Birders and photographers from across North America put the Spruce Grouse high on their list of highly desirable target birds. Many of the folks I guide in winter would love to add this grouse to their life list. We usually cruise Superior National Forest roads at dawn hoping to catch a glimpse of one picking grit along the shoulder. And we pray that no logging trucks have already spooked (or smashed) the birds before we get there. Like many boreal birds, it is not rare, but rather rarely seen, due to the inaccessibility of their remote boreal forests and bogs in Canada, Alaska, Maine and Minnesota. Lake County has a reputation for being THE spot to find them (They do not occur in the Sax-Zim Bog).

I found this male Spruce Grouse picking grit along a remote dirt logging road in northern Minnesota’s Superior National Forest a few days ago (early September 2012). He was a long ways down the road but I thought I’d get some “insurance shots” anyway. So I eased out of the car, put the camera on the tripod (set to its lowest level) and threw some camouflage netting over me and the camera and started stalking. I’d shoot some video and some stills and then move about 15 steps closer…slooowly. Then I’d sit for a while until he began feeding again. Initially I had stacked a 2x and a 1.4x telextender on the 400mm to get enough reach, and had to shoot at ISO 3200 (noisy!), but eventually, after getting much closer, I was able take off the 2x telextender and reduce the ISO to 800.

You can turn the HD feature on or off depending on the speed of your computer.

He flew up into some Tamaracks and began feeding on the needles. In summer they eat insects, blueberries, leaves, fungi and other berries. In fall and winter they switch to a diet of conifer needles. Tamaracks are utilized in fall before they lose their needles in mid to late October. Black Spruce and Jack Pine needles are the preferred winter food. They can store up to 10% of their body weight in needles in their crop. The slow digestion of this food during the long northern nights helps keep them warm. The grit picked from the road helps the gizzard break down the needles. I once found a road-kill Spruce Grouse and dissected it. I found that that individual only picked white/clear quartz stones for its grit….Maybe it instinctively knew that the quartz is very hard with sharp corners and would be a great needle grinder. Oh, and by the way, I ate that road-kill Spruce Grouse after dissecting it! I had to prove/disprove the myth that “spruce hens” taste like pine needles. In fact, it was as tasty as any Ruffed Grouse I’d ever eaten. Myth busted!

Shot with Canon 7D and Canon 400mm f5.6 and 1.4x telextender on tripod. Camo netting over me and camera for stealthy approach.

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