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Issue 22 - It's looking black for rare grouse

Scotland Magazine Issue 22
August 2005


This article is 13 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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It's looking black for rare grouse

Graham Holliday seeks out the very rare black grouse

The black grouse is one of Scotland’s rarest, yet most spectacular birds. It can be found throughout much of mainland Scotland and in the Inner Hebrides.

Like the similarly rare but far larger capercaillie, the males, or black cocks as they are often called, come together to perform lekking displays designed to impress the females (greyhens).

They gather in forest clearings, make eerie bubbling noises, hold their heads down low and show off their white tails.

Black grouse, which are about the size of a hen, lek year round, but it is during springtime that the activity intensifies and the greyhens congregate to seek a mate.

The predominantly black coloured males, which also have a distinctive red wattle above the eye, play no part in the nesting process or in the rearing of the young.

The nest is usually built on the ground. The female produces between six and 11 brown speckled eggs in late April and incubation lasts about 25 days. Young black grouse are quick learners. The female feeds them on the first day, but they are capable of feeding themselves from day two.

The Scottish population has been in decline since the 1970s and there are now just 6,500 breeding males in the United Kingdom as a whole. The main threats comes from changes in agriculture and more intensive grazing.

The Forestry Commission for Scotland ensures that design plans, tree felling and replanting take into account the habitat requirements of the black grouse. Work programmes are scheduled to avoid grouse areas during the all important breeding season.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has had some success with black grouse conservation at their reserve in Abernethy.

Intense habitat and deer management, removal of fencing which low flying grouse often hit and the regeneration of heather and bilberry have all contributed to the success.

Outside Scotland’s nature reserves the picture isn’t so good. Like much of Scotland, numbers in Argyll have been decreasing steadily.

"Between 2002 and 2003 displaying males at leks surveyed in both years reduced by 15 per cent and between 2003 and 2004 they reduced by 10 per cent," says Sandra Maclean, Argyll & Bute Black Grouse Project officer, based in Lochgilphead.

"Full details for 2005 aren’t yet available but the decline is certainly continuing in Argyll."

However visitors are still in with a very good chance of seeing black grouse for themselves.

They can be seen year round, although the best time is during the breeding season at an organised ‘lek watch’.

"The West Argyll district forest of West Knap above Crinan is a good place to see black grouse,"

explains Maclean. "Peak lek season is April and dusk and dawn afford the best chance of seeing birds.

"In the spring of 2005 the Argyll and Bute Black Grouse Project in partnership with Caledonian Wildlife ran black grouse safaris to see displaying birds in Narachan Forest in Mid Kintyre. No doubt we'll be running more events next lek season. They were very popular."

Bellanoch House, Bellanoch Bay, Crinan Canal, Lochgilphead. Four star B&B.
A renovated listed gothic mansion with luxurious accommodation on Loch Crinan. Guest rooms are ensuite.
Dinner is served in an elegant banqueting hall.
The menu consists of local specialities and Mediterranean.
Open all year. From £36-£45 per person per night
Tel: +44 (0)1546 830 149

The Boat Hotel, Boat of Garten. Four star Hotel.
The guest rooms have all been renovated, but retain a traditional feel. There a public rooms and the Capercaillie Restaurant has a fine reputation for food including the signature ‘roast saddle of Speyside venison on a pear and baby leek confit with orange brandy glaze’. RSPB Abernethy is nearby. Open all year. From £119-£210 per night.
Tel: +44 (0)1479 831 258

The Cairn Hotel, Main Road,
Carrbridge is a three star inn in the centre of the village of Carrbridge. The family-owned Cairn Hotel is a good base for exploring the Spey Valley and Cairngorms. There are seven, mostly en-suite, bedrooms.
The Cairn Hotel offers a varied and extensive menu including bar lunches and suppers served in the bar. Open all year. From £20-£28 per person per night.
Tel: +44 (0)1479 841 212

Where to see black grouse : RSPB Corrimony Corrimony, Highland Tel: +44 (0)1463 715 000 Open moorland, conifers and native woodlands. Home to greenshank, curlew and ospreys. Black grouse are commonly seen in among the birchwoods. Open year round.

RSPB Inversnaid
Tel: +44 (0)141 576 4100
On the shores of Loch Lomond.Buzzards, pied flycatchers and black grouse can be seen on the moorland. Open year round.

RSPB Abernethy Nr. Boat of Garten, Highland
Tel: +44 (0)1479 821 409
Famous for its ospreys and the accompanying Osprey Centre. This is also a good place to see balck grouse, capercaillie, Scottish crossbills and red squirrel in among the Caledonian pinewoods. Open year round.

Contact Sandra Maclean for more information on Argyll lek watch events
Tel: +44 (0)1546 602 304

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