North Northumberland Bird Club, January meeting

A good audience turned up at Bamburgh Pavilion for the first indoor meeting of the North Northumberland Bird Club in 2013 to hear renowned naturalist and club member Roger Manning deliver a beautifully woven presentation entitled Haunts of the Highlands.

Well-known locally as the founder of the Alnwick Wildlife Group, Roger has had a lifelong passion for the Scottish Highlands and its wonderful wildlife and scenery.

Over the years he has visited virtually every corner and habitat of this area countless times, photographing it through the varied seasons and weather conditions to capture some stunning images.

He openly acknowledged the contribution made by his good friend, the celebrated professional wildlife photographer Laurie Campbell, of several stunning images – particularly of rare birds – to enhance his presentation and even apologised at the outset that his talk would embrace a far wider remit than the birds of the Highlands.

Beginning with a whistle-stop tour of the Highlands and its built environment, embracing scenic crofts, churches, bridges, brochs, crannogs, towns and villages, with passing reference to the history of this hard-won pattern of settlement, he then proposed exploring with us in greater detail various habitats from coast to mountain top to reveal the amazing diversity of its scenery and wildlife.

Starting with coasts, we visited the open firths and bays of the east coast from the SWT Reserve of Montrose Basin, past the fishing fleet of Peterhead and the sheltered waters of the Dornoch Firth to the wild cliff-girt headlands of Dunnet Head and Cape Wrath, before completing his journey down the West Coast to its sheltered sea lochs bathed in the warmer waters of the Gulf Stream.

We marvelled at the special plants of the coastal fringe such as the tiny endemic primula scotica and the alpine purple oxytropis (growing here at sea level on exposed northern coastlines), and such characteristic birds and animals as the black guillemot, long-tailed duck, white-tailed sea eagle, harbour seal and minke whale.

Moving on to the farmed environment, which occupies less than 10 per cent of the total land area, we explored everything from the rich barley growing areas of the east to the rugged slopes of the hill sheep farms in the west and the crofting communities, variously attracting such birds as wintering whooper swans, breeding corncrakes and the unwelcome attention of pesky ‘hoodies’ or hooded crows.

Lochs and rivers featured next, exploring such wild places as the Flow Country of Caithness to Loch Maree in Wester Ross and a wealth of plants and animals as varied as water lobelia, four-spotted chaser, otters, ospreys and a magnificent red-throated diver in full breeding plumage.

After the break we returned to the secret world of the forests, especially remnants of the great wood of Caledon, visiting Speyside and Rothiemurchus to seek out capercaillie, crossbill, crested tits, pine martens, wild cats and equally rare flowers such as the evergreen orchid creeping ladies tresses, the delightful twinflower linnaea borealis and the tiny little gem one-flowered wintergreen, also known as St Olaf’s candlestick, photographed at one of its secret locations in the Cairngorms National Park.

We passed through extensive moorland, home of the emperor moth, greenshank, hen harrier and the dashing little merlin to arrive at the mountains which dominate much of the Highland landscape.

Here among Roger’s beloved peaks of Glencoe, Ben Nevis, the Cairngorms, Stac Polly and Ben Arkle we discovered more treasured species such as mountain hare, snow bunting, ptarmigan and dotterel, ending with Laurie Campbell’s superb photograph of the iconic golden eagle, symbol of all that is wild and free.

Even if a few birders may have secretly longed for a presentation more narrowly focused on the birds of the Highlands, many others present – including this reviewer – marvelled at the sheer breadth and depth of Roger’s knowledge and the obvious passion he has for this magnificent wildlife and scenery.

Our next indoor meeting takes place in Bamburgh Pavilion on Friday, February 15, at 7.30pm, when our founder and club chairman Graham Bell will unwrap the many secrets of Bird Behaviour. Please note that the date has been unavoidably changed at short notice from an earlier published date.