Mike Warburton Photography

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Black Grouse Lek

Posted by Mike Warburton Photography on January 7, 2015 at 1:35 PM

I thought after about eighteen months I had better update my blog lol.

Early last year I went up to North Wales with mate and fellow Wildlife Photographer Andrew Symons to watch Black Grouse lekking for the first time. Its an amazing spectacle of Nature and to see it first hand was awesome as I had always wanted to do so. We only viewed the Lek from the car so pics were near impossible but the experience was enough to get me hooked on these charismatic birds.

Black Grouse in Wales have declined dramatically over the last 100 years or so mainly through loss of habitat but are making a slow but steady recovery and now number over 200 lekking males mainly in the North. After seeing the Lek for the first time I was very keen to get some pics but the only place where I would be guaranteed some images would be the `Pay as you Shoot` hides in the Scottish Highlands.I have never been one to pay for the privilege of shooting Wildlife and have always preferred to do the fieldwork myself as any images I get are more satisfying but how would I get images of them without going down that route?

Cue a message from friend and Wildlife Photographer Drew Buckley who had read of our journey up North and was looking for some images of Black Grouse for his upcoming book. I contacted some associates that issue my Schedule 1 Licence and after several weeks (and about 30 miles of red tape) I got the permission needed to erect a hide on a Lek.

When I made my first visit to the site with Andrew we noted a particular Lek that was prime to set a hide up on. The light was right and with several very large felled Conifers on the edge of the Lek there was enough cover to conceal us. I discussed it with Drew and we arranged to meet on site a few days later. I got there at first light and managed some pics from the car but nothing great to be honest. When Drew arrived it was foggy,windy and raining heavily.We waited for the birds to finish Lekking and then carried the gear we needed up onto the moor.We cleared the inner branches of the larger conifer and erected my pop up hide `inside` the tree and completed the look by covering it with a camo net and topping off with the removed branches.The scene was set.

Drew then observed from a distance the evening and following morning Leks to see if the birds were agitated by the hide but thankfully they just carried on as normal. Had they been nervous of it in any way we would have taken it down and abandoned the project no question. True Wildlife Photographers capture their images whereby the subjects act naturally as if the Photographer isnt there. That is where Fieldcraft skills and subject knowledge come into play and always yield the best results.

Drew had a few sessions on his own throughout the week and I also managed two visits the first of which almost ended in disaster. I went up with good friend Gary and I parked up on the single track mountain road opposite the hide/Lek. We put the head torches on and made our way with the Camera gear up onto the Moor. After about half an hour the sky was lightening fast and we still hadnt found the hide even though it was only five minutes from the road. Eventually we came across it and rushed to get in. As soon as we had we could here the first birds arriving. If they had seen us entering they would have abandoned the Lek and it would have been game over. After a fantastic session with the Grouse lekking just a few feet in front and a close flyby by a quartering Ringtail Hen Harrier we left the hide and headed for the car. We should have been able to see the car from the hide but it was nowhere in sight. Thinking it must have been parked up around the bend we made our way. Getting to the bend we could see the car another mile up the road! We searched about two square miles of open moor in pitch black for something that was designed not to be seen!

My second and final visit was with Andrew and having marked the correct parking spot we found the hide straight away. The sounds coming from these stunning birds in the near dark of a lonely moor is hard to describe. Then you see through the murky light the bright rosette of the tail feathers moving around as they joust with each other. All this going on and you are just willing for it to get light quickly even if its only just enough to capture something of them on Camera.Some of the images I captured are in the Birds (General) Folder in the main Gallery. I hope you like them as much as I enjoyed taking them.

A truly fantastic experience and privilege and certainly one of the highlights in all my years of watching and photographing the Wildlife of my home country of Wales.

One thing I wont miss though is the 1am starts and the 240 mile round trip!

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