It was just a few months ago that I saw my first ever goshawk on the Chayne. Since then, sightings have become increasingly common, particularly around the woodcock strip, a long band of sitka spruces which I have been thinning out, clear felling and replanting in stages for the past three years. It could be that in my attempts to design the ultimate black grouse friendly area of woodland, I have accidentally produced quality goshawk habitat. It wouldn’t be surprising, since in Scandinavia, goshawks and black grouse exist together in a closely bound food chain. Improvements to black grouse habitat are also improvements to goshawk habitat, so while it’s worrying to see these monstrous predators wheeling around the lek site, it does feel like I’ve made some progress, albeit in what appears to be the wrong direction.
It occurs to me that I seem to be stirring up a hornet’s nest on the Chayne, drawing in all kinds of undesirables and not forwarding the cause of black grouse in any real way. On one hand, that’s a fair observation, but on the other, improving an area of open moorland for black grouse is sure to draw in all sorts of gatecrashers. It’s unfortunate that goshawks have been thoughtlessly reintroduced to the forests of Galloway when the local wildlife is at an all time low ebb, but despite the fact that these birds kill black grouse, red squirrels and barn owls, they also eat crows and all kinds of other winged vermin. I take some (cautious) encouragement from the presence of goshawks because of their evolutionary link with black grouse. I’m doing something right if they’ve moved in, and despite the fact that black grouse are being slow to respond, it looks like the changes I’m making to their habitat are starting to show themselves.
In the meantime, it’s worth putting some thought into how these goshawks are going to be fed. Inevitably, goshawks will kill black grouse up there, but I’d rather that day came when there were enough black grouse for it not really to matter. As it stands, a single goshawk could wipe out the entire population of black grouse on the Chayne in a single afternoon. Until I can get my birds back to a population that is strong enough to endure predation, I need to think about providing a substitute.