As I leave the forest track my eyes are already scanning the undergrowth. Today, I am a detective. I start to move through the forest the way they would. I'm drawn to areas of lush blaeberry that now have slender green leaves after a winter of being bare. No berries yet but still an excellent food source. I briefly check areas of denser trees as this can sometimes provide an excellent hiding spot from the unpredictable weather, predators and people. However, I am focused on more open forest clearings today. These clearings are best for showing off in as females can fully appreciate the display.
I scan the trees that surround the clearing and make my way towards a granny* Scots pine. Its branches are thick and twisted from past elements. Its been left as it doesn't provide as useful timber compared to its more straight up and down neighbours. That, or increasingly so, its been purposely left by sympathetic land managers to provide an ideal roost site. I investigate the ground beneath these branches and I quickly narrow in on some cylindrical droppings scattered amongst the pine needles. Exactly what I have been looking for - capercaillie droppings. As always a sense of relief washes over me as I am reassured that they are still here. But these droppings are yellowing with clearly visible vegetation. Too old.
I look around the clearing and try and sense what the capercaillie would. That's when I notice the faint sound of cyclists and I realise I am too close to the track. I continue weaving deeper into the forest. I find more roost piles and scattered droppings on tree stumps, usefully distributed as vantage points. I eagerly check root plates from fallen trees and I am rewarded by a faint indent into the bare earth containing three female capercaillie feathers. A female had created a dust bath here where she sat to cover herself with earth to have a good old clean.
Good evidence but I am still not satisfied so I scan the landscape with my binoculars. I note some stunted Scots pine within a flush of greener moss underneath. A bog. I keep my eyes set on this and move forward. My wellies have barely started squelching when a pile of green droppings spring out at me. These are much fresher and quite obviously larger than my little finger. Male capercaillie droppings. Perfect. As I move through the bog and check granny pines around the edges I find more and more. My gut and experience tells me I have found the lek site.
As I pause to take notes an eruption occurs not 10 metres from me as branches are pushed aside by loud rapid wing beats. With instant recognition I look up and watch the male capercaillie disappear into the distance. I quickly record his location, shut my notebook and quietly start to make my way back. Leaving him in peace with hopeful confidence that I have done my job and found the lek site. I will be back in a couple of weeks slipping in with a hide before dusk. This time-consuming careful monitoring (under license) allows me to protect these birds to the best of my ability. And, after all, its not a bad way to spend a sunny spring day.