Category Archives: Red grouse

Mid-April

The first swallow of the summer, tumbling over the back field first thing yesterday morning as I opened the gate. Only three days later than last year, despite this dreadful spring. If previous years are anything to go by—although why should they be, these days?—it will be a couple of weeks yet before they're back in great numbers. Which I guess is why one of them doesn't make a summer. It's good to have them back, though.

The afternoon was glorious, with a strong, warm breeze, so I headed up to the Moor. Unusually, I didn't spot a single red grouse, although the meadow pipits were back in decent numbers, and there was a lone skylark belting it out high above me for all he was worth.

Stoodley Pike Monument from the Moor

Stoodley Pike Monument from the Moor

Moorland pool

Moorland pool

The wheatears will be back soon, I reckon.

Moorland encounter

Yesterday afternoon was unseasonably glorious, so I decided to head up to the Moor.

There wasn't an awful lot going on, but that's not why I go up to the Moor.

S4643

On my way down from the edge, a chap with a spade and sack spotted me and my camera: “Landscape or wildlife?” he called. Both, I said.

It turned out he was the local gamekeeper, laying out grit for the grouse. We chatted for about 15 minutes. He is clearly trying to engage in outreach, to win over the hearts and minds of the locals. He explained that the people who shoot on the Moor aren't a bunch of toffs, but a local group of hard-working enthusiasts; how they only shoot for six days a year; how they only took over the care of the Moor a few years back, and how he reckons the place is a lot better maintained these days. I agreed: it is. He then asked me for any feedback or ideas.

I suggested that a few more boggy patches and pools might be in order (he told me they're working on this), and that the best way to combat the boom-bust predator-prey population cycles of the grouse-parasite and grouse would be to throw a few more predators into the mix. I don't think he was quite with me on this one. I pointed out that, in the 20+ years I've been walking on the Moor, I've only ever seen two buzzards, one peregrine, and not a single hen harrier. The northern moorland, I said, should be practically swarming with raptors.

“Hen harriers numbers have plummeted drastically in recent years,” he agreed. “Nobody's been able to work out why,” he added.

“It's because game-keepers keep shooting them,” I said, calling a spade a spade.

He explained that he had seen a hen harrier on the Moor last summer, and had nearly shot it by accident. He was about to shoot some crows, when he realised they were mobbing a harrier.

He asked me if I'd ever eaten grouse. I said I had, but that I thought it was overrated, and much preferred duck. He confessed that he didn't like the taste of grouse at all—far too strong—but assured me that all the grouse which are shot on the Moor do get eaten.

He seemed like a nice chap, but I'll never understand the mentality of people who enjoy blasting wild birds out of the sky for fun.

On my way down the road towards home, I made up for the previous day's abject failure by managing to take quite a nice photo of a robin in full song.

Robin

Much better to bag wild birds with cameras than shotguns, I reckon.

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Errant grouse

I went for a walk on the Moor on Saturday afternoon: my first of 2013. As you might expect in early February, there wasn't an awful lot going on, but there were quite a few pairs of grouse about:

Red Grouse

A brace of red grouse.

More grouse

Another brace.

In the latest draft of my book, I write:

The northern moorlands are Red Grouse Central. These game birds live on heather, and are reluctant in the extreme to leave the moors. […] I have never even seen one in the fields adjacent to the Moor: if there is no heather, they are simply not interested.

Imagine my surprise on Saturday, therefore, when I spotted a grouse flying over one of the aforementioned fields. OK, it was only off the Moor by about 10 metres, but I never thought I'd see the day:

Grouse

A grouse flying over a field!!

It was good to get back up onto the Moor. It had been far too long.

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Red grouse

Redwings, red grouse, and red faces

The redwings are back. I heard them before I saw them, as I went to open the gate for Jen last weekend: the now-familiar seep! call. A pair of them, heading for the safety of one of our sycamores.

Later in the week, I heard and then spotted my first wren for ages. They had a dreadful time last winter, by all accounts. Now, winter draws on once more. Perhaps that's why it sounded so cross.

