills.

See, I did get there!

Any ideas as to the predator??

The horizon is actually straight, but I wasn't!

Ailsa Craig (West)

Ailsa Craig (West)

Ailsa Craig (S West)

Ailsa Craig (West)

That's me in the trendy blue hat!

Ailsa Craig from Girvan

Day Three

There was a little more cloud today and it was slightly cooler, but still warm. This was working to out advantage as we had a long walk planned for the day. We were going to walk to the summit of Cairnsmore of Fleet, which I understand is the highest of the Solway hills and quite a stiff uphill walk. I had thought that if we finished the walk early people would feel they had deserved a little free time. Little did I know we would be out for over eight hours walking!

We started the walk at the estate which features in the novel The Thirty Nine Steps. A novel I read as a schoolboy, and which I seem to remember is far better than the drivel in the film made in more recent years. We continued through Bardrochwood until we come to open moorland which was an up hill slog. I’d read on a website that there was both Black and Red Grouse in this area. We neither heard nor saw a single one! In fact generally speaking the area seemed to lack wildlife although the walk itself was excellent and offered very good views of the area around Wigtown Bay and the Galloway Hills.

I did find our one and only Dipper of the trip on the burn through the estate at the start of the walk, but generally speaking it was the usual woodland birds that we found here. We did find another singing Wood Warbler here too, which I hadn’t expected. There were some very interesting and old trees. Once into the pine woods however things became a little dull, although we did have at least three Tree Pipits and some Siskin. Once onto the higher open area it was really only Skylark, Swallows and Meadow Pipit that we found, with an odd sighting of Common Buzzard.

Once climbing I was pleased that I had had some recent practice in the Cheviots! Was I glad to reach the summit and have lunch? A couple of us took up a position overlooking a magnificent view of the Galloway Hills, and we listened to the Cuckoos as they called faraway below us, as we ate our lunch. The time spent in the peace and quiet here was very special. There was no wind at all even so high up. I like to get away from all chatter in areas like this and take in the surroundings and give myself some thinking time.

As we made the descent we heard Ravens and got our eye on two as they flew near the summit. The walk had been worth it then! We’d also seen more Orange Tip Butterflies, Small White Butterflies and our first Wall Brown Butterflies. I ended the walk feeling we had achieved something even if there had been fewer bird species about. By the time we returned to the hotel, there was little time for relaxing before dinner. One of out party had found Red Squirrel today and some of us had seen a black Rabbit. I had hoped for woodpecker in the woods, but it wasn’t to be. I did find the remains of a pigeon and wondered what predator may have taken it. Anyway, after a walk along the river bank I was off to bed with the tune from Captain Pugwash playing in my mind!

Day Four

Yes, today was to be our long awaited boat trip to Ailsa Craig. A trip that I had in mind for over twelve months, but which I knew would be weather dependant. The weather was fine and so we left for Girvan where we were to meet out chartered Mull of Kintyre Seatours, Rigid Inflatable Boat. We were quickly into our waterproofs and life jackets and we set off from the harbour. The first early casualty was one of the group member’s hat. I looked around to see it floating on the water, but having checked it was pleasing to note my friend wasn’t wearing it at that time. You’ll be delighted to note that the hat was rescued. Then we were really off at some speed. I was sitting in the front, so I’m pleased I dressed for winter.

Ailsa Craig is the formed from the remains of a volcanic plug and its stone has been used over the years in the making of curling stones. It is the home of many thousands of Gannets. As you approach it looks rather as if some one has dropped a very large cake into the sea. As I attempted to take a photograph on approach, we were hit by a large wave and my self and camera were soaked. Happily both the camera and I seem to have survived unscathed although I was tasting salt water on my lips hours later. Some of the first birds we saw were Black Guillemots, I suspect a first for one or two members of our little group so I was pleased that we saw lots of them. Other birds seen were Fulmar, Cormorant, Shag, Guillemot, Razorbill, Puffin and gulls, and of course thousand upon thousand of Gannets. The birds all nest on the western side of the island where there are sheer cliffs and it was a magnificent sight to look up at them from the boat. This was one of those experiences that you don’t ever forget. We found both Common and Grey Seals with one of the latter being a real giant.

