Birdwatching; Northumberland in the rain

by on Jun.08, 2010, under Birdwatching, Cheviot Valleys, Northumberland

I’ve always maintained that, whatever the weather (with the possible exception of a howling gale), it’s always possible to have a really good day birdwatching in Northumberland.  Yesterday’s forecast didn’t promise too much in the way of good weather though and, as it turned out, we had to contend with drizzly rain for the whole day.

I collected Reg and Val from Newcastle and we set off towards the Harthope Valley.  This is one of NEWT’s favourite locations; spectacular scenery, excellent birdwatching and the all important absence of crowds.  A holiday group from another birdwatching company were in the valley as well, though.  Just before we reached the turning for Langleeford, a Brown Hare was sitting in a roadside field.  As we’re in June, and all of the trees are in leaf, a lot of our birding was done by ear.  Grasshopper Warbler was a nice find, Oystercatchers were chasing each other up and down the valley, a Cuckoo flew past, pursued by Meadow Pipits, the shivering trill of a Wood Warbler could be heard over the running water and Grey Wagtail, Common Sandpiper  and Dipper were all along the water’s edge.  Willow Warblers were singing from all around, Siskin and Redpoll were picked up on call and then eventually gave excellent views, Snipe were displaying over a recently planted area on the opposite side of the valley, Curlews were singing their haunting song (so much more appropriate on windswept, remote moorland than on the coast) and then I heard it; a call that is familiar in the winter, but not in the Cheviot valleys in June.  I was still trying to convince myself that I’d misheard the call, when the bird appeared in front of us – unmistakeable really, there was a Twite. I looked, looked away, looked again;  no, I wasn’t imagining it.  It’s a species that’s suspected to breed in tiny numbers in Northumberland, although there seems to be a lack of confirmed records for the breeding season.  Perhaps it was passing through, or maybe, just maybe, there is a breeding site in the Cheviots.

After the excitement of such an unexpected find, we had one major target species left for the day.  Ring Ouzel is another bird that you may find on coastal headlands in the autumn, and there are sporadic wintering records as well, but the place to see them is surely the remote upland valleys where they breed.  As we made our way up a steep-sided valley we had excellent views of a recently fledged Dipper, and I could hear an ouzel singing.  We continued and then the bird appeared overhead, flying from one side of the valley to the other, singing as it crossed.  It dropped out of sight, still singing, before retracing it’s route over the valley again.  This time we knew where it had landed so we crept along a track towards it.  Patience and persistence paid off (as they so often do) and we enjoyed prolonged views of the bird as it sang from a clump of heather on the skyline.  The rain was becoming colder and more persistent so we headed back to the car and then down the A697 back to civilisation.

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