I've never been very good at identifying birds by their calls, but I'm working on it. I have a CD of British bird songs, but it's a bit artificial: you really need to learn them in the field to put them in the right context. I learnt the golden plover’s wheezing call this May, as Jen and I walked near Blackstone Edge. For five minutes or so, I was under the misapprehension that the wheezing was coming from my right nostril. Then we spotted the plovers, and it all began to make sense.

I recognised the golden plover's unmistakeable call again this Wednesday, as I was walking on the moor with my friend Mike and his labradoodle, Milly. We had reached the first trig point, and were taking in the view:

“Wow! Do you hear that wheezing call?” I asked, astonished. “That's a golden plover! I wonder what it's doing up here at this time of year.”

“Erm…,” ermed an embarrassed Mike, “that would be Milly whining. She does that all the time.”

Like I said, I'm working on it.

No mistaking the call of the red grouse. Later in the walk, approaching the second trig point, we were treated to the rare sight of an unflushed red grouse standing sedately amongst the dead grasses. I fired off loads of photographs, the best of which (heavily cropped and processed) was this:

Red grouse

A red grouse on Wednesday.

You can see more photos from our walk here.

Snow

Wednesday 4th saw a blizzard blow out of nowhere overnight. I struggled to get home from Dad's. The following day, Maundy Thursday, I was supposed to be working, but Jen sent me a text message as she arrived at work: “Fabulous day for a walk. Get on them hills.” What more excuse did I need?

Snow drift

Snow drift

The snow had mostly gone, but there were still thigh-deep drifts in places, especially alongside walls. On the way up to the moor from Nook Cottages, I had a Mexican stand-off with bolshy sheep. Then I saw the lamb lying lifeless at her feet. She was trying to protect it, poor thing. Out of respect I gave her a wide berth.

On the moor itself, the track was under several inches of snow. Somebody else had been up there before me, heading the other way, so I walked in their footprints to make the going easier. Then I got to a deeper bit, the snow gave way, and I was suddenly stuck to the top of my legs in snow. It took me a full minute to struggle out.

Rabbit footprints

Rabbit footprints

Lapwings were tumbling above the fields below me, and a pair of curlews flew overhead.

The snow was more patchy as I headed up the hill and along the edge to the trig point, skylarks in full song. There is something incongruous about hearing skylarks as you wade through snow. Unlike the weather, they certainly realised that it was supposed to be Spring.

There were lots of rabbit and grouse tracks in the snow. I love walking alongside animal tracks: it's almost as if they are accompanying you. Time-shifted companions.

Red grouse

Red grouse

On my way back down through the field, the sheep was still there, suckling her ‘dead’ lamb. It hadn't been lifeless; it had just been born—it was still coated in membrane.

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Birthday walk

I decided to celebrate my birthday with a walk on the moor. The glorious weather of the last week had, of course, disappeared—but at least it wasn't raining.

Lots of red grouse around. Whenever they fly away from you, they seem to do so in a long curve, rather than flying directly away from you. I wonder if it is so that they always present their upper half to you, affording them better camouflage. Or maybe it is because they can keep a better eye on you that way. Or maybe something else entirely.

Watched a skylark ascending near the trig point. It must have sung for a good couple of minutes as it rose so high that I lost sight of it amongst the floaters in my eyes. Knackering work for skylarks, singing.

Spotted a lapwing in the field just below the moor. Got some half-decent, albeit heavily cropped photos before it took off. Definitely one of my top-ten birds.

Lapwing

Lapwing.

Then a kestrel hunting over the scrub above the Nook track.

Kestrel

Kestrel.

On the whole, a very pleasant walk.

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Bog walk

A crisp, autumnal day, with lots of unseasonable sunshine. I decided to try out the new waterproofing on my old boots by taking a longer walk than usual, up to the trig point and then across the bog to the ventilation shafts.

I was delighted to see yet another late wheatear just beyond the trig point. I am now point-blank refusing to describe any wheatear I see as most likely being the last one I see this year.

There were quite a few red grouse around, and I startled more than one of them (and vice versa) by getting really close to them without realising.

Red grouse

A startled red grouse

The boots held up quite well, but I'm reserving judgement until they have had a sterner test in full rain.

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