Last weekend Her Maj and I went off to learn all about black grouse (or blackcock as they are also known). We met up with a number of other folk in a local hotel and were given a series of presentations in the morning on the beasties in question. After a good lunch we set off into the local forests to seek out “leks”. Now, for the ignorati, amongst whom I would happily have counted myself a week ago, a lek is the site where male black grouse congregate and display in the hopes of attracting a lady-friend for a reproductive enterprise. To lek is also the verb relating to the display. Given that these are very large grouse, the size of a goodly cockrel, the site is one to be seen.
We scouted around and found lots of pine marten spats (deposits of partially-digested rowan berries) and some black grouse droppings, suggesting suitable locations for our early-morning field trip the following day. Given that the location of leks is confidential within the project, I can’t even give you the broadest indication of where we were, sorry.
The field trip element of the weekend involved meeting at 0515 on the Sunday morning and driving off into the forest to the lek location we’d spotted the previous day. We split up into two parties and set off to find discreet locations for viewing the lek site for an hour either side of dawn. The leader had the right idea, for having found a nice sheltered clump of spruce trees, snuggled down on a bed of needles and snoozed happily for an hour. I have to say, it’s pretty boring sitting still in the dark for an hour, and it became a little more so when dawn came and there was no sight of the ruddy birds. We gave up about 0730 and went for a drive in the minibus to see a couple of other lek sites that the trainer knew about. Well, the inevitable happened; driving back towards the road, we actually saw a black grouse feeding on the side of the road and it hung around for a couple of minutes to enable us all to have a keek through binoculars. I don’t know if it was the first blackcock Her Maj has seen, and I’m not sure I’ll ask the question in that form.
The plan is (being serious again for a moment) that we’ll be allocated a lek site in the spring and will go out to monitor activity on a couple of occasions to enable an assessment of the population of birds in this part of the world. Won’t be as much fun in the spring when the dryer mornings will inevitably be cold and frosty to boot. Ach well, the two of us can snuggle up and keep each other’s morale up.