11th May. Sam and I left Newcastle with the RSPB group at 9.00am. It was dry, but it didn’t last!
Shortly after 10.30am we were at Langdon Beck having fairly distant but none the less very good sightings of Black Grouse. It wasn’t long before we were watching five of them and I was pleased that Sam got the chance of sightings rather closer than the ones we had at Geltsddale in the mist last year. The rain had started and it was cold! Lapwing, Osytercatcher and Curlew also flew in the area. We had seen Red Grouse in some number as we crossed the moors and a Kestrel on the journey was the only raptor we saw all day.
Shortly after 11.00am it was decision time. Did we want to walk to Widdybank Farm and look for the target bird, Ring Ouzel, or stay on the coach until it reached the reservoir and look for the target bird Dotterel? I was fairly confident that Dotterel would not be found (although we have had great views of them in this area some years ago), so despite the downpour I was off the coach with what I can only call the hard core of the group. The temptation of Dotterel, or perhaps more to the point in some cases, a warm coach, was a temptation that many could not resist!
We headed off towards Widdybank Farm with rain and wind in our faces. I forecast sunshine within thirty minutes and I was correct, but unfortunately the rain just got heavier and heavier. Sam and I dropped back from the group and found Common Snipe in the air. There seemed to be little else about. We caught up with the group again and we did find Wheatears. There didn’t seem to be any Ring Ouzel about and I began to wonder if they had sought shelter further up the valley. The wind made it near by impossible to hear any calls. Once close to the river we did have good, but distant views of a pair of Whinchat and numbers of Willow Warblers. Our good friend AS’s voice echoed in the valley as he called out some information in gentle tones. This did wonders in flushing our first Common Sandpiper of the day and my first of the year! By now water seemed to be soaking through my outer layers and the only time Sam and I were out of the rain was when we nipped into the barn for a short time. It was tempting to stay there, but we resisted.
As we chatted in the area of the farm I think we had all given up on Ring Ouzel. I’d never been to this area and not seen them. Just before we turned to make the return journey with the heavy rain at our back, our trip leader spotted a Ring Ouzel on the fence. Sadly by now some of the hard core had found their softer centres and were heading back to our pick up point. I’m happy to say however that most of us had an excellent sighting of the Ring Ouzel. Our wetness and discomfort was forgotten. Also seen in the vicinity were Redshank and another Common Sandpiper. I think everyone managed to see the Common Snipe when we returned to the pick up area. The coach was waiting for us. We climbed on board and dripped as we warmed up. I do believe one of the other party asked if there had been much rain! There had certainly been no Dotterel and many looked too dry to be true. I didn’t like to ask if they had even left the coach.
Our short rest stop at the High Force Hotel was lengthened for a couple of reasons. Firstly even the hard core were tempted by the warmth of the tea room and bar. Secondly there had been a serious road accident on the road to Bowlees Vistor Centre and therefore the road had been closed. The sun came out as we entered the tea room!
Sam and I weren’t going to sit drinking tea when the sun came out so we ate our lunch quickly, knocked back some water and went for a walk. We walked along to the area where Sam remembers identifying his first ever Lapwing! He and I then had a further decision to make as the rain began to pour down again. Do we walk to High Force for photographs, or in the other direction and concentrate on the birding? We decided on the latter, and as it happens I’m very pleased we did. In any event it simply wasn’t photography weather and we hadn’t brought the filters of tripods.
Down by the River Tees we did have some very good sightings. There were numbers of Willow Warbler along the edge of the river and it wasn’t long before I’d picked up a male Redstart. We had excellent sightings of two Spotted Flycatchers, at least another two Common Sandpipers, Dipper, Great Spotted Woodpecker and an odd Chiffchaff. By now the rain was lashing down, together with a mix of hail. I was beginning to feel the chill of dampness. What warmed me though was the finding of the male Redstart again and watching this for at least twenty minutes. I don’t ever remember having the chance to watch this fantastic species before, for this length of time without interruption. I’m pleased that many of our group managed to get decent sightings.
We did eventually make back towards the coach ad I think even the hardest of the hard core were pleased to get back to their seats to warm up and dry out. A Song Thrush appeared next to the coach just before we left.
What happened next? Yes the sun came out and the skies cleared to give a perfect evening. Ahh well, as I said at the time, I’d rather be out in the wilderness even in heavy rain, than sitting about elsewhere and especially when such great, if at times difficult, birding was available.
On the way home Sam alerted us to two Roe Deer, Common Tern and Greylag Geese. The group list came to fifty-four bird species which given the habitat and conditions was I think a good enough count. My own personal total came to fifty.