WSRS Spring meeting - College Valley, Northumberland

May 9th to 12th 2008

The 2008 WSRS spring meeting was held at College Valley Estate is situated in North Northumberland in the heart of the Cheviot Hills, a large estate which lies entirely within the Northumberland National Park. The Mounthooley Bunkhouse where we stayed was accessible only by a few miles of single track road that wound its way along a beautiful valley and stopped at the house. The Bunkhouse is YHA accommodation and is open all year round.

Mounthooley bunkhouse

Mounthooley Bunkhouse on Monday morning

The house is at the bottom of a steep sided valley close to the river College Burn. Unfortunately due to the shape of the valley, escaping from the noise of the water was not easy. There were places that the natural terrain blocked the noise, or you could explore further a field by walking up the valley sides and over the hill tops on to moor land where birds such as skylarks and Curlew can be found.

There are plenty of woodland areas mainly of conifers, but some deciduous woods had been planted. The nearest wood, a few meters from the house was host to many species where I spent much of my recording time. Close to this wood I saw my first Barn Owl circling around at dusk and recorded my first Tawny Owls just after dark on all three nights. In fact as a new member to the society and new to bird recording, this event allowed me to see and hear a great many birds, too many to list, that I had not heard before in Manchester where I live. Had I ventured more into the hills I would have found more, but unfortunately I was suffering from a bad back. Each morning was an early rise, for those that wanted to, to record the dawn chorus. You did not have to walk far to find many birds to point your recording equipment at.

The weather was kind to us after a windy start on the Friday, Saturday was calm and sunny, Sunday not as sunny but still calm, a chilling mist was around for some of the day which seem to change the quality of the sound making it calmer. The mist continued on Monday morning where we had a short spell of rain, but that was when most were packing up anyway, except me, I stayed in the rain for some atmospheric recordings!

One unexpected bonus was a black grouse's lek just the other side of the wood near the house, while we were there only one male was there, but he did nevertheless perform and I managed to record.

Grouse lek location

Early morning looking out over the black grouse's lek

The venue was a great place to chat with like minded people and even as a beginner I was even able to assist a couple of members with technical matters, but I gained a great deal more from others with their vastly greater experience. I can wholeheartedly recommend the WSRS meetings to anyone that has not been before, this was my second, the first being Caerlaverock in January. I now have many hours of recordings to go through and I am looking forward very much to the next meeting.

Example recordings:

Song Thrush recorded at the lower corner of the wood near the house

House Martins in their nests on the side of the Bunkhouse on Sunday afternoon

Looking out onto Black Grouse's lek. Recorded with a reflector on 12 May 2008 at 4:53am

Michael Oates


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