The Home Team

A blurry picture from earlier in the week, but almost precisely the same angle as the bird I saw this morning.
A blurry picture from earlier in the week, but almost precisely the same angle as the bird I saw this morning.

After all this rushing around to the leks over the past few weeks, I finally found time to walk my own ground on the Chayne at first light this morning. I haven’t been seeing very much black grouse activity over the past few weeks on my quick trips up to check traps and keep an eye on the partridges, so I was delighted to have a blackcock fly past me twenty five yards away and land up on the hill as I headed out for a walk before sunrise.

He began to bubble lustily in the gloom, filling that small corner of the farm with a sound that has been sadly lacking since the death of my favourite bird in March 2012. He had landed on a very obvious prominence in the moss, and after ten minutes or so, a buzzard glided down to move him over and claim the stone for itself. The blackcock flew a few yards further up the hill and became invisible in the heather, but I could hear him calling for another quarter of an hour as I wandered up the hill with the rifle on my back. I don’t know precisely where this bird has come from, but I have a feeling that he is somehow involved with one of the greyhens which hangs out on the western boundary of the farm.

I sat for some time watching a particularly foxy corner on the back hill and daydreamed about a roe buck which was standing in a recently ploughed area of new forest on the neighbour’s ground. Far off in the distance, a cuckoo called; one of the first of 2014 and certainly the first that I could hear clearly. Pipits and larks were locked in titanic battles amongst the cottongrass flowers, and on the walk home I found a male emperor moth amongst the heather. I have never seen a male “in the flesh” before, and although he was smaller than the female which I photographed in 2010, he was all the more spectacular for his rusty hind-wings and purple tints. His “eyes” even had a touch of white light in them, making them seem almost real. I should never walk the Chayne without a camera, since just as I will never see another cuckoo chick as close as I did last year when I didn’t have my camera, I doubt I will get such a close look at a male emperor for some time.

Down on the lower ground, the curlews and snipe were mewling and drumming away in fine form, and I stopped to add another piece to my letterbox trap which I am gradually building around a pheasant hopper which has become a magnet for some of the many non-territorial corbie crows which are going about on the inbye fields. Bit by bit, the trap is coming together, until it will be finally set and the birds will find themselves in and unable to get out. On the final half mile to the car, I heard my first grasshopper warbler of 2014, trilling dryly from the rushes. I am very fond of these odd little birds, and the sound was enough to finally convince me that winter is over.

A female emperor from 2010
A female emperor from 2010

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