The Peak District National Park is a popular breeding site for the Ring Ouzel. A beautiful bird that is part of the Thrush family; Turdus torquatus. In Britain they are of high conservation concern and are classified as Red Listed due to their population decline in the last forty years.
They breed at high altitudes in steep gullies, rocky outcrops and old quarries. They are slightly smaller and slimmer than a Blackbird. The male is particularly distinctive with his black plumage with a pale wing panel and striking white breast.
Females are similar, but the black is often more brownish, and the white parts duller. There are between 6,200 and 7,500 pairs breeding annually in the UK, but the population is decreasing.
They are our only summer visiting thrush, arriving from their wintering grounds in the Atlas Mountains of North Western Africa to breed here on high ground. The Peak District National Park Ring Ouzel population is classed as stable and has increased over the past 20 years. The census in 2012 estimated there were around 150 pairs there.
This year is the 70th Anniversary of the Peak District National park, established on April 17, 1951, the Peak District became the UK’s first national park and is now celebrating 70 years. I’ve visited this stunning place since my early teens and often seen these birds while I was photographing the Red Grouse and other species that share the same habitat.
In places the population has chosen to nest and coexist alongside climbers and visitors, which seems unbelievable. It has led to concerns about disturbance to the Ring Ouzels. From what I’ve witnessed those climbers and walkers are very careful and respectful to these beautiful birds. There are signs out letting everyone know of the presence of these birds and that they might be nesting in that particular spot.
In the following short video which includes two separate clips you will hear the Ring Ouzels distinctive call. The first video the male is calling at the very top of the rocks and in the second clip you see the male once more singing in the bottom right hand corner with climbers in the background. His distinctive and very striking white collar of feathers giving him away.
The Ring Ouzel Study group is a group of enthusiastic ornithologists who share an interest in this bird and who are concerned at the species’ decline in Britain. I follow one member, Kim Leyland on Twitter who does a lot to help the population in the Peak District. You can read his latest article on some of the work he and other members are doing to help these rare birds in this region of England.
So this year I wanted to try and photograph these birds the best I could while not disturbing them. Back in April I was out looking to see if any had arrived from Africa, this year though everything seems late due to the cold, wet weather we’ve had that has delayed everything.
I noticed a few Ring Ouzels had arrived in late April while I was out photographing other species. My plan was to try and get some simple images of this bird, as photographs engage people. This then creates an interest and from that people then care and things can change in favour of that particular species and the issues they face I believe.
In May I saw the areas in which they had set up home. I used the paths the climbers walked on so nothing was out of the ordinary for the birds each time I visited. I saw the parent birds flying around with beaks full of food, disappearing into the dense cover or behind the many rocks and crags that litter this part of the Peak District.
Spending time in the field, observing, learning about their habits, reading their behaviour really helped me to understand these birds.
They have a really lovely, distinct call that you can hear from some distance away. Close in on the following image and see if you can see the Ring Ouzel.
I returned recently using the same way in as the climbers and just sat watching to see if there was an activity. I could see there were many climbers on the rock faces and the Ring Ouzels had moved further down, flying around and feeding their young that had fledged and were hidden away.
I was siting down on the ground, way down the bank away from the rocks and I heard a tiny rustling noise coming from the undergrowth. I didn’t have a clue what it was, at first I though it might be a small rodent, or maybe a slow worm, or snake as the weather was really warm.
Then I heard a high pitched call and it sounded like a young bird. Those of you that follow my blog will know from a recent blog post how a family of Blackbirds that live in my garden had reared their young that had sadly fallen out of their nests and were living in the undergrowth in my garden.
Each time a Cat, Magpies, or other danger came the male Blackbird would sound the alarm and I’d go outside to move on the threat. They had their own personal security, it was a stressful few weeks though. I’m pleased to say all the young survived and have flown from my garden recently. You can read about this in the blog post I wrote here.
So with this fresh in my mind I knew it was a young bird, Ring Ouzels are also part of the same family, the Thrust family so the noise wasn’t too dissimilar from what I’d heard in my garden. Then without warning a small brown chick popped out of the vegetation and walked up this small bolder that I was sitting next too.
I moved my body really slowly trying to get my camera ready. What seemed liked ages was just a few seconds as I took a few images and then the adult bird landed right in front of me and started to feed the chick.
The adult bird then flew off and the chick disappeared back into the dense cover. The fledgling looked really young and the other chicks I’d seen flying up and down at the same time. This little fellow seemed to be perhaps the last to leave the nest and was all confused. He was along way off the rock faces and quite a way down the bank and I was concerned what would happen.
Over the next several days I watched over the chick the best I could because it was the busiest time of the year with ramblers, dog walkers and climbers. It was also the hottest day of the year so far so there was lots going against this youngster and its parents.
Each morning I got there before dawn and always found the male singing his beautiful song from the highest vantage point as the sun started to come up. The place was deserted, the crowds had gone, the dogs off their leads were no more. It was just me and the wildlife which was absolutely beautiful.
All of these images in the post were taken over those days. Using a focal length of 900mm, along with fieldcraft, respect and lots of thought for the birds. I never got chance to see the other chicks close as they were flying up and down. I only saw this little fellow with its parents feeding him. They were stretchered out along the whole rock face but I stayed in that first spot further down the hill among the ferns and rocks.
I hope the photos in this post go someway to showing what I beautiful time I had with this family of Ring Ouzels. When I left this chick had become stronger, more mobile and was flying further and further afield alongside the other young. I knew then they were all safe and going to survive.
It was a real privilege to see these birds and I count myself very lucky to have had that young just pop up in front of me. Everything I did from then on was done on the trust given to me by these birds.
I have a saying; “nature knows” which means what you give to nature you get back. Taking photographs is easy, its that trust afforded to you by the subject and how you should always put them first that is important.