Thursday, 9 June 2011

Black Grouse

My son was 'mountain-biking' yesterday evening, with his Explorer Scout unit. They stay for about 2 hours, but, since it takes at least 30 mins to get there and another 30 mins to get home, I put my boots in the car and walk whilst he's cycling. The centre he uses is in an area of forest and there are way-marked foot paths, however, walkers are in the minority! We find most folks engaged in out-door pursuits to be friendly, helpful people, generally. My son has been rescued by kind souls providing extra inner tubes etc in the past - when he has worked through the ones he had on the bike and his spares. Unfortunately for me, the centre now has a barbecue night on a Wednesday and, yesterday, were having some sort of time trial/race. The cycle and bike routes are entirely separate and clearly marked. However, the forest was far from quiet and crossing the main cycle tracks was almost like trying to cross a town by-pass in the rush hour. I followed the marked trail to its junction with a network of public footpaths over open moorland and escaped over the stile into peace and quiet.

When timber is cut the habitat is drastically changed. Good practice suggests that some trunks should be left as nest sites and perches, particularly for woodpeckers. These serve the purpose but have also been employed as something akin to totem poles. I have often wondered whether the carved silhouettes would be rocognizable to their real cousins and thus serve to scare them off. I took pics of a few including the 'bikes' for my son's benefit:

Once out in the open it was very windy and a little cold. There were many small, ground-nesting song birds which I did not identify. The path is little more than a sheep track - in places not even that. The sheep had obviously found it a little narrow and kindly left tufts of their fleece. I gathered some on the way back - although probably not exactly the same tufts as I saw on the way! The path was marked with arrows mounted on short posts at sensible intervals. I wasn't carrying a map having meant to stay on the forest trails, but the path was easy to follow. The area is used by local groups carrying out Bronze Expeditions for D of E and I was wondering how any of them ever managed to get lost - in good visibility at any rate. I walked for half the time available to me and then turned back. There were some lovely lichens, new curls of bracken and many heathers and grasses but it was much too windy for decent photos, neither I nor they could stand still! I took these pics just to reference the general colours:

As previously mentioned, the path was marked although otherwise a little indistinct. Having turned back the previously visible posts were now hidden by the heather and I took a wrong turning cunningly worn for me by the sheep! I could see the stile I was returning to, so was not lost. However, I must admit it would have been a little different in fog! The forest is peppered with carved 'statues' representing local wildlife. The forest trail, up to the stile, is marked as the 'black grouse' trail and statues of the birds - in a frighteningly large scale mark the stile. As I was running out of even the narrowest of sheep trails, I heard the characteristic 'Go Back' call followed by a sqwawk and a black grouse rose a little above the heather and flew of in alarm. I was thrilled to see both it, and its mate, by whom it was followed, but very sorry to have disturbed them.

My tracking skills are dreadful, I tried to re-trace my steps and failed. Not wanting to disturb them again I set off in an arc towards the stile. Unfortunately, the heather was getting deeper and I was concerned about stumbling across more nest sites  - be they of grouse or other birds. There were areas of recently burned moorland which I decided would be safer, since I could see my feet at least. I trudged through a very boggy bit to get to the first. Now I know that my bargain-priced boots are both comfortable and waterproof! My walking pole was not a 'must-have' 'look-the-part' accessory, but essential. My right arm aches almost as much as my legs today. I have found in the past that walking poles allow one to retain some dignity whilst effectively proceeding on all fours. Unfortunately my dignity was temporarily abandoned when I tripped over one heather bush - a springy soft landing at least! I was now short of time and the small patches of deep heather which I was still having to wade through were hard work. The areas of short new growth worked well but were not conveniently placed and I was zig-zagging in a ridiculous way towards the stile. I probably only had to negotiate about 500 or 600 path-less meters, but they wore me out.

I finally found my son and bike. Normally, after mountain biking he is forced to change or travel home sitting on a towel. On this occasion I was wetter than he was!


  1. Sounds like quite an adventure, good the weather was fine!

  2. I love the totem pole wood carvings. What a good idea to keep them for habitat. We've got an old tree in the garden that seems to be used by some owls. We've found 3 pellets underneath it this week. Great for a 7 year old to dissect. apryl