[Tweeters] "Sooty" Grouse in Black Canyon-8 April

Andy Stepniewski steppie at nwinfo.net
Mon Apr 9 11:42:31 PDT 2007

Hi All,

We took a hike up Black Canyon, just north and west of Wenas Lake 
specifically looking for Sooty Grouse. This is a "new" grouse species. Until 
last year, both the "Sooty" and "Dusky" Grouse were considered subspecies of 
Blue Grouse. Current research says Yakima County is within the range of 
Sooty Grouse. Northern (Okanogan County and eastward) Washington birds east 
of the Cascades are said to be Dusky. This species typically lives in a more 
forested environment than Dusky, is darker, has yellowish orange air sacs 
(inflated when the birds display), the tail is gray with a distinct band at 
the end, and the male typically displays from up in trees. The Dusky Grouse 
lighter in appearance, has red air sacs, the tail is blackish with no band, 
and the male typically hoots from the ground.

So, what species of grouse did we observe? On our hike, we heard and saw 10 
grouse. We were able to see the color of the air sac in three of these 
birds; they were yellow-orange. The tail, easy to see when the bird exploded 
into flight, was gray with a blackish band. So,  they appeared to be Sooty 
Grouse. However, all birds we approached were displaying from the ground, 
apparently typical for Dusky. The habitat in this area was sagebrush (both 
Big and Threetip) with abundant Idaho Fescue with isolated Ponderosa Pines.

Regarding the distribution of these two species, biologist Michael 
Schroeder, Washington's foremost expert on grouse, states, "the situation 
tends to get messier near Ellensburg. The birds to the south and west of 
Ellensburg appear to be mostly Sooty Grouse. However, the birds that have 
been observed on the lower ridges immediately south of Ellensburg appear to 
be hybrids...the exact line separating these two species, if a line exists, 
is poorly defined at this time."

We also observed one lone Chipping Sparrow, the earliest ever for Yakima 
County (12 April earliest heretofore).

Andy and Ellen Stepniewski
Wapato WA
steppie at nwinfo.net 

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