Sunday, 20 May 2012

Harthope Valley...Ring Ouzels and All

19th May.  It was the annual visit to Harthope Valley today.  The primary focus being on Ring Ouzels, but other great birding is available in this very atmospheric area.  I was wondering to myself how lonely this valley must have been when the likes of Sir Walter Scott and Daniel Defoe used to come here to walk.  I didn’t have Walter or Daniel as company today (as far as I’m aware this pair didn’t write blogs, but they did get a few words down on paper I believe), but did have SamUndertheHood, Cain Holywell Birding and  Phil Crammy Birder.  Four pairs of eyes are better than one!  Anyway, on the down side the weather was about as un-spring like as you could get, on the upside, it wasn’t raining!  We noted on entering the valley just how bare of leaf many of the trees were.  I guess because of the position the trees here are always late starters, but I’m sure the extremely poor weather of late will have held things back.  Further evidence of poor weather was the fast flowing and deep Harthope Burn and the very wet conditions under foot.  The lower stretch of the valley was unusually quiet in relation to birds and birdsong.  Still atmospheric however and offering good opportunities for photography which I’m sure will be reflected on Sam’s blog.  I’ve already seen one of Sam’s landscape images and it’s a class one, proving that you don’t need a lot of light to take great photos.  So take a look or miss out on a treat.
Peaceful Hills

There were plenty of Red Grouse about today and as we climbed the more we saw.  The Ring Ouzels provided good sightings and I reckon we saw at least six and probably more than this, although difficult to be exact because of movement.  I reckon we also saw four pairs of Whinchat too, not coming quite as close to the footpath as they did last year, but still giving good sightings.  A pair of Stonechat was also found.  There was plenty of Willow Warblers about and two Garden Warblers were seen.  A Grasshopper Warbler was heard in what I thought to be an unexpected area for them.  A pair of Kestrels flew in the area, but the nest site found last year appeared to hold nothing.  Meadow Pipits were about the area as was an occasional SkylarkWrens were numerous.  We took things slowly allowing us to take the atmosphere in and to allow for photography time.  Curlews flew and called overhead.  Once back down to the valley floor it was time for lunch, but not before finding Wheatear.

One of several Ring Ouzels at distance

Once lunch had been taken we walked further up the valley stopping at the farm house to inform of an injured lamb by the roadside.  Unfortunately the place was deserted.  A message was left later for the ranger so hopefully the lamb was eventually rescued.  At the farm we did pick up a calling Cuckoo which was heard far better a little further up the valley.  I think there may have been two Cuckoos calling as later calls were picked up again near the car park.  Birdlife in this area was sparse to say the least.  I put much of this down to poor weather conditions.  A couple of Lesser Redpolls were seen and Grey Wagtail was seen on the burn.  Common Sandpiper was eventually heard and later in the day briefly seen.  We decided to take a look further down the valley, but this didn’t make a great deal of difference to bird numbers seen.  I did hear the first Chiffchaff down here and when we stopped at the bridge to look for Dippers we heard/saw the Common Sandpiper.  Both Grey and Pied Wagtails were found but there was no sign of Dipper at any point although what appeared to be a used and now abandoned Dipper’s Nest was found.  I think water levels may have had an effect upon where the Dippers were.  I’ve never before visited Harthope Valley and not seen both Dipper and Green Woodpecker.  I saw neither today, although Phil did hear the Green Woodpecker.  Plenty of ouzels today, but none of the ‘water’ type.  Before we left two Red-legged Partridges provided me with a photo opportunity.  Unfortunately Sam had left his camera in the boot.  Best I don’t say any more about that!:-)  Red-legged Partridge had been seen earlier, going up the drive of someone’s home, as we had approached the valley.   Common Buzzard was seen as we left the valley.  Goosanders had been seen flying down the burn.

Red-legged Partridge

On our return we stopped at Branton Gravel Pits.  I’d never been here before and was quite impressed.  I’d like to explore this area in more depth sometime.  There were plenty of Sand Martins, Swallows and House Martins here.  There had been a dearth of them near in and near Harthope Valley.  Sedge Warbler and Lesser Redpoll provided good sightings and Sam I believe has a good image of the Sedge Warbler.  I failed with this one so I’m making do with my Red-legged PartridgeLong-tailed Tits were in the trees as we left.

As we were homeward bound a Common Buzzard was seen lifting having caught an Adder.  I need to do a little research into Common Buzzards taking Adders and how they deal with them.  I’m not sure how common this is?  So despite a rather dull day weather wise it was far from dull otherwise.  A really good day, with good company.  A good day can often be measure by how tired you are at the end of it and at least two of us were drifting off on the way home.  Thankfully the driver didn’t.  Thanks Cain.

20th May.  More like it is approaching summer today, so I took a stroll down to the lake.  I watched the Great Crested Grebes for about forty-five minutes.  At some point I’ll put the notes I have taken overt the past weeks up on the blog.  Whilst watching I heard the song of Reed Warbler.  Two birds singing, I’m positive.  Over the larger lake I found four Common Terns but a complete lack of hirundines until I saw two Swallows eventually come to the smaller lake.

I walked over the fields to the village area and there was plenty of birdsong including Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Song Thrush.  I neither saw nor heard any sign of expected Blackcap and Common Whitethroat.

Great Crested Grebe on Patch


  1. Although battling the weather, it sounds like it was a productive days birding.

    The Buzzard having caught the adder must have been something! I checked via the Forestry Commission website and apparently this isn't unheard of, (but I don't think I've personally come across it before).

  2. It was a very good day Mark. I don't mind bad weather, just expect it to be a bit warmer approaching June!

    I'm interested in how the Buzzard deals with the snake so will have to do some reading. I remember several raptors in southern Africa take snakes as a matter of course and just been talking to someone about the Secretary Bird which is an expert snake predator.

  3. Cheers Brian. Hopefully you'll get some birding done over the next few days, whilst it is sunny and warm, lol. I.e. we need to enjoy it whilst it lasts!

    It would be great to learn more about the Secretary Bird, as I would also think that dealing with a snake would be tricky even for the largest raptors.

  4. Lots of interesting info about the Secretary Bird on the internet including some (not very good videos on Utube of them catching snakes.
    I've seen the Secretary Bird in Southern Africa and it is an unusual looking species. Its scientific name of Sagittarius serpentarius translated means 'the archer of snakes'. Cheers.

  5. Cheers Brian, I'll check it out.