Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Doing the Lek dance in Scotland


 A lot has shaken my confidence in the future, humanity, and just about everything recently.  Was this rook on a gravestone an omen?  No, and I’m not talking about the little issues, like “family,” “my values,” “owning a good dog,” birding,” “the joyful solitude of fishing,”  just walking in the forest or a meadow, or even the “peculiarity of cats.”  No, I mean the bigger issues…..politics, religion,  “America” as a concept, the future of humanity….etc.  At least I haven't lost my confidence in sex, however, but I guess I am now what should be referred to as a "cis-gendered male," and I am not sure really what that means or why I am that, so maybe my confidence in sex IS shaken.  I am just so....confused.

This all started with a trip to Scotland recently, so recently, I am just getting back, although it just exacerbated it.  I have been festering thinking for weeks and I've had a month of writing fatigue.  Maybe it was just the documentaries I watched on my Delta flights.  “The Fibs of American History.”  Some I knew, like Revere was not the only rider.  The Soviet nuclear threat of the 1950s was exacerbated, and the tenuous ties with the Civil War to end slavery was there.  But my new lack of faith was more.  In the UK, I read a headline.  “NASA sending nudes photos into space,” in some sort of misguided attempt to attract aliens, maybe they’ll get lustful and come….?  IDK. To be fair, I did not read the article.  There has been talk about Artificial Intelligence and how it was going to “improve life on Earth.”  Soon AI controlled drones could be directed from a remote location to “bring peace.”  I began to think….has ANYONE read science fiction?  How many episodes of Star Trek, the movie series Star Wars, or Terminator have the people in charge not watched?  Are they that na├»ve?   All I can say, is NOTHING nothing good can ever come of Alien contact, just ask the Incan, How many native islanders of Easter island are there?  Maybe a US Native tribe?  Pick one, anyone.

In the middle of this, I spent a week with Silja and two friends at a nature center in Scotland, Aigas, owned by a Baronet, Sir John Lister-Kaye.  The place meant well and is trying to save Scottish Wildcats and beavers, plus other things like the pine marten and the badger, but as we drove about, what I saw was the elite core of the UK, a various Who is Who of the UK aristocracy.  These landowners, ones with bigger titles than sir John, and leaders entrenched in the House of Lords in London and in Edinburgh, totally in control of the land, and managing it much like Facebook, Google, and Amazon manages the internet (for profit). Management is all for hunting, hunting lodges, and anything that might be a predator, even the lowly magpie, has been shot, killed, and stuffed.  I found two stuffed eagles at the Aigas manor, unconscionable…..the best thing in America is the protection of raptors and migratory birds with a huge fine for shooting one.  In the somewhat secret case of windmills killing them, corporate fines…..is it perfect?  NO, but here we have a place with a VERY well represented Green party, giving more talk on Kyoto and whatever than in the USA, and….the employed gamekeepers shoot magpies…( I challenge anyone to find one in the Highlands of Scotland or see a close up eagle.

Aigas Manor, our home for the week

Our cabin for the week, MacIntosh Manor

Enough rant....well maybe not.

Scotland………I just do not know what to say, it is a place mismanaged for over population by red deer, managed for the elite to shoot, and to go on ptarmigan hunts to just shoot hundreds of birds because, I guess, they can.   It is a place of much water, BUT few ducks.  I say, back in just Day County South Dakota, there are more ducks in a 20 mile by 20 mile square than the whole of Scotland.  One good sized bay between Port Angeles and Neah Bay Washington, has more sea ducks, and eider, yeah, I do not what to think about it.

Not a single duck on Loch Ness, nor a monster for that matter, I guess they were full from eating ducks

In all of this, I went to a lek.  The highlight of my trip as it would turn out.

We met up with the local expert on a reserve, I would lead my four intrepid travelers, Don and Nancy Harrington and my wife and I, two days earlier by pure happenstance to look for tree pipits and whatever else we could find, and inadvertently walk past a very nice black grouse lek, which we would return at the crack of dawn to see the birds.


Black grouse male

Black grouse hens

In two leks we saw 20 males and 3 hens, doing the dance of life and spring.  The black grouse is a pretty widespread species, essentially Scotland all the way across the north into Siberia, and its dance was sort of a sharp tailed grouse meets black grouse, or a prairie chicken with more noise.  There was fighting, or mock fighting as the case make be.  Some spinning, and a dance like the “B-52” takeoff of sharp-tails, but mostly we saw posturing and a couple of males just squawking for their mates to return. 

Some more pictures……




They were a life bird, one of 14 for the trip and the number one bird I was looking for.  The tree pipit was also a lifer, and essentially the only ones we saw.  They had their own acrobatics, sort of a skylark meets a bit of a snipe.

