On a calm, bright and pleasantly warm day last week, I paid a visit to one of my favourite picnic spots in the Borders.
High on a hillside overlooking one of the most scenic parts of the Tweed Valley, is the Forest Enterprise picnic site at Thornylee.
With its picnic tables and network of way marked walks, from the easy to more strenuous, it as an ideal location to spend an afternoon in the great outdoors. The hillside is peppered with red-berried elder trees which were just coming into flower – much earlier than the common variety. The path was erupting with the vigorous growth of spring flowers – mainly forget-me-nots – while dog violets were beginning to appear along the verges.
Sitting quietly on one of the many seats, I tried to pick out the many birds which were singing, above the traffic noise from the busy road at the foot of the hill. Most numerous were the willow warblers, but I could also hear long-tailed tits, blackcap, chiffchaff, and chaffinch, and from the opposite side of the valley I could just make out a singing mistle thrush.
Closer at hand, a newcomer suddenly burst forth with a scratchy, melodic song, followed by a series of drawn-out descending notes. It took me some time to track it down to the top of a nearby red-berried elder. Once I managed to focus in on it with my binoculars, I could see a little brown bird with a streaky breast.
Suddenly, it took off, but instead of flying away, it went straight up, singing as it went.
When it reached its zenith, it plummeted downward with wings outstretched, giving out the aforementioned descending notes, before settling once more on the same treetop.
There was no doubt about it, I was looking at a tree pipit. They are the arboreal version of the much commoner meadow pipit, but are much rarer here in the Borders as their habit requirements are so precise.
They must have hillside birch woodland, which is not as common here as in the Highlands, where they are much more numerous. I sat for ages watching this amazing song flight, from a seldom seen little brown bird,
thoroughly enjoying the performance.
Coincidentally, on my way home, I stopped off for another walk along the Tweed below Ashiestiel Bridge and I saw another tree pipit, also in full song. Are they becoming more common in the Borders?
I would be interested to hear from readers if they have encountered them in other areas. Drop me an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org