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Prairie grouse are in the mood this month

WILDLIFE WATCHING — April is like party time for prairie grouse, as Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson reminds us with this photo of a dancing male sharptail.

Johnson shot the image above this week in Montana from a blind at the site — known as a lek — where males congregate to display and win the opportunity to breed with nearby females.

Columbian sharp-tailed grouse have declined dramatically in Washington, where there are efforts to protect habitat and revive their numbers.


State purchasing 4,200-acres of ranch in Douglas County for wildlife habitat

WILDLIFE — The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission has approved purchasing 4,200 acres of a Douglas County ranch to protect shrub-steppe habitat for wildlife, especially for threatened sharp-tailed grouse, and provide public access for outdoor recreation.

It's the first phase of the state's plan to purchase virtually all 20,500 acres of the Grand Coulee Ranch, which borders 14 miles of the Columbia River including Lake Rufus Woods backed up behind Chief Joseph Dam.

The commission voted on the proposal and supported the long-range plan during its weekend meeting in Pasco.

The Grand Coulee Ranch also provides the potential for building a fishing access on the state side of Lake Rufus Woods across from the Colville Indian Reservation.

While similar huge acquisitions in Asotin County have generated controversy, Douglas County commissioners have formally supported the state's plans to purchase the Grand Coulee Ranch.

The land in the first-phase purchase, located about five miles northwest of the town of Grand Coulee is being sold for the assessed value of $1.8 million. The purchase is possible because of a grant from the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program.

Once the sale is closed, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will manage the land as part of the Wells Wildlife Area.

Montana may curtail hunting of sage grouse

HUNTING — Here's some disturbing news from Montana, which we might have considered to be the "last best place" for sage grouse:

With preliminary results from Montana’s spring surveys showing a continued population decline of the state’s largest native upland game bird, wildlife officials will seek to close sage grouse hunting for the 2014 season.

Read on for the details that will be presented to the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission meeting in Fort Peck on Thursday, May 22.

Feathers are flying on the grouse prairies

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Dancing and strutting isn't enough for sharp-tailed grouse during the spring mating season that's underway. The males duke it out pretty good to show dominance for breeding the females that are walking around nonchalantly watching the show.

Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson captured this action this week from a bind in Montana.


Researchers play chicken with sage grouse radios

WILDLIFE — My Sunday Outdoors stories about the fascinating grouse species of the West were packed with information about these novel birds, but a ton of details litter the editing room floor, so to speak.

For example, before they placed GPS transmitters on valuable sage grouse released in Washington last month, Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists practiced and fine-tuned the fitting process on a chicken at the Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area shop (photo above).

"The group learned how to place the GPS transmitter/harness assembly onto a bird, and adjust for proper transmitter location and harness tension," said Juli Anderson, Northeastern Washington Wildlife Area Complex manager.

Video: sharp-tailed grouse mating dance inspired Native Americans

WILDLIFE WATCHING — In paying tribute to Washington's seven grouse species in my Sunday Outdoors feature stories, I mention that the mating display of the sharp-tailed grouse inspired some traditional dances of Native Americans.

See for yourself above.

Observe other grouse that inhabit Washington in the following videos:

Hunting dusky grouse can give you the blues

HUNTING — Hunting dusky grouse with a pointing dog is one part bliss and several parts misery and despair.

Duskies — the name given a decade ago to the former "blue grouse" east of the Cascades — are notoriously fickle about holding to a point.  

They might hold, as did the one pictured above, or they may not.

They might fly up in a tree and look at you or they may flush at the hint that you're coming their way and rocket downhill a quarter mile into the timber.

They like high ridges and openings at the edges of timber. Often the terrain is rocky.

It can be tough going — and tough shooting.

I liken dusky hunting to a chukar hunt with timber mixed in to increase the shooting difficulty factor.

I was one for three on Saturday with two other birds flushing a full 40 yards away from Scout's solid point.

Tough quarry. 

Video: Dusky grouse strut their stuff this season

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Dusky grouse males seemed to be especially testy during mating season.  One of the feathered bruisers even took on a Washington Fish and Wildlife policeman.

Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson was glad he was safely inside his vehicle when a different dusky made sure he knew whose territory he was in.  

