Friday, 30 April 2010

The Early Bird

This week I decided to make the effort of getting up early and do some birdwatching and photography before most people were up and about. I was up at 4am !! and away by 5am and in action with the camera just as the sun was coming up over the Bowland Fells around 6am. It was a fabulous morning with no wind and I had the magnificent Bowland countryside to myself.
I had gone to the moors above Abbeystead to see the Dotterel and Golden Plovers which had been in the area for a few days. They were still there but rather distant and the dotterel never came close enough for decent shots. The golden plovers were a little more obliging but still very wary of the car and again kept their distance. I was also photographing directly into the rising sun which made exposure tricky to get right....very rarely is everything right for that perfect shot and  wildlife photographers are never happy until their objective is achieved. It was however wonderful to be up and about at this early hour and as the morning moved on I was treated to some wonderful views of wheatear and snipe posing on the roadside fence posts and enjoying the warmth of the morning sun.
As I made my way back down towards Abbeystead I had some terrific views of lapwing chicks backlit by the sun as they fed in the dew covered fields under the watchful eye of the parent bird.Also very active were brown hares which gave me more great images to add to my growing collection of shots of this wary and elusive mammal. Down in the village by the stream I located the pair of pied flycatchers which had returned to nest in a natural hole in one of the bankside trees. Both male and female birds were very active as they chased each other around in their courtship displays and gave me more memorable images.It had been a wonderful experience to be up early with the sunrise and enjoy this beautiful part of Lancashire at it's best. I have posted a few images from the morning and hope you enjoy looking at them.   

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

North Pennines....Black Grouse

Continuing on from my last posting as promised, here is my account of a wonderful day's birding in the North Pennines,with good friend Paul Foster. To hopefully obtain some close up images of Black Grouse was the primary objective of our trip to the hills above Middleton in Teesdale. As previously described we were diverted from this task by the sheer beauty of the area and the super abundance of waders which could be found in every roadside field.
Eventually however we approached the favoured area for the black grouse close to where the leks take place. We soon found a solitary male bird not too far from the road but it was very wary and took flight. Other birds were seen but were too distant for decent shots so we had another tour round before returning late afternoon to the leking area. Again we found a blackcock not too far from the road and it stayed around long enough for us to get some reasonable images before it too departed.
As we were thinking of setting off for home we couldn't believe our luck as down below the road the birds had begun to lek again. This was wonderful to see as the male black grouse strutted their stuff. I have seen this display described as "like gentlemen in evening dress at an old fashioned ball".With the sparring and minor combats that go on however I would say it was more like a typical Saturday night in any of our towns and cities with much noise and fighting between groups of males to woo the attention of the females. They were a little too far away for close up shots of the action but hopefully the lek shots above show the colourful scene which took place below us.
However better was to come as we were leaving the area to go home . We just couldn't believe our good fortune as a male black grouse was at the side of the road very close to the car. Panic stations ensued as cameras were hastily grabbed to make the most of this wonderful opportunity for the close up images we had come for. We were not to be dissapointed as the bird lingered long enough for us to get those elusive shots of a black grouse at close range. This had been a wonderful day out in this very special part of Northern England with great company,wonderful scenery,and the fulfilment of our objective to get close to this elusive and vulnerable bird. I hope you enjoy the images above, a record of our memorable day in the North Pennines.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Pennine Plovers....Green and Golden

I have been up to the Northern  Pennines again this week, this time in the company of my good friend Paul Foster. Paul like myself is a keen and enthusiastic bird watcher and photographer. We had both visited Upper Teesdale earlier and had seen black grouse but bird photographers are never happy and are always looking for better shots. Despite the volcanic ash clouds over Britain the weather was fine but was still very cool and it did indeed feel decidely cool in the hills above Middleton in Teesdale.
Our main objective and target species was the elusive black grouse and that will be the subject of my next posting. Whilst travelling around looking for black grouse we saw probably hundreds of lapwings or green plovers. There seemed to be at least half a dozen birds in every field performing their wonderful acrobatic display flights and making preparations for nesting. The farming practices in the North Pennines are sympathetic to wildlife and nowhere else in England can ground nesting waders such as lapwing,snipe and redshank be seen in such numbers.
As we drove slowly around Paul spotted a Golden Plover very close to the road and we very carefully stopped and drew alongside the area where it looked like the birds were possibly nesting. For the next half hour or so we were treated to some stunning close up views of this handsome  male golden plover as he kept watch for any intruders into his territory. Later we had brief views of the female bird as she was disturbed by a passing heavy lorry. We couldn't believe our luck at being so close to this fabulous looking bird and many dozens of images were taken of it before we moved on to look for the black grouse. Had I been alone I probably wouldn't have seen the bird but thanks to Paul's vigilance we were able to obtain some excellent images of this special bird of the Pennine Uplands. I hope you enjoy looking at the above images of green and golden plovers as much as I did in taking them. I will soon post another account detailing our efforts to obtain some close up images of that very special bird of the Northern Pennines...the Black Grouse.

