Monday 17 June 2013

A Rogue Capercaillie!

During the recent Ornitholidays tour to Finland, we came across an adult male Capercaillie in the Kuusamo area.  Occasionally unmated males with too much testosterone defend their forest patch aggressively. This one, well known locally, spends most of its days by the road and is liable to attack anyone who steps out of the vehicle. My Finnish co-leader Pirita gives us due warning, but we are still amazed by our encounter. 

For a while, the crazy Caper keeps his distance, strutting around with tail fanned and making quiet popping and gurgling sounds. We're all enjoying amazingly close views and photographic opportunities, before it suddenly launches an me! 

I take this shot a second before the moment of impact. It is a privilege to be beaten around the thighs by the wings of this grumpy old grouse! Neither of us suffers any harm, but after a short break he shows he's ready for Round Two. 

Now Pirita steps forward. She has had the good sense to arm herself with a pine branch, a soft object that will deflect his charge and not hurt him. Mr C gets most upset at our departure, trying to attack us as we jump into the minibus, biting Andrew’s finger, and running  after us.

We flag down a motorist coming the other way to warn him since he's still strutting around in the middle of the road. But the driver tells us in English that he knows the bird well, and gestures that it's time he was shot for the pot. Finland is a country full of hunters, who shoot many thousands of  grouse in a year. (During one recent year, the figures were 200,000 Black Grouse and 70,000 Capercaillies). Both species have become rare in Southern Finland, and only up in the north are the grouse holding their own. Habitat loss is implicated in the decline as much as hunting. None of us who were there on that sunny day at the end of May will ever forget our closest grouse encounter.