CONNECTING THE DOTS . . . From Habitat to Hunting
By Matt Soberg, RGS & AWS Editor & Director of Communications
This is what it’s like to watch a spring drummer connect the dots from habitat to hunting . . .
I lifted my Kromer above my left ear thinking I had heard a faint rustle of leaves down the hill from my strategically placed location. I set my Thermos cup of coffee onto the ground’s newly-green, late-April shoots and leaned my head forward toward one of the opened blind windows for a better vantage point. Sure enough, my ears were right . . . the pitter-patter of small feet traipsing across the forest floor was getting closer . . . and louder . . . and closer.
As I carefully, and ever so slowly, peeked out the left -corner window, I set eyes on a young forest moment that is more surreal than you can adequately explain. I knew I was in for a real show, my first time. Through the lowlight of that early morning landscape, I watched that male red-phased ruff approach not as slow and careful as I long-expected, but with a confident air about him. For, as you all know, he was approaching HIS drumming log, his throne so-to-speak, that special place that was his alone, and it seemed that he wanted all to know that he was present.
With great agility, he jumped onto the mossy log, walked back-and-forth turning twice, got himself comfortable and instantly began drumming, wasting no time. The forest was so quiet that morning, I guarantee all creatures, grouse and predators alike, knew exactly where he was performing at that very place and at that very moment. It was quite obvious, as with every booming burst of his drumming act, he was letting all know that the King of the Woods was here.
He stood in nearly the same exact place on the log for over two hours, hardly ever moved except for drumming, and I was a lucky spectator for every second of it. He moved his head from left to right, carefully scanning the immediate area for movement and only occasionally reached his beak toward his fanned-tail to groom his backside. While he stood still, I even watched him periodically close his eyes, almost like napping or maybe basking in the early morning, rising sun. When open, his eyes were wide, bright and vibrant, seemingly looking deep into my soul although he didn’t know I was there.
With every drumming sequence, he’d stick his head high, slick back his crest, stick out his chest, cup his wings, brace himself with fan-to-log and with effortless athleticism, he’d beat his wings the same every time. The sound would literally shake my body, and it is hard to explain if the scene and its effects should best be described as graceful or furious. The sequence would always end the same . . . he’d abruptly stop with his chest out and tail fanned, and at that instant he would perk up his crest, straight up . . . a look of graceful fury, convinced he was king.
To be quite honest, I’m not sure which grouse event I enjoy more . . . watching his majesty perform his spring ritual in-person from 20 yards away or following my birddog hoping to see a mere glimpse of the king flushing through the young forest in the fall. I’m not sure I want to choose . . . it is moments and experiences like this that guide one’s understanding of why we strive to create habit for forest wildlife.
We will cease to enjoy our cherished sporting traditions without spring drummers, and that beating of wings cannot happen without the proper habitat supporting young forest wildlife. It all goes hand-in-hand.
This article first appeared in the Ruffed Grouse Society magazine.