Friday, 26 April 2013

Reading the Signs

Walk through any woodland in the middle of the day and you will hear birds singing, insects buzzing and perhaps if lucky you may even see the odd deer. It has to be said that we probably only spot a tiny fraction of the wildlife that is around. This is usually because we make far too much noise, visit at the wrong time, or simply look without seeing - a case of not seeing the wood for the trees I suppose. On some occasions when stepping into a wood I even get the feeling I have just missed something special - a wild party perhaps. Looking closely I may see the fragmented shells of acorns, some scuffed ground with scattered feathers, perhaps a shadowy movement in the distance, even a scuffle in the undergrowth, but one thing for sure the party seems to be over now the human has arrived.

Being the average noisy human, tracking and recognising animal signs has become a valuable skill alongside my photography that I have had to develop. As a result I have spent a lot of time searching for animal tracks and signs and it never ceases to amaze me just how much unseen animal activity takes place each day/night. 

For example a couple of weeks ago while wandering alongside a stream in a wood I have permission to visit near Barnard Castle I spotted signs that a frog had been predated. 

06D-4657 Predated Remains of a Common Frog Rana temporaria.
Frog ovaries containing eggs

A little further upstream I also noticed a partial paw print on the stream margin but unfortunately the track was pretty degraded having been partly eroded by the stream. Looking closely at the track I thought it looked a bit like otter, but beyond that it could have been anything really. A search further along the shallow stream margin did not produce anything else and I had doubts that considering the size of the stream (you could step over it in one good stride in some places) an otter would be unlikely to stray up here a long way from the river Tees and its larger tributaries. On the other hand I have heard anecdotal evidence of otter sightings miles from rivers, and believe it or not, even a sighting of one on the slopes of Mickle Fell by someone from Natural England.

Doubts aside I decided to keep an open mind and made a couple more visits but found little other than more frog remains. Then at the beginning of last week I spotted some spraint on the bank side. 

06D-5098 Otter Lutra lutra Spraint Teesdale
Otter spraint containing frog remains

Still unconvinced I gave it a sniff. It is probably worth mentioning at this point that folk obsessed by otters regularly sniff any spraint that contains lots of fish bones. If it is from another carnivore such as mink you will get that unmistakable pungent smell of carnivore. On the other hand if it is otter spraint you will notice a slight fishy smell that surprisingly is not at all unpleasant. Some people describe it as the smell of Jasmine Tea but to be honest I have never got that. There was it has to be said something fishy going on and a quick look around confirmed it beyond all doubt when I spotted the unmistakable paw prints of an otter only a few feet away. 

06D-5164 Otter Lutra lutra paw print in Mud Teesdale
Otter paw print

These were only hours old and so fresh I decided to make a plaster cast of the print. 
06D-5291a Diagram and Otter Lutra lutra print
A cast of the print

Its hard to see on a pic of this size so I have roughly outlined the key features of the print which has five toes as opposed to the four which can be seen in a domestic dog or fox track.

This is also a fairly big print at 9cm long and just under 8cm at the widest point. In fact the size makes me wonder whether this is actually an adult male. If so it is unlikely to hang around for long. Interestingly while it wasn't possible to see the imprint of the webbing between the toes in the mud itself, the cast actually shows it very clearly.

Returning home I sent the images to Durham Wildlife Trust and they soon confirmed the prints were otter tracks. So there you have it, evidence of a wild Otter close to where I live and in a stream that has previously not recorded any activity - wonderful. 

Text/images copyright David Forster/

Monday, 15 April 2013

Red Grouse (Lagopus lagopus) in the Snow

Another shot of a red grouse in the snow from a couple of weeks ago.  Unlike the Ptarmigan they do not develop white plumage and are quite easy to spot when the moors are snow covered.

A beautiful bird with wonderful feather detail.  The bright red eye combs are just beginning to form on this individual.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Cow Green and Upper Teesdale - Plenty of snow left.

