As far as I am aware, this recording is first to have focused on sounds and songs heard in the courtship rituals of the Western Capercaillie. Thanks to an innovative recording technique, it has been possible to record this unique sound material. For example, on track 2 you can hear the deep, growling throaty-sound of the cock capercaillie, tracks 1 and 12 have captured the courting invitations issued by the hen capercaillies, tracks 4, 10 and 15 display the deep and powerful wing-beat sounds (possibly courtship calling cries), track 11 has the tapping and grinding-like sound of several capercaillie cocks, track 6 reveals the grunting threatening calls of several cocks in the gloomy dusk. The disc also contains several breath-taking soundscapes which capture the magic of the wilderness, for example, on some of these tracks you will hear the hoot of the owl. These recordings were made in the early dawn as the sun gradually appears, you can almost touch the beauty of the spring morning, the magic of the taiga conifer forest and its bird-life, for example two species of woodpeckers and two owl species.
The capercaillie is the largest of the grouse species living in the taiga conifer forests. The mysterious and secret courtship ritual of the capercaillie is one of Mother Nature’s most exotic displays. The capercaillie lives in the deepest, most remote parts of the forest, far away from humans. The courtship ritual is an extremely elusive event and it does not tolerate even the slightest interference. For this reason, the birds select their courtship arena with care; it has to be isolated and disturbance-free in a remote corner of the forest. This explains why it is so difficult to record the courtship ritual and why special precautions had to be taken. It is absolutely crucial that the birds should not be disturbed during the ritual and this can best be achieved by hiding the recording apparatus near to the arena. The birds arrive at the arena (sometimes called a lek) in the evening and leave in the morning and therefore it is possible to position the equipment in the afternoon without disturbing the birds. In this way, it has been possible to hear sounds and songs from these birds which have not been recorded before.
I would like to thank all of the people involved in this project; those who helped me locate the courtship arenas and those helpers and professionals who helped in the production of this CD. I send my special thanks to my wife Maarit for her support as well as her feedback and attention during the preparation of this material.
Kuopio, 8th July 2012
Producer / Recording engineer
Track descriptions and background species
01 THE CAPERCAILLIE HENS AND THE AWAKENING WILDERNESS 27.04.2011, 04.00, North Savo 7’43". The spring night slips away with the first rays of the dawn; you can hear the sound of the owl deep in the recesses of the peaceful, conifer forest. As the sun’s rays make their appearance, the delicate song of the Eurasian Robin bursts forth from a clump of spruce trees. Further away from the branch of a pine tree, the Mistle Thrush starts to tune up his cheerful, melodic song. As the gentle morning breeze stirs the trees, the cries of the Common Cranes spread through this spring morning. The cranes are newly arrived migrants which have found their nesting sites in the pasture close to a nearby lake in the forest. As the last of the migrating birds arrive at the end of April, the capercaillie hens start to become more animated. They fly either on their own or in small groups, seeking out the locations where the males hold their courtship rituals. This recording is a rather unique soundscape; not only are there several capercaillie cocks and hens but you can hear two different species of owls as well as a host of other inhabitants typically heard in the conifer forest. European Robin, Song Thrush, Eurasian Black Grouse, Whooper Swan, Tengmalm’s Owl, Mistle Thrush, Eurasian Pygmy owl, Herring gull.
02 THE TOP COCK LEADING THE COURTSHIP RITUAL 29.04.2010, 03.40, North Savo 4’02". The sunbeams stream through the branches of ancient pine and spruce trees and light up the mossy covered forest floor. As the dim light of morning slowly dissipates, the courtship rituals of the capercaillie cocks are in full swing. The bright, black leading cock, fanning his black tail-feathers and their white spots, his neck outstretched, his eyes ringed with red, holds centre stage in the arena. This bird has a very unique sound; you can hear a knocking sound, a throaty, guttural growl and sandpapering-like rasp as he tries to keep his rivals at bay by strutting around the arena. On the recording it seems like the bird is making two sounds at the same time and for as long, the sandpapering-like rasp and a very deep growl. The bird’s eyes were closed as he emitted these sounds. Song Thrush, Eurasian Black Grouse.
