We’ve been feeling a bit left out here in South Wales whilst the rest of the country has been battling unseasonal snow, so for the Easter weekend it only seemed logical that we head north to get a piece of the action. Courtesy of a cheap Travelodge in Glossop (and a very nice one at that) the Peak District became our destination complete with white hills, drifts as tall as a person and roadside verges covered in ploughed snow that made driving more akin to a grand prix around the streets of Monaco than the expected rolling countryside. Needless to say I was in my element and we both got to experience some of the toughest walking conditions that either of us have ever faced. The effort was well worth it though with stunning scenery, clear blue skies and some of the best wildlife encounters of recent months.
Bleaklow was to be our first expedition and I’d only just parked the car when the sight of a Red Grouse materialised before us. Back at the beginning of the year I’d hoped to photograph these charismatic birds in the snow but had been badly let down by a lack of the white stuff. That was certainly not going to be a problem here and within just a few minutes of stepping foot in the Peak District I already had my first success under my belt.
As we set off along the Pennine Way more Red Grouse could be heard and seen in all directions. They were however very flighty and it took a good few miles before I again found an approachable bird. Continuing my run of good fortune it turned out to be a male and with a female not far away it stood its ground and posed beautifully. I could have stayed with him for much longer than I actually did, but with a wind chill of well below zero it didn’t pay to stick around in the same spot for too long. Even so the results of those few minutes are easily my favourite Grouse pictures to date.
Even when we couldn’t see any birds, signs of their presence were never far away. It seemed that every patch of snow was criss-crossed with the tracks of Red Grouse, including these stunning wing indentations from a bird taking flight. This is something I’ve always wanted to see and is another big tick in my list of life experiences.
Other tracks were also present and in even greater concentrations, though these definitely didn’t belong to a bird. Initially we put them down to Rabbits but their size told us that Mountain Hares were a much more likely candidate. It didn’t take long before we’d spotted our first one leaping away at some distance, and to be honest that was the best view I thought we’d get. Therefore when Emma spotted another hunkered down I couldn’t quite believe it. Even better was that this one was in its full winter coat and didn’t mind my somewhat graceless approach (walking discreetly across snow when you keep sinking is pretty tricky!).
Having never seen Mountain Hares before I was pretty made up, especially considering the fact that I didn’t even know the Peak District had its own population. According to the interweb this is the only British location outside of Scotland where they can be found, and it seemed as if they couldn’t stop showing off to us. Although the other individuals seen were all a lot more distant it did allow me to create some images which hopefully show them in their natural habitat.
Needless to say this was one hell of a way to start our trip and although we saw no more Hares, things didn’t let up in terms of the scenery or the walking………