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Photographing the Black Grouse Lek

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All photos courtesy of Jim Duncan of

April is the best month to see black grouse gathering at dawn on their communal display grounds for their pre-breeding rituals.  Jim Duncan describes how to photograph this amazing display...

At four in the morning you make your way under darkness to the Black Grouse lekking area in a Glen near Loch Lomond.  You arrive about an hour before sunrise and the sounds of the Blackcocks can be heard a few hundred metres away.  It's still dark when you put your hide in place and get your camera gear set-up.  Now its just a matter of waiting.

Within a few minutes you hear more birds arriving and they are just outside your hide less than 3 metres away!  The males jostle and parade around the lek coaching another to a fight, when a female Greyhen arrives the Blackcocks jump high into the air and bow down low making 'bubbling' noises.  Feathers can fly as the cocks try to establish dominance by kicking out at each other.  The whole area is alive with the songs of Curlew, Greylag Geese, Red Grouse, Skylarks and Meadow Pipits.

As the sun peeps over the horizon there's just enough light available for photography, and you can start to film the lek and the Greyhen walking through the site to choose a partner.  Battles rage between the cocks as the Greyhen wanders amongst them.

Two hours after sunrise the birds depart their communal ground and head off to the hills.  It's all over until tomorrow morning when it all starts again.

Blackcocks arrive at the lek area as early as late February, but they mostly just preen and tidy their plumage to look their best for the Greyhens.  April is the best time to experience the full spectacle of the lek.

If you're thinking of photographing the lek it's critical that you don't disturb the birds.  Black Grouse are one of the most threatened game birds in the UK so please Google "Birdwatchers Code of Conduct" for guidelines.

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