Tag: Red Grouse

Hazy, lazy afternoon; North Pennines Safari 17/05/18

by on May.19, 2018, under North Pennines

I collected James and Emma from Hexham and we headed into the North Pennines for a day searching for the flora and fauna of the hills and moorland…

We were soon watching our first Black Grouse of the day, which remarkably also proved to be our only Black Grouse of the day, as Common Snipe flew by and Lapwing and Curlew displayed over the road ahead of us.  Crossing heather moorland we started to find Red Grouse, then more Red Grouse and more Red Grouse; engaging in territorial disputes with each other, chuckling from the fellsides or just quizzically raising a big red eyebrow in our direction they provide entertainment whenever we come across them.  Brown Hares loped along the road ahead of our car and almost every fence post seemed to be adorned with a Meadow Pipit.  Our post-lunch walk produced the best display of Spring Gentian and Birds-eye Primrose that I’ve seen in ten years of leading tours in the North Pennines and we could hear, but not see, Peregrines as Grey Wagtails were flycatching along shallow streams.  eventually we did see a Peregrine, spotted by James as it soared distantly before drifting right over the car, and the plaintive call of a Golden Plover heralded a flyby from the beautiful black-bellied gold-spangled ‘Pennine Whistler’ before we headed back across the moors to the bustling metropolis of Newcastle 🙂

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Into the arena; North Pennines Safari 03/05/18

by on May.07, 2018, under Uncategorized

After collecting David from Newbiggin we headed across to Hexham and quickly found Becky, for her 2nd day out with NEWT, and then Emma and Rob before heading into the North Pennines, with one particular experience high on everybody’s wish list for the day…

In a bitterly cold westerly wind, birds were mainly keeping their heads down.  Red Grouse popped up on the heather, Wheatears and Meadow Pipits hopped along drystone walls, Snipe, Curlew and Lapwing were displaying and Buzzard and Kestrel occasionally braved the breeze.  A Red Squirrel ran across the road and vanished into a tree, a Stoat ran up a wall and Roe Deer were grazing in the relative shelter of the valley bottoms.  A quick check of our favourite Black Grouse spot just before lunch produced no birds, and just a lone Blackcock feeding in a nearby field.  A post-lunch walk didn’t last as long as planned, with fairly ferocious wind-chill making it seem more mid-Winter than early May so we headed back to look for grouse

Where there were no grouse a couple of hours earlier, now there were 17 Blackcock, some feeding in long grass and some sleeping in the open.  Then, an unseen trigger launched the lek.  White tail feathers could be seen with the naked eye from our vantage point and the birds were struggling for dominance of the gladiatorial arena.  Some were half-heated about it and quickly stopped displaying and just watched the remaining birds.  Some were aggressively charging at each other and, eventually, just two birds were still displaying.  One seemed to be the alpha male of the lek, perched on a tussock in the centre of the lek he was holding the prime spot.  Undaunted, his one remaining challenger continued displaying and, as far as we could tell, the challenger had more stamina than the ‘king of the castle’ who lowered his tail feathers, dropped his wings, hopped down from the tussock and made a slow dignified exit from the arena into the surrounding long grass before flying away and leaving the one last displaying Blackcock strutting his stuff 🙂

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…and more persistence :-) Bespoke Cheviot Valleys birdwatching 29/04/18

by on May.01, 2018, under Cheviot Valleys, Uncategorized

Driving towards Bywell to collect Peter and Pat for a day in the Cheviot Valleys I was considering the weather forecast that had suggested it would be dry, bright and breezy.  I was mainly considering it because it was raining…

Dippers were carrying food to their nests, and carrying faecal sacs away to throw in the river.  A Common Sandpiper went swee-wee-wee-wee-wee along the shallow bubbling stream and Grey Wagtails were proving elusive.  Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Chaffinch and Blackbird were singing and a yaffling Green Woodpecker eventually flew by and perched where we could see it for a minute or so.  Red Grouse were chuckling on the heather-clad slopes above us and a male Merlin dashed by and over a ridge.  With hail showers, and snow on much higher ground, Meadow Pipits were coming down by the dozen, off the moor to the valley bottom as Curlews were song-flighting .  After lunch we headed up a narrow steep valley in search of Ring Ouzel.  For around 30mins we could hear one singing, but we couldn’t see him.  A Cuckoo called from the opposite side of the valley and then flew by before perching on a dry stone wall, and the ouzel continued to sing from a hidden perch.  Then, in a moment that couldn’t have been scripted better the Sun broke through the cloud and illuminated a small crag on the skyline – just as a male Ring Ouzel settled on it after chasing another ouzel across the heather 🙂