Check out his short video and live in FEAR of grouse.

We decided to head back to where we had the encounter with the crazed Dusky Grouse a week ago. Realizing that lightning doesn’t often strike twice in the same spot – it seemed worth a try.
This time, we were prepared. The GoPro video was ready.
As we rounded the corner where we had last seen the grouse, there to our surprise was our little friend standing in the middle of the road. I stopped the truck and shut it off. The grouse came running.
It was almost a complete replay from last week. He flew to the roof of the car and tried to get in the Sun roof and drivers window (see image of grouse on roof looking into drivers window from the roof).  The window was only rolled down about 2 inches.
He eventually flew back to the ground and continued to circle the truck. I got out and hand-held the tiny GoPro video camera. He attacked the camera with a vengeance. He did manage to draw blood twice during the encounter! He targeted the fingers holding the camera.
I returned to the truck and we drove away in defeat. This little guy is cranky…
He was still standing in the road as we left.

Grouse puts wildlife police officer in pecking order

WILDLIFE — Washington Fish and Wildlife police officers are accustomed to dealing with testosterone-charged males strutting their stuff.

But officer Curt Wood stood up to a bird-brained attacker to get these photos.  Here are the details from an edited version of the agency's Enforcement Division's weekly report:

While patrolling Lincoln County for turkey hunters, Officer Wood encountered a male dusky grouse that was strutting head on a primitive road.  Officer Wood pulled his patrol vehicle up to the grouse and stopped.  

Within seconds, the grouse jumped up onto the front of the officer's pickup and started strutting on the hood.  Officer Wood was able to get one picture with his cell phone camera before the grouse jumped back onto the ground in front of the truck.  

Wood got out of his vehicle and eased to within a foot or so of the grouse.  While the officer was snapping more photos, the grouse suddenly attacked Wood’s hand, sending his camera flying several feet.  

Wood was able to get a few more pictures (and a few more pecks to the hand) before he returned to his vehicle and tried to get out of there with his ego intact.  While driving away, he observed the grouse chasing his vehicle for quite a distance down the road. 

At last report, no charges have been filed.

Opening day for grouse hunting: mission accomplished

HUNTING — A nice, easy, fulfilling start to the hunting seasons.

Scout and I have three and a half months to go!

Video: Where sharptails feast during winter

WILDLIFE WATCHING — This short video clip shows sharp-tailed grouse feeding recently in Okanogan County. 

Grouse species are well adapted to feeding on nutritious buds and berries in trees of the ground, as you can see by these birds clinging effortlessly to flimsy brush as they eat.

The video was shot by Khanh Tran of Portland.

INW: Grouse ♥ Priest River Retirees

The ruffed grouse that has befriended Pete Renkert occasionally hops onto his shoulder as he walks or rides his ATV along the gravel driveway leading to his Priest River-area home. Rich Landers' SR story here. (SR photo: Rich Landers)

Mountain grouse moving to high country

BIRD HUNTING — I've been hiking a lot of miles of trails the past few months and I've clearly seen the progression of dusky grouse into higher elevations.

Males tend to be at higher elevations earlier in the year, while the hens with their broods don't move up until mid September or so. 

Yesterday I hiked (in the rain) on a couple of high mountain ridges in northeastern Washington where I'd seen only a couple of scattered grouse a few weeks ago.  This time I saw two broods of grouse — an adult an 3 and 5 chicks in each group.

The chicks were not full grown. They were about the size of chukars.  I'll give them another week or two before heading out with the shotgun and English setter.

Is bird license needed to hunt forest grouse?

HUNTING — While an upland bird or small game license is needed to hunt pheasants and quail, and a migratory bird stamp is needed to hunt waterfowl, no special permits are needed in Idaho and Washington to hunt forest grouse — dusky, ruffed or spruce grouse.

Hunters simply need to have a current hunting license for hunting these forest grouse species.

Prairie grouse releases continue in Eastern Washington

UPLAND BIRDS — Sage grouse and sharp-tailed grouse have been released at the Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area in Washington's Lincoln County this spring, continuing years of efforts to restore the once plentiful prairie grouse.

Read on for details.