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Country diary: These red grouse seem ill-suited for foraging in trees | Phil Gates
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Country diary: These red grouse seem ill-suited for foraging in trees | Phil Gates


The red grouse, sitting on a bare branch of a mature hawthorn tree, its feathers tousled by a harsh, chilly breeze. Throughout most of the year, they are secretive birds that stay close to the ground. When they spot me approaching, they quickly duck and retreat into the heather. If I approach too closely, they burst into flight with a loud flutter of their wings, scolding me to leave.

The birds appear highly unsuitable for finding food in trees, but they must have been drawn to the remaining hawthorn berries. They are having a hard time, as they are too large to reach the berries in the crowded, thorny area of the branches, and too heavy to reach the ones on the thin ends of the twigs that bend when they land on them. They frantically flap their wings in an effort to maintain their balance.

When the hawthorn berries have been eaten, redwings’ diet switches to earthworms.View image in fullscreen

Several weeks prior, the swift redwings consumed the majority of the haws on this particular line of trees, at the intersection of heather-covered moorland and elevated pastures. The remaining berries appear shriveled from the wind, but are evidently still desirable enough to warrant the birds’ persistence.

In the previous fall, we experienced an exceptionally bountiful harvest of hawthorn berries. The hedgerow leading down to the village was filled with deep red fruits. Despite the arrival of migrating redwings and fieldfares in the winter, it did not affect the abundance of berries until the first snowfall, which caused them to vanish rapidly. The opportunity for easy picking is no longer present. It still feels like spring is far away in this location.

At the midpoint of the hill, the redwings – previously skittish and noisy groups that observed people passing by from the tree canopy – are now on the ground in fields next to the road. In about a month, the ivy berries will be mature and available, but currently these birds have been forced to come down to the ground due to a change in their food source. Their beaks, searching for worms and insect larvae in wet soil, are marked with dirt.

Living in the Pennines allows one to escape the limitations of seasons simply by walking up or down a hill, creating the illusion of manipulating time with a change in elevation. Shielded from harsh winds, the lower portion of the hill already shows signs of new life with budding hawthorn leaves. The cycle of seasons is already in motion at the valley bottom.

Source: theguardian.com