Tag: Black Grouse

Midsummer moorland meanderings, another alliteration; North Pennines 27/06/2014

by on Jul.02, 2014, under Birdwatching, North Pennines, Northumberland

I collected Peter for his third day out with NEWT and we headed southwest towards the big hills of the North Pennines.

Midsummer on the moors is a very different prospect to the spring and early summer.  Common Snipe, Curlew, Redshank, Lapwing, Oystercatcher and Golden Plover are all still there, but occasional calls are the norm, rather than the all-enveloping soundscape of March and April.  Black Grouse have, in the main, finished displaying but can still be found furtively creeping between clumps of rush, and the condensed growing season for plants in the often brutal environment of exposed areas so high above sea level means that some of the most sought-after species aren’t in flower by the time we reach the end of June.

What midsummer does bring though is chicks, and photo opportunities 🙂  Young Curlew, fluffy, short-billed replicas of their parents, were pottering about, and apparently intent on not letting Peter get his camera focused on them, Red Grouse with their large broods, including one pair with chicks picking grit from the roadside, seemingly oblivious to our presence, and Golden Plover, watching us from raised tussocks in the heather as their young prodded and poked around the vegetation nearby.  A Blackcock, now showing signs of moult and no longer the strutting dandy of the lekking season, wandered across a rushy field and, after a day in the hills, probably my own favourite moment of the day came as a Common Snipe perched on the apex of a dead tree and Peter patiently waited for it to turn its head to one side so that he could capture the extraordinary length of the bill.  The bird obliged, of course 🙂

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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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Look who’s stalking; bespoke photography 24/03/2014

by on Mar.29, 2014, under Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast, Photography

Monday was a day with the potential to go either way, and I was nervous.  I first met John when himself and Helen were on a North Sea pelagic in June last year and we found this little beauty.  This trip was something altogether different though – Helen had arranged a one-to-one photography day.  Our one-to-one days focus on whatever our clients would like to work on – sometimes techniques (exposure/composition/fieldcraft etc.), sometimes species (Black Grouse, Otter and Red Squirrel are just some of the ones we’ve helped clients to photograph) – and John’s request was to develop his techniques for getting good images of shorebirds.  Now, using fieldcraft developed over 40yrs is one thing when I’m in the field on my own…teaching it, with our subject right where it can see us, is slightly more challenging 😉

I collected John from home in Morpeth and we headed north until we were in the impressive shadow of Bamburgh CastlePurple Sandpiper, Oystercatcher, Turnstone and Eider were all approached with stealth and patience before we made our way down the Northumberland coast to Druridge Bay, stopping off and stalking Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Sanderling, Redshank, Grey Plover, Ringed Plover and Dunlin and finishing the day’s photography with the slightly easier proposition of Reed Bunting, Blue Tit and Lesser Redpoll at a feeding station before admiring the Red-necked Grebe that I first found back in mid-February – now in a much more attractive plumage than it was five weeks ago.

John very kindly supplied some of his images from the day, for which we’re very grateful, so here they are 🙂  You can click on them to see the full size images, and please do get in touch with us if you’d like to get more from your camera equipment.

Common Eider, Somateria mollissima, Northumberland, photography tuition, bird photography, one to one photography, bird photography holidays

Common Eider

Turnstone, Arenaria interpres, Purple Sandpiper, Calidris maritima, Northumberland, photography tuition, bird photography, one to one photography, bird photography holidays

Purple Sandpiper and Turnstone

Oystercatcher, Haematopus ostralegus, Northumberland, photography tuition, bird photography, one to one photography, bird photography holidays

Oystercatcher

Common Redshank, Tringa totanus, Northumberland, photography tuition, bird photography, one to one photography, bird photography holidays

Common Redshank

Sanderling, Calidris alba, Northumberland, photography tuition, bird photography, one to one photography, bird photography holidays

Sanderling

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Scouring the moors; North Pennines birdwatching 25/06/2013

by on Jun.26, 2013, under Birdwatching, North Pennines, Northumberland

Returning clients have become a bit of a theme for NEWT in the last couple of years, and it’s always lovely to meet up and hear what our clients have been doing, and seeing, since they were last out with us.

Mike and Maggie were visiting Northumberland again, and their day out with me this year was to be a bespoke birdwatching and photography experience in the North Pennines.  As soon as we were on the higher ground, Curlew, Golden Plover, Lapwing and Red Grouse were all found with chicks, Redshank were calling noisily from nearby rushy fields and Skylark and Meadow Pipits were singing overhead.  More Red Grouse and Golden Plover became targets for Mike’s camera and a Ring Ouzel feeding in a grassy field flew up onto a dry stone wall, next to another ouzel, as a third flew across the road behind us.  As we dropped from the high ridge between Weardale and Upper Teesdale, an unexpected bonus bird was sitting in the middle of the road.  The unmistakeable ‘built like a breeze block’ figure of a Woodcock was just sitting there.  As we watched, it called, and two Woodcock chicks came out of the long grass to join it 🙂  Creeping along on short legs and big feet, the adult bobbed up and down, like a Jack Snipe on steroids, as it led it’s young across into the dense cover of the grass on the opposite side of the road.