Another great day out with clients who are serious birdwatchers 🙂

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Another raptor day :-) Kielder Safari 05/04/18

by on Apr.06, 2018, under Hen Harrier, Kielder

When we’ve got a day in and around Kielder and the Scottish Borders ahead of us what I’m hoping for is blue sky, not too much cloud and a nice breeze…exactly what we’d got as I collected Ian and Ian from Newbiggin, Joan and Jerry from Hexham and Duncan and Laura from Bellingham…

As Chaffinches belted out their song from the treetops, Coal Tits sang, a Green Woodpecker yaffled and a small flock of Common Crossbills plundered the cones of a Larch tree nearby a male Goshawk flew along the treeline opposite our watch point.  Common Buzzards began displaying as 2 more Goshawks put in a brief appearance and a Sparrowhawk provided a nice comparison with it’s much larger, and really rather different relative.  A very obliging Goldcrest was just a few metres away from us as Ian spotted an Osprey which spent a couple of minutes hovering over the water before deciding there wasn’t anything worth pursuing.

The afternoon managed to equal, if not surpass, the morning’s raptor watching.  Shaggy Wild Goats grazed close to the road, Skylark and Meadow Pipit flew across the narrow road ahead of us as we crossed the moors, more Common Buzzards, including 8 in the air at the same time along one ridge, Merlins angrily buzzing Common Buzzards and Ravens and then, just about the best raptor-watching experience there is…as Red Grouse cackled from the heather nearby a male Hen Harrier drifted along the skyline before rising and falling on deep deliberate wingbeats.  Then a female rose from the heather and mirrored his skydancing display.  The exuberant glorious synchronised dance of the grey male and ringtail was repeated every few minutes before they both raced angrily across the fell to see off a Common Buzzard that had drifted just too close for their liking, and we headed from the hills down through Kielder and back to civilisation 🙂

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Omens; Focus on Northumberland Day 1 and 2 17-18/02/18

by on Feb.18, 2018, under Uncategorized

Day 1 17/02/18

After collecting John and Dani from Hexham we headed to The Battlesteads; our base for the next three days.  Saturday’s evening session at the observatory featured some clear sky and we managed a quick binocular tour of Orion, Leo, Gemini, Cassiopeia, Auriga and the Plough before the rain eventually drove us back to the warmth of the dry room.

Day 2 18/02/18

Today was our inland wildlife/landscape photography day and we headed south into the North Pennines.  The road sides still had a fair amount of snow and a couple of the minor roads that we would have used to cross some of the higher hills weren’t safely passable but a brief detour soon had us next to flocks of Lapwing, Starling and Common GullRed Grouse were their usual obliging selves, sitting well within camera range and chuckling away at us before delivering an ominous ‘go back, go back, go back’ – perhaps they’d had a look at the road conditions already?  The avian specialty of the hills was there in good numbers too; 51 Black Grouse during the day included a single flock of 40 birds before drizzle and fog closed in around us.  Flocks of Rook and Jackdaw flew in front of us on their way to roost, dark birds against a darkening sky as the weather followed us down from the hills and we headed back to civilisation and The Battlesteads.

