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Watching a capercaillie fight

I’m fishing in the Caithness. But I’m not taking a break from this black grouse blog.

I’m in the furthest reaches of northern Caithness to be exact, and when I found out that I could drop in and see the capercaillie lek at Abernethy forest en route from Galloway, I jumped at the chance.

Abernethy forest contains some of the last ancient Caledonian pine woodlands in Scotland, and it is now one of a handful of places in the country where you can reliably encounter a “caper lek”.

Capercaillie cocks are about the same size as a black labrador.

They are so big that when I saw one feeding on blaeberry shoots, I was convinced that dinosaurs still roamed the earth.

He was squatting on a thick mound of blaeberry with his massive head hunched into his shoulders like a hen on steroids.

Then he came to life. He had sensed another cock bird encroaching on his patch and he was not for turning.

With surprising agility, he hopped between the tussocks of heather and engaged his rival.

The two gargantuan birds squared up to one another, stretching their necks and bristling their beards, dragging their drooping wings through the heather.

Although they never actually came to blows, their fearsome movements made any potential combat seem like a lethal activity.

Hooked beaks and jagged neck feathers made the posturing birds look like a pair of medieval armour smashing weapons, and when they began to wander apart again, it was almost a relief that no blood had been spilled.

I only know of one person who has shot driven capercaillie and he described the experience as “shooting at flying fortresses”.

As the birds came roaring through the woods, he wasn’t sure whether to stand his ground or hide behind a tree.

Having now seen them for myself, I think I know how he felt.

The views expressed on Patrick Laurie’s blog are the author’s and not the views of Shooting Gazette, ShootingUK, IPC Media or its employees.