I was bombarded with ticks while stalking yesterday afternoon, and as I lay in a myrtle bog of midges waiting for a particularly fine buck to stand up and show me more than just his head and shoulders, I found that I was picking them off me with increasing disgust. The buck lay down for three and a half hours, and the harder I tried to circumvent him or rouse him into standing, the more he pressed himself down into the heather, first with alarm and caution and latterly for a protracted snooze, which left him nodding off and bumping his nose on the ground. When he finally moved, he did so with a single bound and vanished – I had tried to walk the fine line between provoking curiosity and fear, and the balance suddenly tipped against me.
Friends further North and East have noted that this seems to be a very ticky year, and it raises additional concerns about the grouse prospects for 2015. If my experience yesterday afternoon was anything to go by, Galloway is looking particularly bad for ticks, and this may spell trouble for small grouse chicks as the summer comes on.
Greyhens have brought off their broods, and I spoke to a contact near Perth this morning who had seen a brood of five youngsters around ten days old last week. Further North, a keeper friend has seen very small chicks near Banchory in the last few days, and it seems like the young birds are well underway. As much as I’d like to get out and see young birds on the Chayne, I have to contain my excitement and leave them to it – they don’t benefit from being seen, and it’s more important that they have peace and quiet.
Black grouse are vulnerable to ticks and young birds do suffer under extremely ticky conditions, but they aren’t susceptible to tick-borne diseases like their red cousins. Given that ticks and brood-rearing greyhens often share a preference for the same kind of habitat, it’s a relief that blackgame are resistant to things like louping ill and encephalitis, but a bad year for tick can be worrying for all kinds of species.