In the footsteps of the capercaillie, a night on the lookout in the mountains

The capercaillie or capercaillie is a relatively unknown bird. The species is confined to mountainous areas. L’Indépendant went looking for it in the company of staff from the French Office for Biodiversity (OFB).

The capercaillie counting campaign has begun. Invited by the OFB, L’Indépendant is immersed in the Puigmal massif with Jérémy Binder, Ienvironmental inspector at the OFB and Laura Eberhart, intern. We are joined by François Pagnoux, campaign partner. The counting is done at the crowing of the roosters, “sI one arrives the same morning, one knows that one will cause disturbance. The ideal is to arrive the evening before, to be in place around 5-6 p.m. “explains Jeremy, “this allows the hens and roosters to arrive in the evening on the singing place. Others may arrive in the morning. ” We left relatively loaded, tent, sleeping bag, mattress, food, water and photographic equipment.

Capercaillie during love parade on spring snow

With Jérémy and Laura, we reach, after a grueling climb strewn with passage in the last snows of winter, at a place of singing located between 2000 and 2300 meters of altitude. François leaves for another singing space. “We come to this place that we discovered following a new protocol, the Calenge protocol. By drawing lots, this allowed us to cover new areas. This method of random prospecting has made it possible to find 10% of additional singing places on the Pyrenees chain.

In addition to institutions, the counts are done in partnership with the Regional Natural Park of the Catalan Pyrenees and the Catalan Nature Reserves.

Unforgettable moments

The counting, in our case, is done by singing. And it is better, for the uninitiated, to put it in your ear beforehand, as it does not sound like a bird’s song! It is made up of metallic and stereotypical sounds, then, what sounds like a popping champagne cork. Finally, to finish a stanza compared to a knife being sharpened!

setting up the hide before the evening song

setting up the hide before the evening song

Moreover, during this last phase, the rooster becomes deaf and blind for a few seconds, a kind of ecstasy that makes it a bit vulnerable to predators. The lookout is quickly installed to hope to hear the evening song, which will be spotted around 9 p.m. The next morning, the alarm clock stings a little, breakfast at 4:30 a.m. to be ready at 5 a.m. The first messages on our whatsApp group of the day make the laptop vibrate.

At 5:36 a.m., François hears the first chattering of beaks, then at 6 a.m., Jérémy hears a hen cackling. At the same time, the very particular crowing of the rooster is heard a few meters from our lookout! François hears the first verse of the song and the cackling of two hens. Laura sees a male fly away. At 7 am, great moment when a rooster freezes in front of the lookout, he does not crow, worried. We dare not disturb him by trying to point the camera at him. The rooster is intrigued by the lookout but above all by the sound of a goat heading towards him and making the snow crackle. The rooster passes quickly in front of the lookout, there will be no photos today but magnificent images engraved in the memory. The roosters and hens will have been active from 5:36 a.m. to 8:13 a.m.

The counting day is completed by the search for signs of presence as here, a crottier

The counting day is completed by the search for signs of presence as here, a crottier

Leave the singing place discreetly

LThe operating mode protocol recommends leaving the site when no more activity is detected. This allows you to remain discreet and not disturb the birds, which is very important.” The carriages are bent. With a view to analysis, Jérémy takes rooster droppings accumulated under the nocturnal perches, while magnificent traces have marked the snow. “We notice that the singing places are higher and higher in altitude, cis one of the markers of climate change” Jeremy analysis.

fresh traces of Capercaillie recorded on the day of the count

fresh traces of Capercaillie recorded on the day of the count

In view of the last 30 years, the birth of chicks is also increasingly early. At the end of the count, three crowing roosters will have been listed. The Capercaillie is still among us, let’s do everything so that this emblematic species, forgotten by the last glaciations, does not go extinct. A challenge for the future…

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