03 THE SONGS OF THE MISTLE THRUSH AND THE CAPERCAILLIE 26.04.2011, 03.20, North Savo 5’59". A bright early spring morning dawns in the endless pine forest. A stalk of heather is bending by the roots of the pine tree since it is burdened by frozen drops of water which shine like diamonds in the light. In the dim light of the evening, a capercaillie cock has emerged from his hiding place and as dawn breaks the bird is ready to start the courtship ritual. High in the branches of a pine tree, a Mistle Thrush bursts into verse after verse of its melodic song, warning others not to encroach on its nesting territory. European Robin, Eurasian Black Grouse, Song Thrush, Fieldfare.
04 EURASIAN WOODCOCK AND BATTLING CAPERCAILLIES 26.04.2010, 03.50, North Savo 6’01". The dim light of dawn breaks through into a clearing in the woods. The air feels fresh, heavy with the moisture from the melting snow. Amongst the giant firs and pine trees stands one solitary aspen; its leafless branches stretch up to greet the lightening morning sky. Up in its branches, a Eurasian woodcock with its long beak and its plump body is on the move, emitting at regular intervals its distinctive "song" into the gloomy darkness. At the same time nearby in a clearing in the woods, the black, cock capercaillies are battling for supremacy of the arena. Nearby, the hens make deep clucking sounds to attract the attention of the top cock. Song Thrush, Eurasian Black Grouse, European Robin, Redwing, Fieldfare, Common Snipe.
05 TENGMALM’S OWLS AND COURTSHIP RITUALS OF THE CAPERCAILLIE IN THE SNOWDRIFTS 26.04.2011, 02.20, North Savo 5’04". If the spring has been slow in coming, at the end of April, the ground is still largely covered with snow. There are a few places on south-facing slopes where there are snow-free areas around the roots of the trees. On the warmer spring days, some of the snow has melted into a slushy pool which has frozen solid during the cold of the night. Even in March, the cock capercaillies have visited the courtship arenas hidden in the depths and solitude of the forest. In these spots it is possible to see the traces in the snowdrifts where the cocks have dragged their wings and strutted while filling the surroundings with their songs. The cock which can be heard in this track has spent the hours of darkness dozing high up in the branches of a pine tree but with the coming of the dawn he sings his own distinctive song. There are also Tengmalm’s owls nesting in these conifers and their hoots resound through the clear spring night. Redwing, Eurasian Bittern, Common Goldeneye, European Robin, Song Thrush.
06 THE GRUNTS OF THE MATURE CAPERCAILLIE COCKS IN THE GLOOM OF THE EVENING 29.04.2010, 21.24, North Savo 6’11". As the wind dies away, a calm has settled over the conifer forest. In the gloomy light of the evening, the cock capercaillies have arrived and are perched on branches awaiting the night. These large, black birds move around the stout branches of the pine trees seeking a suitable spot where they can spend the night. Just before the last traces of the day give way to a star-filled night lit only by the sickle-shaped moon, the cocks shriek out their guttural threatening sounds as if they are warning of the fast-approaching morning’s courtship battles. As the silence of the night engulfs the forest, one bird after another bends its neck sideways so that it can tuck its head under its wing as it slumbers through the night. Song Thrush, European Robin, Wood Pigeon, Whooper Swan.
