Friday, January 1, 2021

Figuring It Out

    Grouse hunters are always trying to figure it out. Why was last Sunday so good, with birds everywhere? The day before we saw none in similar cover. Oh the dogs seemed to get birdy a few times, but where were the grouse? Were they in the trees?
    Grouse are reluctant to spend a lot of time on the ground when there is snow cover. Is that because they know their natural camouflage is compromised by the white snow? Or is it only because the snow has buried much of their earth bound food?
    Sunday was great, moving more than a dozen birds in under two hours. Was it the weather? We had just finished a week of unusually warm weather for December. Warm weather means the birds don’t need the calories to keep up their body temperatures, so they may not feed as much. But the temperature dropped a little and an inch of fluffy snow fell. Did that cause the birds to come down to feed?
    Do the birds know when the barometer falls? Do they move about to feed in anticipation of a cold front? It certainly got colder.
    Most of the birds were on the ground on Sunday, where for the previous couple of weeks the birds had been content to sit in the safety of the softwood trees. I assumed they had been plucking catkins from alders and birch because the birds we saw or heard flush from the trees were all near alders or birch. We saw few tracks anywhere.
    What time of the day is best? Sunday it was late morning, but maybe it was better later. Or earlier. Who knows? This time of the year the shadows are long shortly after lunchtime and by three the day feels late and the temperature is plummeting.
    Two weeks ago a shot bird had a crop filled with fern leaves, even though a couple of inches of snow covered the ground. Where did he find those?
    If we ever figure out all of this I’m sure it would get boring.



Sunday, December 20, 2020

Fickle December

     About every other year the snow is deep enough by December that upland bird hunting is either difficult or impossible. When the weather turns bitter I choose not to kill the grouse, instead letting them live to perpetuate the species come spring. The balance of calories expelled versus calories gained is a delicate one without unnecessary scaring of the birds.
    This year the ground was bare the first weekend in December. A shot grouse provided a crop full of fern leaves, showing a diet not all that different than early November. During a hunt early in the month the dogs pointed several birds on the ground.
    About six inches of moderately heavy snow arrived the middle of the month. Afterward, I hunted to dogs in a favorite area and they found plenty of scent, but few birds. The only bird we heard flushed from a low branch in a softwood tree. I’m sure others were hiding overhead. Their diet had shifted to catkins, for the only place birds were found was along alder patches.
    When the temperatures dipped well below zero at night I didn’t bother to bird hunt, instead letting the birds preserve precious energy. The dogs are amused by squirrels that appeared when the song bird feeders come out. Maggie actually sits next to my twenty-two inside the house, hoping I will grab it on the way out the door.
    It is hard to admit the bird season is over, but, even with almost a week of December to go, it is.