Tag: Tree Pipit

Making the most of the weather; Bespoke Cheviots Safari 08/06/17

by on Jun.09, 2017, under Uncategorized

I have a bit of an obsession with the weather.  It can have a real influence on the outcome of our trips and we always try to be as flexible as we possibly can.  If the forecast is really poor we always offer clients the option of rescheduling; either for a different time on the same day, a different day close to the planned date (if they’re visiting the area) and a rescheduled date suitable for them if they’re local.  I’d been watching the forecast for Thursday all week, and it had finally changed to be reasonable until mid-morning, so with an early start planned I set off to collect Malcolm, Judy and Andrew from Longframlington for a morning exploring the Cheviot Valleys

As soon as I was on my way the weather deviated from forecast and the heavy drizzle was still present when I reached Longframlington.  Then a break in the clouds and we had warm sunshine and blue skies before the rain started again as Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges scuttled across the road in front of the car and a Brown Hare sat motionless in the middle of a field.  Reed Bunting, Greylag Goose and Canada Goose, the latter two with goslings in tow were unperturbed by the increasingly heavy rain as were the clouds of flying insects we were walking through.  The cries of Curlew and Oystercatcher echoed around the valleys and rabbits sat still before eventually deciding they didn’t want to be observed and raced off.  The riparian triumvirate of Grey Wagtail, Common Sandpiper and Dipper were all on mid-stream rocks as the buzzing trill of Lesser Redpoll was heard overhead, Tree Pipits called in display flight, a Whinchat perched on a fingerpost before flying to perch in the bracken, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush and Blackbird were all by the roadside, a Spotted Flycatcher was sallying forth in increasingly heavy rain, the descending silvery cadence of a Willow Warbler  drifted from the branches of a nearby birch, a Treecreeper put in a brief appearance as it scaled a vertiginous trunk with ease and Cuckoo and Chiffchaff were calling with persistent rhythmical eponymous onomatopeia.

As the rain intensified we watched a Grey Heron as it stood motionless at the water’s edge and three well-grown juvenile Goosanders swam by it before taking flight and disappearing upstream and we finshed the morning with our picnic by the riverside.  The rain doesn’t deter wildlife watchers 🙂

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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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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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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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Heading for the hills; Birdwatching in the Cheviot Valleys 06/06/2013

by on Jun.10, 2013, under Birdwatching, Cheviot Valleys, Northumberland

Thursday brought a trip that I’d been looking forward to for some time; I first met Chris many years ago, while I was Field Trips Officer for the Northumberland and Tyneside Bird Club, so it was going to be a day out with a client who knew me several careers ago.

We met up at Church Point and headed inland towards the Cheviot Valleys, a location that features some stunning landscapes; steep-sided valleys, towering hills, mysterious sun-dappled woodland, heather moorland and all that goes with it.  As we approached the start of the higher ground, I suggested we check a damp area of an arable field.  It’s often good for wading birds and this was no exception; two broods of Lapwing chicks, as well as Oystercatchers and Redshank, were pottering around the edge of the now small puddle.

Perhaps the best thing about our forays into the Cheviots is the chance to stretch your legs, get some fresh air…and see hardly anyone else while you’re there 🙂  The time passes quickly and the cackling of Red Grouse, simple song of Spotted Flycatcher, silvery descending cadence of Willow Warbler, plaintive mewing of Common Buzzards and the eponymous songs of Cuckoo and Chiffchaff all accompanied parts of our walk.  Grey Wagtails, Dippers and Common Sandpipers were all occupying that particular ecological niche that they’re all so suited for, a Redstart delivered his distinctive song from a hidden perch, Curlews gave their haunting cries from high on the hillsides, Tree Pipits sang from treetops and a Kestrel was hanging in the air over the ridge at the top of a steep valley.  Away from civilisation, surrounded by wildlife, it was the relaxed enjoyable trip that I always knew it would be 🙂

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Head for the hills

by on May.29, 2013, under Birdwatching, Cheviot Valleys, Northumberland

Away to the northwest of our base in southeast Northumberland is the skyline-dominating range of the Cheviot Hills.

I collected Susan from Cheviot View and we headed towards the Harthope Valley via the ford at Coldgate Mill.  A stop along the road produced Redshank, Oystercatcher, Lapwing and the always impressive Brown Hare.  In glorious weather we walked for nearly five hours around various parts of the valley.  Curlews sang their eerie song from the heather clad slopes above, Tree Pipits delivered their challenge to rivals, and serenade to potential partners, the descending silvery cadence of Willow Warblers shimmered in the air around us, a Whinchat flitted from rock to heather, and back again, Grey Wagtails lived up to their name – wagging their tails from rocks and fence posts along our route – and the ‘swee-wee-wee-wee-wee’ of Common Sandpipers echoed around the sides of the swiftly flowing stream in the valley bottom.  As the afternoon wore on we watched as a Kestrel patrolled the steep valley sides, a Sparrowhawk soared across the valley and a Common Buzzard hovered over a distant plantation.

