A Sprucey Encounter

One of my rites of Spring includes an early morning ride down the Echo Trail to the Big Lake area. There the pines grow tall and the Jack Pine is ripe for the Spruce Grouse. In the Spring time of the year, the Spruce Grouse join their cousins in displaying for the opposite sex. The Spruce Grouse dance is a little subdued compared to the other Grouse species, but as a result, their subtle ways have won a place in my heart making them one of my all-time favorite birds.

Yesterday started out as a cold, windy, wet morning. As the day wore on, snow showers were intermittant with the rain showers that were moving through the area. I started out hiking through the woods, but in my haste to get out there, I’d not brought anything to protect my camera. I walked through some young Jack Pine until I came out on a ridge that overlooked the Portage River. I could see the river through the trees, later on in the season the river would not be visible when the leaves come out.

I was heading back to the car to warm up and get my camera lens unfogged, when in the trail up ahead I could see a bird, and yes, it was a Grouse.

Spruce Grouse

Spruce Grouse

He was running around on the trail and he was agitated. These birds which are colloquially called “Fools Hens” are not very afraid and are easily approached. I got right up close and took many frame-filling photos.

Spruce Grouse charge

Spruce Grouse charge

As I got closer I could see that the male Spruce Grouse was running circles around another male bird!

Spruce Grouse

Spruce Grouse

The other male was up on a rock and puffed out, but he wasn’t really paying the other bird too much attention. The Grouse that was running around was making a weird whirring noise. It almost sounded like he was purring, but as I listened closer, I think it was some sort of sound he was making with his feathers. Really cool!

Spruce Grouse charging

Spruce Grouse charging

At one point the running Grouse looked like he was charging me! He had his red combs above his eyes inflated – he looked like a raging bull!

Spruce Grouse

Spruce Grouse

He came running towards me, and I thought, what was he going to do? Fly up and light on my head? He changed course at the last minute and ran into the woods.

Spruce Grouse in motion

Spruce Grouse in motion

Spruce Grouse in display

Spruce Grouse in display

Then he started to puff up in his little “Tom Turkey” stance. That is when the other bird had had enough, and in a big whirring of wings he took off over the trail and into the dark woods.

I’d heard about some sort of flight display that Spruce Grouse perform, and I was hoping to see that, but none the less, this encounter was pretty exciting. The other bird that was doing all the running eventually ran into the woods and also took off into the dark woods where the other Sprucey had disappeared. Wow! what an experience! Then I discovered the fogged lens…As you can see most of the photos are blurry and well, foggy. They really match the morning weather.

It was really a quiet morning up the trail in the deep woods and I didn’t see another car on the ride up the trail. Hunting season has been over for a long time and fishing season hasn’t started yet, so for most people there’s really no excuse to be out in the woods. I’d run into two trees that were down on the road – that I’d easily driven over on the one end. That’s the sort of thing you can encounter on an early morning in the back country. I carry my Sven Saw with me now in case I ever need to cut a tree that’s blocking a road. (my husband has since told me to just carry a rope to pull the tree out of the way with my car – makes sense) Anyhow, the roads were empty of any other traffic, and as I was driving, I saw another Spruce Grouse fly up from the road. I pulled over to try and get a better look, when a truck drove up. It was my good friend Ryan from Ely! Too Funny! The Spruce Grouse was my nemisis bird for many years and Ryan had helped me find the perfect location for Spruceys.

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4 Responses to A Sprucey Encounter

  1. What an amazing looking bird! Coming from the UK we don’t have this species so your photos and account were quite a treat!

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