This is a Life Bird, the first spruce grouse I’ve ever seen. The fact that I saw him and even have his picture is thanks to Naomi and Jim Honeth of Portland, Maine.
Now you may wonder, how did I manage to vacation in Maine for 27 years and never see a spruce grouse? Well, I’m from Pennsylvania and I wasn’t thinking. I assumed spruce grouse behaved like Pennsylvania’s state bird, the ruffed grouse, which hides in the oak forest until the last minute and bursts skyward in an explosion of sound and feathers. Silly me. I would never have found a spruce grouse without a guide.
I first met Jim and Naomi on September 7 on Campobello Island as we watched birds, whales and seals in the turbulent water where Passamaquoddy meets the Bay of Fundy. We were pleased to see so many sea birds from land: greater and sooty shearwaters, phalaropes, razorbills and murres. The next day it was foggy and by afternoon I was casting about for a place to find birds when I saw the Honeths in South Lubec. We compared notes on what we’d seen, then Naomi said, “Do you want to see a spruce grouse?” You bet!
We drove to Boot Cove Reserve. Jim brought his camera and Naomi led the way down the narrow path in the mossy forest. She whispered instructions on where to look and told me the male spruce grouse at this location was nicknamed “Spruce Bruce.” I wondered why. My Gore-tex pants made swishing sounds. I was afraid we’d scare off the grouse.
At the Bog Path junction we stopped to discuss what trail to take. By this point the Honeths had expected to see the grouse and were worried he wouldn’t appear. Naomi said, “He is usually more cooperative.” I wondered what “cooperative” meant in terms of a grouse.
While we chatted we heard the whir of wings. Jim was behind us and called, “There he is!”
The male spruce grouse landed on the path and walked toward us. He stopped and stared. Several times he flew to a tree branch, then back to the ground. He decided to convince us that he owned the forest so he paused on the path, raised his bright red eyebrows, fanned his tail, puffed his chest and opened his wings. Wow! He was so close I could see the dark brown iris of his eyes. No wonder he has a name!
Eventually Bruce flew into the woods and we resumed our hike but soon had to stop because his lady (Betty?) was standing on the path in front of us. She was a little shy but posed long enough for Jim to take her picture.
What cooperative birds! Yes, spruce grouse are tame compared to ruffed grouse.
Thanks to the Honeths I got to see the fabulous Spruce Bruce and his lady. Click here to see Jim’s pictures of them. (“Betty” is the brownish bird in the tree.)
(photo by Jim Honeth)