About three weeks ago I had to head up to Durham with work. As I was driving across some winding roads through Teesdale it struck me that it seemed to be an exceptional year for flowering by the moorland heather. The rolling landscape draped in a blanket of rich purple and and pinks. As I continued my journey, I would occasionally see a Red Grouse perched near to the road or speeding across in front of me in straight low flight. On my journey home the grey matter started ticking, and I was thinking that this exceptional bloom of heather was just to good to pass-by and and allow to fade into autumn.
A couple of days later and I was speaking to my good friend Andy and a visit to our favourite grouse site in Yorkshire was quickly arranged. So last week, after a very early start and a long drive, I managed to get myself to the site soon after sunrise and was happy to be slowly driving up the track that leads on to this upland moor. I had not even reached the moor before I encountered the first Red Grouse which was perched on a dry stone wall with the fields behind glowing a golden yellow. I had a good feeling about this trip already.
I gave Andy a quick call who was on the far side of the moor and we agreed we would slowly work across and meet somewhere in the middle. There was a urgent need to get photographs quickly before the sun got too high, the light too harsh but more importantly given the conditions before the focus destroying haze started.
There were a lot of grouse around and the setting was just beautiful in the early morning with the flowering heather, some of which was already starting to fade to orange. We had timed our visit well as much later and we was would have lost the colourful benefit of the flowers. Many of the birds were still in family groups with the male on sentry duty over looking the female and two or three well grown young as the grazed on the fragrant heather.
I was finding plenty of birds and the memory card soon started gathering images.
I even managed to get a lucky flight shot.
By 10am you could already see the first shimmer of haze starting to develop and grouse activity had significantly nose dived. By this time I had met up with Andy and we decided to try one last bird, sat in amongst a mound of heather, before heading off for breakfast. We started taking photos and Andy wandered left and found a great angle on the bird which produced a pleasing darker background from the dark hills in the distance.
It was late morning before we got to the hotel and breakfast turned into an early lunch sat outside a pub in some warm September sunshine. The food combined with an early start, long drive and some fairly intense concentration were beginning to take its toll. A siesta was needed to recharge the bio-batteries before heading out again for a late afternoon and evening session.
As we headed back to the moor at around 4pm, a layer of cloud had gathered overhead creating some fairly 'flat' light. I worked hard through the session to build up the increasing collection of grouse images, always being on the look out for a bird in a different setting and trying to make the most of the heather. In some locations the palette of hues around the birds were amazing and using a shallow depth of field blended them into a techni-coloured haze. On occasions the scene through the camera viewfinder seemed like some kind of psychedelic experience. I wonder if Jimi Hendrix ever photographed grouse in flowering heather? Probably not but I am sure he would have certainly appreciated the purple haze.
The day was finished with a very enjoyable curry.
The next morning was overcast and misty and as we headed out towards the moor again the mist turned to thick fog. Fortunately the very top of the moor was just high enough to take us above the swirling white layer. We had to move around quite a bit of the course of the morning as patches of the fog lifted up the hillside rendering the area we were useless.
A good opportunity though to get a nice frame filling head photo of the bird.
It turned out overall to be another very enjoyable and productive trip with Andy. We tend to do these outings a couple of times a year when a gap in our busy lives coincide. It is always a pleasure to have a couple of days out with the camera, away from the pressures of modern life and spend time enjoying the wildlife in a beautiful area with good company. The next day I was back in work looking somewhat 'groused' from my exertions of the previous days.