A few (mainly record shots) from Upper Teesdale, grabbed during a wander down to Cow Green reservoir with Al last week. The one of the Grouse is from a few weeks ago when many of us thought spring was just around the corner.

06D-4176 The B6277 from the car
The B6277 road still had decent sized drifts.

The other day when I came down it had blown in quite badly and it was just one lane in places.

06D-4161 Digging out part of the B6277 road.
Today they were widening the road

06D-4181 Walker Walking between walls of snow on the road alongside Cow Green reservoir in Upper Teesdale County Durham UK.
The road down to the dam

06D-4170 Snow Drifts Around Ashgill Head Harwood in Upper Teesdale County Durham UK
Drifts at Ashgill Head

Cow Green Reservoir was well frozen with excellent views of the high Pennine mountains of Cross Fell, Little Dun Fell and Great Dun Fell. The place where Red Sike enters seemed to be the only area that was not frozen.

06D-4321 The Snow Covered High Pennine Mountains of Cross Fell Little Dun Fell and Great Dun Fell Viewed Across a Frozen Cow Green Reservoir
From right to left Cross Fell, Little Dun Fell and Great Dun Fell.

06D-4484 The Snow Covered High Pennine Mountains of Cross Fell Little Dun Fell and Great Dun Fell Viewed Across a Frozen Cow Green Reservoir Upper Teesdale
I thought this was an iceberg but on closer inspection turned out to be an ice coated boulder .

06D-2493 Red Grouse Lagopus lagopus scoticus Surrounded by Snow Teesdale County Durham UK.
The poor old Red Grouse Lagopus lagopus must be finding it hard

Trip date 04/04/13 All text/images copyright David Forster

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Lake District - Bleaberry Fell and High Seat

We enjoyed a few pleasant and easy walks with friends in the lakes at the weekend, although at times it was bitterly cold when the wind caught us. That said despite the snow in the lee of any shelter it was quite warm - not quite T-shirt weather, but not far off. Lots of folk about but it was easy to find a bit of solitude and take in the views.

To start with we headed off from Castlerigg Farm and headed up to Walla Crag. The sun was high by the time we got there so it was a bit of a challenge getting correctly exposed images. Sometimes the exposure metering was spot on but where there were large areas of snow I had to dial in up to + 1.5 compensation to balance the snow and shadows which made blown highlights a problem.

06D-3454 Hill Walker on Walla Crag Looking East Towards the Mountains of Clough Head and Calfhow Pike Lake District Cumbria UK
Great views of Clough Head and the Dodds from Walla Crag

06D-3514 The View West from Walla Crag Over Derwent Water Towards the Mountains of Grisedale Pike, Hopegill Head, Sand Hill, Causey Pike, Crag Hill and Cat Bells, Lake District Cumbria UK.
Walla Crag and the view west across Derwent Water towards Grisedale Pike

06D-3560 The View North from Bleaberry Fell Over Derwent Water Towards Bassenthwaite Lake and Skiddaw Lake District Cumbria UK
Bleaberry Fell. This is the shoulder just before the summit

06D-3637 Skiddaw from the Summit of Bleaberry Fell in Winter Lake District Cumbria UK
Bleaberry Fell summit 590m with Skiddaw behind

Next we headed off across increasingly soft snow to High Seat. It was bitterly cold in the strong wind but wonderful in the shelter of the summit crags. The views were cracking.

06D-3750 The Summit Trig of High Seat and the View East Towards the Helvellyn Mountain Range in Winter Lake District Cumbria
The summit trig on High Seat 608m and the view east towards Helvellyn

06D-3770 The Summit Trig Point of High Seat and the View North West Towards Grisdale Pike Lake District Cumbria UK.
The view northwest towards Grisedale Pike, Bassenthwaite Lake and beyond into Scotland where we could clearly see the snow capped Galloway Mountains

We then descended to Ashness Bridge before making our way back over to Walla crag and then down to our start point. Its nice to feel the sun.

Text/images copyright David Forster