The chance discovery of a new and previously unheard of blackcock on the Chayne should represent a major event on this blog, where black grouse are few and far between. I can report that I am ninety percent certain that I spotted one yesterday afternoon, but until I can get around the back of the hill again later this afternoon, I won’t be able to confirm the sighting one way or another.
Regular readers of this blog will remember my frequent whining about the inaccessibility of so much of the Chayne. The huge majority of my work is restricted to around a third of the area of the farm, the rest being impossible to access other than on foot. This forgotten mass of land is where the red grouse lie up, and as much as I’d like to be lamping and snaring up there, I can’t guarantee the ninety minute round trip on foot every day. To a large extent, the back hill is totally untouched by human hands. There is some pretty decent heather which runs over around two thousand acres, and the Chayne takes about a quarter of this in. True, the best of the heather is on the other side of the march dykes, but that is not to say that the ground is totally useless. It’s where we shoot red grouse during good years, and it’s where the majority of greyhens are found in the summer.
The one concession I force upon myself is to run a larsen trap there for a few days each year. I carried a round trap out on my back last year, and now it lives there permanently overlooking a young larch plantation. It’s a good spot for catching crows, and my one regret is that it can’t be run throughout the breeding season. As it is, I simply don’t have ninety minutes to spare every day, so I have to make do with a series of short bursts each year.
For all that it’s a long slog out there, there is always plenty to see. Red grouse cocks rise cackling out of the long grass, and the occasional golden plover whistles sadly in the clean air. Having reached the trap yesterday, I gave the crow some damaged partridge eggs and then sat down nearby for a breather. It was a windswept day, with ragged windows of sunlight racing across the huge expanse of open moorland. Down by the larch trees, a black speck caught my eye. For some totally unknown reason, I had left my binoculars and camera in the car, so I was forced to squint my eyes at the shape sitting three hundred yards away in the rushes. Deciding that it must be a crow, I waved at it. Usually, crows lift at any range when you wave at them, but this figure didn’t even bat an eyelid.
My first suspicions were aroused, so I set off on a slow walk towards the black speck. I hoped that I would be able to get close enough to identify it, but as I got closer it seemed to move. One hundred and fifty yards away, I dropped into a shallow gully where the burn crossed my path. When I emerged from the gully a second later, the speck was gone. I walked closer and closer until I was standing precisely on the spot where the black object had been. Still convinced that I had seen a crow, I suddenly realised that a crow would have flown noisily away when it saw me. This black shape had performed a trademark blackcock trick – it had vanished. Realising what I had done, I turned quietly round and headed straight back to where I had come from, checking that the black speck really had moved when I got back to my first vantage point.
From this, I can summarise that I saw a large black object moving in the rushes. It was not a crow, and when pressed by a human being, it vanished. Everything seems to point towards blackcock, but until I can get back up behind the hill with my binoculars, I am reluctant to get too excited.