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Localised weather systems; Cheviot Valleys group birdwatching 11/07/17

by on Jul.13, 2017, under Cheviot Valleys

Watching the weather forecast on the breakfast news, I was confident that any rain we encountered on our day in the Cheviot Valleys would be quickly passing showers…

As I collected Mike and the other 12 members of his group from Belford there was a steady drizzle, and I was questioning the forecast already 😉 Heading into the hills we were soon watching Pheasant, Red-legged Partridge and a Brown Hare that loped across the road in front of us before heading up a rough track and out of sight.  The air was damp and warm; perfect conditions for midges and the Sand Martins, House Martins and Swallows that were busy hoovering them up.  Lesser Redpoll were trilling overhead, the high-pitched calls of Siskin pierced the damp air and a female Red Grouse was leading her chicks through the heather as we headed along the path to higher ground.  You should be careful what you wish for, and I’d just mentioned that a slightly stiffer breeze would suppress the degree of annoyance that the midges tend to bring, when the breeze did start to pick up a bit.  Eventually the stiff easterly was driving rain into the valley and the forecast was looking like a wild guess at what the weather was actually going to do.  I suggested that we retreat to the lower reaches of the valley and see what the weather was like down there.  It was better, much better in fact and our second walk of the day, following a lunch stop that was accompanied by a very obliging Yellowhammer, brought Common Buzzard, Common Sandpiper, Grey Wagtail, Curlew, a family of Whinchat and, after a lot of effort, the two target species for the afternoon – Dipper and Ring Ouzel – as a young Roe Deer watched us from the other side of the valley.  Just a few miles back along the road on our return journey to Belford the roads were dry, bone dry and it seemed that we’d been enjoying a remarkable bit of micro-climate 🙂

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Chorus of the valleys; Bespoke Cheviot Valleys Safari 12/05/17

by on May.16, 2017, under Cheviot Valleys

I collected John and Kate from Church Point at 06:00 and we headed westwards towards the Cheviot massif…

Stepping out of the car in a cold breeze, the density of bird song was like a wall of sound.  Willow Warbler, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Robin, Chaffinch, Chiffchaff and Blackcap were all belting out their best tunes, while Oystercatcher, Greylag Goose and Canada Goose provided an accompaniment that was akin to a 3 year old banging a pan with a spoon.  The complex songs of Sedge Warbler and Skylark added to the aural backdrop and the buzzing trill of Lesser Redpoll overhead added an occasional background note.  Brown Hares were running along tractor tyre tracks through long crops and a young Roe Deer seeemd more puzzled than scared by the car.  Common Pheasant and Red-legged Partridge were a reminder of the main managed purpose of the valleys, while on the higher slopes Red Grouse were chuckling, Curlew were displaying and a Common Snipe was singing from the top of an isolated hawthorn as the valley bottom delivered the riparian triumvirate of Dipper, Common Sandpiper and Grey WagtailHouse Martins were gathering mud to add to their nests, Swallows were hawking insects as the air warmed slightly, Treecreeper and Tree Pipit were both, unsurprisingly, in trees, a Green Woodpecker was yaffling but didn’t show itself and a Cuckoo was singing persistently from a vantage point high in a bare tree.  As far as we could tell, he was singing constantly for at least 3 hours then, as we had lunch, a second Cuckoo flew over the hillside, pursued by a crowd of Meadow Pipits, and the singer flew from his perch to chase the interloper away down the valley.

I’m an evening person, but really enjoy early starts for our inland locations 🙂

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Breezy Black Grouse; North Pennines Bespoke Birdwatching 25/04/17

by on Apr.26, 2017, under North Pennines

Tuesday was my third consecutive 03:30 alarm call and, bleary eyed, I cleared the snow off the car ahead of a trip to the North Pennines with one specific aim – to watch Black Grouse lekking…

I collected Sylvia and Stephen from Corbridge and we headed westwards.  The first rays of sunlight illuminated the tops of the hills and the landscape was bathed in a sublime light that made it look like a completely different area to the one I’d visited three times in the previous week.  As we drove along, I could see a cluster of black dots standing out against the pale frosted grass, and there were the Black Grouse 🙂  At least 2o Blackcock and 5 Greyhens were concentrated in the small lekking arena, that will have hosted the gladitorial battles of their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and who knows how many generations of their ancestors.  We watched as they displayed and then rested, vanishing into the vegetation, then fought again.  The scenario was repeated time and again as Sylvia and Stephen came up with a list of intriguing questions about the breeding ecology of these extraordinary birds.  Lapwing, Skylark, Curlew, Redshank, Oystercatcher and Meadow Pipit were all displaying as 2 Skylarks sat obligingly at the roadside, a couple of Woodcock were bobbing along through the long grass, a Brown Hare raced by and a Dipper fought against the breeze, passing over the car as it cut a corner in it’s route along a river.

