Ring Ouzel!

I saw my first ring ouzel last year on a visit to Weardale, and was determined to find this remarkable mountain blackbird again this year – this time with photographic evidence.

Bollihope Common, Weardale

The ring ouzel is a blackbird that likes it tough. Favouring mountainous areas, they look and sound similar to our garden blackbirds but with a couple of twists – a striking crescent of white on the chest, and a distinctively rock-like quality to their calls.

I knew they were in the area as images had started appearing on flickr, so last week My Taller Half and I set off on a trek from Stanhope to Frosterley, taking in Bollihope Common where I saw my first ring ouzel last year. It was a harder walk than we anticipated, so we spent very little time actually looking, but we were not disappointed.

A female flew loudly across our path just after I’d explained to My Taller Half to listen out for the sound of rocks clacking together. It’s just a shame we were negotiating a very steep descent at the time – definitely no photos.

We made our second attempt today. Instead of taking the bus we drove to the car park at Bollihope and headed along Howden burn, a pretty little stream nestled in its own little valley, and a respite from the bleak moorland landscape all around. When on a mission such as we were on to find a rare and elusive bird, it is only fitting that we achieve our goal at the end of the adventure after much searching and many false trails. But no, we saw two males almost straight away. Here’s the proof:

A male ring ouzel posing for his photograph

After a cup of freshly brewed tea, we wandered in and around the little valley but we were not treated to a better sighting. We caught further glimpses and we certainly heard them (final tally: 1 female, 2-4 males). There was plenty more to see though.

Time for a brew - Howden burn

Spring is a good time for Weardale birdwatchers. The waders have settled in to their breeding areas, the grouse are still displaying, and everywhere you go a wheatear or pipit will be fearlessly watching you. I’ll not bore you with a list, but the highlights of the day included a buzzard and a dipper.

Male wheatear singing for us. Wheatears have rock-like vocals too

It’s not just birds that are fascinating. Last week we found a dead frog (or possibly a toad) totally covered by what I thought were millipedes. Today we found a grouse carcass covered by what we could now clearly tell were beetle larvae. A bit of detective work has revealed them to be carrion beetles. Gruesome but vital actors in nature’s grand play.

(I’ll not post the pictures on the blog, but look here here here and here if you want to see. Warning: it’s a bit gross).

All in all a successful day, although I’ll be back soon to see if I can get a better shot of this very special bird.

As always, click on the photo to view large, and more photos on flickr. Please feel welcome to add a comment if you wish.

I couldn't resist sharing an arty shot with you. This is the Howden burn valley before the sun decided not to play any more

Update 19 April: The BTO have released this video and sound clips explaining how to distinguish a ring ouzel from a blackbird. Very informative and better than anything you can find on You Tube


About Yasmine

After working with horses for many years I came to my senses and got a 'proper job'. I now live in Weardale with My Taller Half, a mad border collie and 5 chickens. Still wishing I could spend all my time in the great outdoors
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7 Responses to Ring Ouzel!

  1. The Pal Guy says:

    I am from Canada but i was in the Durham County last summer. It was so beautiful and so was the Durham castle. These are great photos too.

  2. Helen says:

    Brilliant photos! You can upload them to iSpot for any IDs or birds, plants or invertebrates that you’re not sure about. Even those you know will go into the local environmental records, so please do upload them: http://www.ispot.org.uk/

  3. Zara Hamid says:

    more please! p.s I liked the beetles very much

  4. The area around Widdybank Farm in Upper Teesdale is another great location to spot the ring ouzel. I’d been waiting for years, until a couple of summers ago when I watched a pair in the bank behind the farm. I love their call and their swooping flight. It’s always satisfying when you finally meet up with an elusive species

  5. Pingback: Wrong Turn Right Choice | Muddy Tracks

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