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! :-)

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