Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Sooty Grouse


On 21 September, we began our journey home. Our first stop was Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. This destination promised us a short day, but we both know that, no matter how many miles we have to cover, our days always seem to take 11 hours—especially if you detour and go by way of Mount Rainier National Park. We found ourselves with a little over an hour at the park. We walked a short distance up Skyline Trail, which runs towards the peak from the park headquarters. The morning was breath-takingly beautiful.
The trail was relatively crowded. We can’t imagine what a zoo it must be in season. We came upon the bend in the trail in the first photograph. To our surprise, a flock of seven Sooty Grouse fed along the edge of the trail. The grouse were completely unperturbed by our presence. In fact, the birds appeared to defend their territory from us. Because they are often quite tame, grouse are often called Fool's Hen or Trail Chicken.
Grouse systematics are confusing. Until very recently, Blue Grouse were considered a single species. DNA research confirms what some ornithologists suspected. Blue Grouse are actually two species, the darker, coastal Sooty Grouse, and an interior Dusky Grouse. I had never seen a Blue Grouse or either of the two newly described species. One of the joys of birding is the serendipity of being at the right place at the right time. Twenty minutes later, on our return down the trail, not a grouse was to be found.

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