'Gone for Grouse' was the message I left on the kitchen worktop for my patient better half, as I left the house with my friends for a day trying to photograph Red Grouse in North Yorkshire. A 5 a.m departure was necessary to try and arrive at our chosen area on the moors at first light. This was the same area I had travel through a few months earlier, during a journey northward. Then my efforts to try and photograph Red Grouse for the first time was beaten by dire conditions with gale force winds blowing cloud across the tops of the heather.
The first birds we came across as we drove up to the summit was a group of Red-legged Partridge perched on a dry stone bathing in early light.
A promising start but not the species we were seeking. Having reached the moorland plateau, it soon became apparent that large numbers of birds had avoided the shooting parties, as the dawn air was filled with the distinctive calls of grouse.
Red Grouse are subtly beautiful birds, when viewed at close quarters, with intricate patterns of black across their rust colour feather. The moorland and heather provide a naturally attractive settings.
I say 'naturally attractive' as it is easy to forget that this is a carefully managed habitat to maximise the numbers of grouse available for the waiting guns in the latter third of each year.
Cutting and burning of areas of heather creates a mosaic of vegetation at different stages of growth and a plentiful supply of food and cover for the birds. Reminders of this habitat intervention were evident as white-grey curls of smoke rose from a smouldering patch of heather in the distance.
A bird on a previous burnt area.
At the time of our visit the deep purple colour of the summer heather had faded to a pink- orange hue which still provided a colourful setting for the birds, especially when taken at a very low angle.
As usual I was on the lookout to try and photograph the birds in a wide range of different settings which include calling out from patches of long wispy grass or perched on fence posts.
One of my goals for the trip was to try and capture some flights photos. This is a tough challenge as they are extremely fast flying birds, hence their popularity as a game bird, can be erratic in their flight and normally fly away from a person. Despite several attempts I only managed to capture a couple of flight images.
This last image provides a good example of their speed in flight as it was taken with a camera shutter speed of 1/2000s yet still the wings are a whirring blur.
An enjoyable and productive time was had by all, and I eventually reached home at the end of a long day at 7 pm. However, I intend to return once more next spring and hopefully try for some more of those tricky flight photos.