Like A Bird On A Wire

Vantage point
Vantage point

Just trawling through some of the many thousands of photographs I have taken during the past month of lek surveys and black grouse observations and found this one of a blackcock on a telegraph wire at Langholm moor. Several birds were gathered beneath the wires during morning this picture was taken, and a greyhen landed on the wires in order to watch the cocks from above, which brought on a particularly frenzied period of displaying. One cock even flew up to join her, although the level of balance required to get his tail up and lek while so precariously positioned was too much for him.

Just before we left the lek and the birds were starting to wind down for the morning, a cock landed up on the wire and I took his picture in the rising sun. The wires added a third dimension to the lekking ground, and they served as a reminder of the value of an occasional birch or rowan which is so often missing from habitat in the Southern Uplands. As with the crazy displays which took place in the Galloway Forest Park, there is clearly some value in birds (particularly greyhens) getting a good vantage point during the display, and when trees are not forthcoming, wires are a good alternative.

It is also worth noting that black grouse have been found to have collided with these telegraph wires at Langholm, which seems surprising. High wires are often a concern for black grouse (and other game birds), and many are marked in the North Pennines to help them avoid collisions, but it is odd that the birds should use the wires and demonstrate that they are familiar with them, and yet at the same time crash into them as if by accident, causing injury or death. The birds at Langholm use lines more than any other black grouse I know, so while it would be understandable for a bird who has never seen a wire to crash into it, it is strange that they should acknowledge wires as a perch, then fail to avoid them. I daresay that it must be quite difficult to gauge distance when you are flying at seventy miles an hour on a dull day, so perhaps collisions really are fluke accidents rather than ignorance.

Wires marked to prevent black grouse collisions - Teesdale, Co. Durham.
Wires marked to prevent black grouse collisions – Teesdale, Co. Durham.

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