Tag: North Pennines AONB

Black Grouse Bonanza Day 1; Nothing to grouse about

by on Apr.22, 2013, under Birdwatching, North Pennines, Northumberland

As I drove to Peth Head Cottage on Thursday afternoon, the rain was hammering against the car windscreen.  Friday’s forecast was good though so, after a meal at The Travellers Rest in Slaley, I reminded Derek and Deirdre that we would have an early start the next morning.

19/04/2013 05:00…the incessant ringing of the alarm pierced the depths of my sleep and I jumped out of bed, showered and opened my bedroom window.  The dawn chorus, mainly Blackbirds, Robins and Song Thrushes, was deafening, and the last remnants of rain were pattering down as we set off across the moors to a Black Grouse lek.  Roe Deer were watching us from a roadside field and a Tawny Owl flew across in front of us, no doubt heading for a secluded daytime roosting site.  First lek site, no birds, second lek site two Greyhens and a distant altercation between two Blackcock along a drystone wall as Curlew, Snipe, Oystercatcher and Lapwing displayed nearby and a Common Buzzard lumbered its way across the horizon.  A third site produced the goods though as, adjacent to a field filled with summer-plumaged Golden Plover, two Blackcock were strutting their stuff for the benefit of three Greyhens…who watched them with what appeared to be complete indifference 🙂

After returning to Peth Head for a delicious, and very filling, breakfast (accompanied by Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Siskins, Robins, Dunnocks and a Reed Bunting on the feeders just outside the dining room window) we set out again.  By now, the sun was up, bathing the moors in sublime warm tones, and Derek spotted the tell-tale white flash of a displaying Blackcock.  This bird was strutting around next to two Greyhens, head down, tail up, pausing occasionally to stand bolt upright before jumping in the air and singing.  Just beyond the lekking lothario, a Short-eared Owl was quartering the moor.  Backwards and forwards on long narrow wings, the owl flew closer to our position, until eventually binoculars were put down when the field of view was completely filled with yellow-eyed menace as the owl flew over the bonnet of the car before veering away just inches from the windscreen.

Deeper into the North Pennines AONB, over moorland liberally sprinkled with pairs of Red Grouse, flocks of Golden Plover flying around and giving their plaintive call, with a Dunlin easily picked out in one flock by it’s small size, and farmland with Brown Hares chasing each other, Derek’s sharp eyes picked out a bird on telegraph wires…and we had our first Ring Ouzel of the trip.  Singing it’s simple song, this could well have been the bird that I watched with Sarah in late March. A pair of Ring Ouzels followed soon after, staying just ahead of the car as we traversed a narrow road high above Weardale.  Deirdre spotted several displaying Blackcock and we passed from Weardale into Upper Teesdale.  Walking the remote moors produced close views of Red Grouse, Golden Plover, Wheatear, Skylark and Meadow Pipit before a completely unexpected find; for a second I wasn’t sure what I was watching, as a large brown and white bird drifted over the moor with deep lazy wingbeats, but as I lifted my binoculars I could barely contain my excitement as I let Derek and Deirdre know that there was an Osprey flying by!  We watched the bird as it hovered and then dived into a nearby reservoir, but it’s departure route took it out of sight so we didn’t see if it was successful in its hunt.  A pair of Goosander were feeding along the reservoir edge and, as they eventually crossed the open water, they picked up a Tufted Duck for company.

I had a hunch that Black Grouse would be lekking late afternoon, so we returned to a site that had held just one resting Blackcock earlier in the day.  Sure enough, ‘the boys’ had gathered for a bit of a barney; 15 of them had turned up – seven obvious pairs of combatants and one bird sitting off to one side holding his wings, head and tail in the typical display posture but just standing still and watching the series of duels that were taking place in front of him.  A couple of them broke out into physical fights, and all of the birds were calling as the lek reached a crescendo before, as if someone had flicked a switch, they suddenly lowered their undertail coverts, lifted their heads, folded their wings back in and started nonchalantly pottering around the gladiatorial arena as if nothing had happened.  Just as exciting though, was what was going on above the lek.  In my field of view I could see a Curlew drop almost vertically before heading skyward again.  I raised my binoculars to follow it’s path and as it dropped again it was harassing, with the assistance of a flock of Black-headed Gulls, a male Goshawk! Open moorland may not be typical habitat for this fearsome inhabitant of our upland forests, but it isn’t the first time we’ve seen one out of context in late April.

