Birds, Ecology

Black Grouse — a last look?

When we first moved to Wales, someone told me that there were still black grouse on the Gorn Hill, East of Llanidloes — I have never seen one there. We have been to the Cairngorm mountains in Scotland to find them.

The females are grey, often called greyhens and keep themselves tucked away, camouflaged and out of sight in the rough.

The blackcocks have no such inhibitions during the mating season when they are seen in their traditional display grounds lekking — that’s the best time to spot them, posturing and showing off their spectacular plumage, strutting their stuff, tails flared, while calling with a bubbling pigeon-like coo. They meet on traditional grounds, clearings on tops of rises — here we were lucky enough to see about 8 males but there may have been more on the other side of the hill. We could view them with long lenses from a public road — a lot of the previous leks are so threatened that visitors are actively discouraged. This is about as far West as they live but the species is distributed in a wide swathe across Eurasia as far as China. In Russia leks can attract 200 males.

Here they are confronting each other in pairs, like a knock-out competition where the winner gets to mate with the females who have been watching from the scrub, assessing their strength and fitness to breed — not that they take any part in rearing or protecting their offspring! Once mated the females fly off and hideaway to hatch and rear their young alone. I wonder if some females select for intelligence and mate with the cunning young blackcock who sneaks around the margin of the lek and woos the greyhens while the macho males are busy trying to impress each other?

See Wimoglen video published on YouTube

From what we had been led to expect we felt very lucky to see black grouse this year — let’s hope it won’t be the last time.

adventure, Birds, Scotland


Mull is one of the nearer Inner Hebrides islands off the west coast of Scotland and must have had a long, lonely winter with travel restricted and it’s normal waves of challenging weather piling in from the North Atlantic. As we had travelled northward, although already mid-May, there was snow on the tops of the hills from the Lake District onwards.

To reach its weather scoured hillsides we took the ferry — sadly confined to our vehicles — we could only look up at the sky but the skies in Mull say everything!

View back towards the mainland.
Greeted by the harbour hoodie!
We pass the photogenic hulks and the Sun comes out for a moment!
Generally it is chilly — but the restless climate is never the same for more than 20 minutes!
This red dear stag is waiting for his antlers to grow and is the reason the fences are all six feet high!
There is an icy blast — here’s Linda, dressed appropriately and keeping moving…
Looking brighter?

So we attempted a long held ambition of mine to visit Iona, a smaller island off the southern most tip of Mull, famed for its spiritual intensity (and corn crakes –double whammy!)

Waiting for the ferry — actually they are pretending not to be interested in Robson Green in his new fishing togs (over Bill’s left shoulder) about to be tossed in the elements to make a film about lobsters.

The area on Iona covered by iris beds where the crakes used to hide and make the tourists jump with their strange calls seemed, to our birders, much reduced from their previous visits — there seemed to be very many sheep and the sward everywhere we looked had been grazed to within an millimetre of its life during the long winter. Doubly disappointed we did not stay long.

Bill, having given up on the corn crake, looks for something more transcendental!
Back on Mull — every cloud… the kiosk on the quay — note the 1/2 lobster and chips — we had scallops and chips (to share) — very good!
adventure, Travel

Scotland awakes!

Just returned from a long awaited tour of Scotland and the North-east — booked 2 years ago and generously kept open until restrictions were lifted — we were on tenterhooks until the very last minute as Miss Sturgeon would not give the go ahead until a couple of days before we were due to leave — in consequence it was very quiet, no one else seemed to have realised it was open. Under the circumstances that suited very well!

First to Troon to stay with old friends and to look for the black guillemot in Troon Harbour, and what did we find? Seals — one luxuriating in the warm fishy shower provided by a fastidious fisherman cleaning out his hold —

— disporting herself in the soft foam like a L’Oreal advertisement only pausing to snap up the occasional lump of dead fish.

Harbours are strange magical places — full of ghosts that drift in and out on the tides –always looking towards the weather which usually threatens ominously.

Only partly materialised — the phantom crane in Ayr harbour — come to think of it there was a strange chill in the air!
The skeleton dock and the mysterious black guillemot, that somersaulted like an Olympic swimmer doing a turn, showing his scarlet legs then disappeared for ever.

That night, storm clouds gathered over Arran as four adults from two households (and from 3 different nations of the UK — which complicates things enormously) gathered and without guilt or fear of prosecution — the future was bright!

Next stop: Mull.