Waiting for the Black Grouse (Part 1)

Chamonix area. The goal of the week-end is precise : enjoy the parade of the male Black Grouse with Daniel, a fantastic naturalist, guide and photographer. The hide will be setup in the snow on Sunday early morning, between 4 and 5am, in order to enjoy the show. May be.

But on the day before, we explored another area. We went for a hike hoping to see some of the extraordinary wildlife residing in this part of the French Alps, and may be to have a first glimpse of the Black Grouse.

After only a few minutes hiking through a forest, Daniel spotted a group of young and female Alpine Ibex (Capra ibex). The female gestation lasts almost 6 months, after a breeding season usually starting in December and going on for 6 weeks.

alpine-ibex-france
 Young Alpine Ibex (Capra ibex). The young ones are called "Cabri" in french until they are 1 year old.

Young Alpine Ibex (Capra ibex). The young ones are called "Cabri" in french until they are 1 year old.

You might be aware that unfortunately the population Alpine Ibex residing in the Massif du Bargy in France is in great danger (about 450 individuals only). Indeed, the local government is decided to kill most of them for "sanitary" reasons, as Ibex can transmit Brucellosis to cows and humans. The truth, when you really look at this issue, is that taking such an extreme action would actually rise the risks of disease in the whole area of the Alps because it will deeply destabilizes the herds and spread the remaining frightened individuals to other areas. The only reasonable solution in accordance to scientists and local nature protection organizations is to take only the individuals actually having the disease, and then monitor closely the rest of the population to prevent it to come back. For more information you can check the dedicated page on the website of FRAPNA (in french).

When we started walking up again after this great encounter, Daniel told me "if we see youngs and females now, it means the males are probably just a little bit higher". And he was right! Not more than 6 males were feeding. Unmistakable with their long curved horns, males Alpine Ibex are very impressive and majestic.

 Male Alpine Ibex (Capra ibex).

Male Alpine Ibex (Capra ibex).

At that point I would have loved to have another wider lens in order to capture the whole scene, but this moment was just magic, with or without camera.

Further up, slowly leaving out of the forest, we spotted several bird species including Coal Tits (Periparus ater), a Water Pipit (Anthus spinoletta), a male Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) showing the stunning contraste of its plumage, Black Redstarts (Phoenicurus ochruros):

 Male Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe)

Male Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe)

 Male Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros).

Male Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros).

But also two lifers for me, the Dunnock (Prunella modularis):

 Dunnock (Prunella modularis).

Dunnock (Prunella modularis).

And the magnificient Ring Ouzel (Turdus torquatus):

 Ring Ouzel (Turdus torquatus).

Ring Ouzel (Turdus torquatus).

But we also spotted a Marmot! It is always a real delight to see one.

 Marmot (Marmota marmota).

Marmot (Marmota marmota).

At that point, rain was pouring so we stopped to get the shelter of a refuge's roof for a while and have lunch. We had no idea we would spot both 2 Males and a Female Black Grouse soon after that! Males are elusive but females are even harder to spot, as they camouflage perfectly with the bushes and stay hidden most of the time.

female-black-grouse-french-alps
male-black-grouse-snow

Yes, we were far but it was very exciting to see that species for the first time. Needless to say, the landscape was also breathtaking with that dramatic weather. On the way down, more bird species! Both male and femal Eurasian Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula), Common Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs), and another lifer : the Northern Nutcracker (Nucifraga caryocatactes). What a day!

To be continued..

Love Nature.
Jonathan