Liverpool RSPB field Trip report - Black Grouse Lek
Sunday found us up before the lark, leaving Liverpool at 4am in the pitch dark for a 5am meet at UPM Tilhill’s, Coed Llandegla Forest in Denbighshire. We arrived at the visitor centre just as dawn was breaking on the horizon. And flaming Palinka it was cold, 2 degrees Celsius with a bitter wind chill which soon got the better of my insulated gloves.
Seven hardy souls made it to Llandegla Moor in search of the lekking Black Grouse (tetrao tetrix), we were not disappointed. The count being 13 males and one grey female (ratio doesn't seem right to me somehow!). The species is red-listed in Wales, which means it is of the highest conservation concern. 50% of the Welsh Black Grouse population lives within one mile of the forest. The Lek, is an early spring display site, the male grouse mock fight to impress an audience of females - well hidden from our eyes this morning. There are currently estimated to be 328 lekking males in Wales, a positive recovery over recent years. The Moor is managed for the grouse; the heather is cut consecutively, which forces new growth and allows the cotton grass and bilberry to gain a foothold, providing year round food for the grouse and their chicks.
A 30 minute walk through the forest brought us to our hiding place, a converted ships container – all mod cons here, magnolia walls, carpet on the seating bench, and a speaker transmitting the bird calls from a microphone hidden on the moor. Although 400 metres away the male birds were easily visible on the open ground, drooped wings, pure white tails feathers fanned out, bubbling, screeching and strutting their stuff to impress the females. Just like miniature Capercaillies. The highlight and best view by far was when the 13 males took to the air disturbed by a passing crow, their striking white wing bars evident as they quickly returned to their Lek and the important business of the day.
After half an hour or so the weather started to deteriate and the forecast rain fell as snow, time for a sharp exit… But just as we were leaving a rogue male flew towards the hide giving us a closer view. Apparently this bird has taken to displaying on a rise near to the container, its thought (hopefully) he could be starting up a new Lek.
Taking the trail back through the forest offered us some protection from the inclement weather and gave us the other highlight of the day; Crossbills flying overhead and then a family group feeding in a Larch. Hooked bill, red underside and rich red rump a glorious male, a juvenile and the female of a more green hue. Despite the weather the dawn chorus was in full voice, Willow warblers, Song thrush, Nuthatches and Robins sang out. Overhead small groups of Siskin and Redpoll flitted through the canopy. A Tree pipit in a tree gave us a closer view, as did a Coal tit, and Goldcrest.
As the snow came down we retreated to the Oneplanet cafe for a full Welsh breakfast, a bacon bap or would you rather have porridge and home produced honey? We left at 9am just as the hordes of weather resistant mountain bikers arrived for the day.
Our day list: Crow-Dunnock-Blackbird-Woodpigeon-Siskin-Crossbill-Black grouse-Tree pipit-Goldcrest-Robin-Redpoll-Mallard-Canada Goose-Coal tit-Collared dove-Chaffinch-Jackdaw-Jay-Song Thrush.
Julie our RSPB guide at Llandega tells us ‘there be Nightjars’ on site and they plan to hold future Wednesday night viewing events - barbecue supper included !… so, get your white hankies ready and watch this space.
Report compiled by Stores and Laura.
Ps Palinka is a Hungarian brandy – just getting ready for the groups big trip!