Friday, 9 June 2017

1st June - Moor House Upper Teasdale NNR, and Weardale, County Durham

We left Newcastle in the mid morning and headed south crossing the Tyne Bridge and then driving through Gateshead.  The journey then continued south before heading inland, through Spennymoor and Bishop Auckland.  We were staying overnight in Middleton-in-Teesdale, but had decided to explore the Upper Teesdale area as the weather was more likely to behave today than was forecast for tomorrow.

We parked at the Bowlees Visitor centre, an old chapel that has been converted into cafe, gallery and visitor centre.  After having a Coffee, and excellent cheese scone, we headed off to walk between the two large waterfalls along the Upper Tees, Low Force, and High Force, the largest waterfall in England (more on that later).

The walk from the visitor centre took us through a lovely Hay meadow, covered with buttercups and clover.  Farming methods are very traditional around here, and they definitely pay off.

After walking through the meadow the path reaches woodland and you can hear the rush of water not too far away.  A short walk down hill comes out at Wynch Bridge, a listed chain suspension bridge across the Tees. Wynch Bridge was built in 1830 to replace an earlier bridge built in 1731 to allow miners to reach the Middleton lead mines.

For many the River Tees is a symbol of the industrial north east, but the river rises high up in the North Penines, following a course of about 85 miles before reaching the North Sea.  It is here in Upper Teesdale that the river is considered to be at its most scenic varying from a fast flowing water course to a meandering river.  As the river falls it encounters a large outcrop of volcanic rock known as the Whin Sill.  This rock runs east o west across northern England and much of Hadrian's Wall was built along the top of the escarpment.  When the Tees encounters this outcrop of hard volcanic rock the two waterfalls of High and Low Force were formed.

The bridge spans the river just after the water has rushed over the 18 foot drop Low Force, and is following through a narrower canyon.  

The term "Force" is believed to have come from the Norwegian word "foss" meaning waterfall.

Low Force is a series of low cascades, and although not as dramatic as its more famous cousin, High Force it is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the north of England.

As we crossed the bridge we notice in one of the support pots a Great Tit had its nest and was feeding young.

On the other side of the river, we joined the Pennine Way, and headed west upstream of the flow of the river.  On our left hand side were more meadows, and we could hear the calls of Curlew and lapwing, while from the trees alongside the river both Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff were in song.

Unlike the walk in the College Valley the path continued close to the water, and it was also possible to get right down to the water's edge.  In one of these spots I disturbed a Common Sandpier from a rock, and managed to photograph it as it flew downstream, but did not have time to adjust the exposure for the inky black water and ended up with an over exposed image of the bird.

On the far side of the river though a Grey Wagtail was foraging along the edge of the water under the tree.  This one a male bird with the black bib.

I didn't notice this at the time but branches appear to have formed an humanoid figure and the wagtail is giving chase.

Back to normality, this is a female, although it wasn't clear if these two were partners, there was a lot of squabbling going on.

Leaving the river we headed on, along the path.  In the field on the left hand side there were little groups of Marsh Orchids once again.

A little further along another Common Sandpiper called as it flew from the rocks in the river to the far shore where it made its way down a ramp close to the water, and at last an opportunity to photograph it.

More Spotted Orchids now, another spotted but this time a much whiter variation.

And looking across the meadows the buttercups and the stonewalls captured wit hthe shadows and sunshine all combine to make a special scene

I just loved the way the dry stone walls snake their way across the landscape.

Lapwings were calling from the field, and were clearly alarmed about something.  Scanning the field I found this juvenile foraging in the grass.

But I think the real reason for the calls was for this adult sitting on what must be eggs in the middle of the meadow.

the river was still tumbling away over exposed rocks, with pools and minor waterfalls.

Green-veined White butterflies were now busy visiting the flowers along side the water.

The Pennine way then went through the Moor House Reserve and through what is the largest Juniper Wood in England.  Unfortunately the trees are now being threatened by a disease, and there are disinfectant sites as you enter and leave the reserve to enure none of the virus is carried elsewhere.

The path climbed, and on the slope were lots of groups of Mountain Pansies.  This area is renowned for the hign variety of flower species, some of which can't be found anywhere else.

A Song Thrush was quite close to the path, and posed nicely.

Both Song Thrushes and Mistle Thrushes were quite abundant, but no sign of the hoped for Ring Ouzel.

Finally we reached High Force, the highlight of the walk for all those that had walked their way here.

