A Greyhen at Dawn

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Uploading some more pictures from the last few days, I found this one of a greyhen in the larches. Perhaps it’s only appealing to my eye since I know the context, but something about greyhens in the half light of dawn strike as much of a chord with me as blackcock shining in the morning sun. This greyhen was right by the side of the road as I drove out to watch a lek, and as I wound down the window to take the picture, blackcock were humming quietly in the distance, like the sound you might hear in the throes of a fever or delirium. Against the stars and the purple glow of the sky, she made for striking subject matter, even if it has been imperfectly captured on camera.

Black grouse gain some small notoriety at this time of year as photographers and conservation bodies try to engage the general public with the spectacle of a lek. To broaden its appeal, leks are described in silly, anthropomorphic terms designed to make the process seem comic and readily accessible. The RSPB invites people to watch blackcock “shake a tail feather” and “show off their funky dance moves”, repackaging the experience as a jolly circus act in which birds bustle about like little people for the entertainment of the general public.

Perhaps I am just a joyless bore, but I find this reduction surprisingly irritating. Having worked with and around black grouse for six years at a pretty constant fever-pitch of enthusiasm, I’ve never met anyone who didn’t love the leks and felt something deep and touching about the sights and sounds of open moorland at first light. I’ve taken lots of people to see their first leks, and despite some grumbling about getting out of bed early, their reactions have been overwhelmingly positive. It would be a pity if we couldn’t trust the general public to engage with nature at a more advanced, primal level, and bridging the gap between town and country shouldn’t be based on pandering and silliness.

The next ten days will be action-packed with leks, and I hope to cover as many of the usual sites as I can, including several new ones, both in the North and the South.

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