Lekking Capercaillie


The lek is really a natural Ladies Night – the meek gender gets to see which of the available partners is best at shooing off his opponents, and then she gets on her knees in front of the big guy…

The Capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus) is one of the most coveted subjects for bird photographers, especially on the lek, where much interesting bird behaviour takes place. In April I was lucky enough to spend a few nights in tent blinds on a lek in central Sweden, to experience the spectacle firsthand, and get some photos in the process.

The procedure for this is committing; since the birds arrive at the lek in the evening, the photographer must be in the blind, and quiet, by mid-afternoon. With the birds only leaving the lek to forage in the mid-morning the following day you’re looking at no less than 16 hours in the blind/session – and these are pop-up tent blinds with no ground sheet, pitched on desperately uneven and rocky ground, and only JUST long enough for compact me to lay outstretched in. I loved every moment of it!

I was using my 500m f4 as primary lens. On the 7D mkII it was often a bit long, but the 100-400 mkII, which is great in ALMOST every aspect, has a best aperture of f5.6; not what you need in dark conditions, shooting blackish birds, in the deep woods of Sweden. If I had still owned a full-frame camera that would have been perfect on the 500mm – but things turned out OK.

The spectacle is fantastic to witness – the dominant males clash so loudly that you think they break each others’ necks some times, with karate-style blows to the opponents’ head and body, with beak-wrestling and clawing, and with ENDLESS posturing and staring-down, accompagnied by the weirdest sounds you could imagine. The local bird people come back for more year after year, and having been there myself now I don’t blame them – it beats a night at the movies hands down.

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I have literally thousands of images; here’s a selection of them, I hope you enjoy!