Looking to pass a day of idle relaxation this morning, I headed south to the happy hunting grounds of Teesdale, Co. Durham for a second look at one of the best managed pieces of moorland within a three hour drive of Dumfries. Armed with a long camera lens and a stale bun packed for lunch, I had an eye peeled for black grouse as soon as the car slipped over the vast horizon and down into the intricate beauty of Teesdale.
True to form, seven feeding blackcock emerged from the rushes at Langdon Beck. They wandered around between the rushes with pheasants, hens and rabbits without a care in the world, flapping one by one into the shelter of a nearby dyke when the wind changed and began to tip their tails into the air. Taking the car up to Langdon Common, red grouse sauntered happily through the grasses beside the road, giving me a perfect opportunity to photograph them from the car. It may seem like a lazy way to photograph wild animals, but grouse appear to be largely unfazed by traffic, and they seemed in no hurry to get away. One even flew right over the bonnet to land on the other side of the road, and I snapped away with tremendous delight.
From the top of the hill, I could see plumes of smoke rising far away in the west, and assumed that muirburn must be underway in the hills above Teesdale. A quick trip over to Cow Green Reservoir revealed more red grouse in cackling abundance. One cock allowed me to get very close for some nice portrait shots, clucking disapprovingly but turning his best sides into the sunlight like a seasoned model. A short way away, three greyhens stood just a few feet off the road, and I snapped them too, whether they liked it or not. It soon appeared that they didn’t actually like it very much, and as a white transit van pulled up to pass infront of me, they took to the air like bizarre poultry. I have a vivid recollection of seeing their fanned out chestnut tail feathers and white underwings and bellies before they vanished further down into the valley.
Driving on a final circuit before turning for home, a huge pack of ten or twelve blackcock blurred through the sky a few hundred yards ahead. Teesdale may well be almost a hundred miles from home, but the trip is worth it every time…