Simon Lester's gamekeeping diary

June 2011

THE continued bad weather at Langholm seems to be the main topic of conversation. Midsummer day was miserable and dreich, and, of course, it's still making life difficult for us work-wise.

The grouse have not fared well; we are seeing the odd good brood, but too many adult pairs without any young at all. What is very disappointing is that, because of the duration of the wet weather, late and second broods—which can save the day—will also be affected. Black grouse also hatch in June and they are far more reliant on good weather than red grouse.

On the plus side, however, I think that all the rain has helped the heather re-growth no end; as, much to my delight, most of the places where we cut strips and had fires two to three years ago are looking really good. Even a lot of the areas that were damaged by heather beetle last year are showing signs of recovery. Although we did see some adult heather beetles in the spring, there didn't seem to be as many as the last two springs, so I live in hope that the beetle will have less of an impact on the new, lush heather this year. We will soon find out, though, as the larvae are due to hatch at any minute.

Damian (the Project's Chief Scientist) and I have been catching and checking grouse chicks for ticks, which attach themselves to the heads of the grouse. Fortunately, we only found a few birds with a couple of ticks, which is a good sign. However, my pointers, Twist and Dash, did not indicate (point) the chicks as well as the more experienced dogs that we used last year.

The curlew nest that I found has hatched. I have seen several of the chicks, which look like fluff balls on gangly legs, creeping about, their attentive parents sounding the alarm call at the first sign of any danger. Sadly, many oyster catchers and pewits have not done so well. There are good numbers of newly fledged meadow pipits about, given away by their stumpy tails and ear tufts. Their live's are sometimes short as they are the main source of food for the moor's growing families of merlins, short-eared owls and hen harriers.

The second harrier nest has hatched and has five chicks. Diversionary feeding has started, with this hen needing food to be placed in the nest to start her off. The first nest is doing very well, the youngsters (four cocks and one hen) have been tagged and two birds have been fitted with satellite tags. The merlins are also doing well. We have rung the young in three of the five nests, which each contained three chicks.

Patches of colour are beginning to appear amongst the many shades of green on the moor, thanks to the pretty pink flowers of cross leaved heath and swathes of bright, white, heath bedstraw. Flocks of pigeons are starting to gather on the moor as the blaeberries ripen. They only do this for a short time before disappearing for another year. Orchids, tormentil and foxgloves all add a cheery splash of colour. I was also delighted to see a tiny adder. It was coiled up and looked just like a mini adult.


Simon Lester