Wild Intrigue | Rebecca’s first day with Wild Intrigue
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Rebecca’s first day with Wild Intrigue

My name is Rebecca Gibson and I am the Creative Content Developer at Wild Intrigue. I’m currently in my second year studying Wildlife Media at the University of Cumbria and loving every minute. Photographing and learning about the wildlife I love surrounded by the beautiful Lake District is something I never dreamed I could achieve.

When I began my internship at Wild Intrigue I was a little nervous but also incredibly excited. I had the chance to take photos and film during Wild Intrigue Expeditions and blog about my experiences. It was also a great opportunity for me to develop my fieldcraft and learn so much more about British wildlife. As it happened, photography and nature writing are two of my biggest passions, so as I set off on my first expedition to Chesters I couldn’t wait to see what the weekend would entail.

The drive to the Northumberland National Park was stunning. As the sun beat down on my right arm I was a little nervous I hadn’t brought the sun cream, but luckily the light was just right to make Northumberland’s hills shine gold, without turning me tomato red.

After meeting Heather, we drove to a top-secret spot where adders (Vipera berus) were frequently sighted. Due to the adder’s rarity in the UK, it is important not to broadcast locations of their possible breeding sites, to avoid a rush of human activity that could potentially disturb the snakes. As the afternoon was still very hot, we found eight adders basking, both males and larger females. In fact, in one spot there were three males writhing together, perhaps in an attempt to attract a watching female. Getting the chance to see and photograph adders so clearly was a real treat for me. While maintaining our distance, we watched them bask for nearly an hour. Though I could have stayed far longer, it was time to head to Chesters bothy before it grew dark.

Leaving the adders behind, we drove to the end of the road, where urbanisation ended and true wilderness began. Shouldering our bags for the weekend, we began the two-mile walk through the beautiful Breamish Valley, accompanied only by the bleating of sheep and the infamous scraping call of pheasants (Phasianus colchicus).

As the beautiful day slowly drew to a close, the hills faded from shimmering orange to dusky pink, with a patchwork of dark green conifers and purple heather. Before long we reached a patch of conifer forest that looked like something from a fairytale. As we threaded up the pinecone-dotted track I couldn’t help but think how well a pack of wolves could fit in here, miles from interfering humans.

Just as we emerged on the other side of the forest and paused for a breather to gaze upon some truly stunning views of the River Breamish, Heather explained how there were tales of red squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris) in the Cheviot Hills, but due to habitat fragmentation resulting in isolated patches of woodland, she didn’t think the area could support a breeding population. As if we’d been overheard, a high-pitched chattering sounded from above and two red squirrels appeared, hopping from bough to bough and scrabbling up the trunks. Not only were these the first red squirrels I’d seen in the wild, they were the first individuals that Heather had seen at Chesters, so it was a special moment indeed.

After such good luck, we almost had a skip in our step as we made the rest of the way up the hill to Chesters bothy. Almost immediately we were met by a flock of fieldfare (Turdus pilaris) as they swooped overhead, another new species for me.

We took our bags inside then sat on the dry stone wall looking out over the garden, listening to the evening’s birds before the generator drowned them out. Amongst the shrieking pheasants, there was the distant hoot of a tawny owl (Strix aluco), and later when the sun finally sunk behind the hills, the bizarre wing beats of snipe (Gallinago gallinago) reverberated across the landscape. If you’ve never heard a snipe drumming, any description I could give would never give it justice. It’s a sound I’ll never grow tired of hearing. It reminded me that I was in the middle of nowhere. I was cut off from technology and we needed a fire to get hot water – it’s the sort of living many people have never truly experienced. Sitting outside in complete silence could seem eerie, but to me there’s a haunting beauty to the only traffic being speeding fieldfare and the drumming snipe. It’s like stepping back in time to when technology was an unheard-of impossibility.

Later, when Cain arrived, the three of us headed over the hills in search of long-eared owls (Asio otus), a bird Cain was eager to tick off during our stay at Chesters. The night was as beautiful as the day had been – the sky was clear and a huge ethereal glow encircled the moon. Sadly, the owls didn’t appear, but a night walk was the perfect end to my first day in the Cheviots. When we returned to Chesters I sat by the fire and spent some time writing about the day to jog my memory when I returned home. I knew that, without a doubt, my notebook would be essential this weekend.

Species seen/heard:

  • Adder Vipera berus
  • Coal tit Periparus ater
  • European hare Lepus europaeus
  • Fieldfare Turdus pilaris
  • Great tit Parus major
  • Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus
  • Pheasant Phasianus colchicus
  • Red squirrel Sciurus vulgaris
  • Robin Erithacus rubecula
  • Snipe Gallinago gallinago
  • Song thrush Turdus philomelos
  • Tawny owl Strix aluco