6 March 2020

What would have been Mum’s 83rd birthday. A hard frost overnight, with a clear, still sky in the morning. The perfect excuse for a walk on the Moor.

Before I’d even reached the second Moor gate—the start of the Moor proper, as far as I’m concerned—I heard the familiar Go back! Go back! call of a red grouse from the disused quarry behind me. For once I obeyed instructions, turning back to see if I could sneak up on the bird. He watched me warily from the heather until I was concealed by the quarry-side, whereupon I slipped into the quarry and bumbled my way through tussocky heather and over loose piles of millstone grit, heading in the general direction of the bird. I could hear him clucking softly from the heather above me, over the lip of the quarry. He must have been able to hear me too: my attempt at walking in stealth mode was ungainly in the extreme. His clucks grew louder and more frequent as I got to within about 10 metres of him, although I still couldn’t see him. Then he exploded out of the heather, flying off low over the skyline as my camera snapped away. Not one of the photos was in focus, although one I’d taken before I entered the quarry was usable.

Red grouse

As I approached Churn Milk Joan, the famous local standing stone bearing prehistoric cup-and-ring carvings, I heard an arcade-game WHOOP! off to my right, and my heart skipped a beat… The lapwings were back! I spent the next 20 minutes peering over the drystone wall into the field below, as three lapwings soared, and plummeted in their unmistakeable courtship display. One even took the opportunity to dive-bomb a hare that was sneaking through a clump of moor-grass. I love lapwings. Definitely a top-ten bird!

Lapwings

Having, as tradition demands, left a coin atop Churn Milk Joan, I made my way up to the trig point for a brew, then headed along the edge, spooking several more grouse in the process. I then headed down and back along the wall at the edge of the Moor. As I neared Johnny House, my heart skipped another beat… Far off in the fields below, the lilting warble of the season’s first curlew. So I guess that makes it official: spring is definitely in the air.

Red grouse

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Much later, at 5:30pm, as Jen and I were driving down the hill past the Farm, a barn owl swung up from the field below and began to flutter back and forth, low above the long grass. I slowed down to a crawl for twenty thrilling seconds as we watched the magnificent bird hunting just a few metres from the car, its wide wings translucent against the lowering sun. Unfortunately, other rush-hour cars were behind us, and their drivers didn’t seem in the least bit interested in owls, so we had to move on.

I remain convinced the owl is roosting in one of the Farm’s out-buildings.

Richard Carter is a writer and photo­grapher living in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire.WebsiteFacebookTwitterNewsletterBooks
Buy my book: On the Moor: Science, History and Nature on a Country Walk
…wonderful. Science and history and geography and evolution and culture all tangled up in musings while walking about the moors around Hebden Bridge.”—PZ Myers
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1 thought on “6 March 2020

  1. Wow. Barn Owls are so scarce in Ontario that a sighting like that would cause a stampede. Their roosts are highly protected. I do get to watch the hunting prowess of Snowy Owls as they irrupted south this year. They seem to enjoy devouring pigeons and red breasted mergansers.

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