The return leg of the trip, it takes about thirty minutes to get out there at speed, was much smother than the outward journey. A couple of us got our eye on a Manx Shearwater. Everyone seemed to have enjoyed the visit. How could they not?

We decided to return to Newton Stewart via Loch Ryan and this journey give us great views of the sea and Ailsa Craig with clear blue skies. We stopped at the Loch for lunch and I found a shaded area out of the wind out of the wind coming of the sea. This gave me a little more quiet thinking time as I watched Gannets diving along with Common Terns and our only Sandwich Terns of the week. Finches seen today were Chaffinch (we couldn’t go any where without seeing these in great numbers), Goldfinch, Siskin and our first Greenfinch of the week.

We were back in Newton Stewart in time to allow a longer walk along the River Cree and back through the town which is where the Siskin was seen. We found lots of Sand Martins over the river today. I even had time to nip into a local café for a cappuccino and a slice of coffee and walnut cake.
After dinner we drove out to Clatteringshaws to look and listen for Nightjars of which to be honest I wasn’t too hopeful of finding. I had e-mailed Galloway Forestry for information but had been ignored, but a very busy lady at the Clatteringshaw centre had rung me back after busily having to attend to customers. It’s so often the case, that we are ignored by organisations, but helped by the individual. The lady had advised me as to where to take a look. We did see Wild Goat and Red Deer on the outward journey, but had no luck with Nightjars. The large drop in temperatures wasn’t helpful. We did hear Tawny Owls and I and another one of the party managed to catch a brief glimpse of one of them as it flew out of the trees and seemed to complete a small semi circle on the skyline. The almost full moon shone brightly through the pines as I was left standing alone to take in the sight. We left for the hotel, a quick drink and welcome bed. Captain Pugwash was put to rest for the time being

Dumfries and Galloway Action. Part 1 of 3.

Wood of Cree
Moth at Wood of Cree. I D please??? Thanks to one of my traveling companions I now have an I D. Light Emerald Campaea margaritata.

English Stonecrop Sedum anglicum

Common Blue Butterfly

Green Veined White Butterfly

Sea Campion Silene uniflora

Sea Kale Crambe maritima

St Ninian's Cave

Spring Squill Scilla verna

Day One

Our group composed of the magnificent nine, and made up of French, Irish, Scottish and English representatives, we made our way across the border on 23rd May, on what was a very hot day.

Our first short stop was at the River Nith in Dumfries town. We hadn’t bargained for the local fun boat race on the river in what appeared to be home made boats crewed in some cases by pirates. There was therefore to be no Otters in the river, but what we did see included Mallard, Lesser Black Backed Gulls, Swift, Sand Martins, Swallows and Grey Wagtail. It was a good place to break the journey on such a gloriously sunny day. We soon made off for the Ken Dee Marshes where we ate our lunch before taking a walk through the woodland. We were soon able to compare the song of Blackcap and Garden Warbler, the latter especially rewarding to me as they seem to allude me. Other warblers noted were Common Whitethroat, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff. As we walked through the woods other birds seen included the usual common woodland birds with numbers of Song Thrush reflecting the large numbers seen during the following days, in comparison to out home area. Goldfinch, Siskin and Reed Bunting were seen. The wood flora included Bluebells, Red Campion, Stitchwort and Wild Garlic.

I had been hoping for Red Kites and two or three did eventually give good sightings, as did Common Buzzard, several of which had been with us on our journey, and our one and only Osprey of the week fished over the loch, eventually giving us a decent sighting before it eventually seemed to dive behind the tree line. Our trip had started very well indeed. I was pleased to find many Orange Tip Butterflies, these being my first of the year. Other butterflies seen were Large White, Small White, Green Veined White, Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock, the latter being very faded and the worse for wear. Brown Hare and Rabbit were in the area.

We then drove through Laurieston forest before making a further stop on the higher ground. At least one of the group spotted Grey Partridge on this drive. My only previous visit to this high area had been in mid winter and I had almost been blown over in the wind. What a contrast today’s visit was. It was hot, still and silent apart from the song of the numerous Skylarks and much fewer Meadow Pipits. We watched and listened to the Skylarks at times at eye level in the sky. One of many magical moments on this trip. More Common Buzzards were seen, at least three Kestrels and a distant Sparrowhawk was seen flying along the hill tops. A Wheatear gave us all a very good sighting. The flattened and disintegrating skin of an Adder was found on the road. I think we would have all been happy to spend longer just taking in the scene before us, but as time was now getting on we decided to make for the hotel in Newton Stewart via Gate House of Fleet, Wigtown Bay and the Cree Estuary.

