Saturday, 11 May 2013
Lekking Black Grouse
RSPB volunteer Barry Lynes led me up to the hide at Llandegla on a beautiful May morning to see the Black Grouse. Long before we got there the strange bubbly warbling sound of the males could be heard, quite haunting and surreal. Despite 400 metres between the hide and the lek the males could be seen with the naked eye, the sun glinting on their backs as they dashed around.
Barry focussed in with the scope and we were able to see the full splendour of the seven parading males with their white tail fans and the occasional charge to see off a rival. Now and again a hiss broke the sound of the warbling until by about 7:30 the bubbly sound subsided. The birds probably needed a breakfast after expending so much energy.
I’m glad I’ve seen them first hand in case they do go extinct. Numbers have declined across Wales and are now confined to a few sites in the north where with intervention and habitat restoration they are on the increase. Friends told me they used to monitor the population near Penmachno – do they still exist there?
As a bonus a Cuckoo flew almost overhead perching on the tip of a nearby tree where it was harangued by a Tree Pipit and forced to move on by its tiny opponent.
Lekking goes on for much of the year, apart from August when the birds moult, but the lek in April to May is the important one where mates are chosen. Each year the RSPB organise guided walks to see the lek but self-service is also an option; just ask at the visitor centre for directions to the hide. The visitor centre and car park are closed early morning so you might want to find out in advance if you plan to be there bright and early. There's also a small road across the moors with an even better vantage point but best not to get out of your car for fear of disturbing the lek.