Although sometimes described as the highest waterfall in England due to its 22 metre drop, but it is actually not as high as Hardrew Force in North Yorkshire which has a 30 metre drop, and Cauldron Spout that drops 180 metres in Cumbria.  The High Force though does have the largest volume of water.

Three different types of rock are present, with the hardest, dolerite (or whinstone) at the top, and softer sandstone and limestone beneath.  The lower sedimentary rocks were formed around 330 million years ago, while the upper igneous or volcanic rocks are about 295 million years old.  The gorge that the river runs through below the falls was sculpted by the melt waters from the river at the end of the last ice age.

 We decided to walk a little further upstream, very few ventured beyond the falls and it was a lot quieter here.  However we came across a working quarry,, and the air was full of dust, so we decided to turn back, not wanting to be covered in stone dust.  As we did so we found a Dipper on the rocks mid stream, and not too far away.  As we waited it flew towards us, closer.

Settling mid stream where it started to wade through the water while at the same time searching the water by dipping its head into the water.

We sat down to wait and see if the Dipper would come closer and it did, at first hidden behind the rocks but then appearing.

And coming very close to us

Then time for a preen and a shake before a Black-headed Gull spooked it, and it flew up stream and out of sight.

A little further on another bird on a rock, but this time a Common Sandpiper.

Upstream of the waterfalls the river looks a lot different to that we had walked past from Low Force.

From High Force we made our way back through the Juniper Wood, and in the higher trees Lesser Redpolls were displaying, one male with at least three females.

We reached the same spot that we had watched the Grey Wagtails earlier, and the female was preening on a rock in the middle of the river.

Plus some extensive wing stretching.

Then from in the distance the sound of an aircraft approaching, and at a low elevation, it thundered by us,  C130 Hercules

Turning back to the river Helen found another Dipper on the far bank of the river

It was diving along the edge of the river, interacting with the Grey Wagtails, then flew across the river to a rock.

 Then off again diving into the water and eventually upstream 

As we approached Low Force, more orchids in the surrounding fields

The river just before the falls becomes much calmer.

We crossed the meadow back towards the visitor centre, Swallows were hawking low over the buttercups.

As we crossed the road we had a lovely view of the fields and again the patchwork created by the stone walls.  This area is on the Raby Estate, and all the buildings here are painted white to distinguish them from the buildings not owned by the estate.

As we approached the visitor centre a Song Thrush appeared on the stone wall with a bill full of worms for a nest close by.

While sitting having a cup of tea at the visitor centre Helen noticed a Hummingbird Hawkmoth feeding on the Valerian in the flower bed.

Having seen the real Hummingbirds, it is amazing how like them this moth flies.

It was good practice for what I hope we will find later in the summer.

As well as the moth there were some superb male Siskins on the feeders, again not my favourite scene, but the background was superb.

Rather than head to the hotel straight away, we decided to drive up on the moors, along the road that leads to Weardale.  It was finding details of this area that brought me to Upper Teesdale, and the chance of seeing grouse.  Red of course but just maybe Black too.  I had details of where to find the Black Grouse Lek, but this would need to be seen early in the morning at dawn.  The hope was there might be some around.  The directions I had were to a low area just after the crest of the hill

Curlew and lapwing could be seen at the place I thought was the site of the lek, but no sign of any grouse.  We finally turned around and headed back.  Then Helen called to stop as she had found something in the grass, all the way at the back of the moor we could see.

We had found Red Grouse, and we stopped to watch, eventually another appeared and they stood together.

then I managed to get one briefly in flight.

The views were distance but the first Red Grouse I have seen for a long time, and definitely the first I have photographed.  Not bad.

We then drove on, and Helen cried out again to stop again.  This time she had seen something black in a valley to our left.  I stopped, checked and realised she had found what we were looking for, Black Grouse.

Although it was around five o'clock it looked as if they were displaying, with two of the cocks with their tails raised and the white undertail feather, and although at distance we could also make out the red combs above the eyes.

Brilliant, it has been even longer since I have seen Black Grouse, then it was a site in the Peak District, and the encounter ended with being chased by sheep!  As I watched the grouse a Meadow Pipit appeared on the fence post close to the road.

It was the perfect end to a really enjoyable day.  the weather had behaved, and once again we were able to get some great views of Dipper, and of course we manged to find the grouse, all topped off with the bonus of the Hummingbird hawkmoth.

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