Our post-lunch walk produced Golden Plover, Ringed Plover, Grey Wagtail, Red Grouse, a single Spring Gentian and a female Ring Ouzel, gathering food by a  fast flowing stream.  The journey back towards Allendale was enlivened by the impressive wingspan and mad staring yellow eyes of a Short-eared Owl as it quartered the high moorland.  There was one species on our target list for the day that was still missing though, and we’d already checked almost all of our usual sites.  Then, as we crossed back into Northumberland, I slowed the car almost to a standstill and mentioned that the next field on the left, in between the clumps of rush closest to the road, was a regular spot for Black Grouse… 🙂

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Spring (Gentian) time in the hills

by on May.25, 2013, under Birdwatching, North Pennines, Northumberland

The ‘quality over quantity’ birdwatching in the North Pennines has been the predominant feature of our days out with clients in the last two months, and a ‘phone enquiry on Tuesday saw me collecting David and Margaret on Wednesday morning for a day birdwatching in the hills.

Red Grouse was the first of the upland specialities we encountered and, after a few single birds scattered across the moors we came across a pair with a brood of 10 chicks.  The adults watched us carefully as their offspring wandered about, completely unconcerned by our presence.  Lapwing and Curlew seemed to be everywhere and one Lapwing provided our only sighting of Snipe for the day, as it chased one over the road in front of us.  Oystercatcher, Redshank and Golden Plover were noisily displaying, Kestrels were stationary in the strong breeze and our first three Black Grouse were all seen distantly.  I was sure that we’d get much closer views of Blackcock and, sure enough, at the same spot where I photographed a displaying bird earlier this month, we came across what were probably the same two birds from that trip.

A walk at Cow Green reservoir brought a non-avian highlight as Spring Gentians were in bloom.  If you’ve never seen one, this is what they look like 🙂

Spring Gentian,Gentiana verna,Upper Teesdale,macro photography tuition,flower photography tuition,www.northernexperienceimages.co.uk

Spring Gentian,Gentiana verna,macro photography tuition,flower photography tuition,Upper Teesdale,www.northernexperienceimages.co.uk

After our walk we watched a small group of Blackcock as they engaged in their, slightly comical, lekking behaviour before heading back north east after another excellent day in the hills.

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North Pennines Birdwatching 13/05/13

by on May.14, 2013, under Birdwatching, North Pennines, Northumberland

I collected Andreas ahead of a day of birdwatching in the North Pennines with two things in mind; Andreas’ target list for the day (Red Grouse, Black Grouse, Ring Ouzel) and the weather forecast (sleet and snow showers, temps as low as 7C)…

Glorious and breezy weather accompanied our journey southwest and we were soon at the first of our regular Black Grouse sites.  We arrived there just ahead of the first of the day’s snow showers – which saw the temperature plummet all the way down to 1C!  We soon found our first Red Grouse of the day, as Curlews displayed overhead, and a third of Andreas’ target list had been achieved.  An unexpected find by Andreas was a Woodcock, tucked into the vegetation as we made our way across from Allendale to Weardale.

Eurasian Woodcock,Scolopax rusticola,Martin Kitching,www.northernexperienceimages.co.uk,bird photography courses,Northumberland,North Pennines,bird photography holidays

Soon after the Woodcock we came across a displaying Common Snipe, and then our first Black Grouse of the day; a male sitting on a drystone wall, iridescent blue in the sunshine, followed by this bird, half-heartedly displaying while another one fed close by.  Two out of three…

Black Grouse,Tetrao tetrix,Martin Kitching,www.northernexperienceimages.co.uk,Northumberland,North Pennines,bird photography courses,bird photography holidays

Brilliant sunshine was followed by snow, was followed by brilliant sunshine, was followed by snow, and that pattern continued throughout the rest of the day.

As we headed for our regular lunch spot, Andreas spotted a female Ring Ouzel, and completed his target list for the day 🙂  As the sunshine bathed the landscape around us, a very confiding Lapwing allowed some easy photography.

Northern Lapwing,Vanellus vanellus,Martin Kitching,www.northernexperienceimages.co.uk,Northumberland,North Pennines,bird photography courses,bird photography holidays

After watching two Blackcock lekking, with seven other birds pottering about nearby, we headed northeast.  The heaviest snow of the day accompanied our journey out of the hills, a reminder that conditions on high ground can be poor at any time…but the reward for braving our remotest landscapes is some really high quality birdwatching.

