I received a note a few weeks ago from a gamekeeper friend a few miles further along the coast who had made an extraordinary discovery. Walking his dogs along the seashore near Gatehouse, he had found a dead greyhen lying in the sand. The nearest black grouse leks are only three or four miles away and this bird wasn’t too far from home, but why was she down on the coast, lying dead without a mark on her body? It was a compelling mystery, and I was thrilled to have it presented to me to unravel.
It happened that the frozen body’s arrival coincided with a trip to see Colin Scott at Border Taxidermy, and I took her along with me in the hope of a post mortem. There will be a huge amount more to come on the subject of Colin’s work, but suffice to say for now that we soon had the bird unzipped and the mystery started to unravel.
As the feathers parted, we found a big black bruise all up one side of her breast, with smaller bruises on her head and rump. In the parting between the breast muscles, great black clots of blood wobbled horribly, and it became clear that she had died after a serious collision with something straight-edged. Given that the busy A75 roars past less than a hundred yards from where she was found, it seems likely that she was bumped by a car or a lorry and struck a glancing blow, gliding on to die on the beach several minutes or even hours later.
There were no broken bones, but the extent of the bruising and internal bleeding was quite considerable. Otherwise, she was in perfect condition – a young bird from the summer of 2015. She only had a few blaeberry tips in her crop which would imply that the accident happened early in the morning before she had eaten her breakfast, and she might have gathered these little morsels as soon as she woke up before heading downhill.
Greyhens are particularly rangy and curious in early spring, so it is really unfortunate that this bird should have come to such an unlucky end. I’ve occasionally found black grouse killed by cars, but the victims are usually over-confident blackcock or naive, slow-witted poults. I spoke to the keeper who gave me the bird last night and we both agreed that we would rather she had been killed by a car in a sad one-off accident than succumbed to some mystery disease which could have had far-reaching implications for the other local birds.
I’ve kept the greyhen’s skin (which I removed and prepared under Colin Scott’s close supervision) and I hope to mount it for posterity in the next few weeks. Watch this space…