Ever since the end of October, the black grouse have become harder to find as they retreated further up onto the hill, beyond the realm of the inbye fields where I walk every day. Last year, they suddenly reappeared in the middle of January on the low ground where a five acre field has been allowed to grow wild since it was declared unfit for livestock. The deep ditches are a death sentence for sheep and cows, so the field has lain unused for ten years. Since then, long heather has risen up, as well as runty sitka spruces, willows and rowan trees.
Now, the heather there is longer than it is anywhere else on the farm, and I spotted a blackcock feeding on the exposed stems this afternoon. The snow has been down for several days up on the hill, and it could be that he has headed down to the longer and more easily accessible heather in this patch while the short stuff up on the hill is still smothered in ice and drifted snow.
The patch is a good example of what happens to a field when you don’t allow any grazing whatsoever – It is now almost totally impenetrable to a human on foot, and the summer brings with it great clouds of meadowsweet, valerian and other herbs and flowers. The black grouse do seem to use the field for its heather in the winter, but when the summer growth comes on, it’s just too thick for them to move around in it.
I watched that blackcock feeding on the heather for half an hour as the sun set, then listened to him giggle as he flew over me on his way back up the hill to roost.