2020VISION Assignment: Red grouse on the Peak District

Wildlife photographer Ben Hall ventures onto the bleak Peak District moors in search of landscapes and wildlife, and finds more than he bargained for... 

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Ben Hall's moody shot of Peak District moorland

Wildlife photographer Ben Hall ventures onto the bleak Peak District moors in search of landscapes and wildlife, and finds more than he bargained for...

 

IWitness assignment: Peak Moorlands

Location: Dark Peak, Peak District National Park

Photographer: Ben Hall

 

I have always been a firm believer in the importance of getting to know your local area. Having lived on the edge of the Peak District all my life, the limestone dales and moorland crags have become my regular stomping ground.

Over time, I feel like I have built up a good understanding of the landscape and its inhabitants, and was therefore delighted (and admittedly quite relieved) to be given Peak Moorlands as one of my 2020Vision assignments.

However, the thought of spending hours on end crouched amongst midge-infested heather wasn't quite as appealing!

I decided to concentrate my efforts around three distinct areas. These were places I had been countless times before, where I knew there would be opportunities for landscapes and moorland birds, including the all-important and iconic red grouse.

For a few weeks during late summer, the heather blooms, transforming the moors into a sea of pink and offering the perfect backdrop for grouse and other moorland dwelling birds.

I spent the early mornings and evenings searching out landscapes and the rest of the day crawling through waist-high heather looking for wildlife. What I was really after was an environmental study of a red grouse.

I had visions of a male bird perched on a gritstone boulder overlooking a moorland landscape. Not easy when the birds in question rarely tolerate a close approach.  

The real breakthrough came when I was wandering up to the edge of a gritstone crag with the intention of shooting dusk landscapes. Whilst en route to one of my favoured shooting spots, I caught glimpse of a red grouse in the distance.

Since I still had some time before the best light, I began to stalking it.

Thirty painstaking minutes later I was just 10 metres away, congratulating myself on my stalking prowess – and blessing my luck. Slowly I raised my 500mm lens and started shooting.

The bird, quite undeterred, then proceeded to hobble in my direction.

Closer and closer it came until I could no longer focus. Still it moved closer, until it finally came to rest within pecking distance of my lens! I knew by now that I had come across an exceptional bird.

The term 'rogue male' is used to describe an overly aggressive bird that defends its territory from anything - and anyone - that crosses its path. They show no fear, and there was no doubt in my mind that this bird was one!

During one slightly worrying moment, it actually clung to my fleece, flapping wildly and refusing to let go.

Once safely detached, I watched with some amusement as it chased unsuspecting walkers down the footpath over and over again.

By now there were just 30 minutes of light left. Needless to say I forgot all about my planned landscape shoot and spent the rest of the time in the company of this remarkable bird.

And yes, before you ask, I finally managed to get the images I had envisaged - the bird standing proud atop a gritstone boulder with the moorland landscape stretching out behind.

 

Ben Hall's top wildlife photography tip:

 

  • If you end up in the fortunate position of being able to get up close and personal with your subject, put on a wide-angle lens so that you can include the surrounding landscape.
     
  • An image showing a creature in context helps to tell a story and often makes a far more interesting shot.  

 

2020VISION is a multimedia project that highlights the link between people's wellbeing and the restoration of natural systems.

Uniquely, it pairs the talents of 20 of the UK's most skilled outdoor photographers with writers, editors, videographers, sound artists and scientists to make a compelling case for rewilding landscapes - for wildlife and for people.

To see some of the best images taken on 2020VISION assignments so far, click here.

To find out more about 2020VISION, click here.

 

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