I wonder if these two grasshoppers thought their end was near when this sooty grouse suddenly loomed large, as they are one of the insects grouse like to eat, but the bird paid them no heed as it sauntered through the mountain meadow. Taken in the fall of 2014 on my last visit to Mount Rainier National Park.
I had just arrived at the Sunrise area of Mount Rainier National Park and was taking a quick exploratory hike on the Sourdough Ridge Trail late in the day, as I had never been to that part of the park before. It was cold and raining but I found first a hoary marmot and then a group of sooty grouse on the way back to the car. My hands were soaked and cold so I was fumbling with the camera, but I watched them for as long as I could stand before continuing back to the car.
Water drops coat the back of a sooty grouse on a rainy afternoon, but it has shaken most of the water from its head. I wish Canon would build teleconverters into all of its telephoto lenses like they did with their 200-400mm lens, as it would be very helpful on days like this. I was photographing multiple grouse who were moving all around me as I sat on the trail, sometimes walking right up to me as they fed, but I was also keeping my eye on a marmot that was feeding nearby. I would have preferred to switch my teleconverter in and out as my subjects moved about, but given the heavy rain I was hesitant to take the lens off the camera.
I’m amazed by how diverse the feathers on a single bird can be in size and shape and color and function. The feathers in the upper left are wet with rain, it was pouring up at Hurricane Ridge when I came across a handful of grouse that were huddling near some trees for a little protection from the elements. I had on a full complement of rain gear and was nice and dry, and thankfully my camera and lens had enough weather-sealing that they shook off the rain as well.
When I think of bird feathers, I usually think of the large wing feathers. But birds have feathers of all sizes, and one of the fun things about close-up pictures like this is getting to see the individual feathers of all sizes. For example, although the eye ring of this sooty grouse looks like a solid band from a distance, up close you can see that it is actually a ring of tiny little feathers.
If you’ve followed my blog for a while and have a photographic memory, this picture will seem a little familiar. It certainly seemed familiar to me when I took it. This view of a sooty grouse is very similar to a picture I took last year of a dusky grouse while in the Tetons. Not exactly the same of course, the head is turned at a different angle and the light and colors are different, but I certainly had the older picture in mind when I took this one.
Sooty and dusky grouse used to be considered two races of one species, blue grouse, but were recently split into separate species. Here in the Northwest, the sooty grouse tend to be in the areas from the Cascades and west to the coast, while duskies tend to be in the eastern interior.
This picture is from the Sourdough Ridge Trail in the Sunrise area of Mount Rainier National Park, the trail where I saw grouse the most often. I also saw them down by the Paradise Inn, and saw one in Olympic National Park at the end of my trip.
That last encounter in the Olympics was the most like my experience with the grouse I photographed in the Tetons, I was driving out of the park when I saw one in the road in front of me. I stopped the car and turned on my hazard lights, as the bird was moving slowly and in no hurry to get out of the way. I got out of my car and encouraged it to hurry across the road, which is fortunate as a pickup came driving past right afterwards.
That’s twice now I’ve played crossing guard for grouse.