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Thread: Spring scouting!!!!!

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    Member Hoyt's Avatar
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    Default Spring scouting!!!!!

    After several cups of coffee this morning, I decided to take a quick trip to an area where I spend a lot of time hunting grouse. I wanted to see how the winter was treating them, and if they were getting out and about much. I ended up seeing a ton of tracks, and also a couple spruce grouse!!!!! The weather was amazing! I also saw 4 moose and 6 snowshoe hare. I cannot wait to tromp around this spring looking for Ruffies and their drumming logs! I also cannot wait for fall when Paxson and I wil be covering ground! DSCN2063.jpgDSCN2058.jpg

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    Member SkinnyD's Avatar
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    I think Mr. McCann has got you hooked, Hoyt. Looks like a nice outing. I took my pups up toward Ester Dome to look for grouse sign this week but all we found was a porcupine. Thank goodness he made it up a tree before Katydid could get a good sniff of him.
    Passing up shots on mergansers since 1992.


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    Nice pics -- very nice.

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    Yep, it's a fine time to be in the woods and out on the tundra. Lots of stuff moving.

    I saw something interesting on one of my recent outings. It's not uncommon to come across a spruce grouse out along a dirt road picking up grit, and in summer or early fall to find a brood doing the same, but I came upon about 9 of the potlickers grouped together picking up grit just the other day. Interesting.

    Now ruffed grouse like living alone once they've left the brood and struck off into the great beyond. But it's interesting to see, and to think about why 5 or 6 or more of them can be found feeding in the same tree, or two trees next to each other in mid-winter.

    I sure do love a mystery!

    Won't be long now until all the grouse will be making babies. That's a good thing.

    Jim

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    Member Burke's Avatar
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    Jim...Speaking of grit. Not too long ago as I was post holing around the mountains and being frustrated by snow conditions.... I was wondering about birds and grit. How do they get grit when there is 4, 5, 6 feet of snow? Before we came along and built that wonderful infrastructure called roads and plowed fields, grit would have been even less accessible for some of our feathered friends. Does the diet change such they do not need as much? What else would be a substitute for grit, other than the gravel that that we see next to roads and river beds etc?

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    Burke,

    That's a question I've been mulling around for many years. Certainly the birds take advantage of any bare source of grit, but they also know where to find the stuff and are willing to work to get at it. I've followed both sharptail and ruffed grouse tracks to cutbanks where there scratching the snow away is obvious. I'm sure they also go a lot longer between...well, fresh grit. We could prove this if we collected grit from birds taken throughout the long season. When you think of it, the birds would need fresher, courser grit during the winter months while they eat primarily buds, as compared to vegetative matter and berries during the summer and fall.

    Interesting stuff.

    Jim

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim McCann View Post
    Burke,

    That's a question I've been mulling around for many years. Certainly the birds take advantage of any bare source of grit, but they also know where to find the stuff and are willing to work to get at it. I've followed both sharptail and ruffed grouse tracks to cutbanks where there scratching the snow away is obvious. I'm sure they also go a lot longer between...well, fresh grit. We could prove this if we collected grit from birds taken throughout the long season. When you think of it, the birds would need fresher, courser grit during the winter months while they eat primarily buds, as compared to vegetative matter and berries during the summer and fall.

    Interesting stuff.

    Jim
    I was out in the woods once,a nd I found what looked like a chicken scratch, I presume it was grouse, dug down till they hit rock, went back beginning of winter and there was a little scratching going on, but not near as much as in the summer.

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    Moderator LuJon's Avatar
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    This mystery has crossed my mind a time or two as well but I guess I never really put much brain power into trying to solve it. Now that you mention the cut banks it got me thinking that some of the blow downs would offer similar opportunities in areas without creeks or streams to open it up for them. I can certainly see ptarmigan and maybe rough's getting it from wind blown slopes at higher elevations. I have been an avid big game hunter as long as I can remember but with birds I have been a bust em and breast em type guy. I have pulled them apart to teach people about them the same as my dad did me but I have not delved into the crop in a long time beyond checking for needles so I knew when it was time to stop hunting them. I think I will make it a point to start doing a little "biology" work in the future!

