Up to the Heather

Not the best photograph by any means, but it gives an idea of the circumstances

Trying to learn about black grouse through first hand observation is not easy. Trying to learn about greyhens is next to impossible. These immaculately camouflaged birds can vanish in a moment, and on open hillside, they are masters of disguise. One greyhen in particular spent almost every morning in September on the inbye fields above the house, where she wandered around a lekking blackcock. By the end of the month, her presence was less and less predictable, and she finally vanished in the first week in October. The blackcock remained in the inbye fields, but she was nowhere to be seen.

It was only this morning in the half light and the driving rain that I was given a clue as to her whereabouts. Walking up around my traps shortly before sunrise, I flushed a greyhen from the open heather near the top of the hill. There was no mistaking her, and despite having confused her with red grouse before, this time I was totally certain. Her long, chunky tail and outstretched neck gave her away as she battled into the rain, then turned and swept past so closely that I could almost have knocked her down with a tennis racket. She blazed on down the hill, directly towards the field where I had seen her in September, and it was obvious that she was the same bird.

I knew that black grouse feed on heather throughout the winter when other food sources dry up, but it was interesting to see that she had quietly taken herself away to graze on the high ground, leaving the blackcock in the inbye fields. They seem to spend time together, but it could be that their association is more casual and passive than I had originally thought.

Away from my favourite blackcock, I recently found that I am dealing with more birds than I had originally imagined on the Chayne. I’m now looking forward to the spring when I can do a proper lek count to find out what this year’s breeding has been like.


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