EVERY WEEK IN 2017 WE WILL HAVE NEW SUGGESTIONS FOR A DIFFERENT GROUP OF BIRDS TO LOOK FOR TO HELP DEVELOP YOUR #MY200BIRDYEAR LIST.
This week, it is gamebirds (part one)
Our gamebirds can loosely be divided into grouse, and pheasants and partridges.. There are four British grouse species, one native partridge and one introduced, plus the Pheasant. Finally there is the anomalous Quail, which breaks the general rules of being a gamebird in that it is a summer migrant and is, to all intents and purposes, invisible!
Easily our commonest grouse species, this is the bird that men in tweeds enjoy blasting with shotguns for pleasure, while turning a blind eye to the destruction of Hen Harriers, Mountain Hares and anything resembling a predator which ‘threatens’ the grouse population. It is not the grouse’s fault though, of course. Our native subspecies of the Willow Grouse is notable for being more red-brown all over and not turning white in winter. These are the grouse who appear as if by magic from heather to proclaim ‘go back go back go backakakakakakak!’.
Much rarer and more localised that Red Grouse, the spectacular, exotic-looking Black Grouse is usually at lek sites, where in the very early morning, males gather to sing at each other with their tails puffed up, in order to attract the smaller, grey females. The song is a wonderful continuous bubbling, interspersed by wheezy sneeze sounds. Best seen by visiting one of the known lek sites. Black Grouse leks are very vulnerable to disturbance, so, should only be viewed very carefully from distance.
The giant, turkey-sized Caper was made extinct in the UK in the late 18th Century. It is even possible that we had our distinct subspecies which is now, tragically, extinct. So, the Scottish population comes from ‘reintroduced’ Swedish birds. This population has also undergone a massive recent decline, and there may be fewer than 1,000 left in Scotland. They are famously tricky birds to encounter. One of the best ways is to visit the Loch Garten RSPB during one of its early morning Caper watch sessions, though even that is hit and miss and even if you see one it may be just a distant dot…
The Ptarmigan is the high altitude grouse. If you want to see one, you are going to have to visit the Scottish mountains. They scrape a living among the rocks of ranges such as the Cairngorms. Ptarmigans go white in winter (like some Stoats and Mountain Hares), and the rest of the time are brown and white to match the patchy snow or the lichen covered granite of their surroundings. They can be highly approachable.