Back across the moors to Hexhamshire we saw more Red Grouse, more Black Grouse and, after a quick stop back at Peth Head we headed out to eat at the Dipton Mill Inn.  We followed that with a drive into Slaley Forest for Woodcock and Tawny Owls then, before retiring to bed, I stood in the dark outside the cottage and listened as at least four Tawny Owls called from close by.  A superb end to an excellent day 🙂

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North Pennines 04/09/12

by on Sep.05, 2012, under Birdwatching, North Pennines, Northumberland

One of my favourite locations, at a time of year when it isn’t often visited, and returning clients (always a pleasure!) made for an excellent day’s birdwatching in southwest Northumberland and north west County Durham yesterday.

I collected Reg and Val from their home in Newcastle and, as we headed west along the Tyne valley, the clear blue sky promised a good day.  Starting with a walk along the River Allen, we soon encountered a mixed flock that included Nuthatch, Coal Tit, Great Tit, Blackbird and Robin.  The river produced some stunning Grey Wagtails and a brood of Goosanders, shepherded by mum as they scoured the river, heads held below the surface as the current carried them along.  Common Buzzards were calling from high against the azure sky and we could have been forgiven for thinking it was a nice Spring day – other than that the only birds singing were Robins.

Once we were out on the moors. we started to encounter Red Grouse.  Always a stunning bird, whether you’re looking at the handsome males or the intricately patterned females, the sunlight really brought out the best in this moorland specialist.  Black Grouse proved slightly more difficult, unsurprising as there was a ‘stiff’ breeze racing across the fells of the North Pennines AONB 🙂  After a lot of effort, we did find three young Blackcocks sheltering between clumps of rush, and they were very obliging for Reg’s camera.  As we crossed one (very) minor road, we came across my own personal highlight of the day.  Two Ravens appeared over a nearby ridge and headed towards a plantation at the top of the ridge ahead of us.  As they soared higher, a third Raven came into view and began tumbling.  The two closer birds responded with a breathtaking display of aerobatics and, as they plunged towards the ground before swooping up again, their deep croaking calls carried on the breeze to where we were sitting.  A special bird in a special place, and simply awe-inspiring 🙂

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North Pennines Wild Watch

by on May.23, 2012, under Birdwatching, North Pennines

We’ve had the first two bird ID sessions for the North Pennines WildWatch project already, and both have produced some excellent sightings during the ‘in the field’ bit of the course.

The first session, at Eggleston, produced one outstanding bird – at least for those in the group who weren’t impatiently hurrying back for their bread, cheese and soup…as a group of us watched a Song Thrush gathering food, I looked skywards (a good habit to get into, you never know what could be overhead) and there was an Osprey 🙂 Bird of the day/month/year for those who were lucky enough to see it.

One of my favourite species rounded off the first session, and the second session around Muggleswick as well, as we watched Woodcock roding and chasing each other.  The end of the first session produced another exciting bird that was missed by the group that headed straight back to the cars, as a few of us heard, and then saw, a Tawny Owl.

Both sessions concentrated on identifying birds by song and call, with paticipants getting to grips with Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Blackbird, Blackcap, Willow Warbler,  and Chiffchaff amongst others, and the third session, at Lambley, will have the same focus.  I changed approach between the first two sessions, and I’m busy restructuring the course for the third session based on the teaching/learning experiences gained during the first two.  I knew there was a reason we bought a parabolic microphone (there’s a reason for everything, we just don’t always realise it at the time…) 😉

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North Pennines – Busman’s Holiday

by on May.04, 2012, under Birdwatching, North Pennines

We’ve got a busy few weeks coming up, giving talks locally, exhibiting at the Scottish Bird Fair and delivering the bird identification training courses for the North Pennines WildWatch programme.  Once that’s out of the way, we’ll be into our busy period for trips out with clients, and then delivering more training courses – this time on offshore wildlife survey techniques for MARINElife/North East Cetacean Project and our local Wildlife Trusts.

With all of that in mind we had a weekend in the North Pennines, staying at Saughy Rigg Farm and making an early start on Saturday to visit a Black Grouse lek.  Armed with our new Telinga Pro8W and Stereo DATmic…we sat in the car with the heaters on as the temperature hit 3C and it started snowing 🙂  We could see the grouse – they were sitting huddled in clumps of rush, looking decidely miserable – but they weren’t performing (at least not early on Saturday morning).  A ghostly-pale Short-eared Owl braved the elements, quartering the grassland in search of prey, and the mic picked up the sound of drumming Snipe, calling Curlew and cackling Red Grouse, but once the Blackcock started lekking they were upwind of us and the wind tunnel effect of trying to record them led to a change of tactic and concentrating on photography.