After dinner a couple of us decided to take a walk along by the River Cree where Blackbirds and Song Thrushes were singing constantly and where we found a pair of Pied Wagtails taking food to a nest site. Common Comfrey was certainly the dominant flora of the River Bank and I also found an expansive area Common Crowsfoot in the river. The highlight of this evening’s walk, and every evening for that matter were the Swifts. I don’t remember having seen such numbers. Late in the evening the ‘screaming’ from them became very loud and they flew and lifted in the sky as if for sheer pleasure. A few of us ended the evening by watching the bats catching insects behind the hotel under what was almost a full moon. I never sleep well in new surroundings and tonight was no exception, but it didn’t seem to matter too much.

Day Two

Today was planned to be one of comparative relaxation and we started out after an early(ish) breakfast (opinions differed as to whether it was early or not) for the RSPB Reserve at Wood of Cree.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect here, but I have to say it is a magnificent area of woodland which quickly gave us a singing Wood Warbler which took everyone’s attention for sometime. With a bit more work we found at least one female and three male Pied Flycatchers. Species both were new for the year, for me. We again had Blackcap, Garden Warbler, Whitethroat, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff and this time added Sedge Warbler. The latter near the Otter viewing platform. Treecreeper was seen and amongst the tits recorded was Coal Tit. Grey Wagtail was again seen but no Dippers were found and sadly we had no luck with Redstart either. Wrens were numerous and I believe we had a Grasshopper Warbler.

The atmosphere in the woods was wonderful, and the waterfalls added a feeling of coolness even if that was just an illusion on yet another hot day. Everywhere you looked was a mass of Bluebells. We found a medium sized pale blue moth in the woods and I would like to indentify it so will include a photo. Cuckoo was heard and very briefly seen by at least two of us as it flew between the trees. We spent the whole morning in the area of the woods which I know were the one hundredth reserve acquisition of the RSPB. Before we left the area very low flying aircraft flew over our heads and nearly deafened us. I’m pleased I got my hands over my ears in time!

Now I’d planned the trip to give a good mix of experience in different habitats and our afternoon trip was to be to the area of Whithorn and more precisely St Ninian’s Cave. I had thought this might prove to be a weak part of the trip, but I was to be proven incorrect. We left for St Ninian’s Cave after a lunch by the River Cree.

We drove through the machar area past Wigtown and Baldoon Bay, which is to be established as a new RSPB Reserve, but didn’t have time to stop at either place. Once the vehicles were parked up we began the walk down to the beach, initially through farmland then through an interesting area of woodland which was once again covered at ground level in Bluebells. The flora was in places a mix of cultivated plants and wild plants. What really caught the eye were the very large Gunnera and Common Valerian plants. Bird life in this wood was quite sparse, but the areas of gorse on the walk contained numbers of Blackcap and Whitethroat territories. There was also good numbers of Goldfinch about in this area too.

Once down at the beach we soon found the likes of Cormorant, Grey Heron, Oystercatcher, Black Headed Gull, Herring Gull, Common Gull and Lesser Black Backed Gull. There was numbers of both Meadow Pipit and Rock Pipit near the cliffs. A pair of Rock Pipit was busily feeding youngsters near to the cave entrance and House Martins were also nesting on the cliff. Common Tern was found over the sea.

St Ninian’s Cave still has much religious significance with pilgrimages still been made and there are various offerings left at the entrance alongside wooden crosses and carvings in the rock. We all enjoyed relaxing sit down here as we took in more sun and the sounds of the sea. There was a strong wind coming off the sea, but in sheltered areas it was still very hot. I took advantage of the break to look at some of the interesting plants which included Sea Campion, Stonecrop, Spring Squill, Sea Holly, Thrift and Sea Kale.
I remember a Sparrowhawk being seen but I don’t remember quite where. I think it was flying along the cliff tops. I also found Common Blue and Green Veined White Butterflies at the beach area. Incidentally this beach was used to film part of the film, The Wicker Man. We returned to the vehicles as we in the main retraced our steps confirming that there was a good deal of Wild Angelica about. We were ready for dinner and then another walk by the river.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

WAGS in the Sun!

