Bird-watching at Stanage-North Lees in the Hope Valley
- Credit: Archant
As winter approaches, estate ranger and campsite warden Bill Gordon broods on what visitors to the Peak District might see
It’s incredible what lengths some of our visitors will go to in order to spend a few weeks at Stanage. Flying thousands of miles under their own steam, crossing land, sea and ocean, contending with wind, predators and manmade obstacles, our feathered friends make these journeys twice a year.
As temperatures fell in mid-September we said ‘Bon voyage’ to our brood of spotted flycatchers. They fledged in July and were regularly seen catching insects and other tasty morsels in and around the campsite before heading off to West Africa. They’ll be back next May – always the last of the migrants to turn up at Stanage.
Our sprightly ring ouzels – the mountain blackbird – are fuelling up on the sugars from the abundant rowan berries before making their return journey to the Atlas Mountains in Morocco during September and October.
The siskins are tucking into the seeds of conifer, alder and birch. These tiny finches now breed at Stanage-North Lees and will soon be joined by their Northern European relatives who cross the North Sea for the winter.
Throughout the colder months a familiar sight above the skyline is the black silhouettes of ravens – the biggest bird in the crow family – gliding over Stanage Edge. You hear their ‘cronking’ calls as they make the most of the up-draught of air created by the crags to soar on, whilst keeping a sharp eye out for carrion to eat.
In late October and into November we look forward to seeing large flocks of fieldfare as they arrive from Scandinavia. These very social, speckle-breasted birds can be heard ‘chuckling’ as they feed on insects, worms and berries in the pastures and hedgerows around North Lees campsite.
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Alongside the fieldfare, another member of the thrush family will arrive for a winter stay – the redwing. Redwings have distinctive markings including a creamy stripe above their eyes and orange-red patches on their flanks which gives them their name. These long distance roamers migrate after dark and make a soft, thin ‘seeip’ call as they fly.
Depending on the availability of beech mast (seed of the beech tree) we hope to see the small but dramatically marked, orange-breasted and noisy brambling (a relative of the chaffinch). They usually appear in autumn when they fly in from Scandinavia and again in spring as they pass through on their way back to their breeding grounds.
Hardy perennials and old favourites that can always be heard at Stanage, even in the depths of winter, are the robin, perfectly at home and picturesque as ever in the woodlands, and the wren, our smallest but one of the loudest birds, commonly seen hunting for spiders and insects on the moors.
Around the campsite at night the nocturnal tawny owl can be heard twit-twooing as it hunts for small mammals, birds and frogs. We often find pellets below its roosting sites and discover the remains of what was on the menu.
A lesser known fact about Stanage is that it is directly under the flight path of the pink-footed goose which has a mammoth journey all the way from Iceland, Greenland and Spitzbergen. These large birds create a spectacular sight flying in large flocks over us between the east and west coasts and vice versa, in October and April.
Keep track of Stanage-North Lees wildlife on twitter @northlees
Stay at Stanage
If wildlife watching is your thing then you may be interested to know that stop-overs for humans during the autumn and winter months are now a lot easier thanks to the installation of four camping pods – available for weekends between November and March. With no tent to erect or damp canvas to take home there is more time to enjoy yourself at Stanage.
The National Park ploughs back any profits into the facilities so by staying there you are helping to give Stanage campsite a sustainable future. Booking details and more are at www.peakdistrict.gov.uk/camping-northlees
Stanage-North Lees is the 542-hectare estate of spectacular landscape, near Hathersage, owned by the Peak District National Park. It is popular with walkers, climbers and wildlife watchers.