The black grouse is primarily a bird of the moorland fringe that requires a mosaic of different habitats including rough grassland, pastures, heather moorland, hay meadows and scrub woodland. They used to be widespread throughout the Dales with small populations found in areas of suitable habitat along the moorland edge. The planting of conifer woodlands in the late 1970s and early 1980s resulted in a temporary population increase, as the recently planted trees provided ideal nesting and chick rearing habitat. However, as the canopy closed in the plantations became unsuitable and with a deterioration of habitat in adjacent areas the population declined in line with national and regional trends.
In recent years, management work undertaken by a number of organisations, landowners, land managers including shooting estates in the core Black Grouse areas has resulted in a significant increase in numbers in recent years from around 50 lekking males in the late 1990s to around 150 males in recent years. Unfortunately a combination of wet weather during the main chick hatching period and heavy snow during the winter has had a detrimental impact on the population in recent years.
Black grouse are probably best known for their elaborate courtship displays during the spring when males will gather at traditional communal display sites known as leks. Here they perform with the wings drooped and the tail fanned out, accompanied by a loud dove-like cooing and bubbling call that is intended to attract females. The peak of lekking activity is normally around dawn and to a lesser extent at dusk. The females that are attracted to the lek will normally mate with a dominant male and then disperse to the surrounding area to raise their young on their own.
It is during the spring that many birdwatchers set out to try and see black grouse at a lek. At this time of year the birds are also extremely susceptible to disturbance and so all would-be lek watchers are strongly advised to play their part in black grouse conservation by following the birdwatchers code of conduct.
Further information can be found here.
Ring Ouzels prefer to nest in gullies, ravines or on crags on moorland where there is suitable overhanging vegetation. They also require areas of short vegetation where earthworms and a wide range of other invertebrates can easily be collected. Later in the season, adult and young birds will feed on a variety of different berries and fruits before returning to North Africa where they will spend the winter.
With its distinctive white crescent on the breast, the Ring Ouzel can easily be separated from the closely related blackbird. The Ring Ouzel is a summer migrant returning to the Dales anytime from mid March onwards. It is a very secretive bird often very difficult to detect unless the fluty song of the male or the harsh ‘tac tac’ alarm calls can be heard.
Nationally there has been a widespread population decline across much of the UK breeding range. In the Dales, the Ring Ouzel population was estimated at around 200 pairs in the early 1990s, with an estimate of 193 territories (79-314, 95% Confidence Limits) derived by the RSPB from the 2012 national survey. Although there were slight differences between the 1999 and 2012 survey, the populations appeared to be stable between the two survey periods.
Grassington Moor in the south-east of the Yorkshire Dales National Park is an area where the Ring Ouzel population was studied by local enthusiast Ian Appleyard between 1978 and 1993. The results from his fieldwork have provided a baseline for subsequent surveys to be undertaken and help population trends to be determined. The area was re-surveyed in 2002 and thanks to funding from the Our Common Cause project it was possible for two volunteers to undertake a repeat survey in 2022, enabling the long–term population trend to be assessed. In 2022, the original 30 territories that had been identified in Appleyard’s study were re-surveyed with eight to ten still occupied by Ring Ouzels. Although there are difficulties in making direct comparisons as the survey effort undertaken by Appleyard is unknown and therefore not necessarily comparable to the standard methodology used in this survey, this is very similar to the average of nine occupied territories found during Appleyard’s study period. This suggests that the population has remained relatively stable. A copy of the report The status of the Ring Ouzel Turdus torquatus on Grassington Moor in 2022 can be found here.
Further information can be found at the Ring Ouzel Study Group
The Skylark is a sparrow sized passerine with a streaky brown plumage that is best known for its melodious warbling song. This distinctive song is delivered as the bird hovers at a great height over open grassland breeding sites making it easy to hear but often difficult to see. It can be found over a variety of suitable open grassland habitats in the Dales where trees and shrubs are absent from the moor tops down to the valley bottoms. Within the National Park the sky lark is a widespread species but is nowhere particularly common.
Further information can be found on the RSPB website – Skylark
Family name: Motacillidae
This species was formerly widespread across the country but a number of different surveys have shown that nationally, there have been widespread population declines in many areas of the country. Historical information suggests that Yellow Wagtails were formerly abundant in the meadows and pastures of the Dales but a survey undertaken in 2000 located only 25 pairs in ten areas that were visited.
Yellow Wagtails are a migratory species that spend the winter in western Africa before returning to breeding sites in the Dales from mid April onwards. Although they will nest in a variety of different habitats in different areas, hay meadows and pastures are the favoured nesting sites in the Dales.
Although there may be a number of factors driving the population decline, it is likely that earlier hay meadow cutting dates, as a result of a change from traditional hay making to silage, have reduced Yellow Wagtail breeding success in the Dales. In the key areas, landowners have been encouraged to enter into agri-environment schemes with management prescriptions that ensure that meadows are not cut until mid-July, to ensure that all the young birds have left the nest before cutting takes place. Monitoring work suggests that these prescriptions have been successful, as populations have increased where land has been entered into these management agreements. Even though the population of Yellow Wagtails in the Dales is still small, it is hoped that with the goodwill of landowners and the management work that is being implemented, it will continue to increase.
Further information can be found on the RSPB website – Yellow Wagtail