It seems like life for this black grouse cock is settling into an easy rhythm. He tends to the greyhen in the bog for half an hour and leks for her, then flies to the top of the nearest hill to carry out in-depth patrols. I watched him this afternoon fly up over the road to land above a sheepfold a hundred yards away. As soon as he landed, he dashed for the nearest reed bed and spent ten minutes peeking out of it timorously as if the world was a truly terrifying place. With his feathers sleeked down against his back, he looked like some sort of pathetic hen, and even when he began to dart around between the tussocks, it seemed like the slightest sound would send him into a fit of panic.
I watched him from the window of the car as he disappeared behind a low rise and reemerged a changed bird. His slim neck had become bloated and misshapen; his tail had fanned into a stunning puff of feathers and he began to bubble. It was a breezy day, but there was no mistaking that purposeful noise as it was wafted off the wet hillside. Something was bothering him in a patch of reeds above the gate burn, and he worked his way towards it with his chin almost rubbing on the grass.
It soon emerged that two cock pheasants were having a sparring competition in the rushes, and they were appalled to find themselves challenged by the sudden appearance of a small and malignant black grouse. They scampered away as if they didn’t believe that he was serious, but soon found otherwise as he pecked and slashed at them, yaffling and sneezing with a burning fury. After a few low dives, he started to charge at them in an upright position, lifting his feet high and wobbling like a spinning top. Within a minute, he had driven them both clean out of the area altogether. They sprinted away up the hillside and left him yammering to himself with a self congratulatory mumble.
The victory must have gone to his head, because a few moments later, he attacked a lamb and was thoroughly beaten. It was only with a great deal of posturing and cooing that he was able to salvage any dignity at all.