Cheviot Valleys

Localised weather systems; Cheviot Valleys group birdwatching 11/07/17

by on Jul.13, 2017, under Cheviot Valleys

Watching the weather forecast on the breakfast news, I was confident that any rain we encountered on our day in the Cheviot Valleys would be quickly passing showers…

As I collected Mike and the other 12 members of his group from Belford there was a steady drizzle, and I was questioning the forecast already 😉 Heading into the hills we were soon watching Pheasant, Red-legged Partridge and a Brown Hare that loped across the road in front of us before heading up a rough track and out of sight.  The air was damp and warm; perfect conditions for midges and the Sand Martins, House Martins and Swallows that were busy hoovering them up.  Lesser Redpoll were trilling overhead, the high-pitched calls of Siskin pierced the damp air and a female Red Grouse was leading her chicks through the heather as we headed along the path to higher ground.  You should be careful what you wish for, and I’d just mentioned that a slightly stiffer breeze would suppress the degree of annoyance that the midges tend to bring, when the breeze did start to pick up a bit.  Eventually the stiff easterly was driving rain into the valley and the forecast was looking like a wild guess at what the weather was actually going to do.  I suggested that we retreat to the lower reaches of the valley and see what the weather was like down there.  It was better, much better in fact and our second walk of the day, following a lunch stop that was accompanied by a very obliging Yellowhammer, brought Common Buzzard, Common Sandpiper, Grey Wagtail, Curlew, a family of Whinchat and, after a lot of effort, the two target species for the afternoon – Dipper and Ring Ouzel – as a young Roe Deer watched us from the other side of the valley.  Just a few miles back along the road on our return journey to Belford the roads were dry, bone dry and it seemed that we’d been enjoying a remarkable bit of micro-climate 🙂

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Summer days; Cheviot Valleys Bespoke birdwatching 18/06/17

by on Jun.20, 2017, under Cheviot Valleys

An early start on Sunday saw me collecting Jill and Steve for their 4th day out with NEWT (and Steve’s 5th trip with us as he was on this memorable pelagic!)…

Our destination was the Cheviot valleys, but we headed to Bothal first to search for the Ruddy Duck that had been there the day before.  There was no sign of it, but consolation came in the form of a stunning summer-plumaged Slavonian Grebe before we continued on our way north west.  Red-legged Partridge and Pheasant were wandering along the roads and sitting on the tops of walls and we were soon searching for Ring Ouzel and Whinchat – the two target species for the morning.  Curlew called from the moors high above, Meadow Pipits were song-flighting and Pied Wagtails were picking insects from the grass as Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler were singing, Mistle Thrushes flew back and forth and Oystercatchers were probing the soil under short vegetation.  Persistence is often the key and I finally spotted a Whinchat perched on a small bush, and then 2 Ring Ouzels foraging on a small rocky outcrop.

Our picnic spot beside a fast flowing stream produced an obliging Common Sandpiper and more Whinchats as the buzzing trill of Lesser Redpolls drew our attention to small dark specks travelling between plantations and the scratchy song of Common Whitethroat grumbled from nearby bracken.  A Great Spotted Woodpecker sitting in the road was an unexpected encounter before we finished the day with an hour of woodland birding.  In the hot afternoon sunshine the birds seemed to be keeping their heads down, other than a very obliging Spotted Flycatcher as Speckled Wood butterflies rested in the sun-dappled edges of the wood and a Giant Pied Hoverfly Volucella pellucens made a couple of flyby inspections as we walked back to the car.

Another really enjoyable day out with Jill and Steve, in very summery weather!

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You never know what’s around the corner; Cheviot Valleys Safari 01/06/17

by on Jun.02, 2017, under Cheviot Valleys

Always expect the unexpected is a good philosophy to hold when you’re out and about searching for wildlife…

I collected Steph from Kingston Park and we headed north for a morning exploring the Cheviot valleys.  Along the streams and rivers Grey Wagtail, Pied Wagtail and Dipper were all sitting on rocks or flycatching, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff were singing and House Martins were gathering mud for their nests as Swallows perched on wires just above our heads and a Rabbit sat, unconcerned, in the cooling shade of an Oak. With temperatures pushing into the 20’s it was always going to be a good day for insects; Wall Brown, Speckled Wood and Red Admiral butterflies were all very flightly in the warm sunshine, Common Blue and Blue-tailed Damselflies added a flash of colour to all of the verges and Green Tiger Beetles were basking on small rocks.  A yaffling Green Woodpecker seemed to be mocking us from it’s hidden position before it flew from cover and Steph finally caught up with her bogey bird 🙂  A Cuckoo was calling fom the canopy as a Great Spotted Woodpecker made it’s way from fence post to fallen tree to fence post to tree trunk before finally vanishing deep into the trees and a Spotted Flycatcher was sallying from a high exposed branch.  Oystercatchers called noisily, the eerie cries of Curlew drifted across the fells and Red-legged Partridge and Pheasant wandered across the roads everywhere we went.

