Category Archives: wildlife

Face to face with the enemy

backcountry skiing with a grouse

A wasatch grouse in attack mode

I’ve had the crap scared out of myself countless times by grouse. They must find some very perverse pleasure in waiting until the very last second to burst out of the bushes right next to you while making an ungodly amount of noise that rarely fails to send one’s heart racing.

About the size, shape, and color of a football, they have infuriated me enough times that when I see one on the trail, I sometimes fantasize about giving it a good punt. But like Lucy holding the ball for Charley Brown to kick, the grouse would remove itself from my reach at the last second, leaving me reeling and ashamed for falling for the same old trick.

They are disturbing enough in summertime, when a single bird will set up to terrorize you multiple times as you hike down a set of switchbacks. But I find them worse in winter, when they can burst out of the snowpack directly under your feet, turning a peaceful wilderness landscape into a virtual mine field. On one such a day, a grouse exploded from the snow next to my boot and knocked the ski pole out of my hand as it flew over my skis and took to the air. As this was the third in a series of close calls, my nerves were so shot I wanted to call it a day.

Eye to eye
Near the end of a spring ski run the other day, we must have skied over a grouse’s nest. As we stood discussing the unique quality of the corn we had just skied, The grouse burst from the snow onto his feet and started stomping downhill to scare us away. I whipped out my camera to video the attack, and the camera memory instantly ran out.

Powder Princess was first in the angry birds path, but he marched right by her, recogonizing me, I suppose, as the physically larger threat.

He came straight to me, charging slow but steady in a game of wild bluff. With my ankles feeling quite safe in plastic boots, I was not inclined to flee. Rather I wanted to find out what would happen next. The grouse himself didn’t seem too sure, so he started pacing an angry circle around me, stomping a track in perfect corn. After a couple laps, he tightened the circle and started walking over my skis and next to my boots. He gave me angry, bird eye looks, and occasionally stopped for a squawk, which i found rather quiet. Finally, growing tired, or bored, he stopped on the front of my skis in hopes of either staring me down, or going for a ride.

This little creature was making a total sacrifice of itself, trying to keep me away from its young back in the nest at any cost. Luckily for the grouse, we were not participants in it’s serious game of survival, but passers by in search of a greater goal: smooth corn and good skiing. And besides, I was in the mood for fish tacos…