[Tweeters] RE: RFI- Spruce grouse in August

khanh tran khanhbatran at hotmail.com
Thu Aug 2 17:56:45 PDT 2007


Hi Alan and Tweets!

Before I answer, the road to Hart’s Pass is still closed at this time due to 
a major rock slide.  The status is still unknown. They originally 
anticipated an opening date in mid-August.

Earlier this year, I traveled to the Freezeout Pass, Tiffany Pass, and the 
Roger Lake area and found that the much of the prime habitat is diminished. 
However, if you can find any lush vegetation or prime habitat remaining, 
that small patch can reward you with a few birds.  In a sense, it might be 
easier. However, I will focus my suggestion as where to search for the 
birds, elsewhere.

The elusive spruce grouse..... Ah, my favorite NW bird! A widespread, 
compacted and but maddeningly difficult grouse to find.  So here is a quick 
reference to my two years of experience with these beautiful birds in 
Oregon, Washington, and Northern British Columbia.

I have seen over 45 birds during this time frame with a high percentage of 
sightings during the fall, usually early in the morning and a few hours 
before dark.  Rarely, have I seen them during the day except on a few 
occasions.

For some weird and lucky reason, I see them almost 70% of the time when I go 
to NE Oregon, NC and NE WA, and parts of British Columbia.  It helps greatly 
if you know their habits and when to look.  You can be in the right habitat 
and walk right by them.  I wouldn't say finding the birds are easy, but when 
you find one after multiple attempts of walking and driving forest roads, it 
very rewarding!

They are extremely quiet and one of the quietest grouse.  I have only heard 
the hen cluck once and barely heard her from five feet away.  The chicks 
have an audible, high peeping call, which I heard for the first time this 
June near Tumbler’s Ridge, BC. Very young, sprucie chicks are extremely 
yellow with a very rich,reddish brown appearance.

Your chances of seeing one should increase towards the middle of September.

>From July to August, follow any stream, creek or drainages near a trail or 
gravel road with any ground cover, fallen logs and a combination of hemlock, 
cedar, Engelmann spruce, lodge pole pines, or fir.  Near any water source 
with the above habitat, you will more than likely encounter hens with chicks 
as the mother often lead the chicks to this insect-enriched habitat.  I have 
seen the birds as low as 3700 ft to 9000 ft high.  Recently, Paul Sieracki 
had one male at 3200 ft in cedar hemlock habitat.

Prior to hunting season (mid August to middle of September), is the probably 
the best time
as the families are out and about gathering grit. The young will be almost 
as large as the parents but the coloration and markings are not as defined.  
Males have blotches of dark gray.

During this time I have seen as many as 10 birds in one area during the 
fall.  Observing a variety of different sizes and coloration, I assume they 
were from more than one family or a double brood.  I also have seen multiple 
adult males (up to 4 birds) within a few feet of each other during the late 
fall/early winter.

The birds are still seen in good numbers during peak hunting season, but I 
cringe and hope they will survive the dreadful gunshots.

I usually see the birds in the early morning from 7-10 AM or from early 
evening to dark (6-8 PM).  On a cold day with some sunlight, they will find 
any ridges or areas west facing to get a little sun before dark, usually on 
a gravel road.  During the other times, you have to bushwhack a little and 
look on the ground or even in trees.  I have found several at varying 
heights on spruce and fir trees.  So they are not always on the ground.  
However, I find this tactic to be very unproductive.  You are just lucky if 
you find one in a tree.  Go buy a lottery ticket!

Wherever you search, I suggest a search pattern of two or more people moving 
parallel to one another 30-40 feet apart.  Walk slowly and look for the 
birds on the ground in suitable habitat.

During the end of September and October, I have seen a few birds in trees 
eating spruce needles.  If you are within 20 feet, you can actually hear 
them munching on the hard needles.

Out of the 45 or so birds I have seen from the past two years, most are 
trusting while a few are skittish. They are much more approachable than the 
duskies, sooties, and ruffed.  They will rarely fly unless hard push.  If 
they do, they do not fly far or high.   If they run away, they will scurry a 
few feet and eventually stay still.  If you encounter a skittish one, walk 
slowly towards it and give it some time to get use to you and then get 
closer.

On multiple occasions, I had birds 1-3 feet away from me and had to back 
away to get the entire bird to fit in my camera focus. I think the only 
other bird that is tamer, is a white tailed ptarmigan.

Also when you flush a spruce grouse, they have the quietest wing beats 
compared to the
explosive pop of a flushed ruffed grouse and intermediate sound created by 
flushed dusky or sooty.

During this time September to mid-October, I suggest you drive along the the 
forest roads with any fine gravel and a combination of some dirt on the top 
surfaces.  If time permits, do this several times during early morning and a 
couple hours shortly before dark.   This is probably the most efficient and 
easiest way without a lot of hiking.

Here is a short list of where I had the most successful or think it has 
great potential:

Salmon Meadows (near Conconully, WA): I saw two males early and late spring 
of this year along the second, smaller campground (not the one with the 
large open meadow) at MP 9 to MP 10.

Bunchgrass Meadows (near Ione, WA) From MP 5 to MP 12 is excellent during 
the fall.  I saw one male during my first visit at low elevation (3700 ft) 
in cedar hemlock habitat. You need an SUV in areas past MP 7 or so.

Salmo Pass (Metaline Falls, WA) FR 22 a few miles before Pass Creek Pass is 
ideal. FR 2220 once it splits from FR 22 to the top of Salmo Mt is 
excellent.  Excellent and well maintained road.  A female spruce with chicks 
was reported here last week. It might be a good year for White winged 
crossbills, and I saw a Caribou there two weeks ago.

Albian Hill Rd (FR 2030) from MP 4-6 is great along with the trailhead at 
the Walapoosie
Campground.  Walk the easy trail for a mile or so.  It is excellent habitat. 
This road is excellent except for some spur roads.  You can easily walk the 
badly, rutted ones.

Togo Mountain (Near Orient, WA): Saw one female on my first visit along 
FR9576 (northwest spur) along MP 8.  From MP8-10 can be excellent. Excellent 
road, no SUV need except for FR 300/FR 450 as the road ascends.

Cathedral Provincial Park (Near Keremeos, WA) . I saw up to 12 birds in a 
one mile stretch along roads and trails during early September of 2006. Lake 
of the Woods trail and trails leading to Pyrimad Lakes is excellent.  Must 
take provided transportation from basecamp that cost 90.00 roundtrip.  You 
must plan accordingly.  Once you are up there, the trails are excellent. The 
birds were quite common there.

McCully Creek (Joseph, Oregon) and Moss Springs CG (Cove, Oregon).  Had the 
most luck here. I see them at least one 8/10 times I go. McCully Creek 
requires an easy hike. Moss Springs from MP 9 (pass the campground) and to 
the end is extremely rough and requires an SUV.  The Wallowas are 
spectacular!!

Hope you get a chance to see these special birds. Once, I saw my first male 
displaying to two females, I developed an affinity for these beautiful and 
zen-like birds.

Here is a gallery of my spruce grouse photos:

http://www.pbase.com/spruce_grouse/gallinaeous_&page=all

Good luck and good birding to you,

Khanh Tran (Portland, Oregon)




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