Driving down a single track road we came around a bend and Steph spotted a bird in the road ahead of us.  Hunched over, and picking at a carcass, my first thought was Common Buzzard…and then it sat upright before taking off, attempting to carry the dead Rabbit it had been picking at.  Incredibly numerous in some areas, but still very very scarce in Northumberland; we’ve seen Red Kites on NEWT safaris before, but this was the first one we’ve found on a trip within our home county 🙂

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Chorus of the valleys; Bespoke Cheviot Valleys Safari 12/05/17

by on May.16, 2017, under Cheviot Valleys

I collected John and Kate from Church Point at 06:00 and we headed westwards towards the Cheviot massif…

Stepping out of the car in a cold breeze, the density of bird song was like a wall of sound.  Willow Warbler, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Robin, Chaffinch, Chiffchaff and Blackcap were all belting out their best tunes, while Oystercatcher, Greylag Goose and Canada Goose provided an accompaniment that was akin to a 3 year old banging a pan with a spoon.  The complex songs of Sedge Warbler and Skylark added to the aural backdrop and the buzzing trill of Lesser Redpoll overhead added an occasional background note.  Brown Hares were running along tractor tyre tracks through long crops and a young Roe Deer seeemd more puzzled than scared by the car.  Common Pheasant and Red-legged Partridge were a reminder of the main managed purpose of the valleys, while on the higher slopes Red Grouse were chuckling, Curlew were displaying and a Common Snipe was singing from the top of an isolated hawthorn as the valley bottom delivered the riparian triumvirate of Dipper, Common Sandpiper and Grey WagtailHouse Martins were gathering mud to add to their nests, Swallows were hawking insects as the air warmed slightly, Treecreeper and Tree Pipit were both, unsurprisingly, in trees, a Green Woodpecker was yaffling but didn’t show itself and a Cuckoo was singing persistently from a vantage point high in a bare tree.  As far as we could tell, he was singing constantly for at least 3 hours then, as we had lunch, a second Cuckoo flew over the hillside, pursued by a crowd of Meadow Pipits, and the singer flew from his perch to chase the interloper away down the valley.

I’m an evening person, but really enjoy early starts for our inland locations 🙂

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Early Spring; Bespoke Cheviots/Druridge Birdwatching 10/04/17

by on Apr.11, 2017, under Cheviot Valleys, Druridge Bay

I collected Adrian and Ruth from Seahouses for the first of their two days out with us this week; a Cheviots-plus Bespoke tour…

We started at Bamburgh, with Oystercatcher, Redshank and Purple Sandpiper along the edge of the breaking surf, Common Eider, Common Scoter, Red-throated Diver and a lone Puffin surfing the waves just beyond and distant Gannets breaking the horizon above a sea that had been whipped into a mass of whitecaps by a stiff northerly breeze.

Heading inland, it was starting to look cloudier and the forecast deterioration in the weather seemed to be on its way.  You can’t necessarily trust the forecast though, and the spectacular landscape of the Cheviot valleys was bathed in sunlight.  The triumvirate of nervously bobbing riverside dwellers all put in very obliging appearances; Dipper, Grey Wagtail and Common Sandpiper have so much in common, and are always great to watch.  Sand Martins and Swallows, always a sign that things are changing, were hawking insects overhead as a Raven flew by, the eerie cries of Curlew revealed their presence as they displayed high over the valley, Red Grouse chuckled from the surrounding heather, Chiffchaffs were singing their relentlessly onomatopaeic song from every clump of trees and Ruth spotted a stunning male Ring Ouzel hopping around on a fellside that was dripping with Mistle Thrushes and Wheatears.  Lunch was accompanied by 3 Common Buzzards high overhead, tussling and skydiving as partnerships and territories for the breeding season start to take shape.

