North Northumberland Bird Club Dawn Chorus Walk

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A full complement of 20 people Early Birders gathered this year at Slainsfield near Etal for the annual Dawn Chorus outing of the North Northumberland Bird Club, on Saturday 4th May.  It was one of the largest parties in recent years.

After the appalling cold wet weather, and with springtime development some 2-3 weeks later than usual, it was no surprise that bird activity was reduced. But the sun was shining and the overnight gale had ceased.

As we gathered together, a pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers perched themselves on the very top of two tall Scots Pine trees, typical of this species' behaviour at this time of year. Garden Warblers, Willow Warblers and Coal Tits were obviously pleased to be able to come out into the sunshine for once, and a pair of Siskins danced overhead.

The open countryside around Slainsfield Moor then produced a fascinating morning's bird-watching and bird-listening. Wheatears and Linnets were everywhere as we made our way up past the Estate's Centenary and Diamond Jubilee plantations, of oak and ash respectively. It was not long before we had commented that this year is a definite case of "Ash before Oak". The countryman's saying implies "in for a soak", but we quickly concluded that it probably means "after a soak".

Skylarks and Meadow Pipits were all around us. The sunshine highlighted the yellow crown of the male Yellowhammer, contrasted, often in the same view, with the red blush of the male Linnet. Patches of gorse are usually alive with these two species.

As we admired the view up the Tweed Valley and across into the Lammermuirs, a fleeting glimpse of a Redstart and a pair of bubbling Curlew were two highlights. A Little Grebe (Dabchick) appeared briefly on the pond before darting into the extensive reed beds, but our attention was more occupied by a male Reed Bunting, another bird which in strong early morning sunshine is well worth studying for his colour patterns.

All great shows work towards a Grand Finale. Dawn Choruses cannot be scripted in that way of course, but on this occasion we were in for a real thrill. Making our way along the central track across the moor, we heard the unmistakable sound of a Grasshopper Warbler, ventriloqually confusing us – first over there, now over here... He was soon spotted on a small hawthorn bush and afforded us all great views.

The traditional Bird Club Breakfast at Heatherslaw usually provides the opportunity to record a few more species along the river and bank habitat, but this year we only added Mallard and House Sparrow. It shows how late things have been.

Over delicious Bacon Butties and coffee in the excellent Heatherslaw Tearooms we found that we had recorded 42 species – definitely a reduction on a normal year.
James Joicey

Species recorded: Mallard, Pheasant, Little Grebe, Buzzard, Kestrel, Moorhen, Curlew, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Rock Dove, Woodpigeon, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Skylark, Swallow, Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Wren, Dunnock, Robin, Redstart, Wheatear, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Grasshopper Warbler, Common Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Starling, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Siskin, Linnet, Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting

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