To get up or not to get up, that was the question. In doing so (really early) I would surely be able to get up to Denbighshire in North Wales to see the black grouse lekking - a species I've not seen before. And with the weather promising to be decent, surely I'd make the effort?
Well, no. After a few early starts for work in the week, the idea of getting up that early on a weekend fell on sleepy ears, and so, after a brief lie in, I arrived in North Wales at about 10am, to find Stuart's car parked up beside the road. I just knew he'd got up early and a phone call later confirmed it. They'd been there for 5:30am (him, Ken and John) and seen about 3 hours of wonderful lekking, with 7 black grouse. The light hadn't been great, but I wished I'd made the effort and wondered if I'd regret it.
Last year, a Dartford Warbler found photographer-fame when it took up residence in the same area, and it's survived a year there. A bit of waiting and watching and second-guessing where it'd land next resulted in a few more decent shots of this bird, before it zipped off across the moors and out of sight.
Back at the cars, I spotted a pair of black grouse over a valley, wandering along the steep slopes. Too far for even a record shot, but good to see (a first for me - I don't do "ticks" as the word reminds me of some horrid insects picked up on Uist one year - ewww). At this point, the lads headed back towards England, leaving me to search the moors for grouse on my own. I didn't hold much hope, especially after returning to the valley where the pair had been seen, to find they'd "clucked" off.
Whilst munching on my sarnies, I noticed a pair of stonechats fluttering down from their lofty perches, to pick up insects from beside the road, so I put down the window, and waited. Had to do a bit of contortion to get the shots - sitting almost on the dashboard to get one, but I love these birds, so was worth the discomfort.
Clouds started to gather over the tops of the hills, and I thought I'd drive around a bit in hope of spotting something. After an hour, all I'd seen were pipits and a few more stonechats. I was about to head home when I decided the road deserved another go, and as the hail began to fall, I spotted a black neck poking up above the heather. Memories of spotting red grouse from Scotland came back, and I quickly parked up nearby.
I could also see (through the awful weather) another bird further off too, but that seemed to be heading away, until suddenly, it took off, and flew towards me, over the road and landed about 80 yards away, on a small lump of grass. To see one out in the open and relatively close was good enough for me, but when it then started to perform, I couldn't believe it.
Making all the sounds, ruffling feathers, posturing and calling out - it was a sight for sore eyes.
The other one, whose head I'd seen poking out the undergrowth just watched, and stayed out of sight. After about 20 mins, the lekking ceased and the bird flew off, down over the hill and away from me. By now though, the hail had eased and it was merely snowing!! The temperature had dropped from about 8 down to 3 Celcius in maybe an hour, and it was really horrid. The grouse nearby, sat up and came out of cover in the worst of the weather, before attempting to call and posture itself; almost as if practising.
In the distance, I spotted a bird quartering the moors and a quick look through my bins revealed a hen harrier. Fantastic. Shame the weather was so dire, but a record shot bagged as it crossed the road in front of me.
Typically, as soon as the weather threatened to improve, the grouse then flew off!
I had wanted to spend Sunday locally, and so the day started with that in mind. Near Sambourne, I had hoped to catch up with a cuckoo heard there, but no sign of it. Instead I found a lovely kestrel hunting, and then later, a not so lovely traffic jam near a Car Boot Sale.
Further on, near Feckenham, the sound of a chiffchaff beside the road prompted another stop off, and I managed some shots of it as it sang from the hedgerow.
I had hoped to explore Shenstone, but upon arrival in the area, I had noticed my steering was a bit weird, and putting down the window I could hear a frap-frap-frap sound. Parking up revealed the problem - a flat, and so it was the end of the day. Spare wheel on, and the rest of the day spent in the tyre centre.
Such is life!