RSPB Leeds Local Group trip to Upper Teesdale on 23rd March 2024

38 of us joined the coach in Leeds as we experienced a mixture of sunshine and very chilly rain. This is one of our regular destinations at this time of year, and our target birds include black grouse as well as other moorland specialties, and also riverside species such as dipper and wagtails.

Our arrival at the High Force Hotel at 11am was in dry conditions, if a bit breezy, where we were joined by David, and from there we dispersed in groups down to the riverside walks. Some of us went downstream and others passed the ancient juniper forest towards the High Force Waterfall viewpoint.

The stronger than normal winds probably caused there to be less birds to be seen as they seemed to prefer keeping closer to cover. However, pied and grey wagtail, dipper, snipe and oystercatchers were among the species on view. On returning to the top of the steps leading back to the car park Geoff and Craig noted an unusual bird call coming from the tree canopy. The bird flew over our heads and landed briefly on a conifer, revealing itself to be a crossbill. This delighted Craig especially, as it was a lifer for him!

After lunch on the coach, we arrived at St John’s Chapel Road to have excellent, if distant, views of several small groups of black grouse. We next parked up at the Langdon Beck Hotel and most of the party headed out towards Widdy Bank Farm to see what was about on the adjacent moorland. Red grouse and meadow pipits soon showed up as well as further groups of black grouse, curlew, golden plover, redshank, skylark and an early sand martin. No sign of a ring ouzel this year unfortunately.

During this walk the rain began to fall in earnest and the wind speed became increasingly strong at times. This called for a short respite back at the hotel for a sustaining hot or cold drink and a helping of cake. With just under an hour left before our scheduled departure the weather eased slightly so some of us began to disperse along the byways around the hotel to see if anything else could be spotted. John found a woodcock after he had noticed something land by the bridge next to the hotel, and more crossbills were seen briefly in the hotel garden. More black grouse were seen in nearby fields and Neville spotted a crossbill alight on the top of a conifer and it remained long enough to allow a distant photograph to be taken.

We departed on time at 5pm having spotted 50 species whilst on location, which was pleasing for such a limited set of habitats. Regular participants on these expeditions were struggling to remember if there had been a sighting of a crossbill on the official club lists in the past. There might have been one occurrence but it will have to be checked against the written records!

Thank you to Russell our driver for the day, and to Steph and Sue for ably taking on the admin tasks for the trip, and of course to the absent Pauline for organising our program of outings.

Geoff and Maggie Craigs