Continuing along our planned loop for the day brought us to the coast of Druridge Bay and Avocet, Shorelark, Ringed Plover, Kestrel, Sanderling, a raft of at least 9 Red-throated Divers and then, as we headed back to the car at the end of the day, a Short-eared Owl quartering rough fields with deep slow wingbeats 🙂

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Cheviot Valleys Bespoke Birdwatching 23/05/16

by on May.25, 2016, under Cheviot Valleys

Monday was Pete and Jan’s 8th trip with NEWT, and we were heading back to the Cheviot valleys where we’d watched a Cuckoo together back in 2013.  It’s always a pleasure to have a day out with them and catch-up on what’s been happening since we last met, as between us we’re keen recorders of a range of wildlife and the other members of their local Natural History Society are always busy recording some weird and wonderful species…

In glorious sunny weather the verges were alive with insects.  Lots of hoverflies (I’m just starting to take an interest in these…) and a very bright Orange-tip as well as a couple of unidentified female damselfliesWillow Warbler and Chiffchaff were singing enthusiastically as Oystercatchers plundered the earthworm population of grassy fields before returning to feed their chicks.  Brown Hare sat motionless in short crops, as if we couldn’t see them, before realising they were being watched and loping off.  The triumvirate of riparian nervous energy all put in an appearance; Grey Wagtail flycatching above the rushing stream, Common Sandpiper bobbing up and down as it made it’s way upstream in a game of avian hopscotch from one bankside rock to the next and Dipper, almost invisible until it turned and revealed it’s bright white throat and breast.  On the edges of the heather moorland, Red Grouse were standing, sentinel like, and territorial disputes were revealed by the resonant cries of ‘go back, go back, go back’.  Common Buzzards soared on the breeze, a Kestrel flew quickly by and the plaintive cries of Curlew echoed around the valley sides.  Throughout the afternoon, our walk towards the Scottish border was accompanied by the onomatopaeic calls of Common Cuckoo.  As the air buzzed with the trill of Lesser Redpoll, a Goldcrest showed itself briefly after a burst of song, Spotted Flycatchers sallied from trees and fence posts and Cuckoos were calling from every plantation.  One perched in a treetop and was quickly mobbed by Meadow Pipits, another flew over the neighbour it had been having a vocal dispute with, prompting a harsh grumbling response, and others flew across the valley.

Gorgeous weather, and clients who are great company – an ideal start to the summer…

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Springtime in the hills; Bespoke Cheviot Valleys Safari 20/04/16

by on Apr.26, 2016, under Cheviot Valleys

mid-April can be a strange time inland.  Some summer visitors will have arrived, but you can never be quite sure which ones…

I collected Richard and Florence from West Acre House and we headed westwards towards the central massif of Northumberland.  An unexpected, and very pleasant, surprise was bumping into Dean from Cheviot View who was enjoying a walk in the glorious sunshine.  Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Great Crested Grebe, Canada Goose, Greylag Goose and Oystercatcher were all pottering around on old gravel pits as Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Blackcap all sang and fed, a Brown Hare loped through the trees and we headed deeper into the valleys as lunchtime approached, encountering Pheasant after Pheasant, and Red-legged Partridge after Red-legged Partridge, as well as Mistle Thrush and Song Thrush obligingly feeding next to each other and offering an opportunity for comparison as a Dipper bobbed up and down on a mid-stream rock before flying up to it’s concealed nest.  Red Grouse cackled, the trilling buzz of Lesser Redpoll punctuated the air overhead, the eerie cries of Curlew echoed around the valley, the swee-wee-wee-wee-wee of a nervous Common Sandpiper pierced the excited bubbling of the stream and Common Buzzards soared lazily on the warm breeze as the shocking yellow of a Grey Wagtail added a splash of colour to the dappled light of the valley bottom.  Swallow and Sand Martin harvested the bountiful insects overhead and, as we walked back down the valley towards the car, I could hear a simple song from the steeper ground above us.  Focusing my attention on the direction that the sound was coming from brought not one, not two, but three Ring Ouzels 🙂

Certainly felt like the spring…

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Crystal clear; Cheviot Valleys Stargazing 11/12/2015

by on Dec.18, 2015, under Cheviot Valleys

Last Friday was an event that I’d been eagerly anticipating; leading a stargazing event at Kirknewton for the Northumberland National Park Authority.

