Category Archives: Dippers

Dipping out

Six months without an update. The truth is, I've been busy with other projects, so this natural history journal has suffered. I've still been going out and enjoying the British countryside, but I just haven't made sufficient time to write up what I saw. Not even this lovely dipper that I photographed last week:

Dipper, Colden Water
A dipper on Colden Water last Friday.


So I think it's about time I made it official and placed this website in indefinite hiatus. Life's Grandeur is a cool domain name, so I might well return to it one day with some exciting new project, but, in the meantime, if you want to follow my latest exploits in the natural world, you could do worse than follow my Nature photography set on Flickr, or my writing on Oh, and if you enjoy the natural world, you'll probably enjoy my Nature Writing Flipboard magazine (and/or the corresponding Nature Writing Facebook page). But feel free to follow any or all of my other web presences.

Thank you for appreciating Life's Grandeur.

A walk in Hardcastle Crags

Our bathroom is still being upgraded, so this morning I decided to make myself scarce by visiting Hardcastle Crags and taking a walk along Hebden Water.

Hebden Water, Hardcastle Crags.

Half-way to Gibson Mill, I was delighted to spot a northern hairy wood ants' nest at the side of the path. Believe it or not, this one was very small. I saw one once that so big, from a distance, with all the ants moving across its surface, I mistook it for a woodland pond. Trust me. You had to be there. Continue reading A walk in Hardcastle Crags

May 2012 update

I'm behind with my updates again. A quick summary might therefore be in order:

Sun, 06-May-2012: After a matinee screening at the Hebden Bridge Picture House, Jen and I bought a bag of chips and went to eat them by the packhorse bridge in the middle of town. I could not believe it: there was a dipper feeding in the shallows less than ten feet from where we were standing. It caught a small fish and spent about a minute battering it (no pun intended) against a rock before heading off with it upstream. Lends a whole new meaning to the phrase fish & chips. Needless to say, I did not have a camera to hand.

Wed, 16-May-2012: Went for a walk on the moor up to High Brown Knoll. Took a cracking photo of a robin in a garden at the side of Wainsgate Lane on my way up. Also saw a number of wheatears and curlew on the moor.


More photos from the walk »

Sun, 20-May-2012: A walk with Jen on Blackstone Edge. Saw a number of golden plover: quite a rare bird for me! Even managed to get some snaps:

Golden plover
Golden plover

More photos from Blackstone Edge »

This week and last: A large, brown hare has been hanging out in the field behind the house. Finally managed to get some decent(ish) photos:

Brown hare
Brown hare
Brown hare
Brown hare
Brown hare
Brown hare

They're back!

After the wettest April on record, the final day of the month dawned spectacularly gorgeous.

A quick trip into Hebden Bridge, where I saw a pair of dippers chasing each other along Hebden Water, then back home and on to the Moor.

Guess who's back?

Male Wheatear.

I saw three wheatears in all. Two males and a female. The males didn't seem to be hitting it off. As ever, the birds flitted along the path in front of me, always keeping just a little too far away for some really close-up photos. They are such teases.

Dippers and wheatears: two of my favourite birds in the same morning. Come on, Spring, get your act together!

More photos »

Hardcastle Crags, Autumn

A crisp, bright autumn day, so I thought I'd better head off to the woods before some stupid wind comes along and makes it into winter.

I went to Hardcastle Crags, concentrating on the photography side, this time, rather than looking for wildlife—although I did get a pretty good (but far too dark for photography) view of a pair of dippers, and an enormous frog. I was quite pleased with some of my photos, but it's hard to go wrong on a glorious autumn day in the woods.

Hardcastle Crags, Autumn
Hardcastle Crags, Autumn

One thing I've noticed about photography: if you go out with a fancy camera, people ignore you; but if you go out with a fancy camera on a tripod, everyone suddenly wants to talk with you. (Note to self: Leave tripod at home next time!)

Lots more photos here »

Dippers in the town centre

Crossing the Market Street bridge over Hebden Water just before its confluence with the River Calder this afternoon, I spotted a pair of dippers bobbing amongst the rocks below. Of course, I didn't have my camera with me. After about a minute, they headed off together upstream. You never see dippers flying over dry land; they always keep to their water course.

Dippers would certainly be on my list of all-time favourite birds. Although they are wonderful animals in their own right, one reason I love them so much is because of the places I associate them with: the Yorkshire Dales, Clwyd, Hardcastle Crags. If you ever see a dipper, I guarantee you're somewhere very beautiful.

This was only the second time I have seen dippers in the centre of Hebden Bridge, though. Must make a point of bringing my camera next time I pop down to the book shop!

Stoodley Pike walk, and an unidentified raptor

A fabulous, five-hour walk up Stoodley Pike, then down into Hebden Bridge and back home.

Jen was going away on business, so she dropped me in Cragg Vale at 06:15. I immediately saw a pair of dippers in the river near the Hinchcliffe Arms, then, heading up to Withens Clough reservoir, I had a good view of a jay, and heard but didn't see a shonechat in the nearby bracken.

I knew the reservoir was closed for improvement work, but didn't realise that the footpath alongside it was also closed. Good job I had an OS map with me! I worked out a convoluted new route up to Stoodley Pike, which took me up to Stony Royd, down a short stretch of Cragg Road (which is actually a green lane), then down and through the fir wood at Sunderland Pasture, across Dick's Lane (another green lane), and up to the Pike. Then it was down via Dick's Lane, Rake Head, and Crow's Nest Wood into Hebden Bridge.

Standing admiring the view from Stoodley Pike Monumnent, I heard a raptoresque call behind me and spotted a bird of prey flying low across the moor. It was about the size of a kestrel, but it clearly wasn't a kestrel. It was too far away to spot any distinguishing marks, but I fired off a couple of photos, in the hope of being able to identify the bird by zooming in on them later:

Unidentified raptor
Unidentified raptor (note the kill in its talons).


Unidentified raptor
Unidentified raptor moments later.

Having spent far more time than is reasonable poring over my two grainy photos, and through every bird book I own, trying to decide what the unidentified raptor was, I am plumping, rather surprisingly, for a hobby. My reasoning is as follows:

  • the tops of the wings are slate-grey;
  • the bird was too big to be a male merlin;
  • the bird appears to have a moustache;
  • (by this stage, I am thinking peregrine. Peregrines have certainly been reported in the area. But…)
  • the underside of the bird appears to have a brownish/russet tinge;
  • (so, I am now thinking juvenile peregrine, but…)
  • the first photo clearly shows a white collar at the back of the neck…

The only bird which seems to fit all of these criteria is a hobby. Even though the South Pennines is apparently close to the northern limit of the hobby's range. What swung it for me was a description in one (buy only one) of my bird books, which said that the hobby has an "almost complete white 'neck ring'. Neck ring is most prominent field mark". As far as I can tell, peregrines don't have almost complete neck rings.

Almost as an afterthought, I listened to recordings of the various raptors' calls on the RSPB website. I am pretty sure that the call I heard was indeed that of a hobby, but I didn't hear the recording until several hours after I had heard the bird.

So, a hobby, then!

But I'm still not 100% convinced. (Please let me know, if you know better.)

Identifying birds can be a real pain in the backside at times!

More photos from my walk» | Slideshow»

Postscript (25-Mar-2013): I stand corrected. The bird was a male merlin (see comments below).