Twelve of us went on the trip – some getting up at 4 am to head over to Teesdale. We met up at Langdon Beck cattle grid in atrocious weather at 7 am on Sunday – very high winds, bitterly cold, fog and even some sleet! Seeing, let alone hearing lekking Black Grouse seemed an unlikely prospect. Heading off down the hill to look back up the valley we got reasonable views through the mist and gloom of Curlew, Lapwing and Oystercatcher, but the lek site wasn’t visible from there at all. Deciding it was even less likely we would spot Ring Ouzel up at the quarry site, some went back to the warmth of the hotel for breakfast (having come up the day before in much nicer conditions) and we got on with plan B – go and look at the fields by the farm (where the grouse are often to be seen later in the day) and have a walk down by the waterfall etc. to try and get Dipper and Grey Wagtail. Stopping just before the lower cattle grid, we scanned for grouse and got two female Black Grouse as well as Snipe (calling and drumming). As the mist was lifting, I decided to head back up to the top of the hill, just in case the lek was visible and… it was! 16 lekking males were present, so I hot footed it back to the pub in the car to let the others know and went back up the hill. Very shortly after I got back, 12 flew off and thinking that was it, we decided to carry on with the Dipper walk as planned. Going to turn the car lower down the hill, Rob, Natasha and I were amazed to see a whole load more lekking males which weren’t visible from the top of the hill – at least 16 (and as the twelve had not come back our total had just jumped to 28); we could even pick up their calls as the wind died down. We tried to text but my text didn’t get through – phone signals were dodgy all day. On arriving back to meet up with everyone else, those that had finished breakfast by then went to have a look and the rest of us went to find the Blue Gentian (none so far this year), and enjoyed close views of Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, Goldfinch, Long-tailed Tit, Blue Tit and Great Tit. No hirundines though. Song Thrush and Mistle Thrush were also about and we had a couple of Redshank too. All together, we then walked down the lane and picked up two Dippers busily feeding and taking beakfuls of food up to their nest site along Harwood Beck.
We visited High Force next – an impressive amount of water coming over the falls – and were also rewarded with a pair of Grey Wagtails and a further pair of Dippers. Much to everyone’s surprise we also had a Cormorant flying over, down river! After than we went to Bowlees for lunch , where the noisy Nuthatch was still in the car park, and then (guided by Ken, Helen, Keith and Liz – thank you very much) went on a walk out across the fields to Low Force (where a large number of canoeists about – some were jumping off the bridge!) and then on up towards ? Holwick Fell where they had seen Ring Ouzel the previous day. By this time we had beautiful sunny weather, it was much warmer and the wind had died down so it was a real treat to stroll that way. Lots and lots of Lapwings about, some more Oystercatchers and at least 10 Wheatears to enjoy, along with singing Skylark and the bubbling song of Curlew. Though we spent much of the rest of the afternoon up there, we never did catch up with a Ring Ouzel – fabulous scenery to admire though and for a number of us, the first time we had ever been up there. We were also rewarded with views of a further five male Black Grouse feeding in fields – two even flew up and perched on a wall in full view. Oh and the sheep producing lambs as we went past was interesting as well! We must have pretty much come at peak lambing time as there were just loads of lambs about 1 – 2 days old about.
On returning to Bowlees car park, we picked up yet another Dipper and then, a quick walk to the little quarry and feeders yielded a Great Spotted Woodpecker, Marsh Tit (for Ken and Helen). It then started to tip it down with rain, so we gave up and headed back to York.
Considering the unpromising start, it turned out to be a much more successful day than seemed possible and our only big miss of the day was Ring Ouzel. The total number of species seen was about 48 – and the scenery, once the weather improved, was spectacular!