Rain and sleet on the journey north wasn’t particularly promising, so I arrived at the village hall and set everything out for a slide show (just in case the weather didn’t cooperate…).  When Duncan arrived we set up a couple of telescopes in the hall, ready to be deployed outside if the cloud cleared.  Start time arrived and it had clouded over completely so, following Duncan’s introduction to light pollution and the Northumberland International Dark Sky Park, I gave a presentation on practical stargazing for beginners.  Duncan was keeping an eye on the weather and just as I finished the first section of my presentation the cloud cleared 🙂  Everyone donned hats, coats and gloves and we moved the ‘scopes outside, as well as arming everyone with binoculars.  The dazzling beauty of the Milky Way, Orion, the Pleiades, Gemini, Auriga, Taurus and the Andromeda Galaxy had everyone gripped by what can be seen when there’s little light pollution, and shooting stars were seen every couple of minutes.  Delicious hot soup and bread rolls finished the evening off nicely and there were lots of questions about how to learn more about stargazing.  We’ll hopefully be leading more events for the National Park during the winter; sign up and bring your enthusiasm and hat, gloves and plenty of warm clothing 🙂

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Batty; Cheviot valleys/Druridge Bay Bespoke Tour 08/06/2015

by on Jun.10, 2015, under Cheviot Valleys, Druridge Bay

Looking back through previous blog posts I was reminded that we’ve done a few days combining the best of the hills and the best of the coast, and I headed towards Old Bewick to collect Helen for an afternoon and evening exploring the Cheviot Valleys and Druridge Bay.

As a Common Buzzard soared over the steep valley sides, Curlews launched from the heather, calling in alarm.  Dippers bobbed on mid stream rocks, a Nuthatch with young was busying itself along tree trunks and branches, Whinchats flicked nervously through the bracken, the air was split by the explosive trilling song of Lesser Redpoll and Spotted Flycatchers perched upright on fence posts before sallying forth after flies.

Down on the coast we enjoyed the sight of Avocets mating, two Spoonbills feeding with their heads sweeping from side to side and bills submerged, a female Marsh Harrier causing alarm as it flew over the edge of a pond and Swallows singing and bringing feathers to line their nests.  Dusk brought a remarkable wildlife spectacle, with 30-40 bats hunting in front of us.  The bat detector revealed an astonishing wall of sound as Common Pipistrelle and Noctule swooped, tumbled and hunted insects…right above an Otter that was stalking Tufted Ducks 🙂

The journey back to Old Bewick produced Barn Owl, and a Tawny Owl in the middle of the road sitting on a baby Rabbit!  Then it was time for me to head back towards southeast Northumberland…and Northumberland’s country lanes produced a late night plethora of wildlife; Red Fox, Brown Hare, Roe Deer, Barn Owl, another Tawny Owl sitting on a baby Rabbit, and three Badger cubs trotting alongside the edge of the road 🙂

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A hailstorm of quality; Cheviots Prestige Tour 19/05/2015

by on May.22, 2015, under Cheviot Valleys

As I arrived at Spindrift to collect David and Margaret for their second trip with NEWT, following a day in the North Pennines in 2013, I was thinking about how to structure the rest of the day.  The weather forecast suggested that there would be heavy showers by early afternoon, so I thought it would make sense to do a longer walk before then, and check sites that we could park near as the afternoon wore on and the weather deteriorated…

One of the main target species for our trips into the Cheviot Valleys is Ring Ouzel, so hearing a male in full song as you get out of the car is always a good start 🙂  He was singing from a dry stone wall, as his mate hopped around on the grass below and a second pair of ouzels flew over calling.  A pair of Whinchats were on a heather covered hillside where a Red Grouse was sunning herself, as Grey Wagtails and Dippers bobbed up and down on midstream rocks, the buzzing song of a Common Redpoll revealed the presence of this attractive finch overhead and a Tree Pipit parachuted down from the sky.  A few spots of rain soon cleared to give much brighter conditions and Common Buzzards soared and lazily hovered over the valley tops as a Cuckoo called persistently but remained hidden from view.  Then the sky started to darken and a few drops of rain quickly turned into a heavy hailstorm with rumbling thunder adding to the extraordinary atmospheric conditions.  The hailstorm moved away down the valley and we made our way back to the car, stopping to admire a male Ring Ouzel feeding only 30m away from us, in a field rendered white with hail.  Common Sandpipers bobbed along the stream edge and more Common Buzzards soared against the steep sides of the valley.

There were two species that David and Margaret were both very keen to see during the day, and I thought I knew just the place for them.  So, in mid-afternoon we found ourselves in a beautiful, atmospheric area of woodland…marvelling at the beauty of a pair of Common Redstarts and watching a mating pair of Pied Flycatchers, with all four birds in the same tree at one point 🙂  As we headed back to Seahouses, we could see some impressive storms in every direction, so I suspected I might have a challenging drive back home at the end of the day…

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