Cheviot Valleys

One plus one makes three; Cheviot Valleys Safari 07/06/18

by on Jun.13, 2018, under Birdwatching, Cheviot Valleys

Having arranged all of our clients for last Thursday’s Cheviot Valleys safari to meeting at the same location I arrived in Powburn and collected Vicky, Dave and Babs, Diane and Ruth before heading along a grassy verge buzzing with bees and hoverflies and bejewelled with Common Blue Damselflies and Red and Black FroghoppersRuth proved to have the sharpest eyes and found the first of two Adders that she spotted before everyone else (as well as a third that was sadly dead in the middle of the track) as Blackcaps, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs sang from hidden perches in dense foliage.

It wouldn’t be a June Cheviot Valleys trip without the riparian triumvirate of Dipper, Common Sandpiper and Grey Wagtail and all three duly put in an appearance as Swallows gathered insects, House Martins gathered mud for nest-building and the eerie cries of Curlew rolled down the fells.  Red Grouse were chuckling from the heather clad hillsides and one or two were uncharacteristically obliging and out in the open as Wheatears flitted between stones on the ground, the prominent ears of a Brown Hare betrayed it’s location, Whinchat demonstrated just how beautiful they are and Ring Ouzel flew by but didn’t settle where we could see them as Green Tiger Beetles suddenly appeared as they flew and the calls of Cuckoos echoed across the valley.

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Spotted; Cheviot Valleys Bespoke Photography and Birdwatching 26/05/18

by on Jun.04, 2018, under Cheviot Valleys

For the second year running we had a day out with David, and John, as part of his prize from the North East Wildlife Photography Awards.  This time we were heading into the centre of Northumberland to explore the Cheviot Valleys

Exploring a roadside verge produced Common Blue and Blue-tailed Damselflies, Red and Black Froghoppers and then an Adder 🙂  Around 2′ in length it suddenly stopped it’s exploration of the undergrowth and began almost imperceptibly coiling itself into a spiral, eventually being no bigger than a clenched fist.  Brown Hares were in a roadside field and Pheasant and Red-legged Partridge trotted along, and across, the road ahead of us.  Dipper and Grey Wagtail were on rocks surrounded by shallow fast flowing water as Red Grouse chuckled from the heather clad slopes of the valley sides, Cuckoos were calling as Redpoll trilled overhead and then a small angry mob of passerines pursued one Cuckoo over the trees above us.  One bird which featured repeatedly was a species that’s undergone a dramatic decline.  In the mid 90’s I had Spotted Flycatchers breeding outside my bathroom window on the outskirts of Newcastle but seeing them now is far easier if you journey well inland.

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…and more persistence :-) Bespoke Cheviot Valleys birdwatching 29/04/18

by on May.01, 2018, under Cheviot Valleys, Uncategorized

Driving towards Bywell to collect Peter and Pat for a day in the Cheviot Valleys I was considering the weather forecast that had suggested it would be dry, bright and breezy.  I was mainly considering it because it was raining…

Dippers were carrying food to their nests, and carrying faecal sacs away to throw in the river.  A Common Sandpiper went swee-wee-wee-wee-wee along the shallow bubbling stream and Grey Wagtails were proving elusive.  Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Chaffinch and Blackbird were singing and a yaffling Green Woodpecker eventually flew by and perched where we could see it for a minute or so.  Red Grouse were chuckling on the heather-clad slopes above us and a male Merlin dashed by and over a ridge.  With hail showers, and snow on much higher ground, Meadow Pipits were coming down by the dozen, off the moor to the valley bottom as Curlews were song-flighting .  After lunch we headed up a narrow steep valley in search of Ring Ouzel.  For around 30mins we could hear one singing, but we couldn’t see him.  A Cuckoo called from the opposite side of the valley and then flew by before perching on a dry stone wall, and the ouzel continued to sing from a hidden perch.  Then, in a moment that couldn’t have been scripted better the Sun broke through the cloud and illuminated a small crag on the skyline – just as a male Ring Ouzel settled on it after chasing another ouzel across the heather 🙂

Another great day out with clients who are serious birdwatchers 🙂

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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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