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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Upper Teesdale - beautiful scenery, wild moors, old lead mines, limestone pavement and more!

Any area of the UK that's been recommended to me from not one, not two, but three guys I've met recently as a great place for wildlife and photography just had to be given some 'van time'! The area we're talking about is around Middleton in Teesdale in county Durham and those guys weren't wrong ... I spent an excellent few days there last week, just me and the van exploring the beautiful scenery, flora & fauna of Upper Teesdale. Oh and I had a piece of feedback from someone whilst I was working on Askham Bog .... 'like the blog mate but you need more photographs' .. and I suspect he meant less rambling discourse too but was too polite to say! Fair comment mate, more pics in this post and making a conscious effort right now not to babble on! Here's a few introductory scenic photographs.

River Tees with Mickleton and Romaldkirk Moor in the background

River Tees at Forest in Teesdale, upstream

River Tees at Forest in Teesdale, downstream

Looking South from Middleton in Teesdale towards Romaldskirk Moor

Bowlee Beck, Bowlees
 Pretty nice I think you'll agree, that last pic of Bowlees Beck is where I had a pleasant snooze in the sunshine and awoke to see a Sparrowhawk, one of several I saw during my time up there, swoop down the valley in search of some poor unsuspecting passerine.

Wheatear - immature female?

Ah yes, birds, my first love! Well the middle of August is never the best the times for bird spotting but I had a few good moments with resident breeders. I expected and got some reasonable distant shots of Wheatears .... this was one of a family party I stalked for ages looking for a decent shot but they were well shy. Think this is an immature female but not sure.

Good to see plenty of young Lapwings about on the upland slopes and moors ... it looks like they've bred well after a very poor year in 2012.

Hundreds of Starlings about too, I've noticed that they often hang around with Lapwings in the countryside and they often move around together ... if you look closely there's even one that's snuck onto the above shot!

Juvenile Mistle Thrush

Upland areas are also usually good for Mistle Thrushes too and at this time of year they gang together in big family parties. This one, probably a young un, was one of 26 in a single field.

Juv Spotted Flycatcher, Bowlees

Best of the birds I managed to snap was this Spotted Flycatcher, again it was one of a family group (of 4) and probably a youngster judging by it's tameness. Not the most picturesque of settings but they do like barbed wire fences as launching pads for catching passing flies, this one was taken just outside the visitor centre at Bowlees.

Spotted Flycatchers have declined rapidly in the UK over the past few years but I suspect this has been a good year for them. I had another family party on my way back to Yorkshire nr Riveaux Abbey and I know that they've bred at Askham Bog this year too.

A few other birding highlights of the trip that obviously eluded my lens included a single Black Grouse and a Hobby up at Cowgill Resevoir, a single Peregrine at Bowlees, Red Kite just outside Middleton and a fleeting but pretty special Merlin flying off a fencepost and away on Harwood Moor.
Bit of Flora anyone? No not margarine silly .... wild flowers and the like!

Always good to stumble across something you haven't seen before or you can't put a name to, and having not paid nearly enough attention to the plants and flowers I've walked past over the years (mainly because my head is usually in the clouds looking for birds), I'm finding that I stumble across allsorts of things that require a google search. How great is that ... a whole new raft of things to find out about, and that's without my new found interest in dragonflies, butterflies, moths!

Ok, yes my friend on Askham Bog, I'm rambling again and there have now been precisely 115 words of babble since the last photograph so without further ado here's my couple of flower ticks for the week.

First up is was this totally unexpected flower growing in some profusion alongside this little stream nr Bowlees. It looked so extraordinary, incongruously colourful in an otherwise bleak landscape of rock and moor. Its common name, somewhat disappointingly is Monkey Flower, and its a hybrid form of Mimulus, a native flower of North America.

Mimulus (Monkey Flower) hybrid

Mimulus (Monkey Flower) hybrid


Mimulus alongside a babbling brook in Upper Teesdale
I don't know enough about it of course, but from what I can gather it's a fairly common garden flower and maybe it's just escaped into the wild up here, but whether its an invasive or a semi naturalised species I love it and who can argue with its presence in such a setting?!

Here's a little flower I nearly trod on whilst I was walking a bit of the Pennine Way nr the Forest in Teesdale before deciding to have a closer look. Its called Bright Eye and one of those 'micro flowers' that often get overlooked but up close and personal it's a true beauty.

Bright Eye, beside the River Tees

Teesdale is also stack full of industrial and archaeological history, too much to go into any detail in a mere blog, but its amazing what you see around and about whilst walking about.

Take this for instance ...its an old and discarded lead mine. Hard & dirty business up here during the 19th century but 200 years on, easy pickings for us 21st century photo tourists!

Old lead mine, Ettersgill.
Even further back in time (and I think we might be talking really big numbers here!) here is a mighty fine example of 'Limestone Pavement' .... a geological phenomena caused by the scarring of the land by retreating glaciers during the last ice age some 10,000 years ago (told you we were talking big numbers!). Malham Cove in the Yorkshire Dales is probably the biggest and best known example in this country but this small area at Whorleton is a good example.

Limestone Pavement, Whorleton

 Whorleton was one of the places that was recommended to me to visit as a place of beauty, I wasn't expecting the limestone pavement, that was a bonus, and being the middle of the day there wasn't much bird action but wow what a beautiful place ....  so secluded, perfect for a swim, and I'd been on the road for 3 days without a wash so why not! 

Whorleton, Upper Teesdale
All in all a very pleasurable and profitable few days and for sure I'll be back now that I know where to find breeding Black Grouse and Merlin. For anyone that's interested this is the general area I explored (just click on this link .....Upper Teesdale) ... and many thanks to Robin Marrs for his hospitality on day 1, showing me around Fen Bog and for giving me an insight into Bing maps ... awesome mate! I'd be doing Fen Bog an injustice if I tagged those pics on to the end of this so will cover it a separate post.
Last but not least, here's the Van shot!
The van, just outside Middleton in Teesdale


  1. Excellent Post Tim. Love the pictures!

  2. Thanks Rhonda, I took way too much time over this post trying to get the pics right ... gratifying to get some good feedback but I really must get my blogging up to speed!