Delivering peace, solitude and some excellent wildlife-watching opportunities, the hills are a great place to enjoy your wildlife and get some exercise too 🙂

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Sound

by on May.22, 2012, under Birdwatching, Cheviot Valleys, Northumberland

As I collected Jason and Jane for a bespoke day of birdwatching in the beautiful Cheviot valleys, the first few raindrops pattered against the windscreeen of the car.  As we headed south from Melkington the rain stopped and visibility improved, so I was sure were in for an excellent day.

The day featured all of the species we would expect; Roe Deer, Brown Hare, Raven, Dipper,Grey Wagtail, Common Sandpiper, Tree Pipit, Redstart and Red Grouse amongst many but a few of the regulars put on a really special performance.

Cuckoos were calling along the valley but frustratingly staying out of view, until a handsome male flew across the track ahead of us and then perched in full view.  A pair of Whinchat provided another highlight as they flitted along a stream, dashing from rock to rock like Grey Wagtails, tails flicking as they sallied across the adjacent hillside.

Soon after I collected them, Jason had mentioned that he’d never seen a Ring Ouzel.  No pressure there, then 😉  As we started our first walk of the day, I could hear a Ring Ouzel singing, and soon located him at the top of a distant tree.  More followed, including a pair sitting together on a fence, but probably the best of the seven that we found was a singing male; high in a narrow gully his song reverberated beautifully off the surrounding rock carrying over a distance at which he was just a black speck through our binoculars, his song was as clear as if he was just along the hillside.  As the wind and rain finally arrived, and we discussed sustainability and conservation (I really should write a book…), his song continued, although he shifted the side of the gully he was on to shelter from the rain.  A remote valley exposed to the elements, a real mountain specialist putting on a performance for us, stimulating insightful thoughts from Jason and Jane…another memorable day at ‘the office’ 🙂

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Lightning strikes twice

by on May.11, 2012, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Harwood, Northumberland

Trips with existing clients are always a pleasure, not only because it’s very gratifying to get a booking from someone we’ve taken out before, but also because we already have shared memories.  I had 3 things vivid in my mind from when I took Pete and Janet out in September 2008 – it rained, we saw 11 adult Mediterranean Gulls on the beach at Newbiggin and Janet found an Otter.

I collected Pete and Janet from their holiday cottage in Embleton, and we headed across to Sharperton to collect David and Mary.  They’re all members of the same Natural History Society, who were our first group booking, back in 2009, and we always enjoy catching up with them, and the other members of their group, at the Bird Fair each August.  Tuesday was a bespoke trip, combining Harwood and Druridge Bay, and the weather forecast suggested that it wouldn’t rain…

As we approached Harwood a Roe Deer crossed the track, walked into the trees and then stopped to watch us.  This was the first of 11 that we saw on our journey through the forest (well, it was about 11, and if I say 11, it’ll help the punchline to this post!).

Harwood again produced memorable sightings; Roe Deer, Tree Pipit, at least 3 Cuckoos, Siskins, plenty of Crossbills, more Roe Deer and a mouth-wateringly attractive male Common Redstart.  A list of species can never really do justice to just how good encounters with wildlife can be though; as 2 Roe Deer bounded across the clearfell area beside the track, 2 Cuckoos were engaged in a frantic chase, calling frequently and mobbed by Meadow Pipits every time they left the safety of the trees, while the male Redstart flicked along the edge of a nearby plantation, red tail shivering as he perched on a tree stump, black face contrasting with his white forehead and supercilium, the subtle grey of his crown and mantle and the orangy-red of his breast.

As we tucked in to our picnic lunch, overlooking a very calm North Sea, the first drops of icy rain began to patter down.  Then, a comment from Janet to set the pulse racing “I’m sure I just saw a fin”.  With such calm water the sudden appearance of black shapes at the surface stood out, and Janet had found yet another exciting mammal on a NEWT safari.  This time it wasn’t the sleek, sinuous predator of our lakes and rivers, but another sleek, sinuous predator. We watched for several minutes as the pod of Bottlenose Dolphins moved slowly south.  At least 6 animals, including a very small calf, they surfaced lazily every 30seconds or thereabouts as I texted observers further south to let them know what was coming.

