Today we worked the hills for grouse and quail. Gary knows an outfitter and hunting guide in Arcata, whom he met when he was working for Pentax at the Godwit Days Bird Festival, named Brad Smith. Brad is an avid hunter and outdoorsman and volunteered to take us up to Williams Ridge, which is a private track of 45,000 acres adjacent to Redwoods National Park.
Brad ‘s seen loads of quail and grouse here in the summer and fall and was optimistic that we could see both Dusky and Ruffed Grouse as well as Mountain and California Quail. I was less optimistic because it is February, but heck we had Ruffed Grouse yesterday so why not? We drove in slowly on a narrow gravel road for ten miles to Brad’s base camp searching carefully without seeing anything but juncos and Hermit Thrushes. Nada! Not a single member of the order Galliformes. Brad was almost embarrassed that we were skunked, but again it’s February. I did learn along the way that Brad considers Ruffed Grouse tastier than Blue Grouse (Blue Grouse has just recently been split into two distinct species-Dusky, the Rocky Mountain form and Sooty, the west coast form). I was pretty much resigned to not seeing anything even though the weather was pleasant, but we decided to push deeper along the ridgethrough some great Sooty Grouse habitat when BINGO -we got lucky. A lone Sooty Grouse flew up from the road side to a perch 10 feet up in a fir in plain view 35 yards in front of the truck!!! A lifer for Gary and I. (more on stories about lifers and my daughter-in-law Anna later) My fourth lifer of the year and more importantly another category 3 bird out of the way. I mean if not here where and if not now when? Thank you, Brad! This time I saw one for the first time. Next time, I’ll eat one for the first time.