Friday, 16 April 2010

A Grand Day Out

Kath and I left Lancashire behind this week and travelled through Cumbria over the North Pennines to Upper Teesdale. It was a number of years since I had been this way and it was nice to return to this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The weather forecast for the Pennine Areas was cool and cloudy, quite a contrast to the warm and sunny weather we left behind as we travelled over the Pennines above Brough. We had stopped for a morning coffee in Kirkby Stephen, a lovely little market town but we hadn't time to explore as we pressed on over the moors into the County of Durham.
Dropping down towards Middleton in Teesdale I stopped to photograph a red grouse which was posing for me on a roadside wall. One of my main reasons for visiting Teesdale was hopefully to see the black grouse, a bird I had never seen but maybe today was the day. Before we did any birdwatching we visited England's highest waterfall, High Force, on the river Tees. A very impressive and dramatic location. We enjoyed wonderful views of the waterfall and surroundings from both below and above the waterfall which was well worth the £1 we had to pay towards the maintenance of the footpaths and facilities adjoining and leading to the waterfall.
It was then time to drive the moorland roads to look for the elusive and very scarce black grouse. The black grouse is on the increase in the area and the well known area around Langdon Beck was my first stop on the moorland drive. Very soon after turning onto the minor moorland road to St John's Chapel I spotted  a black grouse feeding in the valley below the road. I saw four males in total and although they were distant probably about 400yds away, I did manage to get one or two decent record images of this my very first sighting of black grouse. I was thilled to have seen the grouse and then we climbed up Langdon Common and again I was lucky with a sighting of a golden plover at the summit of the moorland road. The weather on the tops was very cool and cloudy but was improving and there were still drifts of snow at the roadside in this very bleak and exposed part of Durham
We drove around some other likely looking areas but had no further sightings of black grouse only red grouse which were close to the road and one female posed nicely for me as we stopped to take her picture. We returned to Middleton in Teesdale for a warming drink and later in Kirkby Stephen we had a welcome meal prior to the journey back home to Lancashire. It had been an excellent day out and we had both enjoyed the splendid scenery in this very special part of the Pennines. I hope to return soon and hopefully get a little closer to some black grouse but in the meantime I hope my readers enjoy the images I have posted of our grand day out.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

More Of The Same

As at last some settled weather had arrived I decided to revisit the Bowland Fells to see if any wheatears or stonechats had arrived. The weather up on the tops above Slaidburn was still very cool,cloudy and a brisk wind had set in from the East. It was not an afternoon for venturing far from the car and I did as previously and cruised the roads and lanes looking for wildlife.
The hills were alive with the sound of...( No not Music )... but dozens of curlews which have now returned to these remote fells to breed.They were very busy displaying and making those wonderful bubbling calls which are so evocative of the high moors. I was able to get some nice images of the curlews from the comfort of the car as they are very wary and quick to depart should you attempt to leave the car. Also showing well were the ever present red grouse, with the cock grouse on sentry duty as the hen birds fed in and amongst the rough moorland heather and grasses. The hen grouse are never easy to see well as their wonderful camouflage hides them from possible predators. I was particularly pleased to get some nice shots of the hen bird as she skulked through the vegetation. I did briefly see one wheatear but it didn't hang about in the cool and windy conditions.
As I returned home some late evening sunshine was warming things up. I was delighted to see a number of hares which had come out to enjoy the warmth and feed on the sparse grasses of these wild upland pastures. This was a nice ending to a pleasant afternoon touring some of my favourite parts of Lancashire and I will be returning soon to catch up hopefully with some of the summer migrants returning to breed in this lovely part of the Forest of Bowland. I have uploaded a few images from the day and hope my readers enjoy them as much as I did in capturing them.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Hare We Go Again

Yesterday evening I returned to a local site where I had previously seen hares enjoying the evening sun. Yesterday (Easter Sunday) had been a lovely day with more very nice Spring sunshine so in the evening I returned to see if the hares would come out to play
They did indeed perform for the camera and at times I was treated to some high speed chases and boxing bouts. They were about seventy yards away but I did manage some reasonable shots of the action and again they were taken from the comfort of the car. It would have been nice for them to have been nearer but they are very wary and with their keen sense of hearing are quick to depart if they feel threatened.
It was an entertaining hour or so and on this occasion I shared the experience with Martin another enthusiastic local wildlife photographer. All too soon the light was fading fast and we departed having witnessed and enjoyed one of the countryside's wildlife spectaculars. A few of my better shots of the action are shown above and I look forward to a return visit when hopefully the hares may come a little closer.

Friday, 2 April 2010


Sorry about the terrible pun but I would like to wish all my readers a   VERY HAPPY EASTER.     Yesterday evening I went to look for a local barn owl but during my stay at the site there was no sighting of a barn owl. However I was entertained by a number of hares which were enjoying the evening sunshine and a kestrel which was busy catching earthworms !!
I was able to get close to the hares and kestrel by using the car as a hide and as I was situated down a very quiet country lane I was not disturbed by any other vehicles during my stay. I spent a very enjoyable hour or so photographing the action and some images from the session are posted for you to enjoy. So no Easter Bunnies but hope the hares will do and do have a lovely Easter.