by Andy Johnston
Recently I walked up Meeth Gill just west of Reeth to the Old Gang Smelt Mills to see how many species of upland birds I could find, especially summer migrants. As this is the height of the grouse breeding season there were numerous groups of young, varying in size from just hatched to virtually full grown. Young grouse can fly at 12 days old, so it looks rather incongruous to see an adult fly off followed by a squadron of miniatures. I also spotted pleasing numbers of curlew, lapwing, golden plover, a pair of stone chats and many meadow pipits. While approaching the Old Gang I heard the ‘kronk kronk’ call of a raven. They are very inquisitive birds and will come and check you out.
The ruins of the smelting mill are surrounded by rock waste, an ideal habitat for wheatears, small migrant birds from Africa, which nest amongst the rocks. Nearby were two pairs of ring ousels, or mountain blackbirds. The male has a characteristic white bib on its chest, whereas the female resembles a garden blackbird. Walking back to the car and feeling pleased with my tally, I spotted a young cuckoo on a fence being fed by two meadow pipits! Eventually it flew off with its foster parents in pursuit.