Grouse Hunt & The Bossy Purple Finch

So, I've a small goal this spring to see if I can find a ruffed grouse drumming log. I've heard them drumming in a few places on Mr. Neil's, but I've never found the log itself. Yesterday, I went out with my buddy Amber to try and find the log. She's one of the few people I know who doesn't mind some challenging hiking conditions on deer trails. When we arrived, we found the above male goldfinch well on his way through his molt into breeding plumage--which is a welcome site this morning as eight inches of snow is falling.

We found a stand of pines that had some kind interesting story to tell, but couldn't quite suss it out. We found owl pellets and owl poop. It looked like good potential for saw-whet. But then we found a bunch of owl feathers. From the size and shape, they looked like long-eared owl feathers...and it looked like something had attacked the it. We couldn't find any other owl but wondered if one of the larger owls like a great horned or barred owl had killed it. There were also other feathers mixed in with the owl--cardinal and junco, which made us wonder if it a Cooper's hawk had been eating here too.

We flushed a ruffed grouse from a thick tangle of buckthorn and water horsetail. I started to step inside and found a turned over tree, but it was way too thin and not hollow. One of the guys I band birds with at Carpenter (Larry) knows a lot about grouse and he's been giving me tips on what to look for.

There were some healthy piles of grouse poop, so the grouse has been spending quite a bit of time. I sent Larry the photos and he said that this looks like it was siting under that pile of brush - using it for cover from overhead predators. Even though we didn't find the drumming log, I heard some distant drumming across the creek. I may have to break out my chest waders from the Ivory-bill Search and cross the creek to find the drumming log. Larry said that peak drumming time is in the next three weeks and that foggy mornings are best because that helps to carry the drumming sound. I'll see if I can make it out there this weekend.

We ended up spending the rest of our time trying to get photos of birds at the feeders. They were empty when we arrived and we filled the feeders first thing. It took no time for the birds to fly in. It's fun to watch the red-bellied woodpecker chip out a large chunk of suet to eat in safety up in the branches. There were lots of birds on the move. Amber heard and saw sandhill cranes fly over and then we heard a distant high pitched barking...hmmm...more sandhills? No. Snow geese? Not quite...


When they finally flew over we saw that they were tundra swans--sweet! I hadn't seen any since last November and then it was only while I was driving so I couldn't hear their barking sound. A few flocks passed over our heads throughout the day and above is a photo that Amber got as they passed overhead.

We didn't see the common redpoll that I had seen about a week and a half earlier, but we did see a male purple finch. I haven't seen one of those guys since last fall.

He was a bossy little bird too. I had heard people speculate that the influx of introduced house finches had pushed out the purple finches, but I have to say that watching this one male, he didn't look like the kind of bird who would take any guff from a house finch. Above, he is lunging towards a chickadee.

In this photo, he drove out a white-breasted nuthatch.

A second nuthatch tried to fly in, but the purple finch gave it the hairy eyeball and the nuthatch darted away from the tray towards a tree instead. He did tolerate a goldfinch, but if it came to close, the purple finch lunged at it too.