Shining in the gloom

by on Mar.17, 2012, under Birdwatching, Kielder, Northumberland

The most memorable wildlife on a tour with clients can come in many forms; it may be the common, the uncommon, the localised, or just the way that it fits in its habitat, and the landscape and weather blend it in to the experience.

I arrived at Hexham railway station to find Steve and Jill already there, and a few minutes later Catherine arrived on the train from Windermere (via a few changes!).  We headed northwest along the North Tyne valley for a day birdwatching around Kielder and the borders and, just before Bellingham we left the road and headed along the forest tracks.  A fine drizzle was falling as we found our first Crossbills of the day.  By the time we returned to the C200 (and civilisation!) 2 hours later, we’d had lots of sightings of small groups and family parties.  Perching on the tops of small spruce trees, flying over and giving that distinctive ‘chip, chip’ call, Crossbills are always a delight to watch.  The stunning luminosity of the males carmine red rump is incredibly striking, particularly in the gloom and drizzle of the border forests when everything else seems to be monochrome.  Kestrels and Common Buzzards were soaring around, Curlews and Lapwings were sitting in fields between the sheep, Skylarks and Meadow Pipits flushed from the track sides and Siskins almost rivalled the Crossbills with some stunning adult males demonstrating how a quite common bird can still take your breath away when you look closely at it.

By early afternoon the cloud level had dropped to somewhere below the altitude we were at and, as we crossed a remote moorland road with the icy cold wind whistling  eerily around us, driving waves of rain horizontally across the fells, Steve spotted a grouse at the roadside.  From our position I couldn’t see the bird, but Catherine, sitting in the back of the car, was able to photograph what I assumed would be a Red Grouse.  Then it flew…revealing the white wing-bars of an adult Blackcock!  That’s a species we’ve watched and photographed with clients in the North Pennines, but not one that we’ve ever recorded on a Kielder Safari.  Important lesson, that one; expect the unexpected 🙂

One of our commonest species provided one of the highlights of the day;  hundreds of male Chaffinches were swarming around feeding stations and, at one point, we had 3 sitting on the roof of the car, 2 on the wing mirrors and 2 in the boot!  With Blue, Great and Coal Tits, Greenfinches, more Siskins, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Nuthatches the feeders were a blur of activity.

As we headed back down the valley at the end of the day, a flock of Redwings and Fieldfares flew from a nearby field and filled the air above us, a pair of Mandarins flew upriver, calling, and we left Kielder behind to return to the bustling metropolis of Hexham 🙂

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2 Comments for this entry

  • Jill & Steve

    Our second trip with you, Martin. Again, we had an excellent time even though the weather wasn’t so good. It was great being able to drive through parts of Kielder Forest the public don’t have access to and we have learnt new places to go birdwatching in the future. In fact we were at Kielder and Langholm yesterday but we have still to see the elusive Goshawk! Your ID rate for spotting birds is phenomenal. We look forward to our third tour with you in the not too distant future.

  • martin

    Hi Jill and Steve

    Looking forward to taking you out again 🙂

    We had another Kielder trip on Friday 23rd and didn’t see Goshawk, but had them in Harwood on Saturday 24th and Sunday 25th (again on a track with no vehicle access to the public)

    cheers
    martin

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