Friday, 26 March 2010

Red Grouse Study (1)

So far this spring I have made two trips to the Peak District where my observations for this project will take place.
On the first occasion my real targets were Mountain Hare, but because of inclement weather I settled for photographing Red Grouse.
The second occasion the Grouse were my targets and after observing an interesting trait in their behaviour, the seeds of this project were sewn...
The area of Bleaklow that I visited on Sunday contained a total of 3 pairs of Grouse in an area roughly about a square mile.
Whether or not all 3 pairs were nesting in this immediate area remains to be seen because the Red Grouse is a very territorial bird and the males fight aggressively to establish breeding territory throughout the autumn and into winter.
I decided to focus my attention on the pair that were nearest to the location I had parked my car because at this point my only aim was to photograph the birds and then leave.
As I was making my way towards these birds, which were still a good half a mile away, something caught my eye hiding in the heather...This it turns out was a female Grouse and I was immediately struck by how well camouflaged she was in this her natural habitat.

I made my way slowly and stealthily towards her, keeping as low as it was possible to do so while carrying my camera equipment over exposed open moorland.
As I got closer to the bird I fully expected to flush her, but to my surprise she stayed put until I was within 20 feet or so, but by this time her head was raised and her eyes were firmly upon me.

Then the moment came that inspired to begin this little project...
Seemingly out of nowhere, a male appeared next to the female and started to display vigorously.
The display it turns out wasn't for the female but for myself!

My eyes and camera were transfixed on this fine looking male as he proceed to strut almost Rooster like, up and down in front of the female, all the time edging a little further away from her position.

Eventually he changed his tact slightly and moved a good few yards away from the site of the female, but walked a good few feet closer to me.

I found all this to be totally mesmerising and I soon realized that this was the response he was after because all the while the male was keeping me entertained, the female was making an exit in the other direction...I'd been had by a Red Grouse!

Next, I decided to back off by quite some distance and the male soon rejoined his mate about a hundred or so yards from their original location.

I then set off slowly in the direction of their new location and I was soon only a matter of yards away again...I decided to stop here and see what happened.

To my surprise the birds didn't seem to mind my presence at this new spot and were happily feeding, sometimes even moving closer towards me.
Every time they did move away, I followed keeping a constant distance of about 20-25 feet between us...This I think is as close as I want to get because the last thing I want to do is cause any distress to these beautiful birds.
In conclusion, I can only think that the site where I first saw the female must have been her nest site and although it's a little early for her to be sat on eggs, I think that this must have been thought of as a premium spot for rearing her young...This feeling was re-enforced after seeing the 2 birds returning to this spot after I had later moved on.

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