17th May. We realised that we hadn’t visited Harthope Valley in the past two years (was it really that long?), probably because at the time we would normally visit, trips to foreign parts had been arranged, so today’s visit accompanied by Lee (he’d never previously visited the valley), Sam and I were keen to reach our destination. A Kestrel and Common Buzzards were seen on the outward journey, but we later found little in the way of raptor life in the uplands!
Red Legged Partridges were seen before we had entered the valley, in fact I don’t remember seeing as many in the area before. Once into the valley and driving along by the burn and flowering gorse we soon had sightings of Cuckoo, Whinchat and Sand Martins. The air was full of bird song including Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and more Cuckoos. As we parked up at the car-park at the bottom of Hawsen Burn our first Red Grouse were heard and a Song Thrush was seen on the river bank. It was about 11:00am now and there was still a chill in the air, but we were soon to warm up!
We began as we always do and walked the climbing path up by Hawsen Burn. The pathway on the right of the burn has deteriorated even more and is virtually impassable without some crisscrossing of the burn at its narrowest points. We were soon listening to many more calls from Red Grouse and having gained some height we began to see them. Seven or eight pairs of Whinchat were seen and one or possibly two pairs of Stonechat. Thankfully there had been no recent burning in the area we walked as had occurred on our previous visit. Our target bird was of course Ring Ouzel and we weren’t disappointed having sightings of male birds, at least five, the best sighting being on our return walk and near to the valley bottom. We rested at the sheep fold, although I’ve learned that a better name for this is the Scottish term, sheep stell. It was warm by now and at times silent. There aren’t many silent areas about and I’m sure there are many who would struggle with silence, but not me, at least for periods. Common Buzzard was seen although as I’ve already mentioned it was the only raptor seen in the upland area. Meadow Pipits were seen at times and Skylark heard. Some liquid intake and a share of Sam’s chocolate set me up nicely for the return walk. The aroma was typical of this upland area and Willow Warbler and Wrens song was heard above the sound of the waters of the burn, relaxation at its best. Both Slow Worm and Green Hairstreak Butterfly were found. One male Wheatear showed nicely as we approached the valley floor and Lee found us a Hare. We had seen no one on the walk, although there were plenty of visitors in the valley. Our lunch was enjoyed by the river where only Pied Wagtail appeared on the rocks, but Redpoll and Siskin were both seen and heard in the trees and overhead. We would usually walk up the valley past Langleeford, but on this occasion decided to drive back down the valley as we were a bit pushed for time if we were to stop at Druridge Pools on our return.
Carey Burn provided us with a pair of Grey Wagtails and eventually Sam had a fleeting sighting of Dipper, which I heard. A Grey Heron flew up the valley and the sound of Cuckoos had entertained us. The scent of gorse filled the air. Probably because we had shortened the walking we missed out on the likes of Green Woodpecker, Common Sandpiper and Spotted Flycatcher and goodness knows what else, but there is always a next time and our time in the valley was well spent and enjoyed. We intend to explore the path at Carey Burn on a future trip.
We headed for Druridge with Lee confident that we’d see the Glossy Ibis. In my experience it never pays to be over confident as to birds and of course we didn’t find it. However, we weren’t disappointed as we saw four Garganey, three of them drakes, two Little Stint and several Black Tailed Godwit amongst other waterfowl and waders.