07. IN THE REALMS OF THE CAPERCAILLIE, THE GREEN SANDPIPER AND THE GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER 30.04.2012, 03.50, North Savo 6’27". The northern taiga conifer forest is home to many birds, for example the Green Sandpiper and the Great Spotted Woodpecker are common neighbours of the capercaillies. Close to the capercaillies’ courtship arenas, there are nesting grounds for other birds deep in the moss-filled boggy marshes or hidden in the gloom of the spruce-filled wilderness. This soundscape captures the magic of this small clearing in the forest which slopes down to the moss-covered forest floor. Chaffinch, European Robin, Eurasian Black Grouse, Common Redpoll, Common Snipe, Song Thrush, Common Crane, Whooper Swan, Fieldfare, Eurasian Bullfinch.
08 THE STRUTTING CAPERCAILLIES 29.04.2010, 03.40, North Savo 2’57". The heather-covered pine forest slopes gently down to a bog filled with marsh tea and sphagnum moss. Here and there one can see stalks of blueberries thrusting through the mossy carpet. In this isolated part of the conifer forest, one can find a large courtship arena of the capercaillies; it may even be several hectares in size. Since the beginning of March, the site has been much frequented by the cocks and now at the end of April, the spring tournament is reaching its climax. Now the centre of the arena is well defined by the edge of the boggy marsh near the mossy carpet covered clumps of higher ground. This is the site where the mature cocks sing, strut and parade while they await the arrival of the hens. European Robin, Song Thrush.
09 THE SONG THRUSH IN THE REALM OF THE CAPERCAILLIE 30.04.2010, 04.15, North Savo 4’03". The capercaillies’ courtship arena in the conifer forest is home to thrushes, for example the Song Thrush and the Mistle Thrush. The song thrush likes to nest in the spruce trees at the edges of the forest. This thrush arrives from its migration at the same time when the courtship rituals of the capercaillies have reached the stage when the hens are being summoned. As soon as it arrives, the song thrush starts to sing to announce its claim to its territory. Very early on this spring morning at the end of April, the song thrush is bursting forth with its melodic song into the dim light. However, even earlier in the morning, the capercaillies and the European Robins have struck up their dawn chorus to welcome the morning to the conifer forest. Common Crane, Eurasian Black Grouse.
10 THE THROBBING SOUNDS OF THE WINGBEAT OF THE CAPERCAILLIE COCKS 29.04.2010, 04.30, North Savo 5’06". The male capercaillie is a large bird, as it takes flight, there is a strong deep sound (sometimes called an infrasound) as it wings beat at lift-off. On a calm, windless day, this sound can carry far into the distance if it is not blocked by high hill or ridge. It has been speculated that this sound of the wing beats functions as an invitation call to other capercaillies to come to the courtship arena. This may be one way that a cock can let other cock capercaillies in other courtship arenas know where it is located, even over distances of several kilometers. The concept that the cocks are using the wingbeat sound as an invitation call to others is supported by observations made in Lapland. In East Lapland, we have heard one cock capercaillie arriving at the arena early in the morning and then regularly jumping up and down vigourously beating its wings. This sound can be heard on the CD entitled "The Call of Lapland – North of the Arctic Circle Vol. 3" on track 6 which is called The Courtship Song of the Western Capercaillie on a Spring Evening". Another possibility is that the cocks are using their powerful wingbeat sounds to attract the hens to the courtship arena. Song Thrush, European Robin, Eurasian Black Grouse.
11 A GROUP OF CAPERCAILLIE COCKS AT THE COURTSHIP ARENA 30.04.2010, 02.42. North Savo 9’21". In the dim light of the evening, the capercaillie cocks gathered into the branches of the trees surrounding the arena where they spent the rest of the night. Early in the morning, before the sunrise, they drop down to the ground and begin to walk towards the centre of the arena. Their song begins with a slow, tapping sound. As they approach the area around the arena the tapping becomes more and more vigorous, finally turning into a kind of drum roll. The small hillock in the clearing, covered in thick moss and twigs, is the very heart of the courtship arena. As the birds converge on this spot, the sound emitted by the entire group is this frantic drum roll. Long before the Song Thrush has whistled its first morning chorus, the capercaillies have established their own territory in the arena and have started their sandpapery rasping sound accompanied by the drumming sound. As morning breaks, the group activities of the capercaillie cocks are now in full swing and soon will approach their climax. European Robin, Song Thrush.
