The “tame” black grouse I named Drummer Boy was with me at camp for three years.
It was during DB’s third spring that I was riding my ATV on a track beside one of the ravines in the camp when I saw a grouse standing on a stump in the thicket about 30 feet to the side. Thinking it was DB, I stopped to ‘visit’, and thought it didn’t look quite right. However, DB was molting and his appearance had changed, so I dismissed that idea.
Then when I got off the ATV he jumped into the tall grass instead of coming towards me like he usually did. As I followed him, “talking” to him, another movement in the grass caught my attention, then another. Soon six young grouse materialized.
So it was not DB that I was following, it was a female grouse with her brood! Neither she nor the youngsters seemed too concerned about me, but she watched me closely as her youngsters moved slowly through the thicket, pecking this and that. I watched them from less than 20 feet away for less than five minutes, then continued on my way.
The appearance of a brood was good news, as it explained why DB had been missing for a while: he now had a family! I was surprised, as I have never seen traces of another grouse in previous winters and thought it was the only grouse in the area.
That year I didn’t see DB regularly. Sometimes he was out of my sight for five or more days at a time. He rarely followed the ATV or me anymore, but he always came to “visit” me when I stopped. He had been in this thicket of ravine since he had a bad experience with a falcon near an open area near my cabin.
One day, as I arrived at the bridge, I saw a grouse on a pile of wood and I thought it was DB, but no, it was still the female and her brood. They didn’t run or flush the toilet, they just walked away slowly. That evening, as I crossed the bridge again, there was DB on the pile of wood. I knew it was him because he was darker than the female, but I saw that his tail was completely gone.
As I got off the ATV, I sat on the ground next to the pile of wood. DB came to visit him, but he wasn’t arrogant as usual. I opened a little jar of sunflower seeds that I had hidden on the ATV, for the times I met him, and he came and ate from the jar while I was holding it. As he ate, I thought about what had happened to his tail. Even if he was molting, he wouldn’t have lost all of his feathers at once …
Then I remembered that a big red-tailed hawk had been hanging nearby for the past few weeks. Maybe DB had another argument with him? Or maybe a fox or coyote tried to grab it and it ran away, leaving its tail feathers behind? Or, maybe the “kids” were tough on him and instead of having gray hair, he lost the feathers on his tail!
After that day, DB was still hidden in this thicket near the bridge. He rarely came to the cabin, but he always came when I called him over the bridge, or when I passed by on an ATV, and from there he joined me on whatever adventure I was on.
It was during this third summer with me and my lab, Amy, that DB disappeared. Finally, Amy found a bunch of her feathers. He was the victim of a wild cat that I had seen around. The same cat destroyed a family of bluebirds in one of my nesting boxes near the cabin shortly after. Amy planted him one day, and I think he didn’t stay after that, but it was too late for our boyfriend.
The next summer another grouse started hanging out, but it looked nothing like DB. He allowed me to take pictures and he showed up while I was in the woods. I believe he was one of the youngsters from DB. However, he never really got used to Amy and after a year he was gone as well.
Although these “tetra adventures” are almost 20 years old, they still exist in my mind as if they were from yesterday. Amy and Drummer Boy are gone now, but what a great time we had!
• • •
A new deer season in early September opens on September 11 in New York State and continues through September 19 in Wildlife Management Units 8A, 8F, 8G, 8J, 8N, 9 and 9F for firearms and 8C for bow hunting equipment. This is done with the aim of reducing the growing herd of deer in these units. This new start to the season includes the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge, but the Feeder Road will not be open to hunters.
Also new this year, hunters are required to wear a hat, waistcoat or jacket that is plain or with neon orange or neon pink patterns.
Hunting hours have been reduced from half an hour before sunrise to half an hour after sunset.
Doug Domedion, outdoor enthusiast and nature photographer, lives in Medina. Contact him at (585) 798-4022 or [email protected]