An early start to photography the Red Grouse this week turned into a lovely close encounter with a family of these iconic moorland birds. I begin my ascent in the dark, where your visibility is lessened in the absence of any natural light, as the sun hadn’t risen above the horizon yet. Having lost your clear vision heightens your other senses, your ears become better at hearing, more in tune as I call it with the environment, your sense of smell increases, as every step you take is carefully placed. You pick out a prominent feature in the direction you are travelling and focus to the left or right of that subject and that’s how you see and navigate yourself in the dark.
Reaching the plateau the ascent levels out a little, it is a welcome sight and what greets you is miles, upon miles of rocky outcrops littering the moorland. Its home to specialized animals that have evolved and adapted to living in this hostile environment. They live through the most testing weather conditions that Mother Nature can through at them. On this day though the sun was rising over the valley below, slowly warming and filling the place with light. With that nature awakens, birds begin to call, distance calls, close calls echo around the place and for me it is truly the best time of the day as everything begins to wake up around you.
It’s one of the best times to photograph wildlife as the light is softer, less harsh and adds so much to an image. The wildlife can be more trusting at this time of day and you must never betray that trust in order to get an image. If you use your fieldcraft skills, watch and listen and respect the subject, they will settle once that trust is gained. You then can carry on always mindful of your advance and approach and the welfare of the subject. If the subject shows signs of distress, is defending their territory at your presence then you’ve gone to far.
Once the sun had come up, the colours of the moorland popped out, turning a black and white landscape into a colourful one, blooming with colours all warmed by the sun. I saw a few Grouse in the distance, their bubbling call so unique within the bird world. In the distance I saw a lone Mountain Hare, feeding in their brown summer coats. With the onset of winter these hares change to their white winter coats, which makes them almost invisible within this landscape. This is very important as there are many raptors that patrol these areas, so they have perfectly adapted to their habitat with the changing seasons and different weather, how wonderful nature is.
Between myself and the hare there was open ground, so I used the lay of the land to advance. The wind was in my favour, blowing away any slight noise as I placed my feet down on the ground, at the same time blowing my scent away. Hares have an amazing sense of smell and hearing so the pursuit of such animals is fruitless if your fieldcraft is poor and you don’t use what’s around you to your own advantage here in the Peak District.
Once I was happy, I managed to see two, as the other was hugging the ground feeding, I let a few shots off and they stood up on their hind legs to see. I stopped everything, turned myself into a low-lying bush, and this image below was that first contact I had with these two hares. They had heard my camera noise but just couldn’t make out where it was from, I took a few more slow, single shots and they settled and carried on feeding. While this was going on I could hear the distinctive calls of Red Grouse in the distance so I said goodbye to the Mountain Hare and advanced towards the calls.
I always try to move slowly, all the time watching and listening as I always say that nature will let you know what’s around you, she can also be your first indication that something is wrong as alarm calls can ring out at any time, letting other animals know there is danger around, more so you’ve been spotted, if so stop, go to ground and wait. I did that here behind this set of rocks when this Red Grouse came from nowhere. I watched, perfectly still, hoping my slight movement hadn’t disturbed this Grouse as I was really close.
I captured the bird yawning, it made no sound what so ever, unlike their call. Afterwards the grouse came from the protection of the rocks and picked away at the heather shoots. The light was amazing and lit up the colours of these beautiful birds really well, the background was the valley below, some 600m beneath me. With such close encounters involving a wild animal going about its life you feel your heart rate greatly increase, you go into auto mode, trusting the settings and routine you’ve practised many times before along with the element of luck on your side.
I stayed put among these large rocks and within no time a whole family of Red Grouse came out from cover. Mum, Dad, and several excitable youngsters. Mum and Dad were constantly on guard, watching for any sign of predators, then they’d disappear back to the safety of the stones and rocks.
I had a privileged ten minutes watching this family, the youngsters all happy to be out from cover, their tireless energy on show, up and down on these rocks, flapping and exercising their wings building strength and confidence. It was really funny to watch at the same time very enduring to witness. They all started to walk off, coming down from the high vantage points of the rocks, they slowly disappeared from view and that was the last I saw of that family.
A beautiful encounter among this stunning landscape, where you can see no one the whole time you are there, giving you a sense of true wilderness, something I love to be among, photographing the beautiful and stunning wildlife. Sometimes that beauty is hard for me to put into words. I hope this recent slideshow of a few beautiful moments I captured in the wild, put together and arranged alongside the tempo of this music will help.