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Watching the drama unfold

by on May.09, 2013, under Birdwatching, North Pennines, Northumberland

Towards the end of a day in the North Pennines with Tony and Caroline, I suggested that we should head back to a Black Grouse lek where we’d watched two Blackcock pottering about in the early afternoon…

Everything had been performing well.  Red Grouse and Black Grouse playing hide-and-seek-and-run-away-a-bit, Curlew, Redshank, Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Golden Plover and Snipe all displaying, Skylark and Meadow Pipit singing as they ascended skywards, a Wheatear on a midstream rock doing a credible impersonation of a Dipper and the mystery bird of last week’s trip revealed to be a Starling…with a pale crescent on it’s breast!

Now, we were overlooking a lek site that we regularly visit on our North Pennines trips.  Two hours earlier there had been just two Blackcock visible, now there were nine, or ten, or five, or two…every scan produced a different total as birds stopped feeding, sat down in the long vegetation and simply vanished.  A few minutes later they all stood up, started feeding and wandered about for a little while before repeating the process.  After another cycle of ‘feed-hide-reappear’, a minor skirmish developed in amongst the feeding birds.  Two Blackcock squared up to each other; wings spread, tails raised, leaping into the air and lashing out at each other.  All of the other birds suddenly became very alert, and then the fight stopped and they took flight to the nearby area of low vegetation where we’re used to seeing them display.  Other birds, previously unseen, arrived and soon there were 14 of them; arranged in pairs they began the dance that characterises the early mornings of the North Pennines, each bird facing one adversary, strutting around, leaping and cooing (although the wind was carrying that evocative song away from our ears).  Four pairs stopped, and adopted a much more relaxed posture, then two more pairs followed suit.  Soon only two birds were still displaying…and, bizarrely, the other 12 were standing in the exact positions where they’d been when they gave up, like an odd game of musical statues.  Finally one of the remaining combatants pulled his wings in, lowered his tail and raised his head.  The final lekking bird stopped soon after, and we assumed that he was the afternoon’s winner.  As the gladiatorial contest ended, all of the other birds came out of the trance that they appeared to be in and began feeding.  The defeated bird from the final pairing made a half-hearted attempt at resuming the battle, but soon desisted when the reigning champion headed menacingly in his direction.

Sometimes a wildlife experience is just breathtaking, and watching the lek, from the trigger that kicked it all off to the final mystifying tableau, has crashed into my all-time Top 5 🙂

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Moorland meanderings

by on May.02, 2013, under Birdwatching, North Pennines, Northumberland

As I collected Jenny and Rob for a day in the North Pennines, the weather looked promising, although a little breezy, and we were quickly in the hills.  The song of Lapwing, Curlew, Snipe, Redshank, Golden Plover and Oystercatcher carried on the breeze as we found our first Black Grouse of the day – a Blackcock and two Greyhens.  Red Grouse seemed to be filling every available bit of moorland and we had an ‘is it or isn’t it?’ moment with an upright, backlit, black bird on an old barn that seemed to show a pale crescent on the throat/breast.  It flew out of sight and we were left wondering (I’ve been back and do know what it is, but you’ll have to wait for my next blog post…).

Our afternoon finished with eight Blackcocks lekking, but probably the stars of the day were one of our smaller moorland birds, as we came across a succession of Wheatears.  Strikingly handsome male, and subtly beautiful female, Northern Wheatears are always a pleasure to see, but the real surprise was a group of six birds together.  Big, upright, and flushed underneath with pinky-orange, these birds were Greenland Wheatears.  Migration doesn’t happen only on the coast 🙂

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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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In the grip of winter…in late March

by on Apr.04, 2013, under North Pennines, Northumberland

Sunday saw the two of us heading southwest into the North Pennines to carry out some recce work for a press trip that Martin was leading.  As soon as we were up above the level of the Tyne valley there was snow laying, which got deeper as we gained altitude.  Lapwings, Curlew and Oystercatcher were all displaying, Common Kestrels were hovering over the few clear areas of vegetation and Common Buzzards soared by.  With a white landscape, Red Grouse and Black Grouse were easy to find and a few Red Grouse were close enough to make it worthwhile getting the camera out.

Red Grouse,bird photography,bird photography tuition,Northumberland

Red Grouse,bird photography,bird photography tuition,Northumberland

Red Grouse,bird photography,photography tuition,Northumberland

The highlight of the day came just over the border in County Durham with a stunning male Ring Ouzel, close to a nest site, being harrassed by a Mistle Thrush. The ‘Mountain Blackbird’ just seemed to be in exactly the right place in the wintry hills in deep snow.

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