Close Encounter

A young cock lights up the morning.

A young cock lights up the morning.

Well worth posting this picture of a young blackcock which wandered into sight this morning after three hours of extensive searching through the rough ground of Cairnsmore of Fleet. More detail will follow about the morning’s walk, but there was a certain irony to the casual, gum-chewing attitude of this bird which wandered past the car as I parked up for a cup of coffee after fruitlessly flogging the hills for a lek on foot long before sunrise. I didn’t even have the long lens camera, and merely reached over to snap this picture with a compact camera which wasn’t even fully zoomed in. At his closest, he must have been fifteen feet away.

Useful also to note that this is a young bird. Not nearly enough attention is given to the age of birds when it comes to black grouse, and while young birds are the name of the game when it comes to grouse production, the general attitude when it comes to blackgame is that a cock is a cock. It may possibly be of some use to readers to see that this bird is identifiably one of the 2013 generation because of his extensive brown wing feathers, tell-tale beige and black striped secondary covert (which is a hang-over of poult plumage) and the tail which is only slightly curved.

Although I wrote in my book that the extent of the tail’s curve is associated with age, I have since come to believe that this is only partly true. Some old cocks grow curly tails while others never really seem to. It is rare to see blackcock in Galloway with an extensively curled tail, but some birds further North and in Scandinavia have tails which almost double back on themselves like question marks. The key to identifying this bird’s age is the brown on the wings, and possibly less blue or blue/green on the head than a mature adult.

What the photograph doesn’t convey is the slightly vacant facial expression. I love black grouse more than any other bird in the world, but I am the first to admit that the youngsters seldom win prizes for wisdom. By the time this bird is entering his second spring, he will be as wily as a sack of foxes. Unfortunately, he will continue to be a naive, vulnerable child of the hills until then.

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