Teesdale trip 3rd April

We convened at the Black Grouse Lek site between 6.30 am and 7am (some people wisely having chosen to  stay in the area, they got to lie in to 6 am) and were treated to probably the best lek ever seen on a Club trip.  It was clear, completely calm and the sun was out (although it was bitingly cold with snow still evident on the hilltops!), so we had perfect views into the valley below.  Our reward was 24 males in the main lek site, plus a couple of other males further out, strutting their stuff, tilting with white tails in full display and asserting their dominance over each other.  The lack of wind meant that the added bonus was how clear the sound coming from the lek was – that extraordinary boiling bubbling sound – as they interacted with each other.  At least two Greyhens were seen (crossing the road) by one or two lucky people, though no doubt others were well-camouflaged in the tussocky grasses watching the males closely. This spectacle went on for over an hour before 16 flew up the valley, only to return a few minutes later for another fifteen minutes or so, before they all dispersed – seven of them being seen by Langdon Beck farm feeding on the pasture there a little later in the morning. Whilst the lek was in progress we were also treated to lots of Lapwings and Curlews calling and displaying, Red Grouse calling and showing wall, a single piping Golden Plover in full breeding plumage, Oystercatchers flying about and Skylarks singing. Magical!

We then drove up to the quarries, stopping briefly in the valley bottom where Redshank were seen and a Dipper shot through too.  Mercifully free of motocross bikers, we spent some time scanning for Ring Ouzel without success up at the quarries, but did get better views of Red Grouse.  The only Wheatear of the day was seen all too briefly by Alan but it flew off never to be relocated; other promising birds turning out to be Meadow Pipits in profusion.

We then walked to the waterfall by the bridge next to Langdon Beck Hotel and were treated to great views of a large mixed thrush flock, comprising Fieldfares, Redwings and a handful of Mistle Thrushes and Alan’s luck continued as he saw three Goosanders flying overhead.  The trees along the road held a variety of common birds including Siskin and Song Thrush, which meant the only thrush to elude us there was Ring Ouzel.  Walking down stream past the Hotel we picked up Dippers near the confluence, which appeared to be nesting on one of the modern bridge stanchions – a really reliable site for seeing these engaging birds.

Bowlees was our next stop where more Siskin, strident Nuthatches and Chaffinches serenaded us as we had an early lunch break.  We then walked over to Low Force and duly picked up Grey Wagtail by the falls before walking across the fields and on towards Howsham Fell in the hope of Wheatear and Ring Ouzel – sadly not to be, but the walk there and back was lovely and another three Black Grouse were seen feeding in fields, bringing the day’s total to at least 31.  Most of us then departed for hotels or home, no other species being added walking to Summergill waterfall.

The species total for the day was a somewhat modest 55, with the lack of hirundines and other summer migrants possibly due to a combination of cold weather holding them up and us being there at the very start of April. However, the lek was everything we could have hoped for (frozen fingers aside!) and I have to admit to being hugely relieved that the change of date did pay off.

Jane Chapman