Wednesday, 11 February 2015

A White Wilderness...

The big freeze set in on Geltsdale valley (along with a lot of the country) which provided some wonderful winter wildlife and photography opportunities out on the moors. 

Sun setting up on the moors...
Looking west from 'The Loop'
One of the wildlife highlights was encountering a solitary snow bunting up on 'The Greens' on Jan 30th. I got the bird in flight heading up the valley to the east. Another highlight that day was the number of black grouse on our side of the fell which was at least 14 birds (4 cocks) after a quiet spell with limited sightings previous to this. 

Black grouse, grey hen
As I was walking through a birch woodland further down the valley I suddenly heard a mighty crash down by the Gelt. I was curious so headed down that way and came across a mature Oak tree lying horizontal over the river and you could see by the base and uplifted roosts that it had just came down very recently. The sheer weight of the nine inches of snow that fell that night put so much pressure on the upper canopy of trees in the area that a number of them fell to their death! It was a very strange feeling for me hearing that Oak fall, knowing that it had lived for 200-300 years before coming to its death due to a brutal snow storm. But where there is death with nature there is normally a huge amount more of life involved as that tree will service a huge number of connected ecosystems. 
As I made my way back to the house I heard a brambling overhead which would be another nice record for the day.

Lonely Hawthorn...
Red Grouse cock bird having a poo on the wing!
Freeze frame...
The following day myself and dad watched a healthy number of black grouse on the opposing fell side with some birds feeding on exposed grass seed and a group of eight perched on a silver birch next to a well walked track. Another record from the house was a juvenile peregrine flying with real intent up the valley to the east. 

The New Water looking down stream
On Feb 1st we were at the start of a high pressure spell providing clear skies and low winds so I headed up the valley to attempt a broad-based field session consisting of birding, animal tracks, owl roost site monitoring and starscape photography later on. 
My first record was fox, stoat and rabbit tracks half way up the valley adding interest to the monochromatic ground level. I dropped down to a gill to check a number of crags for roosting activity and saw two tawny owls side by side high up on a crag. I also flushed 4 woodcock when working my way up it. 
At dusk I continued to the east up the valley and saw a short-eared owl taking off from the heather and flying away from me. Small numbers of red grouse were also seen making their way to roost. 

The Newbiggin Bend - A frozen waterfall and 5 feet icicles...
I arrived at a location known as the Newbiggin Bend, where two river networks meet. The sandstone cliffs are facing northerly along with the waterfall which meant they get very little sunlight throughout these short days. This provided a wonderful winter spectacle of large icicles and a frozen waterfall! Now my attention turned 100% to photography as I spent the next three hours trying to capture the best images I could. After the battery died I finished relatively happy with my results so trundled down the deep snow and ended up exhausted back home down the valley two hours later. A great winter adventure and I hope you like some of the photos featured in this post.

Thanks for looking, I really appreciate it :)

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