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    LuJon,

    I got started many years ago aging, sexing, weighing, and examining the crop of each bird I took. I've been slacking off lately, except for looking into the crop. Some of us also took gizzards for a couple of years and submitted them to ADF&G who then passed them on to a grad student who was looking to see what sort of problems a bird might have from picking up road salt and such. Of course, in the gizzard is where you will find that grit. A friend of mine in Anchorage took to saving the grit from birds he and his friends took and he now has quite the jar full. I save tail fans and feathers, but not into saving grit at all.

    Jim

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    It would seem worthwhile to know what kind of gravel they had in there just so you could recognize a potential source when you are out exploring. With enough "backyard biologist" hunters out there actually paying attention I imagine we could learn a thing or two.

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    I can see a new home grown business starting up. Grit! A recycled product! Use it in lieu of sidewalk salt or other packaged products. Use it for your aquarium. Too funny.
    There are a couple of a places I go in winter where I automatically head right to the cut bank to see who's been around. Even hillsides sometimes have them naturally, but rivers for sure are always a year around grit provider. I have not made it out at all this year except for the white birds, and can't recall seeing more than one or two grouse all winter. Not sure I could shoot one with seeing so few.
    We seem to drive miles to look for birds, yet the other morning I looked out my bedroom window and much to my surprise there are bird tracks criss crossing the yard.
    I'm heading to Minto Flats today. I hope to take some time and look around for a few birds.
    ARR

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    Member Hoyt's Avatar
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    I know of a spot on a hill side, where you can sit and watch grouse fly in through out the morning to get grit! One morning I watched 7or 8 birds come and go. Both spruce, and ruffies. I also think they get grit from around the bases of large spruce trees. I was thinking about this the other day. When I was out scouting the other day, I stopped by two pretty big trees with over hanging branches. They had a big enough over hang that they had no snow under them. Poking around a bit, it didn't take much effort to find dirt and a little gravel under the tree over hang. Who knows if they go to areas like that...just a thought!

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    Hoyt,

    Grouse will also take dust baths in the soft dirt near upturned tree roots. I once watched a ruff take such a bath in the middle of a trail that was often used by ATVs and where the dirt was quite fine. Another time, deep within a spruce forest on a very hot day, in a place you would not expect to see a ruffed grouse, there were 5 or 6 of them - certainly a brood - lying flat on their bellies on the cool, moist dirt in a very shaded area.

    Jim

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    Is it normal for grouse to drum in the fall? Out moose hunting a couple years ago I was walking a ridge top and there was about a standing dead birch with the top broken off at about 12'. I was still hunting and heard a "drumming" sound. It took a bit but I eventually spotted the male grouse perched up there drumming his wings. I thought that was a spring activity and have been planning on going back to the spot early in the year one day to see if they are gathering there. In reality our moose hunting spot is a really great grouse spot from what I can tell. It consists of a finger ridge poking out in to swamp land. It has a neat terrain with heavy forest in much of it with several higher cross ridges that make easy areas for moose to cross without being exposed. The ridges have pockets of dense spruce with occasional birch intermixed. In fact it is one of those birch trees where I found the grouse drumming. I have received several lessons on grouse in that area. The one that turned me on my head the most was learning that spruce grouse will roost quite high in the birch canopy. I and most people I know only looked for them in spruce trees between 5-15 feet up (if not on the ground). One morning walking along the border of the ridge and adjoining swamp I watched probably 20 birds come in from eating in the lowlands (bog blueberries I think) and each one landed on large high birch branches. This was very early in the morning just as the sun came up. I had only seen 2 grouse in that area during the early part of moose season prior to that day and they were both flushed out of the swamp. We always find tons of birds late in the year, especially in Oct if we go back to enjoy the watching the rut. It dawned on me that morning that the birds were there the whole time, I was just looking for them in the wrong place!!

    Still to this day I see people instruct noobs to look for grouse in thick spruce pockets at 5-15 feet, and no doubt it is good advice but it certainly isn't the whole picture!

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    Member Hoyt's Avatar
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    I asked Jim last year about fall drumming. If memory serves me correct, I believe he told me it was territorial thing. I'll let him elaborate further...............

