We walk often in the winter. When the snow is deep enough that the dogs bog down, the plowed logging roads become our choice on weekends. But the favorite is below Camp Grouse, a path that follows where the flat wetlands meet the craggy hill before turning back and following the brook. Most of its course is beneath softwoods or a mixed canopy, and with regular walking the path is packed enough that snowshoes aren’t necessary. Underneath the softwood trees the dogs can usually manage without sinking into the snow too.
The path can be walked every day for a week without a new animal track crossing anywhere, then, as if in chorus, a half dozen species will have traipsed about. Snowshoe rabbits are the most common, which are hares really. Lately turkeys are probably the second in number. Then there’s a mix of coyote, beaver, bobcat, mice, otter, small birds, deer, and an occasional moose.
The track I am always looking for is Mr. Grouse. Sometimes he is close to our house and sometimes further away. Seldom is he deep into the softwoods, but more likely along the edge where hardwoods mix in. The dogs will sniff the tracks and follow, but they almost never find him on the ground. Occasionally he bursts from a softwood tree high up overhead and the dogs get excited at the sound. I am sure that most often we pass beneath Mister or Misses Grouse and they just watch.
The population is down this year though, so hearing a grouse isn’t as common as it should be, nor are there as many tracks as some years.
|Colby among the long shadows.|
When the weather is bitter and the birds are struggling, it is a shame to have them wasting energy on useless flushes to avoid no real danger. I neither encourage nor discourage the dogs. The older one is happy to stay on the packed trail and would be happy for us to move to where winter never would come. The younger dog dashes about, oblivious to the snow and cold. When a grouse does flush out of a tree I cringe a bit, hoping it doesn’t fly far or burn too many calories.
Last year little snow fell and snow roosting would have been impossible for the grouse. Snow roosting, where the birds dive and borrow into soft snow, keeps the birds warmer on cold nights and hides them from owls and hawks. Perhaps that is part of the reason the grouse population plummeted.
This year the snow cover is sufficient for snow roosting and, so far, there have only been a few really cold nights. Hopefully the grouse that are in the woods now will still be there to breed in the spring.
With the lengthening days we should hear the drumming soon.