Wildlife sound recordist Chris Watson captures the sounds of an extraordinary dawn performance when he joins a group of male black grouse at a traditional courtship site.
A Black Grouse lek is one of the most extraordinary sound spectacles in Britain and they occur every year from September until the birds breed in Spring; the peak time being April to May. Male Black Grouse gather at traditional sites on upland moors and display to each other and to the females before dawn. Hidden in a small wooden hut Chris Watson captures the sounds of their remarkable theatrical performance, by burying microphones the previous evening and running long cables back to recorders in the hide. The first males arrive at the lek site under cover of dark. They can be heard before they are seen. They fan out their black lyre-shaped tails to reveal white under-feathers as they strut back and forth to one another like partners on a dance floor. These displays determine the ranks of the birds to one another prior to breeding. The dance is accompanied by a startling vocal display; bubbling sounds, far-carrying rolling coos, pops, gurgles and explosive 'sneezes' which once heard are never forgotten! Females are attracted to the lek, listening and looking for a prospective mate! As the sun rises, the performers drift away, leaving an empty stage, a circle of trodden grass in the heather and the echoes of their remarkable display. Producer Sarah Blunt.