Over the course of the two days, we had excellent views of Red Grouse, Black Grouse, Golden Plover, Curlew, Common Snipe, Redshank, Curlew, Brown Hare, Roe Deer and Rabbit.  The maze of little roads throughout the area offer lots of photographic opportunities so we made the most of them 🙂

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Greyhens, Allendale, Northumberland 28/04/2012

 
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Brown Hare, Weardale 28/04/2012

 
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Golden Plover, Upper Teesdale 28/04/2012

 
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Black Grouse, Weardale 28/04/2012

 
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lekking Blackcocks, Upper Teesdale 28/04/2012

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Nothing to grouse about

by on Mar.29, 2012, under Birdwatching, North Pennines, Northumberland

On a beautiful spring day, with raptors soaring against an azure sky, and birdsong carrying on the breeze, just being in the landscape is an experience.

As I collected Peter and Margaret from Barnard Castle for a day of birdwatching around the North Pennines AONB, the temperature gauge on the car hit 18C, and we set off in search of one species in particular.  Our lunch stop, overlooking a Black Grouse lek site, was accompanied by Curlew, Common Snipe, Meadow Pipit and Golden Plover all singing.  As we went deeper into the hills, a Black Grouse stared at us imperiously from a rushy field.  As we enjoyed very close views of the handsome bird, two cyclists came along the road and he flushed…along with another 3 Blackcock.  As Margaret kept a close eye on the birds as they landed and began making their way uphill, Curlew and Golden Plover  landed nearby and began calling.  Then Margaret found another 3 Blackcock, flying by and landing much closer, and watched them before asking “you saw where they landed, can you see them now?”.  I couldn’t but, having watched exactly what they did, Margaret described where they were, and what they were doing.  Incredibly, they were only a few metres from where they’d landed, but had managed to position themselves amongst the rushes and stopped moving so that, unless you happened to be watching them when they did that, you couldn’t see where they were.

As the day continued and we headed across into Upper Teesdale, we found some very close Black Grouse, Common Snipe drumming overhead, Wheatears flitting along dry stone walls, Red Grouse cackling in the heather, a Short-eared Owl quartering grassland in stunning late-afternoon light and 2 Hen Harriers.  That last sighting was exciting, and yet sobering at the same time; it’s been a long time since they bred successfully in that vast area of prime habitat.

Fittingly, our last sighting of the day was of 2 more Black Grouse, picking their way through sun-dappled woodland in the early evening.

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Getting ready

by on Mar.07, 2011, under Birdwatching, North Pennines, Northumberland, Photography, Southeast Northumberland

We just had an all too infrequent ocurrence; both of us at home and able to go out and about together for a whole weekend 🙂

On Saturday we decided to concentrate on our local area.  Southeast Northumberland offers some excellent wildlife and birdwatching opportunities and, with bookings for the rest of this year coming thick and fast, we’re checking over our Safari Day routes whenever we get the chance so that we hit the ground running once the season gets properly underway.

If our morning excursion is the shape of things to come then it’s going to be an excellent Spring 🙂  Little Owl, Roe Deer (including a handsome buck with velvet antlers, who watched us between the trees as we trained our binoculars on him), Red Squirrel, point-blank views of Treecreeper, Nuthatch and Great Spotted Woodpecker and lots of fresh Otter spraint all combined into a memorable morning.

As dusk approached we were out and about again.  We monitor a few Badger setts regularly and the activity around the sett we checked on Saturday evening was exactly what we’d expect in early March.  Another successful outing 🙂

Yesterday we were doing something completely different (although birdwatching featured again, of course).  We set out for the southwestern border of Northumberland, and beyond, as we pre-walked the route that Martin will be leading for the North Pennines AONB ‘Know Your North Pennines’ course on Wednesday.  Journeying to Upper Teesdale gave us the chance to check out some of our favourite Black Grouse sites en route (you’ll be pleased to know that the species hasn’t vanished from Northern England!) and enjoy the sight of Lapwings displaying and flocks of Golden Plover  in the fields.  Our photography holiday in late October ‘Autumn Colours’ is based in the North Pennines and we finished the day with a visit to one of the area’s gems.

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Low Force

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