Lekking on Speyside

A demanding hen
A demanding hen

After an excellent whistle-stop tour of the North East highlands earlier in the week, I have returned to find mounds of work piling up on my desk. It would be hard to do the trip justice, laden as it was with blackgame and ever more heather burning, but suffice it to say for now that the long journey up around Huntly and Nethybridge paid itself back several times over in intrigue and educational value.

At a particularly spectacular lek in Strathbogie, I was impressed by the enthusiasm of some greyhens which came in and landed by the side of the road. These hens were very noisy, not only in their clucking and cackling, but also in the loud, strident disyllabic pe-Donk, pe-Donk, pe-Donk which rang through the roar of bubbling cocks. I have seen greyhens getting excited and carried away by the lek, but I’ve never seen one start to display like a cock bird like this hen (above). Chicks of both sexes sometimes flare their tails after around seven or eight weeks of age, but while I’ve seen pictures of this behaviour from adults, this was the first time I’d seen it for myself. The books I’ve read describe the display as either frustration or excitement, and this certainly seemed to ring true for this hen, which was clearly an old bird and may have been pumping around a little more testosterone than her peers.

A huge amount more to relate from the leks I visited, including the awesome sight of a peregrine diving into the middle of twenty cocks, and a buzzard which was determined to ruin the morning for everybody near the Boat of Garten.


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