I was returning to the carpark after recording at Tindale Tarn, and I sat on a carved wooden bench to listen to a very quiet, almost timid bird call. It sounded very much like the sound of the wind blowing over the necks of open bottles – sort of hollow and eerie. The sound was coming from the grassland below, but I could not see any birds down there.
Later I learnt this was the wonderful sound made by Black Grouse lekking. They come together in groups and display and pretend-fight with each other to show off to the females. All the while they make these strange noises, consists of two principal sounds; first the bubbling gobble that had drawn me to listen in the first place, and this then followed immediately by an abrupt throaty retching. You may want to listen to the recording a couple of times; the grouse noises are subtle amongst all of the other birdsong; and there is a lot else going on at the same time.
The photo below is not from Geltsdale; the black grouse are shy and very hard to see. A few days later I drove to Langdon Beck, Upper Teesdale in County Durham. There is a spot on the road from which it is possible to see them at it. It’s far away, so individual birds cannot be seen very clearly (look for the black birds and displayed white tails as they stoop towards each other). The large scale of the lekking ground can be seen; also its relative openness. Unfortunately, the sound from that distance is mostly lost in the winds. But the scene is nonetheless extraordinary and spellbinding. Perhaps on a day with low wind it would be possible to hear them clearly from the road.
Soundscape recorded 6:00am, 04/05/17