One Cuckoo flew over the pipit’s nest; birdwatching in the Cheviot Valleys 09/06/2013

by on Jun.11, 2013, under Birdwatching, Cheviot Valleys, Northumberland

Sunday was another trip into the Cheviot Valleys, with two of our returning clients.  We first met Pete and Janet at the Bird Fair in 2008 and this was their third trip with us (plus a trip that they organised for their local Natural History Society in 2009).  It’s always a pleasure to meet up with them, and the prospect of a trip into the Cheviots was a mouthwatering one.  You just never know what you’ll find, or see…

The trip started with two species that we didn’t find on our Cheviots trip on Thursday; two Brown Hares were sitting by the ‘wader puddle’ and, one of our target species for the day – two Ring Ouzels flew over us, calling, as we started the first of the days walks.  Janet soon spotted a juvenile Dipper, and we watched as an adult flew in and fed it.  Grey Wagtails were all along the valley, a Spotted Flycatcher was living up to it’s name admirably and a very obliging Tree Pipit perched close to the path.  As on Thursday’s trip we heard, but couldn’t see, a Common Redstart.

Every so often, something happens that leaves us marveling at nature…and Sunday provided an extraordinary spectacle.  As we sat eating our lunch by a small stream, enjoying close views of Lesser Redpoll (a species we’d been hearing all morning although only seeing as small flying dots) I noticed a bird flying across the valley.  Initially it looked like a Kestrel – until I raised my binoculars and the pointy-winged, long-tailed, shape resolved into a Cuckoo.  It headed down into the heather and was immediately chased by a pair of Meadow Pipits.  They pursued it part way across the valley and it dropped out of sight behind the trees…only to reappear a minute later, chased by more pipits.  Landing in exactly the same spot in the heather it was chased away for a second time, by four pipits.  It rose higher and then began soaring, with the flap-flap-glide that is so characteristic of a Sparrowhawk.  More Meadow Pipits joined the attack, presumably revealing their nest locations, and the bird suddenly closed its wings and dropped like a stone, out of sight behind the trees.  A minute later and the Cuckoo was heading across the valley again, dropping back in the same spot as previously.  This time it was driven off by a pair of Red Grouse, that came charging down from near the summit of the hill, and it flew back and out of sight behind the trees, only to reappear a few seconds later with more Meadow Pipits in tow.  In total we watched it make ten visits to what was presumably a Meadow Pipit nest that it was targeting.  By the ninth visit it spent several seconds on the ground with angry pipits swirling around it’s head, which we could see sticking up above the heather, and the tenth visit was a prolonged one too.  After that it flew back across the valley and didn’t reappear, so perhaps it had been successful in laying an egg in the pipit nest.

Our final walk of the day produced another example of birds defending their nesting territory, as the plaintive cries of a pair of Curlew echoed around the steep valley sides and we looked up to see them flying at a Common Buzzard.  The buzzard continued on it’s way and the Curlews dropped out of sight above the ridge, only to reappear a few seconds later as a second buzzard flew down the valley.  Excellent weather, stunning scenery and clients whose enthusiasm and knowledge adds so much to the day 🙂

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