Avocet, Garganey (2 handsome drakes), Common Sandpiper, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, clouds of Swifts, Swallows and martins, and weather best described as changeable, all contributed to an excellent afternoon around Druridge before I completed our circular route, dropping Pete and Janet, and then David and Mary.  See you at the BirdFair 🙂

So, it rained, we saw 11(ish) Roe Deer in Harwood and Janet found some Bottlenose Dolphins

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Comfort zone

by on May.03, 2011, under Birdwatching, Cheviot Valleys, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

I’ve been a general naturalist since an early age, but birdwatching has been the thing that has always gripped my imagination.  As a wildlife guide though, is that really enough?  That’s a question that seems to arise occasionally on internet forums.  I decided at an early stage of NEWT that I needed a much broader and deeper knowledge, so I spend a lot of time studying things that once upon a time (I’m ashamed to admit) I would have ignored, or even not noticed.  Every day that I spend with clients, I make an effort to learn from them, whilst imparting my own knowledge, skills and understanding of what we encounter.

On Thursday I led an afternoon of guided birdwatching around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  The blazing sunshine when I collected Karen from Newbiggin made it almost impossible to see anything in the bay but, as each small gull flew by, we checked for the identification features that would provide us with a Mediterranean Gull.  All proved to be Black-headed Gulls, and we headed north up the coast.  As we stood by the River Coquet, discussing how to separate Carrion Crow, Rook and Jackdaw in flight, I saw the tell-tale ghostly wings of a Med Gull as it drifted down towards the water’s edge.  Jet black hood, pristine white wingtips and, as perfect as if it was scripted, sitting next to an adult Black-headed Gull allowing easy comparison.  Some of our favourite birds followed; Marsh Harrier, Nuthatch, Heron and at least 17 Whimbrel.  During the afternoon I learned a feature of Wood Sorrel that will ensure I never misidentify it (again…).  Karen, you were right 🙂

Friday was something very different as we were headed inland to the Cheviots for a day searching for summer visitors.  After a few hours with a spectacular roll-call of the wildlife of the valleys, including Brown Hare, Roe Deer, Whinchat, Tree Pipit, Wheatear, Spotted Flycatcher, Red Grouse, Curlew and Lapwings (with chicks), we followed the track up a steep sided valley in search of a bird that Sue hadn’t seen before (and really wanted to).  As the sky darkened, the wind strengthened and chilled, and the first drops of icy rain began to fall, I spotted 2 distant birds flying down the valley.  I didn’t have any doubt about the identification so, when they eventually settled on the tops of the heather, I aimed the ‘scope in their direction and Sue enjoyed her first views of the ‘Mountain Blackbird’.  Ring Ouzels may often be seen on passage in the spring and autumn, but high in a remote valley, where you think the elements could give you a good working over at any time and the habitat supports so few species, is simply the right place to see them.  Another lesson learned; memorable sightings make you forget about the weather 🙂

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Slow, slow

by on May.20, 2010, under Birdwatching, Cheviot Valleys, Northumberland

Yesterday was the first of two days out with the winners of last year’s Birdwatching Northumberland prize draw.  After collecting Andy and Jean from the Bamburgh Castle Inn our destination was the Harthope Valley in the Cheviots.  It’s one of our favourite locations; stunning landscape, interesting geology and, of course, excellent wildlife.  As we reached the start of the valley we stopped to check on a Dipper nest, and there was one of the adults sitting on a rock in the river, so close that we didn’t need binoculars.  Further upstream we watched a pair of Grey Wagtails, eventually locating their nest in the tangled exposed roots of a riverside tree, before setting off in search of Ring Ouzels.  It wasn’t too long before we heard a singing male, but he remained stubbornly out of sight.  As we climbed higher up the valley the song seemed to be coming from somewhere else and careful scanning of the area revealed our quarry, perched on the remnants of a dry stone wall.  A pair of Red Grouse, with at least 7 chicks, were very obliging and a pair of Whinchat were flitting around in the heather.  After lunch we were treated to more Grey Wagtails, including a bird singing and displaying high overhead, and these were a real highlight of the day, a singing Dipper, Tree PipitRedstartCuckoo, a plethora of Willow Warblers and the shivering trill of a Wood Warbler.  Andy was keen to take a photograph of a Green Tiger Beetle and, eventually, one sat still for long enough to allow him to get close to it.

Green Tiger Beetle

The non-bird highlight of the day though came as we walked back to the Land Rover; a pair of Slow Worms locked in a mating embrace.  A remarkable end to an excellent day captured on camera by Andy, who kindly sent me the images to add to our blog.

This embrace can last for up to 10 hours!

That doesn't look comfortable

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