Monday, 19 May 2014

Black Grouse Lek

I'd heard about Black Grouse and the breeding Lek many times and seen snippets on the TV, and of course I could immerse myself in the well documented display, any time just by looking at You Tube, but it's just not the same as seeing it first hand. By chance I was looking for a couple of days away and came across a mention (Twitter) of Black Grouse on the Glen Tanar Estate, along with the availability of hides.
Black grouse in the greyness of early dawn
So a quick phone call and I'd booked a cottage, hide and not forgetting the ferry.  I forgot to book the weather!  Before I knew it my day had come - or should I say night - with a 2.30am start. Ouch that's early! I had to meet the ranger who would escort me to the hide at 3am to be well settled before dawn. Meeting Mike at the Estate Office, in the fine drizzle we set off in the land rover to get as near to the hide as possible without disturbing anything.  A short walk in the pitch black and I arrived at the hide.
Female grouse stirs up the males
Having sat in many a cold dark spot, I was well prepared with a padded fleecy sit mat and small hot water bottle.  It wasn't that cold but being still soon chills the body and there was snow on the tops, so it couldn't be described as the height of summer!  The noises of the night told of a lot of activity - all unseen in the darkness.
Males strut their stuff.
The rain also tapped on the roof, and dripped through the many holes, but I was mesmerised by the peculiar noises, almost like little pressure valves going off which I realised was the grouse.  They were here! Unfortunately the light wasn't. The greyness saw me ramp up the ISO as high as I could and I still couldn't achieve a realistic shutter speed.
Shake a tail feather!
I sat back and watched (well actually as far forward as I could on the edge of my seat).  The dance started as the hen wandered like a little temptress through the males. Lots of tail feather ruffling and strutting before one either submitted and retreated or was seen off with menace.
Oh for light and a faster shutter speed!
The light still did not oblige and the misty dawn remained grey and damp. But I made the most of it enjoying the grouse, curlews, oyster catchers, lapwings, ring ouzel, warblers and pipits.
The view from the hide into the gloom
And then a large hare bounded through the grouse and stopped, nose twitching about 15 meters in front of the hide.  I froze, it's nose twitched seemingly sensing I was there.  With shutter set to quiet mode (still not that quiet), I managed a few quick shots before it darted off.
Hare today gone in a moment.
The light improved a little but the female had disappeared so the grouse had settled down and all was quiet for the next hour.
What big eyes you have!
The grouse still did small walks around each other but there was none of the earlier fervour and they moved further away from the hide.
Posturing with no real passion.
It really looked like they were just socialising and meeting up for a chat and I knew the activity had mostly finished for the day.  In real terms the grouse can lek all year but the main season is April to May and I was near the end of this - the hens having laid and now being sat on eggs.
Three's a crowd
A rumble in the distance told me of the imminent arrival of Mike the ranger to pick me up and the grouse flew on his arrival. Packing up my gear the sun finally put in an appearance - too late for me - but the valley lit up in the freshness that only a dawn can bring (that and the coffee that was waiting in the land rover).

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