Saturday 20 June 2015. Langholm or Muckle Toon as it is referred to locally has an Adventure Festival this weekend providing a range of outdoor activities. I booked myself onto the Dawn Chorus walk, which started at 06:30am, in the hope of seeing a Hen Harrier. 11 of us including our excellent walk leader, Dr Cat Barlow, and three other local helpers met at the appointed time for a mini-bus ride to the start of the walk at Cooms some 7 miles away.
The weather was disappointing with low cloud and drizzle, restricting visibility to a few hundred yards – not ideal but better than constant rain. The 7 mile walk started high and finished low which meant that we ascended 937ft and descended 1,412ft. As we stopped many times to observe the birds it took us 5 hours to complete the walk.
We started by spotting Meadow Pipits, Whinchats and Stonechats, all of which are fairly common moorland species. We also saw Snipe, Sand Martins, Dipper and Goosander. A Cuckoo was calling in nearby trees but couldn’t be seen. Cat stopped on the road from Cooms to show us a recently abandoned Meadow Pipit’s nest which contained 3 eggs. She thought that being so close to the road was the reason for the abandonment. Later, as we walked across the moors, a Meadow Pipit flew up at Cat’s feet revealing the location of its nest which contained 4 eggs. It was so well hidden that we would never have found it had it not made a dash for it as we approached. Cat told us that the Cuckoo’s use the Meadow Pipit’s nests as homes for their own eggs.
One of the two highlights of the walk was to see a male Hen Harrier fly overhead. Although it was still fairly misty, we had reasonably good views. This was the first time that I’d seen a Hen Harrier. Cat told us that our walk would take us close to a nest where a Hen Harrier was sitting on eggs. We were asked to keep quite as we walked close by so as not to disturb the bird.
The second highlight of the day was to watch two baby Barn Owl chicks being ringed. Cat is licensed to undertake this task and she was assisted by a colleague who had removed the chicks from their nest in an old barn and was waiting for our arrival. The chicks were only 3 or 4 weeks old and didn’t seem to mind being handled as one of them was passed around each of the group to hold in their hands. With the ringing completed we were only 15 minutes or so away from basecamp and Cat phoned ahead to order bacon sandwiches which were included in the cost of the walk at only £8. We were also given a goody bag containing booklets on walks in the area and a small re-useable water pouch.
As sod’s law would have it, the mists rolled back as we came to the end of the walk and we arrived back at basecamp just in time to catch a demonstration of mountain bike stunt riding by the famous Danny MacAskilll. Despite the indifferent weather, I really enjoyed this walk and the company of my fellow birders.