A well advanced black grouse poult – this one is from Aberdeenshire
It has been a horribly mixed summer in Galloway. Amidst reports of disaster and cancellation from grouse moors further north, we found an odd assortment of young birds when we came to shoot our hill on the 12th. Scattered coveys of well grown youngsters were interspersed with ragged bundles of grey cheepers which could scarcely fly. These must have been hatched early in July, meaning that the hens which failed to produce young at their first attempt decided to lay again in the middle of June. These youngsters are now far more advanced, and they have benefitted enormously from an additional three weeks to grow and stretch their wings, but the variety of ages and stages speaks of a patchy, disjointed summer.
I had assumed the worst for the black grouse, but a couple of chance encounters have given me cause for some optimism. The dogs flushed a young bird from the rushes a fortnight ago, but the light was bad and the retreating figure was a fair distance away. It was certainly a black grouse poult, but it was impossible to get an idea of its sex. I was encouraged by this, but I was doubly delighted when the dogs put up two young blackcock from a similar spot on Friday afternoon.
There was no doubting the identity of these birds as they clattered away over the cob-webbed rushes, and their growing tails fluttered behind them like fish knives. The three birds were found in the same field, and it makes sense that they should have come from the same brood. I was certainly aware of a blackcock in this area throughout May, so his incessant displays must have shown fruit and drawn in a greyhen.
Based on previous experience, the future does not look bright for these youngsters as autumn beckons and the local goshawk population reaches for the cutlery – but at the same time, this ability to reproduce is admirable, and it only takes a handful of lucky birds to make a vast difference next spring.
Shortly afterwards, the dog tails began to wag again and suddenly the sky was filled with whirring wings for a second time; a small brood of wild pheasants took to the air and rushed away down to the farm buildings. It just goes to show that there is always potential for success – hackneyed cliche it may be, but nature really does find a way. I’ll head out for a look around some likely spots for black grouse poults in the next week or two, and then I’ll have a clearer idea of how the birds have fared across Galloway this year.
Many shooting folk have let their heads go down over the last decade, and there is a pervasive pessimism in the future of wild game. I would counter this gloom and doom with the knowledge that the production of wild game birds used to be effortless – nature took care of its own, and man simply milked the surplus. When things started to get difficult, many people assumed that the game was up without even trying to roll up their sleeves. I often wonder if a general sense of resigned defeatism amongst farmers and landowners is not itself an obstacle to success.