Drumming and lekking; North Pennines 05/04/2014

by on Apr.21, 2014, under Birdwatching, Natural History, North Pennines, Northumberland, Photography

A pre-dawn start heralded a long anticipated day out with Sam and Brian, part of Sam’s prize from last years Natural History Society of Northumbria Photography competition.  Sam is part of a generation of young photographer/naturalists in Northumberland, and it was a pleasure to have a day discussing photography, wildlife and ethics with himself and Brian.

As we headed west, the first tendrils of daylight began creeping over the eastern horizon in the rear view mirror and a Tawny Owl perched on a fence post and another flew over as we stopped to have a look at it. The plan for the day was to visit the Black Grouse lek at Langdon Beck first, and then begin slowly exploring back through the North Pennines into Allendale.  I’ve had some stunning days with clients in the North Pennines, including a remarkable grouse and raptor day, but this one was breathtaking.  Visually, Black Grouse are spectacular, and the strutting and posturing of a group of lekking blackcock is one of those wildlife experiences that everyone should experience at least once, but the sound when you’ve got 30+ of these birds all kicking off at the same time is indescribable.

As the lek disassembled, we prowled the moors in search of subjects for Sam’s and Brian’s cameras.  Common Snipe and Lapwing were very close to the road, and when Sam mentioned that he’d always wanted to get close shots of Common Snipe, I thought I knew just the place.  Sure enough, the sky was filled with Snipe drumming, and several of them were taking a break, obligingly perched on fence posts 🙂  Throughout the day we encountered lots of those birds that are common on the coast in winter, but much more thinly spread on the moors in the Spring; Oystercatcher, Redshank, Golden Plover, Curlew.  An unexpected addtion to my Cow Green list presented itself in the form of a flock of 22 Whooper Swans.  That moorland speciality, Red Grouse, was seen in good numbers offering photogenic views in mist, rain, sunshine and everything else the elements could muster.  A heart-stopping moment at the end of the day produced an all too fleeting glimpse of the striking black-and white tail of what could only be a Rough-legged Buzzard, which sadly drifted behind nearby trees without lingering long enough to be captured on camera.

Now, all I’ve got to do is work out how to get the bubbling cooing sounds of the lek out of my head 😉

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