|Posted by Mike Warburton Photography on April 11, 2013 at 3:50 PM|
One bogey species of Bird for me has been the Red Grouse.For longer than I can remember I have wanted a decent image of one in its natural habitat of the moor for two reasons.One,its a very challenging subject around here as they are very skittish.Two,I wanted to use a shot of this species for a forthcoming Upland Birds of Wales Calendar.I could have gone the easy route and travelled to the North Yorkshire Moors where they are high in numbers a quite approachable but I didnt want to add images to a Calendar of Welsh Birds with one from England as I feel it would be cheating.
My chosen site to work with the Grouse is a local Heather Moor in the Brecon Beacons National Park.It isnt a `Keepered` Moor so the Birds are truly wild,low in number and very hard to approach.My first visit was in some late Winter snow combined with thick fog.It was so frustrating hearing the males cackling and not knowing where they are.I did try stalking a pair but the fog gave the impression that the Birds I was struggling to make out were massive so I thought they must be Pheasants.They were in fact Grouse but I was a lot closer than I thought and promptly flew off.My second visit was made with my good mate Andrew and was in high winds with the snow still thick on the ground.The temperature when we left the car was -6 but with the wind chill factor we made out that it was probably more like -10.No Grouse at all that day as I think they had moved down to the lower slopes to feed and when your actual beard freezes you know its time to make a move home!
By far my best result with the Grouse was just yesterday evening whilst walking the the Dog with the wife.We made our way to the trig point of the mountain and on our way back we were watching a couple of males displaying on the lower slope.The wife said "Is that one,with the red on his head" to which I looked but just couldnt see it.Eventually I did and it looked about 60 metres away so I had to plan my approach.
The area between myself and the Grouse was rough moorland being a mixture of Peat,Rocks and Heather but being on level ground I knew it would be a hard stalk having to get down low.With the Bird at ground level anything above a couple of feet will be sillouetted against the skyline so it would have to be a `on the belly`job.This method means that all the Bird will see is my head and shoulders which will hopefully blend in with the surroundings.The way I move whilst stalking this way is to hold the Camera in my hands and drag myself along with my elbows always keeping an eye on my target.It can be tempting to use my knees but to do so would raise my backside into the air above my head as its quite large so changing my profile and thus risk spooking the Grouse.The only time I would make ground is when the Grouse seemed happy to carry on feeding.Everytime he would raise his head for a look around I would stop and wait for him to settle again,however long it took.My goal was to get to a rock between us so I can brace my camera against the side of it as the light was crap giving slow shutter speeds.You should never look over cover whilst working open country as you stick out like a sore thumb scaring everything around you.When I eventually got to the rock he settled down to feed once more and I managed about 10 minutes with him snapping away.To say I was pleased with the results is an understatement and I was still buzzing about it today in work!
There was one downside though...the wife wanted to go to Morrisons on the way home but with me covered in Peat,Mud and soaking wet I wasnt going anywhere.
I do have to thank the wife though for spotting him in the first place though and I am hoping she will come with me on the weekend as a spotter for another session.I am not sure the 5am start will go down too well though.