dendragapus (from dendron, tree, and agapao, to be fond of) obscurus (dark, dusky)
Friday, July 20, 2018 — 12:16 pm
St. Elmo, Colorado — Chalk Creek Drive (County Road 162)
As is the case with most gallinaceous birds, you don’t really go to a spot and look for Dusky Grouse. The way to find them is to put yourself in the right habitat and hope you and the grouse happen upon the same spot at the same time. As we drove up the canyon to the ghost town of St. Elmo, I asked my wife to keep her eyes open for grouse-looking birds. We saw nothing on the way west. By the time we were heading down the canyon, the road was busy with cars and pickups and ATVs. It definitely didn’t feel remote, and I said that we weren’t going to find any Dusky Grouse in all that mess.
Not thirty seconds later, we rounded a corner and I saw something dark about 100 yards ahead of us. I had a good feeling that it might be a grouse, but a car was approaching from the other direction, and I figured it would flush before we got close. Nope. The car had to swerve around the hen as it ambled slowly across the road. I pulled up close to it and started taking video. When the bird got to the south side of the road, it turned and walked along next to us for about 20 yards. I took this video with my phone, then scrambled for my camera.
The grouse hopped up on a fallen log and watched us warily. I knew they were tame, but this one was sticking around longer than I would have expected. Then we found out why. Over the next couple minutes, three half-grown chicks flew across and landed in the woods near the hen. I didn’t get great looks at them because I was concentrating on photographing the female, but my wife saw them well. After three of them got across the road, the female took a short flight off the stump where she had been perched and disappeared into the trees. I got a good look at her fanned tail with a distinct gray band on the tip (also visible in the photos).