It’s not often that one gets to draw parallels between the world of motor racing and birding but on this occasion I might just be about to pull it off. As a little bit of background I should mention that we headed to Yorkshire last weekend for a few days away and the weather since then has proven, well, a little unpredictable. At least that’s the best excuse I can come up with for the complete inaccuracy of forecasts across the week culminating today in being told that we were enjoying unbroken sunshine when in fact it was actually lashing down with rain. Hmmmm. The upshot of this has meant that planning has pretty much gone out the window and each time we’ve headed for the hills has meant going equipped for every conceivable eventuality. So it was on Saturday when, having spent the (sunny) morning getting our accommodation sorted, we headed out to Ilkley Moor where I had a date with some Red Grouse. You can probably see where this is heading. Barely had we set off than the heavens opened, light drizzle at first but soon descending in to driving rain propelled by a steadily strengthening wind. The most annoying thing was that I’d managed to locate a troupe of eight Grouse nestled in amongst the Heather but conditions were so wet and dark that any photography was simply out of the question. We tried to wait it out in the shelter afforded by a few tress but in the end abandoned all hope and headed back.
Fast forward a few hours and we were back again, dried, reinvigorated, expectant and then ultimately disappointed. Again the heavens opened and as we found ourselves beneath the same trees once more I couldn’t help feeling that today was simply not going to be our day. This time though defeat was not an option and as the minutes ticked by we finally began to detect a little lightening to the sky. Soon after the rain stopped completely and in the still dull conditions I managed to grab a few acceptable images of the same Red Grouse we’d located earlier.
Looking down the valley it seemed that even better weather could be on its way so we headed off up the hillside to see if we could find any more Grouse. On a Grouse shooting moor that normally isn’t too difficult a proposition and we turned up at least another twelve individuals in a mile or so of walking, some of which were good enough to pose whilst others showed off perfectly their natural camouflage.
More unexpected up here was a Stoat briefly seen running across the footpath but even that was as nothing compared to what turned up next. It all started with Emma spotting a large bird off in the distance which, through the ‘bins, I quickly realised was in fact a Short Eared Owl mobbing a Marsh Harrier! Talk about out of the blue. The two birds had at each other a couple of times but it quickly became apparent that the Marsh Harrier was simply passing through and it soon drifted off to our left and was lost from sight below the hillside.
Turning our attention back to the Owl we tracked it across the moor as it started to head directly towards us. Barely able to control my excitement it got closer and closer before veering off at the last and landing on an outcrop of rock some distance away. Gob smacked would be a fair assessment and looking back through the shots I took they easily eclipse my previous efforts, all of which have come from the Isle of Mull.
To have seen either species on such a well used (albeit we were well off the beaten track) hillside would have been spectacular, but both? Lady luck must really have been shining on us.
By the time we’d dropped back towards the Cow and Calf (rock formations if you were wondering) the sun was positively blazing and our hardships from earlier in the day were almost forgotten. There was even a juvenile Stonechat perched in amongst the surrounding Bracken, its adult plumage just beginning to break through.
After all that had happened I couldn’t help thinking back to what Daniil Kvyat had said upon gaining his first Formula 1 podium the weekend before following an eventful race, that until that moment he hadn’t really understood the meaning of never giving up. Most people thought this a slightly strange thing to say as surely the meaning was obvious, but after our change in fortunes I could finally see where he was coming from. The basic premise is one we all understand but to see it come t fruition? Now that’s something else.