Black Grouse, an adventure in Sweden
In my country Holland Black Grouse is on the doorstep of extinction. Only a very small population lives on the Sallandse Heuvelrug, a nature area 40 kilometers from my home. I had seen them there a couple of times from a great distance and loved the colours and behavior of the animals, but the distance to the animals is much too far to make decent images. Last year I decided I wanted to see them close-by in their natural habitat, so together with a photo-friend I went to Sweden to photograph the Black Grouse. And what an adventure it was !
Hissing, fighting, dancing … all to impress the “chicks”
It is in the middle of the night when we leave our cabin with the guide and set off to the hide. The hide is situated next to the display arena and is in the middel of a moor area. Walking in pitch-dark following our guide through the forest with it’s uneven ground full of rocks and slippery mosses wasn’t easy, but it was a peace of cake compared to the last 600 meters. At the edge of the woods the moor starts and to reach the hide we had to walk over a small path made from wooden planks, unsteady and at the left and right side 20 cm deep watery swamp. But somehow we managed to reach the hide and we climbed in. The guide left us alone en the waiting began.
After an hour in the hide light slowly climbed at the horizon and at the same time everywhere around us the cranes started their characteristic trumpeting sound. I love this magnificent sound. Then suddenly flapping of wings and the first Black Grouse landed ten meters in front of the hide. Within a couple of minutes we had fifteen male Black Grouse before the hide. Still much too dark to photograph but the moment gave me goosebumps.
Display of the males
The male Black Grouse are constantly trying to overcome the other male. Standing on a little height in the landscape (just a small pile of sand will do) they set out their feathers, making a fan-shaped white tail and filling the sponge-like tissues on their head with blood, using it as a bright red warning signal. Continuous they make the very characteristic clocking sound, it never stopped during the entire display. Every couple of minutes they change the direction in which they are displaying with a small jump and a 90 degrees turn, after which they start all over again.
When two males come too close to each other or if they are not impressed by the behavior of the other they take a stand face to face. Now the displaying is getting more fierce. Not only do they make the characteristic sounds but they also start hissing at one another. And they make threatening moves, forward and immediately again backwards. Most of the times one of the two turns away and runs off but sometimes both of them don’t want to give in. Then the real fight starts. They peck, lash out with their wings and try to scratch the rival with their long knifelike toes and spores. Feathers fly around and fighting can go on for some minutes if they are well matched to each other. But at last one of them gives in and ran or flies away. Then the display starts over again for both animals
As soon as there is a female at the edge of the tournament field the fighting becomes more severe. The females look uninterested but that is an act. After a while she chooses her winner and he gets the chance of mating with her. Within a couple of seconds it is over and the lady leaves the area. The male hardly gets time to recover, for the next fight for the next “chick” is coming up very soon. But that is what life is all about in this month.
As sudden as the show started it ends. As if there is a bell ringing all Black Grouse are gone within a minute. They disappear in the forest, leaving us behind with full CF-cards and an incredible experience. We have spent three mornings with the birds, two of them in another area in hiding tents and one in the above mentioned place. If you want to see more images or a short audiovisual show on music which I made then you should visit my website www.hollandphotography.eu
Until next time, happy shooting
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