The coronavirus lockdown must finally be getting to me: yesterday, I spent an hour and a half gardening. This morning, in an attempt to restore an element of normality, I decided to head up to the Moor. I encountered more than I expected.
Before I’d even reached the Moor, my first willow warbler of the year, singing its heart out from a telephone wire above the track to the golf course. Then, as I stepped through the first Moor gate, a red grouse launched from the heather in blind panic, darting into the nearby disused quarry for cover in a barrage of guks. But my first real thrill came in the form of a female roe deer, wonderfully camouflaged in the dry grass and heather just above the golf course. Roe deer are common enough around here, but this was the first I’d ever seen on the Moor.
I decided to pay a quick visit to Churn Milk Joan, one of the standing stones marking the boundary between the parishes of Wadsworth and Midgley. She is said to have been a local penny stone, where, in years of plague, people left money in exchange for provisions. Who would have thought, in 2020, we would have to adopt similar practices?
Having paid my respects to Joan, I headed up to the trig point, meadow pipits pi-pit-ing, a distant curlew cur-lew-ing, and lapwings woot-ing overhead. An altruistic local had rejuvenated the concrete trig pillar with a fresh coat of still-wet white paint. I continued along the Edge, immediately spooking my first wheatear of the year: a female, flashing her eponymous white arse as she headed off low through the long grass. Any day featuring a wheatear is a good day. Definitely a top-ten bird.
Skylarks were singing from on high along the Edge, most of them hidden in the glare of the sun. A kestrel hung briefly in the updraught before being pestered away by a swallow. Then I spotted something large moving through last year’s dead grass far below. Another roe deer: a male this time! I would never have seen him, had he not moved. He headed off in the direction of Johnny House, while I continued along the Edge, then descended through parched heather and early cotton-grass.
More meadow pipits as I made my way back alongside the wall at the edge of the Moor. A mistle thrush hunted for worms in the field below. A carrion crow perched aloof on a fence post. Then, as I approached Johnny House, I spotted the roe buck again, on the far side of the fence. Seconds later, he leapt effortlessly over the fence and began walking towards me. I couldn’t believe my luck: he mustn’t have seen me. I dropped slowly to one knee to conceal my vertical human outline, and raised my camera. He continued to advance, trotting, then walking, then halting and looked straight at me, ears erect. He must have heard my camera click. As far a I could tell, he still hadn’t seen me, but he knew something was there. Altering his course slightly, he trotted then bounced through the heather, back towards the Edge, his white tail disappearing over the skyline. What a thrill!
As I reached Johnny House, three final treats: a magnificent stonechat perched atop the heather, a green hairstreak butterfly, and a distant view of my old friend the nearly dead tree once again miraculously covered in a new leaves.
Later, at dusk, yet another treat. As I stood on the patio taking in the view, a barn owl flew past and began to quarter the field on silent clockwork wings. I ran into the house to fetch Jen, then back into the garden with my phone’s camera set to video. The resulting footage certainly won’t win any prizes, but it captured a magical minute as the ghostly figure criss-crossed the field in the gloaming before heading off downhill, hopefully to delight some other thrilled local.
A wonderful day’s wildlife. Beats gardening any day of the week.
“…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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