Photographing Grebes and Grouse

14th April 2010
Trip to the Peak District
A 4.30am start saw me arrive at my destination at 7.30am the weather was relatively kind bright but overcast.

My main species to photograph on this trip were Dippers, Red Grouse and Little Grebes. So the first port of call was a well known site for Little Grebes.

Little Grebes

The birds here are so used to people they will let you get very close if you use a little patience and don’t rush at them. I settled down with my camera and tripod and waited for a pair to come close enough to give me the images I was after. The background was a little tricky with a great big tethered barge in the way! So a move of a couple of yards was made and it wasn’t long before the Little Grebes came into view. They were feeding on Caddis larvae that were hidden in the sub surface weed. One Grebe came to within 20 feet of me and allowed me to take several images before scooting off to meet its mate. These two endearing little birds had started to build their nest hidden in some overgrown brambles on the opposite bank and the male was busy adding bits of weed and flotsam and jetsam to the nesting mound. A fantastic bit of behaviour! I had to use a large aperture of F4 on my 500mm Canon lens, as the light was difficult beneath the overhanging trees and a change of ISO setting pumped up the shutter speed a little.

Water Voles

After my encounter with the Little Grebes I then moved on to try and photograph the Water Voles that frequent this spot. A species under threat from vermin American Mink that were either released by so called animal rights activists or turned out into the wild by defunct fur farms, either way the poor old Water Vole has suffered as a result.
The Water Voles at this site can usually be found in the crevices along the bank-side but today there was no sign of them! Voleless I was starting to panic a little then some movement on the opposite bank gave their position away. Remembering that these creatures do not have brilliant eyesight I walked around and “stalked” the Water Voles using the odd tree and hump in the ground as cover. The plan worked and several shots were taken before it was scared off by a drake Mallard landing nearby. No sign of any more voles after that.

I won’t dwell on the Dipper story too much, but they were very elusive at this “honey pot” site and I saw only two birds all day! On leaving I was told that this area had been mist netted a few days earlier so birds could be ringed. So if you want images of birds with two rings on each leg this is the place to go! I did manage to photograph a couple of Grey Wagtails that were nest building on the side of a waterfall so all was not lost!

Red Grouse

The next day I drove up to the higher peaks in search of Red Grouse. After a long trudge up what felt like Mount Everest I arrived at a spot were the Grouse were so approachable that I got within twenty five feet of them. The male birds were busy displaying and defending or establishing their territories and they took very little notice of me. These very confiding birds have provided me with some fantastic images from such a close encounter that it will stay in my memory for many years to come. Such elegant birds of the moorlands and a tragic shame that some of them would not survive until next year as this was an active Grouse shooting moor. I spent a fantastic couple of hours in their company. I took photographs of them on top of heather as well as the classic Grouse head just peering over the tops of the heather at you, the icing on the cake was the last male Grouse that I encountered. This bird was so confiding and for a good forty minutes allowed me to fill my boots and memory cards!

The benefits of being a Wildlife photographer is that even though you have to get up at the crack of dawn and stay out until late you do get to have wonderful experiences with wild birds and animals that other people never dream of.

I just hope I can get more!

Shaun April 2010

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