Red Grouse, Ilkley Moor and me – surely the title for a future feature film involving one man and his struggles to photograph these daft as a brush gamebirds in an ever changing variety of unsuitable weather/seasonal conditions. At least that’s the way it feels to me having spent the best part of two decades trying, and largely failing, to get close to one of my favourite bird species during the couple of hours per year I find myself in a position to do so.
Just such a window opened up in late May when a post-lockdown family gathering saw us venturing out beyond the Cow and Calf once more. In typical fashion we were greeted by a leaden sky, strong breeze and just the hint that a soaking was not out of the question. Nevertheless we bravely ventured forth and soon picked up the first of many calls belying the presence of Red Grouse. Our first sighting came soon after with a distant individual posing well amongst the cotton-grass and scattered heather.
It was soon on the move and with no other easy targets offering themselves up I began to stalk. Wearing a bright blue coat probably did me no favours in this regard but surprisingly it wasn’t the disappearance of said grouse which called an end to this ill-fated venture but rather the aerial onslaught from a pair of very agitated Curlew. Quickly retracing my steps it became apparent that this area was full of presumably nesting Curlew and as we followed the footpath we were essentially being handed off from one set of defensive parents to the next. For a species in decline it was brilliant to see and hear such a concentration of birds and they also gave me the perfect excuse to try out some in-flight photography (the birds were in flight not me, just in case that needed clarifying).
Creative thirst quenched and with dark clouds rapidly approaching we bid the Curlew farewell and headed back towards the car. A couple of Wheatear were nice to see but top billing for the day was to ultimately go to, as I’d hoped, a Red Grouse. Sitting just off the main path this male was hunkered down amongst the heather and looked like it wasn’t going to be moved for anybody. Indeed even a passing dog caused barely a stir, great for me and my camera.
The first drops of rain brought this encounter to a premature close but there was no doubt that, this time at least, I’d come away from Ilkley Moor the victor.