Black grouse at lek is one of the most fantastic sights in the British countryside, but although the behaviour reaches a peak of enthusiasm in March and April, birds can be found spreading their tails at almost any point during the year. With the exception of a few weeks in July when their crucial tail feathers fall out, a fair morning will bring on a desire to display in some form or other.
Yesterday morning, I was thrilled to hear the distinctive bubbling note on the clear hillside above the gate burn, and I spotted the culprit standing stock still in the centre of a small clearing between the rushes. Unlike his displays in April, he was not using the classic “three part coo” which rise in pitch one after the other before returning to a lower gear again, and the bubbling was a scruffier and less well organised version of the real song. His wattles weren’t fully inflated, but he did try a couple of little flutter jumps before packing up his tail and feeding for a few moments before starting again.
In the long grass behind him, a greyhen watched approvingly, wading through the long grass like a leveret before a lorry arrived to collect the wool bags from the farm steading and the hissing brakes pushed both birds back up the hill.