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OUZELS BY BLEAKHOPE - 8 June 2015

It reads like a book title. Maybe it will be some day if I ever write up my reminiscences of local walks. This one was another venture into the Cheviot Hills - a circular walk with my wife in the Upper Breamish Valley. It has been a long time since we last parked a car at Hartside and gone walking westward into the empty heart of Northumberland's National Park. We headed up to Little Dod and down the spectacular Salter's Road, past the two Bleakhope farms and along the valley bottom before turning right with a steep ascent up to High Cantle, then back east through the upland heather moorland to Ritto Hill before descending into Linhope and returning back to the car. Strenuous climbs uphill, but well worth it for the great views on a clear day.

But what of the birds? Back to my title and an encounter with 2 Ring Ouzels. We recognised the clacking as a female Ring Ouzel carrying food broke for cover by a small conifer plantation next to Low Bleakhope. She was clearly agitated by our presence and we soon saw why. Her fledgling sat still among the tussock grass. Tail-less, dark and 'scaly' in appearance ... its breast and belly feathers edged in white. We watched them both for a while before moving on. Soon we found more hungry youngsters, this time by the river as 2 young Wheatears were being fed by both parents. Common Sandpipers 'piped', Lesser Redpoll called and 3 Raven appeared in flight above the hillside to the west. They looked decidedly ragged. Were they moulting or were their missing feathers the scars of shotgun? Not everyone welcomes Ravens, even in a national park.

Mark Winter


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