Strange to relate the discovery of a grouse cock far from his usual haunts, striding about in a turnip field on the Solway coast. This particular bird was found as reliably as clockwork for several days around a row of sheep troughs by a friend who is the shepherd on the farm beneath our syndicate ground. The bird was picking through the poached mud looking for scraps along the bottom of a hawthorn hedge, and he must have presented quite an odd spectacle. Luckily, the shepherd managed to take a hasty picture on his mobile phone which is reproduced above, but he added that the grouse was fearless, proud and perfectly happy amongst the turnips.
Grouse are so closely aligned with heather moorland that we are often surprised to find them anywhere else, but they will move over long distances and they do pop up in funny places now and again. What is unusual about this bird is that he is cock (as proved by the game, flashy wattle he’s showing off). Hens roam much more widely and are programmed to disperse from their place of birth, but cocks are usually very sedentary and form little fraternal cliques when it comes to breeding time. With all the grouse paired up and settled on the hill, it is interesting that this bird should be idling away his winter on the low ground.
The occasional freak of bad weather will bring entire local populations of grouse off the hill and into odd places, but this winter has been so mild and this bird is such a one-off that I can see no obvious explanation other than the possibility that he may be an unwanted gooseberry and has decided to spread his wings elsewhere. There are all kinds of old records of grouse in turnip fields and on cereal stubbles from Victorian and Edwardian days, so the habitat is obviously not wholly unsuitable for wintering birds.
I’m told that he is no longer in the field since the sheep stopped being fed, and I hope that he has gone back uphill to find a mate. There is still plenty of time for him to pair up and breed successfully in 2016, and it only remains for me to dig into some of the research and see if I can unearth any possible explanations for this bird’s wanderings.