Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Spruces and Pines
It's been too long.
Too long since I've breathed the sweet boreal air, too long since I've had my face frozen off by a stiff Whitefish breeze, and too long since I've gazed upon the intricately mottled flanks of a Spruce Grouse.
Prior to this weekend, I'd actually never seen a Spruce Grouse. Way too long.
I consider Da Yoop (err...Upper Peninsula, but who calls it that?) one of the greatest places on earth. My friends Alison Világ and Harold Eyster agree, which is why we went there last weekend. Good birds, good friends, good food, and good games of midnight euchre in the parking lot at Whitefish Point...doesn't get any better than that.
The only slight challenge of the weekend was staying warm. Temperatures were entirely reasonable most of the time (lows were around thirty), but as a wimpy California, I've lost my perspective. My feet rebelled the first night; by morning, I was sure there was a slice of permafrost jammed in the foot of my sleeping bag. Oh yeah, that's right...we were camping.
Spruce Grouse has always been a painful component missing from my life; the entire drive up, my companions alternated between scoffing at my misfortune and marveling at my how I've survived for so long without Spruce satisfaction. Happily, after a couple misguided skirmishes, we stumbled upon a gorgeous male waddling along the edge of Farm Truck Road.
After this initial victory, these allegedly elusive birds began popping up everywhere; before the weekend was over, we had seen thirteen. Perhaps it was our diligent surveillance of the roadsides that lent us such great success, but I suspect it was actually our discovery of the grouses' greatest weakness: deathly fear of falling trees. Every time I knocked over a leaning tree in a bog, it flushed a Spruce Grouse. Sure, it only happened twice, but hey--that's still one hundred percent effectiveness!
Another virtue of Da Yoop is its winter finches, from the tiny, tidy redpolls to the big, blundering grosbeaks. Though most of the winter finches were less numerous than Spruce Grouse on this trip, we still found a pleasant diversity. The very best was a lone male Pine Grosbeak that waylaid us on our way out to the Tip at Whitefish. Originally, we had planned to scoot out to the Tip first thing Sunday morning without delaying at the feeders, but who can resist a fluffy ball of pink perfection? I certainly can't. We admired it from illegally short distances as it sloppily munched on sunflower seeds (finally, a worse eater than me...wait, I forgot about the risotto. Nevermind.)
The actual rarities we saw were mere footnotes to the Spruces and Pines. The Anna's Hummingbird was a first state record, which meant we were obligated to make the drive over to Grand Marais to see it, and the Spotted Towhee just happened to be visiting the feeders at Whitefish.
Ah, I'm such a filthy twitcher.
I last saw a Spruce Grouse a little over seventy-two hours ago. It's already been too long.