The range of Ruffed Grouse is the northern part of North America. In Utah this range extends down to the Salt Lake area. This chicken like bird is about 17 inches tall, and so well camouflaged that it’s usually not seen until it flushes with a loud whirring noise (like a Rattlesnake?). The Ruffed Grouse lives in dense cover and eats a varied diet of seeds to snakes. The best opportunity of seeing Ruffed Grouse is when there are large grasshopper populations, and the Grouse come to open meadows to feast. Too much of a good thing and the Grouse can hardly walk let alone hide in the brush.
An encounter with Ruffed Grouse and my Honey happened nearly fifty years ago, north of Salt Lake City, in a time when there were no mountain bikes, no four-wheelers, and the only trails in the mountains were made by livestock and deer. Few people did cross-country hiking in those days and seldom did he and ‘the other guy’ ever run into another person. Hiking and camping was always a treat, no matter how lumpy the sleeping bag was at night. It was a three day hiking trip from East Canyon, up across the mountains and then dropping down into City Creek Canyon by the State Capitol. This night, they just happened to find a flat spot to lay their sleeping bags. After an atypical night’s sleep, they got up early and started down through a brushy valley with an overgrown game trail. This part of the hike was famous for Rattlesnakes! That meant keeping an eye out for snakes basking in the warmth of the open spots on the trail. Then, right in front of my Honey, in a thick bush by the side of the trail, came a loud buzzing noise. SNAKE!!! Honey jumped straight up and a limb snagged his back pack. The limb that caught on the backpack acted as a spring and drove him back again and again into the large bush filled with the ‘supposed snake’. JUMP IN THE AIR, THEN BACK DOWN, JUMP UP- DOWN, UP-DOWN. Time and time again he was thrust back into the bush where the buzzing was. The panicked yells and thrashing about caused Ruffed Grouse to finally burst from the top of the bush where they were trying to get away from this monster. ‘The other guy’, looking on from a different angle saw it was not Rattlers and almost died from a heart attack laughing at Honey’s predicament. It was a good thing Honey’s nerves were totally shot by the time he got free of that limb attached to the backpack, or surely ‘the other guy’ would have been chased down and beaten with a tree.
Keith Davis is the artist this week (the one who had the Ruffed Grouse/Rattlesnake encounter). If you have an encounter, I hope it’s a good one. Red Cliffs Audubon has monthly meetings and field trips. Call 435 673-0996 for information about birds, or Audubon activities. Public is welcome.