Industrial Beauty.

Small Copper Butterlies aplenty.

No, no, not those orange fake tanned things that attach themselves to the arms of over paid Premiership footballers and appear in that rag that has the cheek to call itself a newspaper. No, I mean Wags with class, Yellow Wagtails. I was birding in the sun today, best not complain about the heat I suppose, and there were numbers of Yellow Wagtails still around. I’m confident that I saw a female blue headed (flava) too. It had been seen by a member of the staff also. Not the numbers I had seen on my recent epic visit but still good numbers and some good sightings.

The sun had brought out lots of butterflies and I managed to list Large White, Small White, Green Veined White, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Wall Brown, Common Blue and Small Copper. I’ve never seen the latter in such numbers and it was the only species that settled long enough for me to photograph today.

Several warblers were heard. Blackcap, Common Whitethroat (seen in display flight), Chiffchaff, Reed Warbler and Sedge Warbler. The pools on the reserve were in the main very quiet but I ticks did include Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Shelduck, Pochard and Gadwall, the latter in some numbers..

The Sand Martin colony was what first took the eye. It was apparently being invaded by a Weasel. Staff were busy trying to flush it out. I remember being at North Cave in East Yorkshire a few years ago and being told that the entire colony of Sand Martins had been wiped out by a Weasel.

Common Terns were numerous. Such graceful birds. Waders seen were Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Lapwing and Redshank. Reed Bunting was another bird seen.

I seem to remember the guy on the desk who I discussed the Yellow Wagtails with mentioning that there had been 200 people through the doors up to that point which was mid afternoon. He reckoned it had been a quiet day. The class room was certainly being made good use of by groups of youngsters. The first Green Veined White Butterfly that I found flew into a group of the kids and I thought I was going to have to push them out of the way. Bit tough looking some of these six year olds so I thought better of it.

Industrial area that it may be, I never fail to be impressed by the look of it, especially in the sun.

After leaving the reserve I counted at least fifteen Avocets along at the pools near the creek at Seal Sands. I ‘m told there are about thirty in total. Great to see these birds in such numbers in the north east. Another one of those birds that so impressed me as a youngster when I saw pictures of them in books. The creek was quite otherwise and time was passing so further exploration wasn’t possible.
First real birding in the sun I’ve done this year. A good day. Forty-Two species was the count. Wags and Avocets the birds of the day.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Perfect Light, Perfect Atmosphere!

Still some circles on the water.

Perfect light making for good reflections.
16th May. Tired though I was, I couldn’t resist taking a walk to the lake this evening to try and find the reported Black Necked Grebe. A heavy shower arrived as I walked towards the lake and no Black Necked Grebe was found on this occasion although I only really looked on the smaller lake where I had seen one a couple of years ago. Never mind, as when the heavy shower was over the light was perfect and the lake was showing at its very best, reflecting my constant thought that you don’t have to seek out picturesque surroundings to find beauty! I’d just been talking to a guy today who shared my views about the beauty of industrial areas. Not everyone shared those views, and seemed to forget that ‘beauty is I the eye of the beholder!’

As I looked down the larger lake at the reflected sunlight, the now well dispersed raindrops still fell, and formed small circles on the surface of the water. The lighting conditions were almost perfect and on the smaller lake the surrounding trees and shrubs were reflected clearly on the water. There were few people about and it was a calm and tranquil evening with plenty of bird song and an atmosphere only as it can be after heavy rain showers.

The Great Crested Grebes were feeding two youngsters and at least one other youngster was on the back of one of the adults. A pair of Common Terns fished over the lake and on occasions dived and caught fish only a few yards in front of me, whilst calling most of the time. One of the Common Terns eventually settled on the iron rails close by me and called constantly. I was surprised that it had let me approach so closely.
I walked home content with a very pleasant short evening walk, and as I passed the Nuthatch nest hole one of the adults returned to the nest with food. The Blackbird was singing at full belt as I closed the front door behind me.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Rain and the Rising Sun!

