Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Wild Companion in Cedar Breaks National Monument, Utah


         Movement.  A shadowy figure darting among the trees.  What sort of creature could be lurking there?  I’m alone, skiing the rim trail in Cedar Breaks National Monument.  Cautious now, I ski from the meadow toward the spruce forest and stop to peer into the understory.
With relief I see it’s only a Blue Grouse, scurrying over twigs and downed logs.  I call out:  “Hello Blue, what are you up to on this fine day?”  To my surprise he saunters up to me, stands on my skis, cocks his head and casts a suspicious look my way.


Blue is wondering who I am, and why do I have
these boards strapped to my feet?


          “Blue”, I say, “it’s time for me to move on.”  I slowly kick-glide away and Blue jumps off my skis, but he keeps pace with me, walking alongside, clucking, cooing and hooting as we travel another 50 yards.  Blue stops where the trail breaks into the open and watches me as I ski on to the canyon overlook.  I admire the view, snap a few photos and ponder the grouse.  “What was that all about?”  If nothing else, it was an unusual experience.


View into Cedar Breaks Canyon from overlook.


         I turn and retrace my route.   When I reach the point on the trail where Blue and I had parted company, I glance into the forest and wonder aloud:  “Blue are you still here?”  In the next instant I hear flapping and clucking and Blue is flying through the forest, only to land in front of me on the trail.  And again, for the next 50 yards he keeps pace with me, walking over, around and on my skis as I climb the hill.  Then he stops and I continue on, glancing over my shoulder every so often to make sure he’s not following me.
That afternoon I meet up with Tim as he’s finishing his downhill runs at nearby Brian Head Ski Resort.  “You’ll never guess what happened to me today.  I skied part of the rim trail with a Blue Grouse.”
The following morning Tim skis the Cedar Breaks trail with me; we arrive at the forest’s edge and Blue is waiting—he immediately hops up to me and coos as if to say “I knew you’d be back.”  And then he does something unexpected: he jumps at both my legs, nipping and pulling at the fabric of my ski pants.  Alarmed, I shoo him away with my ski poles and he doesn’t attack again, but still follows close-by on the next 100 feet of trail.  We ski on, but upon our return Blue is waiting.  He accompanies me as I ski and he’s more agitated than yesterday, as if delivering a message I had somehow failed to understand the first time.  
We ski away from Blue and I try to reassure him:  “Don’t worry Blue, we’re leaving, going home today, we won’t bother you anymore.”  And with that, Blue turns and disappears into the woods, his shadowy figure alone once more.


Blue has just "attacked" my legs!  I'm ready
to shoo him off with my poles.




Blue accompanies Rita on the trail
in Cedar Breaks National Monument.

                                                             ****
Later, in the comfort of my own home and far from the prying eyes of a Blue Grouse, I research grouse behavior on the internet.  I discover this is the beginning of mating season for these game birds and the male Blue Grouse is quite territorial—defending his patch of woodland from all intruders.  I tell Tim that Blue must have perceived me as an invader, encroaching on his territory, disturbing his plans.  Tim's alternative interpretation:  Blue was more amorous than annoyed!  In any case, "Sorry Blue." 
Interested in visiting Cedar Breaks National Monument?  Visit this website: http://www.utah.com/nationalsites/cedar_breaks.htm

10 comments:

  1. Hi Rita,

    I cracked up reading this post! The same thing happened to me last spring, but with a much less attractive bunch of male crows on my street.

    Turns out, a nestling had fallen to the ground and another blonde woman on the block had picked it up and taken it home to try to save it. Apparently, about a half-dozen crows parked on her lawn and were pretty vocal about their unhappiness about what she'd done. I guess I'm the only other blonde on the street, but every time I tried to go for a walk after that, I was besieged by 2 - 5 crows, claws out and aimed at my head!

    This spring, maybe I'll bring ski poles on my walks!

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  2. What a great story, Vickie! Crows are among the smartest wild birds, but I guess to them one blonde is like any other. Definitely, ski poles can come in handy for situations like this!
    Rita

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  3. What an enjoyable piece this was to read! Just like a good novel, I was immediately "hooked" and was eager to keep reading to see how it all ended.

    Although I don't know this for a fact, I suspect that the species of grouse in your part of the country share a trait with those here in NH. I'm talking about their tendency to unexpectedly take flight as you are hiking along a trail. The loud drumbeat-like sound of their flapping wings is enough to startle even the most seasoned hiker!

    John

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    1. Thanks for the kind words, John. Yes, Blue Grouse will unexpectedly flush as you walk along trails in spruce forests, causing a hiker's heartbeat to quicken! They are also curious, and quite tame (as you could see in the post). Unfortunately for them, their curiosity about people turned them into easy meals for the west's early settlers.
      Rita

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  4. On my most recent hike up Runyon Canyon in Los Angeles, I was accompanied on the upper climb by a butterfly. No matter which way I turned, he caught up and flew across my path, reminding me he was there. Maybe it's butterfly mating season...I sure do prefer butterflies to crows, though!

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    1. Vickie, I've never heard of being accompanied by a butterfly on a hike, but... you couldn't ask for a more beautiful wild companion! Thanks for sharing!
      Rita

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  5. Hi!

    This is truly an outstanding story,and you are fortunate to have interacted with Blue in the wild!

    Half the globe away, having to do with impatient crows at the kitchen window, an occasional kingfisher on the trees outside and the common Indian tailor bird, together with a family of magpie robins in the bushes ...

    Isn't it amazing how animals and birds can detect the human male or the female and the way this can affect their behavior!

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    1. Thanks, Manikchand. I'm happy to hear you enjoyed this story. I haven't heard of the Indian tailor bird—I'll look it up!
      And I believe that animals have more complex feelings and behaviors than we humans give them credit for. Many birds are highly intelligent, so I wonder where the term "bird brain" originated. For many birds, that's simply not true!
      Rita

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  6. Like Happy Hiker, I've also had a grouse flutter alongside me while hiking, probably trying to lure me away from the nest. It's amazing to see them (and their determination!) up close.

    Thanks, Rita! Great pictures.

    Laura

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    1. Hi Laura!
      Bird behavior is so interesting, isn't it? The most frightful "bird guarding a nest" incident happened to Tim when he was fishing. He had a five-foot-tall Sandhill Crane come running at him to drive him away from its nest!
      Rita

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