Flurries of snow passed by horizontally on the stiff breeze and Red Grouse were dotted along the moors as we came across a group of at least 6 Wheatears.  A walk to look for Spring Gentians was successful although the walk back to the car into a headwind was challenging, before we headed back towards Corbridge and the lush green landscape of the valley bottoms, a world away from the stunning bleak beauty of the hills.

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Springtime in the hills :-) North Pennines Bespoke Birdwatching 24/04/17

by on Apr.24, 2017, under North Pennines

This morning was another early start, and I crawled out of bed at 03:30 as the alarm disrupted my sleep…

I collected Daniel and Nigel from Ponteland and we headed towards the North PenninesCurlew and Lapwing were displaying over the fells, but in the icy cold stiff breeze, Red Grouse and Black Grouse were more of a challenge to find than they were yesterday.  Golden Plover, Oystercatcher, Common Snipe and Common Redshank were quickly found and we came across some much more obliging Red Grouse, and two Fieldfare, before heading even further to the southwest.  Nigel had just spotted a probable Common Redstart, in a plantation dripping with Mistle Thrushes, when the light drizzle, that had accompanied us for most of the trip, turned to sleet and then proper snow with large flakes speckling the windscreen of the car 🙂  We sat it out, and once the poor weather had cleared the hills produced the sort of birding that is jaw-dropping.  First a Short-eared Owl, quartering the fells with stiff, slow, wingbeats before dropping onto a vole in the grass and then obligingly taking it onto an open area where we could watch it through the telescope.  Soon after that we came across 14 Blackcock, who abandoned foraging, flew to a lek right in front of us and then all kicked off as a Woodcock shuffled through the grass, accompanied by an aural backdrop of calling Snipe.  In the bone-chilling cold, yesterday’s Spring Gentians were no longer displaying their finery and Black-headed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls were struggling against the breeze as Skylarks soared overhead and a Kestrel matched the success of the Shortie before we finished with lunch and a Dipper 🙂

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Serenade; North Pennines Bespoke Photography 23/04/17

by on Apr.24, 2017, under North Pennines

Yesterday was an early start for David, who was the runner up in the junior category of last year’s North East Wildlife Photography competition, and his parents Helen and John.  We’ve sponsored the junior category since the inception of the competition and, for some reason, the winners of the prize that we offer usually choose to have their Bespoke photography trip in the North Pennines

With beautiful light soon after sunrise, Brown Hare, Lapwing, Meadow Pipit, Red Grouse and Black Grouse were soon subject to the scrutiny of David and his camera.  The Hares, in particular, looked stunning with natural rim-lighting.  After a few Red Grouse remained stubbornly tucked down in the vegetation we came across the star of the day.  This Red Grouse wasn’t hiding his light under a bushel, in fact he appeared to be auditioning for Britain’s (Moorland’s) Got Talent.  First he was on a fence post, pushing his breast out and watching us intently.  Then he dropped to the ground and had a couple minutes feeding before hopping back to the fence post.  Back to the ground for another feed and then he decided it was time to advertise his territory.  Stretching his neck and head high above the grass he started calling.  As well as the typical grouse call, he was making lots of churring, clucking sounds that we probably wouldn’t have heard if we were any further away from him.  What was really impressive though, was how his whole body quivered with each prolonged call.  I’ve never watched a grouse at such close range before so it was remarkable to see the physical effort that goes into his territorial song.

Fieldfare were hopping amongst clumps of rush, no doubt feeding up ready for their migration, and in bright sunshine we found, largely thanks to Helen’s sharp eyesight, dozens of Spring Gentian in flower 🙂  Over the moors, Curlew and Skylark were displaying, Common Snipe and Common Redshank were perched on fence posts and a Ring Ouzel flew by before 3 Dippers chased each other back and forth along a small stream while we were having our lunch.

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