12 A FLOCK OF CALLING CAPERCAILLIE HENS 27.04.2010, 06.00, North Savo 2’06". Just around May Day, the activity in the courtship arena has become frenetic. Early in the morning, the capercaillie cocks are battling feverously for the favours of the hens. The hens have located a good nesting site on the snow-free, warm, southern slopes of a hill where the ground is no longer frozen, even a bit warm. When the courtship rituals reach their climax, the hens can travel long distances, as much as tens of kilometers to reach the arena where the cocks have gathered. The hens select the top cock (alpha-cock) from the group. In this track, you can hear a group of hens uttering their invitation calls and also the rarely heard long, drawn-out, begging sound. Greenfinch, Eurasian Black Grouse, European Robin, Wood Pigeon, Chaffinch, Song Thrush, Whooper Swan.
13 IN THE REALM OF THE CAPERCAILLIE AND THE BLACK WOODPECKER 26.04.2010, 04.52, North Savo 5’59". In the middle of the vast conifer forest, there is a tall pine tree. On one side sits a Black Woodpecker, silhouetted against the rays of the morning sun rising in the east. On this ancient tree, the woodpecker has found a resin leakage spot and its drumming sound echoes through the forest. On one of the branches of a gnarled fir tree, a wide-eyed European Robin chirps merrily its morning chorus. Further away on the ice of a frozen small forest pond, the Black Grouse are engrossed in their mating rituals. On the moss-covered forest floor, the singing capercaillie cocks strut and parade with their tail feathers erect. European Robin, Eurasian Black Grouse, Song Thrush, Common Redpoll, Common Crane, Brambling, Wood Pigeon.
14 THE BATTLES OF THE CAPERCAILLIE COCKS WITH THE ARRIVAL OF THE HENS 26.04.2011, 04.30, North Savo 2’33". The spring weather determines almost entirely the time when the hens will arrive at the courtship arena. In 2011, spring arrived early and the warm weather quickly melted the snow. This is the reason that the hens had been able to seek out early a favourable nesting spot in the season. When a good spot has been found and a hollow dug into the ground where the eggs can be laid, the nest will be made comfortable by filling it with leaves, moss and ferns. Only then are the hens ready to leave for the courtship arena. In the spring of 2011, the hens arrived at the arena one week earlier than normal. The cocks had also anticipated this early spring and were ready when the critical day arrived. The climax of the courting ritual was starting, when the cocks would do battle for the leadership and the hens would arrive ready to find the correct mate. The whole forest resounds with the sounds of the battling cocks as they strike each other with their wings. At the same time you can hear the movements and clucking sound of the hens as they try to attract the attentions of the strongest cock. European Robin, Mistle Thrush, Common Crane, Song Thrush, Eurasian Curlew, Fieldfare.
15 THE COURTSHIP RITUALS OF THE BLACK GROUSE AND THE PRANCING CAPERCAILLIE COCKS 26.04.2010, 04.15, North Savo 2’33". Around the time of May Day, when the light of a starry night and pale moonlight slowly gives way to the emerging dawn, a ritual takes place in the conifer forest, which human beings cannot observe. The prancing Capercaillies prepare to do battle in response to the arrival of the hens. At the same time, as the brisk, night frosts yield to the morning calm, the Black Grouse start their unique, courtship rituals. The frozen snow and calm, crisp weather are the ideal conditions for the grouse; the sound of the ritual can be heard for kilometers throughout the forest. The Black Grouse gather in clearings in the woods, on icy lakes, or in open marshes for their display. All of the cocks emit an explosive bubbling-like sound which climaxes as dawn breaks to fill the entire forest with a kind of carpet of sound. European Robin, Song Thrush, elk.
Translated by Airi MacDonald and Ewen MacDonald 2012