I am becoming convinced that there is a link to rainfall and my visiting the Rising Sun Country Park.:-) I was involved in a Walk and Talk event there today. As it happens, whilst the talk bit seemed to go very well, with some very keen and knowledgable youngsters attending, we never got as far as completing the walk as the heavens opened as we were about to begin it. Thankfully my talk had over run by about ten minutes so at least that prevented us all being soaked to the skin! Seems to be a regular occurrence this rain when I visit the park. Anyway the rain cleared the park of visitors.

The weather did settle eventually allowing a few of us involved in the day to go for a walk down to Swallow Pond. With Swallows and Swifts overhead we stood and listened to the song of the Song Thrush. Birds on the pond included a family of Canada Geese along with Shoveller, Tufted Duck, Pochard and Lesser Black Backed Gulls, with Common Terns on the false island. The Blackcap made a loud alarm call from the trees and was eventually seen.

Bird of the day was the Green Woodpecker seen flying behind the trees, looking in the direction of the old slag heap. First time I have seen Green Woodpecker at the park. I went all of 2009 without seeing a Green Woodpecker and now I have seen two within three days!

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Three Birders Go 'An Ouzeling.'

Heather Patchwork.
It was about here where the oxygen bottle would have come in handy!

Still a bit of snow on Cheviot.

Typical.....the damn council closes the bridge and gives no explanation as to why!

14th May. With spring temperatures continuing to plummet, it was with much anticipation that three of us left for the Harthope Valley and the Cheviots, counting our blessings that at least it was a dry day. Light and brief showers as we headed north failed to dampen the spirits as we counted Lapwings and Pheasants. Swift was seen at Wooler.

The coldness hit me as I stepped out of the car on our first stop in the Harthope valley but the smell of the fresh air and surroundings more than adequately took my mind from the chill. I had hoped that we would quickly pick up both Dipper and Grey Wagtails on the burn. A pair of the latter gave a brief sighting as they flew over head, but Dipper eluded us all day. We did begin to hear and spot the first of many Willow Warblers, and heard Blackcap. A Roe Deer was seen crossing further up the burn and Brown Hare was also seen. As we drove towards Langleeford one of the party spotted Common Sandpiper as it flew off from the road edge towards the burn, not to be seen again.

Once parked we decided to warm up with a walk up Hawsen Burn. Little did I know how warm I was to become! We’d barely started walking when Tom got his keen eye onto another Grey Wagtail, this one giving us a good sighting, as it stood on the rocks in the burn. We had several target birds today, although I didn’t hold out much hope of finding Black Grouse (I’m sure I’m not imagining that they are here, but my request for information brought little response, and none in fact from the RSPB, although I thank Liver Bird for his). I did have a little more hope of Ring Ouzel, the bird which had really focused the mind on this trip. I thought however we might have to work hard for a sighting. In the event we had cracking views of two male birds, both found comparatively easily by sets of keen eyes. It gave me my best ever sighting of this species, and one of our party, Carmel, a lifer! We had one bird very close to us and were able to watch it at length. Tom later got his eye on another which seemed to be heading to a nest with food and again giving a good sighting. It eventually flew over head giving an alarm call and seemed to watch us from the crag above. We decided to move on to avoid causing any additional stress.

We had quickly begun to hear then sight Red Grouse, which where to remain with us in numbers throughout the hill walk, and had heard Cuckoo, our first of the year, calling from the valley bottom. As we continued we had good sightings of at least two pairs of Whinchat. No Stonechats were seen at anytime today. Meadow Pipits and Skylarks were quite numerous and a Kestrel and the first of today’s Common Buzzards give good sightings. By now I was perspiring profusely.

Now at this point I have in the past turned back and retraced my steps down to the valley again, but not today, which was going to be quite an adventure. Just as well I had brought extra water. At one or two points I was thinking that an oxygen cylinder would not have been a miss as we made two or three steep ascents. This is where my little pocket camera comes in useful, as I can use the excuse of stopping to take a photo as I gasp in some air! Besides I didn’t want my companions tiring themselves. We looked north towards Scotland and even though it wasn’t the clearest of days we could see Bamburgh Castle and the Farne Islands. There were no birds in this area part from Meadow Pipits and Skylark. We came across several remains of Red Grouse but I decided not to bring a skull and bill home, although I was tempted. It was the bit of flesh remaining on the skull which put me off. We were in a good position to look down on the patch work heather land and note how it is being managed and look towards Cheviot which still had a couple of small areas of snow cover. We found a dip in the hillside which was sheltered so decided to stop here for a welcome lunch. This seemed to put new life into me.

