Monday, 20 May 2013

Harthope...A Pleasant Valley Sunday.

Another Pleasant Valley Sunday
Here in status symbol land
Mothers complain about how hard life is
And the kids just don't understand

Creature comfort goals
They only numb my soul and make it hard for me to see
My thoughts all seem to stray, to places far away
I need a change of scenery
Lyrics by Carole King and Gerry Goffin and sung by the Monkees.

19th May.  Recent years have always included a spring trip to Harthope Valley in the Cheviots and this year was to be no exception.  I enjoy the area so much, at least partially because of its remoteness, as once away from the small parking areas you can have the place and its wildlife to yourself, well away from the rest of generally noisy humanity.  As Andy, Sam and I approached Wooler today we were glad to have left the thick mist that marred part of the journey behind us.  That’s not to say that the morning was fine spring weather, as it was far from that, with thin mist never far away from us.  However at least the previous days heavy rains had departed and we were free to enjoy the area to the full.  The burns ran fast and at least in places the trees appeared to be coming into some colour.  We had seen a Common Buzzard on our journey north and this was to be the only raptor seen today.  Our short stop at the bridge at Carey Burn brought us sightings of Dipper and five Red Legged Partridges, whilst Chiffchaff called.  We were passed here by the small NTBC group I knew were also visiting today.

It wasn’t long before we were climbing o higher ground in the Hawsen Burn area.  This path seems to get more difficult to negotiate as each year passes.  I know later in the summer it can be very difficult once plant growth is high.  I had promised Andy Whinchats and Ring Ouzels aplenty today.  The Whinchats certainly obliged with I’d estimate at least five or six pairs of this species.  At least one pair seemed to be nesting on higher ground than I had noted them in the past.  Red Grouse were about in numbers and were often lifting from the heather and showing well in flight.  Skylarks were heard and there were numbers of Meadow Pipit about.  Willow Warblers were quite numerous too.  The odd Curlew was heard as it flew over the area.  Unfortunate we found no sign of Ring Ouzel apart from detecting what we thought was calling on one occasion.  We spent a good bit of time in this area and it wasn’t for the want of trying that we failed to spot this species.  This is the first time I have walked this area in spring and not seem them, usually seeing them in some numbers.  It’ll be interesting to find out if the other group had better luck in the afternoon.  Sam did get his eye on a Grey Partridge which Andy and I saw briefly as it flew across the heather.  Wheatear was seen briefly and again later as we left the valley.

No shortage of Whinchats
One thing which made up for the lack of Ring Ouzels (fortunately we had had a sighting in Teesdale last weekend) was the finding of Slow Worm.  The first Slow Worm I have ever found and a very interesting reptile it is.  Having read the Northumbrian Naturalist, Mammals, Amphibians and Reptiles of the North East, I see that Slow Worms can live perhaps 10-15 years.  I have actually just read on the internet that 30 years is perhaps not uncommon and that in fact the record age for a Slow Worm in captivity is held by one which lived until 54 years of age at spent much of that time at Copenhagen Zoo.  Sam had told me how attractively marked that this species can be and having looked closely I can see what he means.

My first ever Slow Worm.  Wonderfully marked.
Once back down by Harthope Burn we set off to walk up the valley, passing the NTBC group on their way back.  We exchanged a few words as to what had or hadn’t been seen.

Under the Hood Photography...a name you'll hear more of in the future I'm sure!
I expressed surprise that we hadn’t heard Cuckoo.  In fact initially the area seemed very sparse of birdlife apart from Swifts, Swallows and House Martins.  We did eventually pick up some decent sightings which included a pair of Common Sandpipers, a pair of Spotted Flycatchers and a pair of Grey Wagtails.  Yet another pair of vocal Whinchat were found.  A third Grey Wagtail was seen on our return walk.  A pair of Pied Wagtail were seen at Langleeford Farm.  Song Thrush was heard singing and Mistle Thrushes seen and heard in flight.

No shortage of Chaffinches in the valley.

 By now the skies had cleared and the sun was hot as we sat and overlooked the burn and watched the Common Sandpipers.  We’d dressed for the conditions of the morning so a layer or two had to be removed.  As we began our return walk we each picked up the call of Cuckoo.  It was difficult to attempt reach a point where we knew how many Cuckoos were about.  We saw one briefly as it flew across the valley.  Then later when Andy was sure he had seen a Ring Ouzel in flight we had a rather better sighting of Cuckoo.  I was lucky as I happened to have my binoculars at my eyes when it flew past so I have a very good but very brief sighting.  I’d estimate that there were at least three Cuckoos about this area.   We saw more Oystercatchers and Curlews, the latter birds displaying above the valley sides.  House Martins were busily collecting mud for their nests that were about the farm area, but we were only able to get a distant image with the cameras.  Some more general interest was added when we found a Common Toad and a Green-veined Butterfly.

Green-veined White Butterfly

Common Toad
After having made the most of our day we set off, stopping at Carey Burn again where we found the Red-legged Partridges were still about the area.  Lesser Black Backed Gulls flew up the valley.  Our first Lapwing and Greater Black Backed Gulls were seen as we approached Wooler again.  I don’t think I was the only one that was tired.  I reckon we had walked a good few miles.  I reckoned we’d seen very few people on our walk but Sam and Andy took delight in listing the ones we had seen which eventually formed a little list.  I think it is that when I’m in such areas I’m focussed on the area and the wildlife and people tend to pass me by in more ways than one.  It had been another pleasant valley Sunday!


  1. Great that you saw Cuckoo! That's a bird I've wanted to see (as well as hear) for a long while.

    Nice also re: the Slow Worm.

  2. Slow Worm was my highlight of the day Mark. I've been toying with the idea of changing the name of my blog to suit a more all round interest in nature. I decided against as it may cause confusion amongst my worldwide readers! :-) So I shall remain Killy Birder, but must give the site a fresh face I think. When I say fresh face I don't mean my own!

  3. Hehe, but yeah I know what you mean.

    Your blog is often more than just ornithology and it does give a nice variety to see other types of animals and wildflowers mentioned too.