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Published on: 29 Mar 2017 by ericjohn
Though the grouse moors are quiet at this time of year, nature is still very much alive. By Patrick Laurie.
Balancing business with pleasure, I headed onto the hill in December with a sack of grouse grit on my back and my quietest air rifle (https://lifeundersky.com/quietest-air-rifle) on my shoulder.
I had a line of grit trays that needed to be topped up, but I was not going to miss the chance of a roe doe if the opportunity should present itself.
The access on this piece of hill is terrible at the best of times, and our syndicate has become very fit after five years of carting all supplies up a steep face of granite scree to the large plateau where grouse are to be found.
As I walked, a cock merlinflared up and away from the stones above me. As he moved, flakes of downy feather hung in the breeze, and I headed over to inspect the remains of what had been his kill.
Until recently, this had been a reed bunting; one of thousands that mass on the Solway shore in winter. They churn together with linnets and twite in huge flocks, which draw harriers and hawks from miles around.
Who knows where the bunting had been killed? It is not uncommon for falcons to carry off their food to a place of their choosing.
Exploring this hill in early spring, I came across a peregrine’s plucking post on the summit of a shard of rock. Many falcons bring their prey to dine there, and I am sure it is used by other birds too.
On one breathless summer morning before the sun had fully risen, I watched a goshawk peeling a jay on the same grey cliff. I later clambered up over the stones to inspect the plucking post.I discovered the massed remains of dozens of small birds and gathered them in a pocketful.
Once home, I found that among the grouse feathers, most of the remains had belonged to waders and black headed gulls.
Peregrine guru J.A. Baker noted the falcon’s particular enthusiasm for gull meat, and the link is well-established – I have often found gull feathers out on the open hill, and it’s no surprise that black headed gulls often prefer to travel across country by night.
Among the lapwing quills and the section of oystercatcher beak in the peregrine’s leftovers, there were also several curlew feathers – a substantial burden to carry up to this bleak boulder. It was a still day.
The only sound was the movement of clicking, gurgling water somewhere in the moss.
As I walked, the grit bumped heavily on my back and the rifl e strap gripped my shoulder. Pausing for a break, a grouse hen began to cluck quietly.
She would have been almost within touching distance if only I could have known where to look, but the undergrowth was inscrutable.
I sat on the stones and tried to pick her out from amongst the massed wreckage of brown tormentil, deer grass and bony heather stick, but it was impossible.
The voice continued to cluck, then she lost her nerve and burst out of the cover just a few feet away; chocolate brown and never once pausing to look back.
I walked to where she had lain and placed my hand on the soft impression in the moss, finding three sections of green dropping, each one capped with a creamy yellow tip.
As I knelt down, the merlin returned to rush overhead – the tiny bird seared past like a swift, almost within touching distance. In the event, there were no roe does; only two bucks browsing together in the shelter of a steep granite bank.
I remembered the older of the two and eyed the velveteen antlers that were beginning to show between his ears. As I lay in the cold moss and watched him, my fingers went numb and began to throb horribly.
The grouse were working the grit boxes hard and I made a note to come back with a refi ll for several of the most heavily depleted. Grit is crucial in the short, dark days of midwinter when the living is anything but easy. It may seem that life vanishes from the moors in midwinter, but it simply falls quiet.
Every fraction of warmth and comfort appears to have blown away, but the moss is simply waiting for the right moment to return. Lambs and roe kids are growing every day inside their mothers.
It’s just a matter of weeks before the cottongrass flowers return and snipe begin to drum again. Stand in shirtsleeves on a warm August afternoon and you only see a tiny fragment of the full picture.
My name is Eric John. I am the founder of https://LifeUnderSky.com . This blog focuses on outdoor activities. As in my experienced, I will guide you through the Do's and Don't of the hunting world and transform you into a better hunter. Whether you are an experienced hunting or an absolute beginner, you will find a gem.