It is a strange thing, thinking about life in a grouse lek, with numb toes, shivering legs, and a having ones fingers shake from the cold so much, that the photos tend to get blurry, but in 2022, my only grouse lek will end up being a black grouse’s lek…..hopefully, I still have many leks in me.  But such is like, one needs to enjoy what they can of it.

Tree pipit, first lifer of the trip

I think the black grouse are holding their own here, but I'm sure someone would want to shoot them.

I have been thinking a lot lately.  Introspection is good to a point, I guess.  In days before my trip, I went to memorial to an old friend of my, in some ways, a kindred spirit, but in others very different.  I would love to just show some of what are probably Bill’s favorite moments besides his wife Joyce and family, but well, I am not sure if all 1970s photos can be handled by the majority here.  Others Woodstock photos a probably best left censored or in the drawers.  Bill was also an atheist.  His was the first atheist funeral that was pretty upbeat I have been to…..the problem with humanism and atheism have always been the voids at the end.  Being the ever historian, Joyce gave me some old photos of lost Halcion days, and they made me laugh, and made me smile, and made me wonder what I was going to do with them…..I am not sure about atheism…..it is hard not to look at a grouse lek and see God, others may just see nature. It is easy to see the Devil at work…..hw is working right now in Ukraine and maybe many of the world’s capitals.   

The Devil may also me seen in a Uber-rich Malaysian owning an estate in some Glen in Scotland with a game keeper managing the place only for deer, filled with starving stags, and forever altered environment due to overgrazing and refusal to manage the population down.  It is also hard to support Green House gas initiatives over apparent hypocrisy in tearing up carbon holding peat moors to put up a windmills, that may, may just go carbon Neutral in year 20 of their existence while it kills eagles, hawks, and the roads to an from it are covered in plastic little.  Just drive the streets near the Glasgow airport, to see good old fashioned 1970s American littered roads.  I Guess the windmill manufacturers are laughing all the way to the bank.  Plus, who is going to tear down the old oil drilling rigs anchored and rusting away in ports on the east side of Scotland, like at Crawley? 

Oil derricks at anchor rusting in Crawley Scotland 

Are they going to do it in 10, 20, 40 years?  Is it going to end up looking like the old castle ruins of the previous estate owners with too much money who would rather hang out with the kings and Lords than actually take care and manage their property?  These old ruins sit abandoned and neglected in the moors and points of view and are now called historical sites.  If there EVER was a place that screams property redistribution it is Scotland.

Maybe I am confusing the Scottish National Party (the SNP and the party that wants Scottish independence) as a party that cares about the country not only in who leads them.  It all seems like History revisiting from the Jacobite insurrection of three hundreds years ago, something I will revisit next time, in my “Clans” blog, and yes, I am not just a product of Swedish ancestry from Grangarde Sweden— an insignificant town halfway between Ludvika and Falun Sweden. I have deep roots in the Scottish moors, possibly too deep, it is ancestry I have largely ignored, but it is there, and I stumbled upon it, like I always do.   I am not sure I even want to deal with it, either.

This is all above my pay grade, and I am punching above my weight.  I have my own religion thoughts, and I gave up trying to convert anyone long ago to anything. I am just a philosophical birder, maybe birding is my religion?  I am a father of three, husband of a wife who for reasons unknown took hop on Olaf’s bus of (mis)adventure, and who is a bad writer, and I can't even convert them.  

Aigas was a nice visit....

Badger (Eurasian), different from ours

Our group of UK birding enthusiasts

The Eurasian pine marten


Some of the garden birds at Aigas were not common to us, but I had seen most before

wood pigeon

willow warbler

white (oied) wagtail

common firecrest

European Robin "Bob"

Great spotted woodpecker

Finally, a lifer and a bird that eluded me on the grounds for six days, a Dunnock


and saw some vistas in many of the glens on private estates looking for...eagles and scoured the lochs for...ospreys.   

Newborn lambs were everywhere, and sometime there a hour after we walked past

At the moment I am just travelling home, trying to get home, on a just crazy 24 hours, I may NEVER write about and I have a to prepare a Zoom talk on birds of the South Atlantic, again, more on that later, and I am glad that I am leaving Scotland sit and ripen like a cask of Ben Nevis Scotch, and Scotland, likes it signature alcohols needs to mellow, it is still like gasoline in my mouth and I am still high over Iceland, too close to be objective.

I am going to now watch “Little Miss Sunshine” on the Plane’s entertainment system, a happy fictional memoir centered on “body image” and a satirical look at pre-pubescent beauty pageants….more OMG…I switched to "Yesterday"  a story of what if the Beatles never existed but a guy remembered their music and sings it..that was better.  I need to revisit old Bill’s treasure trove of photos…maybe they will cheer me up.

Sending nude pictures into space?  WT....F

this was just the start of a very long trip, so more soon....I got a lot to say but on simpler topics like....Scottish Caravans, Clans, and well, more birds....

Olaf        



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