Solo Performance

What he might have looked like if I had seen him and then taken a blurry picture of him.

What he might have looked like if I had put him up and then taken a blurry picture of him – (This is in Perthshire)

Given that this morning was the first still, quiet morning we’ve had for a while, I headed out onto the hill behind the house to look for a lek which I have been keeping an eye out for for a while. Although it looked promising from my bedroom window, by the time I had had a cup of coffee and was out in the yard, a dollop of dirty cloud had settled on the high cairns above the loch. While the visibility was not crystalline, the silence would allow me to hear a blackcock bubbling at half a mile, if not further, so I set off on the forest track up onto the hill.

Snipe were chakking loudly as I stepped onto the first wheezing tussocks of sphagnum, and after the first mile or so, I stopped for a look around with my binoculars. It is a strange thing about looking for lekking blackcock that only a few higher notes of that life-affirming song are able to travel. The majority of the bubble is a lovely, deep resonant note which doesn’t seem to carry very far at all, and it is surprising how often the first you hear of a displaying bird is that harsh, rasping sneeze. Just as I started to walk again, one of those hissing blasts just caught my ear, and I redirected my attentions to a small amphitheatre of white grass and bog myrtle a few hundred yards away. The closer I got, the more I could hear – At three hundred yards, there were only two rising notes which seemed to wobble up from the inaudible bass-line. At two hundred yards, snatches of the bubbling bass came to me amidst an increasing fury of rasping screams and sneezes. There was only a single bird, but as I got closer and realised that there was no way that I would be able to see him without him seeing me, I slowed down and listened in out of sight. Patches of sunlight tried to break through the clouds, but the great bulk of the Galloway hills was sawn off level by a ceiling of vapour.

After an extended period of silence, I crept to a point from where I could see onto a small raised green in the midst of the bare, blasted strands of myrtle. A dowdy, humble figure looking very much like a lost duck was strolling purposefully away from me. I can be sure that he didn’t see me, but was still disappointed that I had only been able to catch the tail-end of his performance and hadn’t seen him with his head down. Pipits bombed happily out of the mild breeze, trailing their tails and wings behind them. It had just gone half past six, and I decided to head home for breakfast.

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