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Erlend Haarberg – Capercaillie lek in Bergslagen, Sweden

June 8th, 2009 Posted in Northern Europe, Uncategorized

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After spending eight long nights in the hiding tent with almost no results, I started to get nervous. I visited several capercaillie leks, but none of them had been “working” up to my expectations. At one place, the hens moved from the traditional courting ground just when the light started to be good for photography, and the cocks followed. At another place, the males were playing the entire morning, but they played on the treetops but did not come close to our tents. The tracks of partly consumed capercaillie wing feathers and fresh excrement of lynx, an excellent hunter of the forest, can probably explain the situation… This was a bad start to my capercaillie mission. My initial fear when taking this job became a real threat.

My biggest problem was, that the hens were supposed to come to the lek to get mounted only for an approximate period of 10 days in the second part of April. After the first 6-7 days of this period, I still did not have any good pictures of either the males or the females. After asking a few people for help, I finally got tips of a lek where the playing activity sounded promising. I could not afford to loose any more time as this was my last chance to get some pictures of capercaillie in Sweden. The habitat did not look very good, because the courting area was located in a newly thinned out bit of forest – a place where one does not quite get the feeling of real wilderness. However, the locations with most signs for activity seemed to be good for photography.

At the new place, we were already lying in the hiding tent at 6 pm, with renewed optimism and hope to get hens in front of the lens. Later in the evening, many cocks were landing on the nearby trees with heavy wing hits, followed by the characteristic burping sound they produce. This sounded promising, so we were lying in our sleeping bag excited and amazed, and hardly dared to take a breath.

The “boss” of the lek started already displaying on the ground at 4 o’clock in the morning. It was exactly the male, we hoped, had the leading position of the lek and on whose territory we set up our hiding tents. It was still dark and only the contours of the bird could be seen, but his sound undoubtedly made his presence known. In his typical aria, tapping and gurgling sounds accelerated to a drum roll, and culminated in a cork pop that resembled the sound of a cork pulled out of a wine bottle. These sounds earned the bird its Gaelic name, capull-choille, the horse of the woods.

When it got lighter, we could also see females lying on the ground around the displaying male, eager to be fertilized. It seemed to be a busy morning for the chief male, because six hens were surrounding him, begging to be mounted, and many jealous cocks were approaching him from all directions. Naturally, they also wanted to get their piece of the cake… However, they quickly understood their lower position in the rank, when the boss started to run towards them. Along the way he was fending off the trespassers, moss flew in the air and branches were broken and quarrelling sounds and heavy wing hits could be heard from the direction of the forest where they started to fight.

Birds were often passing our tent within arm length. Walking with erected neck, drooped wings and fanned tail feathers, we could hear every single step they took on the dry forest floor. You would need to search long and wide to find a more charismatic and amazing bird, and without doubt, the capercaillie is a unique wild wonder of the Swedish forests.

Our watch showed 10.30 in the morning, when he stopped displaying and flew up to the top of a pine tree. After that, we had to wait another hour before all the birds left the lek. This and the following nights we had to lie almost 18 hours in our tent before we could creep out from the sleeping bag with a smile on our face. Finally our patience was rewarded. The previous nights without results were immediately forgotten.
Many people helped me to complete this mission.  The location of these leks are often kept a secret, in order to avoid disturbance and I am really grateful to everyone involved for their willingness to help. I would like to thank Thomas Sundqvist from Ulvsbomuren, Nordic Safari, Erik Ringaby, Tommy Persson and many others for their assistance. Without you, my mission would have been extremely difficult!

Erlend Haarberg / Wild Wonders of Europe

Please note that blogs reflect our photographers' opinions and not necessarily those of the directors of Wild Wonders of Europe.

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  1. 4 Responses to “Erlend Haarberg – Capercaillie lek in Bergslagen, Sweden”

  2. By Peter Cairns on Jun 9, 2009


    Not an easy subject - nothing in Sweden is! But you nailed it with persistence. A bird that this project could not miss out on! Well done.

  3. By Bjørn on Jun 9, 2009

    Hello Erlend
    Great pictures, great birds and great inspiration. Good work!!

  4. By Michel d'Oultremont on Jul 9, 2009


    Very good :o

  5. By Wojtas on Oct 31, 2010

    Very nice shots. I want to buy Capercaillie or eggs of this birds. Someone can help me? I live in Poland, please contact me wojtas_p@o2.pl Best regards!

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