I will be upfront with you and admit, right off the bat, that when I saw this bird, I had no idea what it was. My bird identification skills are poor to begin with and are limited primarily to song birds. I am a novice birdwatcher. Sure, I know a handful of other birds, but I could not, on sight, tell a Redhead duck from a Canvasback--if I don't have a book, or get a photo to identify the bird by later, I may never know what I saw.
Such was the case with the Spruce grouse.
Karin and I were making our way along the South Old Woman trail, when we came around a bend and heard a flurry of wings. I looked up in time to see a young grouse fly up into a pine near the trail.
The bird fidgeted on the branch while I snapped a few photos. Scurrying somewhere in the underbrush was a second chick, but we couldn't see it.
Then Karin pointed out the hen, just off the trail ahead of us. She quietly ducked behind the shrubbery and was lost from view. We were thrilled to have had a close encounter with something other than a chickadee, but we both thought what we had seen was a Roughed grouse--never mind this bird has no crest, an easy identifier for the Roughed. What did I know about Spruce grouse anyway!
After our rest by the waterfall we looped back to the trail head, only to encounter (I assume) the same grouse family. A flutter of wings alerted us to their presence once again, and here is a chick up in a tree. It was mighty dark under the tree canopy but I took a few pics anyway. As I stood watching this chick I noticed a soft cooing next to me. I slowly turned to my right....
...to find mom and the second chick perched upon a small hummock under a black birch tree. I couldn't believe my eyes! She was no more than five feet away. I had to resist the urge to reach out and pet her.
As her chick made its way over and down the hill, mom followed, keeping a close eye on us as we stood stock still in the middle of the trail.
One last glance and she was gone into the underbrush.
It was not until I was home and sharing my images with the girls that Lori, after seeing several of the grouse pictures, exclaimed, "That's not a Roughed grouse, it's a Spruce grouse!" While their territories are similar, the roughed is more common in the states, while the spruce is primarily found north of the border. But the real reason this bird stood out in our minds is the recollection of hearing Julie Zickefoose, artist and birder extraordinaire, talk about it at the conference at the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory in April 2008. It was one of the few birds left in the states she had not seen, and had enlisted the help of a local birder to find one. See her blog here for the results. So I was all the more proud for stumbling upon this bird all on my own, even if I didn't know what the heck it was!
We are headed back, in a few weeks, to this wonderful park in Ontario. If you ever have a chance to go, I highly recommend it. Lake Superior Provincial Park is flush with wildlife, rivers, lakes and falls, miles of trails, canoe routes and back country camping. Remember though that you now need a passport in order to enter Canada, but its well worth the hassle of getting one to experience this wonderful place.
Good day, eh!