Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Just us chickens

I now have a close personal relationship with two broods of sage grouse, and Jim says I’ve got to end it soon. I know he’s right, but I hate to have to do that.

The two broods – one with five youngsters, and one with six, range close together and I started to see them on a section of state ground near an old loading pen at dawn and dusk, so a few weeks ago I started seeking them out. Of course they were alarmed to begin with, when I pulled up in my noisy truck. But I took photos through the driver’s side window, and talked to them, and they soon calmed. I was gradually able to get out of the truck and walk around them, and to sit on the ground in front of them. I talk to them in my human language, and they talk back in their grouse song. What floors me (and should probably embarrass me) is that I never realized how similar these grouse are to domestic chickens we raised on the farm when I was a child. They act and vocalize just like chickens. As a child, I had a favorite hen named Half N Half (she was half white, half red) who used to accompany me on short walks, and would sit on my lap while I read aloud to her. Yes I was reading to a chicken, long before reading therapy animals came in vogue.

My experience with the two sage grouse broods took me back to my childhood. I have been completely tickled when the adolescent grouse walked up beside me to check out the yellow thread hemming my pantleg, titling their heads to the side to watch a hawk fly overhead, being very vocal in song as they take dust baths, and preening their feathers, using a tuff of sagebrush to break the wind. The two hens are far more cautious, but remain about 20 feet away, strolling slowly around the edge of their broods, calling to them and watching me.

I haven’t fed these birds to make them tame. I’ve just been near them in a non-threatening way, and apparently it’s been enough to gain acceptance. I’ve had an extraordinary time getting to know and adore these interesting birds, and will soon start making myself go by them without stopping. They don’t need to know me, but it’s been a pleasure to get to know them just a little.


Matt Mullenix said...

>>and apparently it’s been enough to gain acceptance.

I am tempted to suggest that as you gain their trust, learn their language and their strange ways, that you gain the confidence of their leader and see if she will lead you to the mythical fall gathering grounds. That's where I'll be camped. :-)

Cat Urbigkit said...

Just about blew my coffee out of my mouth over that one - very funny Matt!

john said...

Having just posted a question about flying Sage Grouse with a Golden Eagle on the Longwingers list, I feel humbled by your wonderful account. I'm not an avid grouse hunter, in fact I am saddened by falconers' obsession with catching and killing these birds.
I suggested that Sage grouse were "too big" for even the biggest Gyr and that perhaps an Eagle was the right bird to use. As there are at least 20 falconers for every Eagle flyer, a switch like this would benefit not only the grouse but also the falcons, as a number of these, sitting on captured grouse, are killed every year by Eagles.

I don't know if anyone detected my ruse, but it's gratifying to read of your non "anthropocentric" approach to these birds. I wish I had been in your passaneger's seat

Cat Urbigkit said...

I am not a bird hunter, but I have gone out with a falconer to hunt grouse, really enjoyed the experience, and hope to be invited out to do it again. I love falconry and all that it brings to my falconry friends, and to my life as well.

While I have enjoyed the individual grouse I have encountered this year, my real interest and concern is not for the individual birds, but on the population and species level.

The reality for these birds is that as the year proceeds, so do their chances of mortality. An eagle’s talon, a hunter’s bullet, or freezing cold winter, life in the wild – just as all life – ends. None will die of old age.

What I fear is what I see as a constant desire to limit or restrict consumptive use of what I see as renewable resources - be it forage on the range, or hunted species. If we prohibit the hunting of grouse, we erode support for this wild bird species. The result is we have more of our human population becoming further removed from the land and all its creatures. We all need more of nature, not less.

I would hate to think that my sharing my very enjoyable encounters with wild creatures would be used to restrict others from their encounters – or define those encounters as acceptable only if they met a certain criteria (as in no hunting).

Bryce Reece said...

Sage grouse and antelope----THE Wyoming icons that say and show, without words, what Wyoming is all about---as usual, AMAZING photos----can you teach me how to take photos like that?!?!?!?!?!

Cat Urbigkit said...

Bryce, I have no doubt that you'll soon be giving me a run for the money with that nice new Nikon I saw you toting around a few weeks ago! Just keep it by your hand at all times.

john said...

Cat - I have not made my point clear: my concern in hunting is not for the grouse, it's for the falcon.

My interest also starts at a higher level: the ecology comprising fauna and flora but it does extend down to the level of individuals that I encounter.

Being the oldest in my family, with no surviving parents, siblings or spouse, I am aware of the passing of life and in fact a lot of deaths, both human and animal, are, as it was intended, of old age.

Further, I fear unrestricted consumption more than restriction of consumption and am wary of the definition of "renewable resource".

Finally, I apologize if I intruded on your sensitivities, my intention was certainly the opposite.

Cat Urbigkit said...

John, thanks for your thoughtful response.

Steve Bodio said...

Cat, I agree with you about "renewable resources", especially in ecosystems that however unfairly are not appreciated by the general public. Who speaks against the destruction of the sage by extractive industry and water- mining center- pivot farming? Grouse hawkers and grazers, hunters and pastoralists.

John, I DO understand the need for sensitivity (and though big Gyrs are good grouse hawks, the danger to them from eagles would make me consider a male eagle if I lived there-- and didn't Charles Browning do just that years ago?)

But without such people as grouse hawkers who would speak for the grouse? They even founded the Grouse Society (is that the correct name?)

Conservation has need of intimacy and passion-- it can't all be virtual, as some urban Greens seem to think.