For many reasons, not least the weather we decided to cut short the holiday, and rather than head home on Saturday as was planned, but to do so a day earlier. It was overcast and and there was rain about, and forecast to be quite heavy later on in the day. We left the hotel in Middleton in a drizzly rain and decided that we could loop around and return once again to Weardale to see if we could see the grouse one more time. As we turned off the main road just after Langdon Beck and headed along the road towards Weardale we passed Lapwing and Curlew by the side of the road.
On reaching the spot where yesterday evening we had seen the Black Grouse, it was clear there was nothing about, the whole area was empty. We drove on slowly, and made our way to where we saw the Red Grouse. Approaching slowly we immediately saw two birds quite close to the car. The mistake I made was not to get the camera out, and after watching with binoculars for a while I crept below the line of the car and retrieved the camera from the back of the car. Once back in the car, fortunately the grouse were still there and I could use the car as the hide.
This was a male with the red combs above the eye. Waiting quietly we were able to get better views.
As we watched the two grouse were making their way through the long grass, and were protecting something. As we watched it became quite clear there were young birds with them. Here the female following the young birds as they headed away.
As we watched the Red Grouse I could hear the calls of Golden Plover around us. Then one settled on a ridge, and I managed to get a clear view of it. In full breeding plumage it was quite smart. When I reviewed the photographs later it became clear that there was a Red Grouse in the shot as well.
We decided that was it, and it was time to move on. I was going to pack the camera and binoculars away for the journey home once we could find a safer place to stop off the road. We reached the peak of the road, and headed down hill towards the River Wear. As we started to pick up speed I noticed a black shape by the side of the road and braked, reversed up, and slowly lowered the window on Helen's side. There by the side of the road a splendid male Black Grouse sitting in the wet grass with rain drops on its back.
The car was a splendid hide and I couldn't believe the views we were getting. To the left of this bird a little way back were two more.
The Raby estate has been very involved in providing suitable habitat and managing it to increase the Black Grouse population. Within England alone the numbers have increased but here at the Raby Estate they have led the way with significant increases.
At first they just sat there, but eventually the left hand bird started to move and we had some different views.
Views of the tail at last.
The grouse closest to us turned nicely for me to be able to frame a portrait, something i never thought I would be able to do when I planned this trip.
Then the grouse stood up, clearly fed up with the car close by. You can see the lyre tail, and the white feathers beneath the tail that form part of the displaying feathers we saw last night.
As we watched, Snipe drummed above us bringing back memories of Iceland, and a Curlew called as it flew past us on the other side of the road.
Back to the Black Grouse and it started to walk away from us.
Shaking the feathers to get rid of the drops of water that had settled on its back.
Then slowly moved away before flying off and far away from us on the other side of the hill.
And there they were gone, and all we were left with was a single beautiful summer plumaged Golden Plover calling from an ant hill, surely the sound of these wild moors
I wasn't going to go back to the moors originally but glad I decided to, as we were rewarded with stunning views of the both grouse, but especially the rarer Black Grouse. We finally set off for home, and found that the sat nav took us back over the moor a little further along the Weardale into Teesdale. As we did so we passed more Snipe, and displaying Redshank which brought the number of waders present to five which is quite impressive. What we did not see was any sign of a raptor, clearly not welcome for obvious reasons, I just hope they are not controlled illegally.
And that was it, a very interesting and diverse week with some amazing views of birds we would not normally see, plus also the opportunity to photograph them. Other circumstances will always remind us of this trip, but after that there will be the experience of the Farnes, the beauty of the Upper Teesdale, and the encounter with the grouse.