Lek Reconnaissance

Down to the Solway from above Gatehouse
Down to the Solway from the hills above Gatehouse

It was a fantastic day for a walk in the hills above Gatehouse of Fleet, where the last year of good weather has stirred the embers of the local black grouse into a moment of relative prosperity. Whether or not this boost can be sustained by a second year of sunshine and warmth remains to be seen, but I’m certainly not complaining when reports of small packs of birds have been coming in from the huge extent of ground between Creetown and Laurieston. This is a real wild piece of countryside, and if it wasn’t for the stripes of commercial woodland, it would have been more or less unchanged by human hands for centuries.

The dog and I walked from Loch Fleet to Grobdale, stirring up red hinds from the heather and kicking grouse of both colours out from the waving torrents of white grass and flying bent. Whenever the wind relented for a second, larks catapulted themselves into the sky to sing, until an erroneous cloud of hail battered them back down to earth again.

There will be a great deal more to come on this promising corner of the Galloway Hills, if only because it seems to be producing black grouse with far more success than any other area of the county at the moment. While it is perhaps not a “core” of the local population such as you’d see on the Carrick border, large broods and a well-distributed mix of birds at different ages and stages makes for an encouraging picture. I’m keen to work out why this is in an attempt to transplant its success into my home in the east of the county, but yet again there is no questioning the extraordinary value of a good summer, which grows black grouse chicks as surely as it would grow a nettle.

Today was something like a reconnaissance for April when I will be out after the leks, but in a bright February sun, it was a joy to be loose in the high blue hills of home.

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