This particular bird (above) has been providing me with some very useful information about his movements and wanderings over the past five weeks, and I’ve been able to keep track of him on account of the fact that he has a single pure white secondary feather on his right wing. The occasional white secondary is not uncommon, but this bird lives in an area where there are so few blackcock that there is no mistaking him.
Since the end of March, he has roamed over an enormous distance. It is quite clear that he “lives” in a forty acre hollow of rough grass on the very summit of the moor. He was found there several times over the winter, but his lekking travels have given him cause to explore about five square miles of the surrounding countryside since the end of March. Having plotted all the places I’ve found him on a map, I can get some idea of the extent of his travels, but these are just the places where I have happened to bump into him and the real area may be far larger. I’ve kept notes on the kind of ground he prefers for his displays because there is a definite pattern (another blog post brewing), and I’ve even been able to predict where he will display when he’s in a certain area.
Some mornings he seems to have been desperate and directionless, and I’ve seen him fly from one site to another, pausing to call for anything between ninety seconds to five minutes before flying on again. On other mornings, he has been absolutely steadfast in his choice of location, and he has even spent the day afterwards lounging around in the cottongrass nearby. In these situations, I can only assume that greyhens must have been in the vicinity to anchor him, and his loyalty to specific spots has been remarkably ardent before switching to sudden indifference.
So much is written about black grouse populations in healthy, thriving areas that we seldom pay much attention to what happens when birds fall into scant remnants. According to the rule book, this cock should stick to one lek site and wait for greyhens to come to him, so the fact that he is travelling across an enormous area shows that the behaviour is more flexible than it seems. If you consider the distance a blackcock’s calls can travel, he has cast his net over a massive area of Galloway over the past five weeks (perhaps in the order of 8 or 10 square miles), and who knows how many greyhens he has found or drawn in. When I talk to people about black grouse, they are often amazed by the power, speed and operational radius of these birds. They’re not like red grouse which might travel a mile or two in their entire lives – a blackcock could fly several miles in a day and occupy thousand of acres during the course of a year.
There are other blackcock in the area, and I know that this bird has displayed with them on some occasions, but he seems reluctant to take the passive option and hang out with his peers on the offchance of a female visitor. His roving strategy is abnormal, but I’m quite confident that it’s the best course of action.