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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.