By the time we were back into the valley we had walked for almost five hours. Two Reed Bunting were found and we watched numerous Willow Warblers and listened to Chiffchaff. As I tried to focus my binoculars on a small bird that had landed on the other side of the burn a Green Woodpecker flew into view, giving a brief sighting. It had flown up the burn towards the wall where I lost sight of it. We all had brief sightings of it later. A small Shrew ran near my feet as I sat down for a break. I’d only seen one White species Butterfly during the day, but the bees in the area appear to be on steroids and quite numerous!

We walked up the valley for some way through the wooded area, but small passerines were few and far between apart from the Willow Warblers and Chaffinch and an odd Blue Tit. No one was complaining however as it had been such a good day. On retracing our steps we did find Mistle Thrush, Curlew (which had been earlier heard), Pied Wagtail and a male Sparrowhawk in the trees on the bank of the burn. We did notice at one point just how steep the bank of the burn is and commented on how easy it would be to topple over here.
I think we had all been well satisfied with the way the day had worked out and as we left we watched two Common Buzzards above us, and at least two more were seen on the journey home. The Oystercatchers remained in the same areas as we had seen them in the morning. We also managed to add House Martin and Starling to the day’s list which came to I think forty-five bird species. Despite the darkening sky and shower as we drove home we all managed to arrive back dry, apart from a pair of damp feet! :-)

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Flower Power!

River Blyth

River Blyth

Wood Anemone Anemone nemorosa

Common Dog Violet Viola riviniana
Bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scriptus

Water Avens Geum rivale
Bluebell Wood
8th May. I hate to say this, but I do remember when flower power was cool man, cool! It was certainly cool again today, in fact it was very cold at times. Anyway, I feel it is a while since I gave attention to my botanical side so today proved to be a recent exception.

Starting out at Prestwick Carr I did find that a walk I had planned there in January is a non starter as there seems to be no where to park cars even in Prestwick Village, so I’m having a re-think on that one. No parking spaces and not much in the way of birds today apart from Swifts, Swallows and numerous Willow Warblers. The red flags cut the walk short, although it didn’t seem to prevent others. I value my head however. We set off sooner than expected for Plessey Woods.

Many years since I went to Plessey Woods. I remember at school it was the favourite area for ‘conker’ collection. That game of violence, brute force and daring seems to have been hit by health and safety rules in some schools. I was pleasantly surprised at what I found. Let’s get the inconsiderate dog walker out of the way first. Now that’s a good idea, getting them out of the way, that is! The River Blyth seems to be used as a dog bath. I suppose when their pillock owners allow them to jump all over you they have at least been washed first. Sadly the area seems to be another ‘person’ walkers paradise. Someone should really get some control over this lot as it spoils, what is a really pleasant area. I did manage to see some birds despite the best efforts of this minority group. I hasten to add I do have good friends who are dog owners, or at least I did have before they read my blog!

Willow Warblers, Chiffchaff and Blackcaps were numerous. The later I found singing in several territories. Birds of the day were really good sightings of Jays, of which there were several. Early on the walk Dipper was found and a Grey Wagtail was spotted flying up River. I never did find it on likely spots along the river and suspect the constant string of dogs in and out of the river had something to do with that. More Swifts and Swallows were found along with House Martins.

It was the flowers which took the eye today with patches of Bluebells (the real thing not the uglier Spanish Bluebells) coming into flower and the woods being awash with Wood Anemone and Wild Garlic, the latter just beginning to come into flower in places. A nice flower, shame about its scent. Some people tell me they like it. Other flowers of note were Primrose, Common Dog Violet, Ground Ivy, Woodruff, Wood Sorrel, Wood Forget-me-not and Water Avens. I informed a friend that the leaf of the Wood Sorrel tastes of apple and can be eaten. Holywell Birding told me that and had me chewing some last year. So if anyone drops down with poisoning tonight I shall send the court summons your way Cain! :-) We could always blame the dogs!
So a very pleasant walk was had today with some wonderful views up the river. I finished the walk with a mug of hot chocolate, and warm.