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Recalling a Summer Foray on to the Moors of Northern England

Updated on August 5, 2015

Notes from a Lancashire Countryman

As I eagerly look forward to the summer months, I recall a day on one of the rare glorious days that last summer afforded, in between the unremitting wet weather that prevailed. Encouraged by the sunshine I drove up to the northern Pennines { a range of hills known as the "back bone" of England}. The northern Pennines has a diverse range of habitat, which consists of rolling hills and dales, to remote moorland that gives the illusion of stretching into affinity. The moors, depending on your view, can appear desolate barren places or seen as a place of secluded beauty. Personally I take the latter view. A day spent on the moor can be a rewarding experience for the naturalist. In the remoteness it is possible to find enough cover, often a place where sheep take shelter from winter winds, in the lee of a rocky crag, to settle down and let nature come to you.

The moorland wildlife is made up of wary species that detect movement on their landscape with ease, which cause them to remain motionless and most difficult to locate, and even harder to observe. Patience is a virtue and never more so when one wishes to observe the wonders of nature. I have spent many hours putting my theory into practice without seeing anything of note apart from the scenic landscape that I have endeavoured to blend into.However, other hours have been rewarded with memorable experiences that filled the pages of my notebook. I write now of such a day.

Pennine beauty

The secluded beauty of the Pennine hills. Photograph courtesy G-man.
The secluded beauty of the Pennine hills. Photograph courtesy G-man.

Moorland of ravishing beauty

The day was still the moorland took on a ravishing beauty, which stretched above and beyond the crag where I had chosen to settle. The gentle bleeting of sheep was accompanied by the drone of bees. Far away, across the valley, the hills were obscured by a distant haze. I found the view ceaselessly appealing. Scanning the landscape with my binoculars revealed tracks through the grasses and heather made by the passage of innumerable, wandering sheep, that litter this location.

Butterflies could be observed flitting about the moorland flora and now and again a meadow pipit would suddenly fly up from the vegetation crying harsh, high-pitched notes before landing again in similar vegetation a few yards away. \Here and there a careless jumble of grey stones broke the dominance of moorland herbage, this was truly a land of tones, not in the least diminished by repetition.

After expanding a great deal of time and patience I was rewarded with my first notable sighting.A few hundred yards from my rocky abode, I spotted a short eared owl. This silent-winged hunter is a beautiful bird. It glided serenely across my view, low to the ground. When in flight these birds give the illusion of being large and bulky, in actual fact they are extremely light weight which enable them to fly and glide with ease.

A diurnal owl

The short-eared owl is a diurnal flyer. Its haunts are open country. Photograph courtesy of Mdf.
The short-eared owl is a diurnal flyer. Its haunts are open country. Photograph courtesy of Mdf.

Short eared owl

It is a curious fact that the short-eared owl is one of our rarest native species, while at the same time is often the species most likely to be seen, as they are active by day in their favourite haunts of open country with limited tree cover. The plumage of this owl is a background colour of a yellowish-buff, which is broken by black streaks and barred brown markings on its back and head, the tail is broadly barred. the under parts are are of a buff colour with paler streaks, which helps this ground nesting bird to blend in with the vegetation. The eyes are yellow surrounded by dark ring of feathers which enhance the striking facial disk. Because their numbers are in decline, the short eared owl is a bird of conservation concern, however, it is not a priority species at the present time.

Short eared owls tend to hover in the manner of a kestrel before taking its prey {voles mice etc} by swooping down on them with sharp uncompromising talons. The owl enthralled me for a couple of minutes with its slow quartering of the moorland before it disappeared from view as silently as it had appeared.

Top. Heather clad moorland. Bottom, Black grouse

Pennine heather is a remarkable sight. Photograph courtesy of Colin Grice.
Pennine heather is a remarkable sight. Photograph courtesy of Colin Grice.
The male black grouse is an elusive bird, wary of man.
The male black grouse is an elusive bird, wary of man.

A while later---

A while later , and again, with the aid of my binoculars, I observed a small covey of black grouse, another denizen of open moorland, flying swiftly over the hill to my right. Another hour past with out further sightings of note, so I decided to make my way down from my vantage point to the wooded area of the valley a couple of miles away. About half way to my destination, as I made my way along a meandering track, a merlin flew past me at great speed, passing no more than a couple of yards away, just allowing me a tantalizing glimpse before it was gone.

Approaching the the wood the landscape changed dramatically the moorland giving way to lush green grass made more beautiful after the hills on the moor and the sun dried wiry heather. By the copse two rabbits stayed motionless as I approached before suddenly bolting for the safety of bracken cover.

Entering the woodland was like entering another world, a cleaner, fresher, more vibrant place, where the wildlife thrived and seemed happy to let me know that they lived there. Grey squirrels openly foraged, birds sang heartily and the flowers greeted me with smiling faces of differing hues. My attention was drawn to the magnetic trill of a bird I have often heard in the woodlands of the northern Pennines-the summer visiting willow warbler. this bird is also experiencing huge declines in its population numbers. It is a sad fact that in many areas , including its former haunts in Cheshire,, for instance, the wood warbler is now deemed to be very scarce.

Wood warbler

The wood warbler used to be numerous but is now in decline. Photograph courtesy of Oskila
The wood warbler used to be numerous but is now in decline. Photograph courtesy of Oskila

Sightings of---

Sightings of this large warbler are difficult to obtain, even when the distinctive song can be heard, the singer is usually well concealed in the dense foliage of the canopy crown. it is a large warbler some 12cm long brightly coloured with yellowish green upper parts, a yellow eye stripe, throat and upper chest. The under parts are a clean white. The tail and wings are browner but the margins can vary in degrees of yellow. This beautiful bird arrives in May and stays until September, long may it do so. I noted its presence in my note book along with notes about the short-eared owl, merlin and black grouse. To a naturalist these notes make rewarding reading.


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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Darlene, as always you are very generous and encouraging with your appreciated comments. Going to purchase your book soon .

    • Darlene Sabella profile image

      Darlene Sabella 

      8 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

      What a delight, I am so jealous to know this is your world, what a wonder of wonders life is! I love the owl, speaking heart is the name of my white owl in my book, the native americans believe they can speak to our hearts, however a while owl is a bad omen, if a white owl should cross their path it means death, to you or someone very close to you. So if they were to see this, that would run home as fast as their feet and air would allow them. Thank you for another journey to the back bone. Love your writing.


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