Our holiday travels took us away from the Bronx-Westchester Christmas Bird Count, so we decided to do a bit of avian enumeration of our own. The one bird I’ve been eager to count is the Ruffed Grouse, a species so common here in northern Pennsylvania that locals frequently trip over grouse in full display, at least when they’re not shooting the birds. I have no interest, of course, in gunning down my quarry; my safaris are peaceful, photographic affairs. Seth and I went searching for grouse to no avail last December. This year, armed with twelve more tremendous months of birding experience, I was hopeful of success.
On Christmas Eve, Will led us out to a spot where he had flushed a sluggish American Woodcock just a few days previously. We ventured deep into remote woods, even crossing a rushing, frigid stream in the quest to find our target birds. All we got for our trouble was a lonesome Golden-crowned Kinglet and frozen feet.
Two days ago, Seth and I took a different tack, stalking an unplowed country road to pull various winter species. American Crow, White-breasted Nuthatch, Dark-eyed Junco, American Tree Sparrow, and the ubiquitous Black-capped Chickadee were our only companions as a freezing rain fell. Since that tactic proved less than fruitful, we decided to cover more ground by driving around. The grouse still eluded us. We did encounter a variety of raptors though. The Red-tailed Hawk was fully expected and the Cooper’s Hawk was not entirely unexpected, but the Rough-legged Hawk hunting a snow-covered field was a complete surprise. This was only my second view of a rough-leg, Seth’s first. Spotting it amidst the trees really drives home how huge this bird is.
I struck out on my own yesterday. He who travels light gets the worm, right? Well, I didn’t. Out there among the stark, stabbing skeletons of hawthorns in winter, I found peace and quiet, but no grouse. I had to content myself with the raucous honk of a Common Raven, an American Robin too lazy or hardy to migrate south, and a peppy flock of Red-breasted Nuthatch. And, of course, more frozen feet. Yet, I remain undeterred. The window for spotting one of these birds on this trip may be closing, but I’ll be out at least once more grousing around.