Kielder Safari 05/04/2012

by on Apr.07, 2012, under Birdwatching, Kielder, Northumberland

After Tuesday’s snow, sleet and general murk, and Wednesday’s icy breeze, I prepared for Thursday’s Kielder Safari by loading as many layers of technical clothing as I could into the back of the car…but, as I headed north to Felton to collect Lindsay and Abbie, I was glad that I’d included sunglasses in my kit list for the day ūüôā

We drove west through Rothbury, Elsdon and Otterburn, in absolutely stunning light that really showed Northumberland at it’s best,¬†along roads where the verges were still snow-covered and the temperature was sub-zero,¬†past flocks of Fieldfares and Redwings gathering pre-migration, to collect Victoria and Paul from Bellingham before heading along the forest tracks towards Hawkhope.¬† Only a few hundred yards from the public road we were¬†soon watching a stunning male Common Crossbill.¬† More Crossbills followed, then some outrageously bright Siskins. Common Buzzards were soaring over the plantations (it turned out to be a excellent raptor day – although the ‘Phantom of the Forest’ eluded us), Chaffinches seemed to be along every step of the way, Great Spotted Woodpeckers played their usual game of hide-and-seek¬†and even the humble Meadow Pipits were subjected to great scrutiny.¬† As Lindsay commented as we watched one pipit, elevated above it’s usual status of LBJ by the superb light,¬†“it’s nice to have views in the field,¬†of a feature¬†that you’ve read about in a field guide”.¬† He was referring to the long hind-claw of the pipit and, with our subject perched just a few metres away and very obliging, this led on to a discussion of pipit identification.¬† When we finally returned to the C200 we’d been off-road for over¬†two and a half hours – a new longevity record for that 10 mile section of our route, and an excellent measure of just how many birds we’d stopped and studied.

Up over the border our lunch break, after watching a pair of Curlews as they called on a bit of high¬†moorland,¬†was accompanied by a pair of Ravens chasing off a Kestrel that had strayed over their nest site, a territorial skirmish involving 2 pairs of Common Buzzards, Pied Wagtails flycatching over the stream and 3 Goosanders looking resplendent.¬† Our post-lunch walk produced more Common Buzzards, another Kestrel, a Peregrine powering it’s way down the valley and a small group of Wild Goats including a tiny kid.¬† As we returned to the car a pair of Ravens appeared along the ridge, soared up against the sky and then began tumbling and calling.

Our final section of the trip was the Forest Drive between Kielder and Byrness; currently closed to the public because of forestry activity, and the state of the road surface, we’d been given permission by the Forestry Commission to use the track, which we had to ourselves for the afternoon.¬†¬†A Raven soared close to a Common Buzzard, a pair of Stonechats were next to the road at Kielderhead and we came across an excellent mixed flock of finches; Common Crossbills, Siskins and Lesser Redpolls (which we’d earlier heard but not seen) in one small area of spruce, pine and birch.

We dropped Victoria and Paul back in Bellingham, and headed east towards the coastal plain as the light faded at the end of a 12 hour Safari Day.¬† 12 hour days as a birdwatching guide, in some extraordinary landscapes with stunning wildlife,¬†leave you feeling energised…don’t think I would have¬†said the same¬†while I was a teacher ūüôā

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