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    i believe the exposed ground below the rootwads of windfall, as Lujon mentioned, and cutbanks, are the two main winter sources of grit i've seen utilized, other than roads. Several times after the first snow i've found coveys of grouse hunkered below the rootwad of a fallen tree that exposes gravel. On my folks farm, the grouse are most abundant near a stream that has many cutbanks. Probably there more for the cover and browse than the grit, but i'm sure they don't mind.

    However, what was mentioned regarding the broad-branched spruce certainly has some merit. I've commonly noticed canine tracks stop at each spruce well to check if anybody's home, especially right after a big snow. Generally have assumed it was just a common place for small game to take cover, but perhaps the grit is part of what is attractive, as the soil is easily reached there.

    Is it august yet?

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    Yep, ruffed grouse do drum in the fall, and it is territorial with established males telling young males who are in the process of dispersing from the broods and striking out on their own to find there own home turf to stay away, this acreage is taken! In the spring, like next month, it's all about mating and the drumming is to announce to all hens "Hey babe, I'm over here!" Unfortunately, said drumming also announces a bird's presence to all of the predators. Most drumming logs are in pretty thick places, but I've found and photographed "logs" right out in the open. Those grouse don't live long lives.

    I first learned of this fall drumming when I was just a kid, a teenager. And to tell you the truth, in all those decades I've only heard it one time. I suppose I haven't heard them drumming in fall just 'cause I'm moving all the time, making noise and in predator mode. You really need to stop and listen for drummers, like for at least 4 minutes in one place, and then move on a bit and listen again. During fall I'm on the hunt and constantly on the move.

    But a couple of hunting seasons ago I took a soldier hunting. He was home from Iraq and had never hunted over a pointing dog so I took him out for a hunt. I was surprised to hear this drummer telling us to get out of the area, that this part of the woods was his. Well, we hadn't been seeing too many birds so I called in my dogs and sent them over toward where I'd heard the drummer. Here's a pic of that drummer!

    It was early October and Charlie wasn't even two years old yet but had been proving himself as a top notch bird dog all through the August and September part of the season.



    Here's what a drummer looks like!





    I guess the moral to this story is how it pays to keep your wings shut?

    Jim

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    Member sameyer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Burke View Post
    Jim...Speaking of grit. Not too long ago as I was post holing around the mountains and being frustrated by snow conditions.... I was wondering about birds and grit. How do they get grit when there is 4, 5, 6 feet of snow? Before we came along and built that wonderful infrastructure called roads and plowed fields, grit would have been even less accessible for some of our feathered friends. Does the diet change such they do not need as much? What else would be a substitute for grit, other than the gravel that that we see next to roads and river beds etc?
    Burke, see ptarmigan flying into and away from wind blown rocky areas in the Kenai mountains. I imagine they are going in there for grit, no other real reason for them to be there. Also see them on side roads eating grit like spruce hens but only at night, usually around 4:30-5:30 am. Given their ability to fly fairly far without undue effort I suspect they don't have much trouble finding grit. I've been collecting the grit from spruce grouse and ptarmigan for years and the content does not vary much from fall to mid winter.

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    Quote Originally Posted by sameyer View Post
    Burke, see ptarmigan flying into and away from wind blown rocky areas in the Kenai mountains. I imagine they are going in there for grit, no other real reason for them to be there. Also see them on side roads eating grit like spruce hens but only at night, usually around 4:30-5:30 am. Given their ability to fly fairly far without undue effort I suspect they don't have much trouble finding grit. I've been collecting the grit from spruce grouse and ptarmigan for years and the content does not vary much from fall to mid winter.
    I bet if I start collecting grouse gizzard grit now, I could have a pretty good collection by the time I get done bird hunting. It would probably be a tossup between the grouse grit and the old baseball cards as to which collection my grandkids will fight over more.
    Passing up shots on mergansers since 1992.


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    A lot of the fall drumming is due to photoperiod. Ruffies tend to drum at the same time each year, regardless of weather conditions (there are exceptions, of course). I agree that there is some territoriality as well, but I think in a lot of ways, the birds sometimes just get a little confused.

    A lot of the grit during the winter months comes from rocks. Sometimes you can get grouse or ptarmigan which have scoring on the sides of their bills. I have no scientific basis for saying this, but I suspect it is from them picking at rocks to get grit off. Sometimes you can see them doing this in alpine areas.

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