Overnight, the wildfowling season and the partridge season kicked in. I threw a ceremonial scoop of bruised barley onto the flight pond to commemorate the coming of the wildfowling season, even though it will be another three months before I can start shooting the pintail, wigeon and teal that give living within sight of the Solway an extra sparkle.
On the darkening, I went up to the Chayne to check the partridges and quite by chance I flushed a party of four birds from the roadside which could easily have been black grouse. It was just too dark to get a 100% certain I.D., but as dark silhouettes rising against the low, smirry cloud, it was a distinct possibility. They got out of dying molinia grass near to a newish sitka plantation, so the fact that they were thinking of roosting in such an un-red-grouse-like location lends weight to the theory that they were black. A tantalising glimpse, like so many on the Chayne. There certainly wasn’t a blackcock with them, but if by some perfectly possible chance it was a greyhen and three poults, then I’ll be extremely satisfied.
Down in the garden, the blind blackcock continues to go from strength to strength. His moult changes every day, and he is looking less and less scruffy as we advance into the first signs of autumn. He spends two or three minutes lekking early each morning, but it’s not a very impressive display and he skips it altogether if it’s raining. It’s certainly a very nice way to wake up, and I look forward to more of it.
All of a sudden, he is showing signs of some impressive new tail feathers. When I got him, he had nothing in the way of a tail, but now there are at least four feathers which curl outwards. I had always imagined (stupidly) that the feathers would grow out straight, then curl when they reached their full length. Now I think about it, that would obviously be impossible, and it’s hardly surprising that they grow out bent and then the subsequent growth is straight. Yet another thing that I would never have considered in years of studying wild birds.All this now means is that his arse produces a bunch of feathers which seem to grow at right angles to his body, and these then race each other outwards until they reach the classic tail shape which was always compared to a lyre.
I’m quite sure that the shape of a lyre is now such an obscure reference as to be almost meaningless. When you say that a blackcock’s tail is the shape of a lyre, people look at you as if you just fell off the moon. I sometimes think that if someone was then to ask me what shape a lyre is, I’d say it’s just like the shape of a blackcock’s tail. The comparison was once a great deal more relevant than it is today, and maybe it’s better nowadays to say that the tail curves outwards like two question marks, back to back.