November 16, 2010

Summer Recollections - Part 4

Dusky Grouse Extravaganza!

June 23, 2010 – Day 8 of Neil’s Visit

We stood, standing on a dusty dirt road in Moraine Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, gaping at a hole in a nearby Aspen trunk, cameras at the ready. A chattering House Wren, which we were avidly ignoring, was scolding us from a bush at the base of the tree, before it swiftly entered another hole in the same tree, though smaller and closer to the ground than the opening we were intent upon. Suddenly, “There it is!” Begging calls of fledgling Red-naped Sapsuckers sounded from the hole we were gazing at, as a blur of woodpecker swooped into the hole. The adult had only remained on the outside, in our view, only long enough for us to bring the viewfinder to our eyes. “Get any photos?” I ask. “No,” Neil replies. With some time and patience, we did manage to get a few photos. Eventually we continued walking down the road. At a trailhead sign for “Cub Lake,” we turned onto the rocky, uneven, and heavily traveled trail.

Male Red-naped Sapsucker

Part way up the trail, we encountered a couple of birders. We started talking, and it turned out that one of them, Chris, was doing a Big Year! (His blog recording his Big Year can be found at: As we were chatting, Joel suddenly called out from behind us, “Goshawk!” Sure enough, an adult was circling above a distant ridge, just a speck on the pine-shrouded horizon. This species was one of our (Joel and Marcel’s) “nemesis” birds (and as such was a lifer). Everybody else was super excited to see it too, as it was even a new year bird for Chris, the big year lister! A little farther up the trail, we heard a Dusky Flycatcher, a common bird but another year bird for Chris. As we started the final ascent to the lake, a large bird erupted from a bush on the side of the trail. “DUSKY GROUSE!!!” After relocating it at the edge of a meadow, we stayed and photographed it for over an hour. This adult male was “booming” with its built in “sub-woofer,” calling to any nearby female, and warning possible rivals. This was the bird we hoped to find on this particular trail. It was a life bird for Neil and yet another year bird for Chris. At this point, hunger turned Chris and his wife around, while we continued on to Cub Lake.

Northern Goshawk

Male Dusky Grouse

Male Dusky Grouse

Male Dusky Grouse

Male Dusky Grouse

Finally, the lily-encircled and leech-filled lake came into view, along with a multitude of patrolling dragonflies. After a thorough survey of the pond side, we managed to identify American Emerald, Belted Whiteface, Four-spotted Skimmer, Darner sp., and lots of Northern/Boreal Bluets (near impossible to identify without the benefit of magnification). While we were eating lunch, a completely habituated pair of Mallards and a Golden-mantled Ground-Squirrel boldly begged for scraps. They obviously have a lot of success at this location.

Cub Lake

American Emerald

We continued on towards “The Pool,” an alternate route back to the parking lot. When we were nearly back to the parking lot, we suddenly heard a quiet clucking noise from the side of the trail. We spied a brownish chicken head protruding from the nearby grass. “Look! A female grouse!” we excitedly whispered to each other. After watching it for a while, it slowly crossed the trail, followed by a half dozen Dusky Grouse chicks, each no more than a few days old. We had just gotten the full slam-dunk of Dusky Grouse . . . male, female, and chicks.

Female Dusky Grouse

Dusky Grouse Chick

No comments: