Innocence (Gray Morph Ruffed Grouse)

DigitallyStill

Joined March 2009

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Innocence; A Walk on The Wild Side

In 2012 I spent many hours strolling on the Ottawa Region Nature Trails near my home. I often heard the unmistakable drumming of a Ruffed Grouse but was only privy to the occasional glimpse of one. Frequent return visits offered a variety of birds, rodents, arachnids and moths along with the occasional snake. Gradually, the forest floor produced a gamut of mushrooms posing in different settings. Their varied types, sizes and colours were true eye-candy for some macro photography. Nearing the end of their existence, the forest floor was laced with colourful autumn leaves and the presence of scurrying squirrels gathering provisions for the impending winter.

Dense foliage concealed the forest’s floor as my footsteps crushed fallen leaves. With glee and hopes of a hand out, birds and squirrels alike inquisitively sought out and chased after the source of my undeniable noisy presence. On one of my forays I suspected that my stride was being matched with precision by a nearby entity, so I paused and scanned the vicinity, only to be puzzled by a lack of attendance. The source of the matching strides mysteriously eluded me. Proceeding cautiously and slowly, I once again heard the distinct mimic of my footsteps. Against my curious instincts, I was saddened to dismiss my search as I picked up the pace for fear of losing daylight in the woods. While doing so, my footsteps were undoubtedly matched as I exited the woods into the parking lot. With camera in hand, I came to an abrupt stop and slowly pivoted around. I was pleasantly surprised to discover, no more than ten feet away, a well camouflaged grouse in the dry brush, still as a statue. Little did I know, this was the beginning of a beautiful journey I could not have imagined.

Ever so slowly I crouched down to get a better look and to take a few pictures. The accommodating grouse stood still, his throat quivering with soft clucking. My meagre attempt to reciprocate seemed to spark a dialogue. Intrigued, and as pleasant as it was, I was duty-bound to leave. As I did so, in my truck’s side view mirror, I saw the grouse foraging on the ground of the parking lot. My heart sank a notch, and then I smiled and thought of naming him.

I anxiously returned a few days later in the hopes of encountering my new friend, Barry. Much to my chagrin, he was nowhere to be found. I supposed that Barry had vacated the area. Little comfort came as I felt privileged to have seen, photographed and conversed with him. I supposed he was on the search for a companion.

With the mushroom photo opportunities dwindling, I was concentrating on photographing two garter snakes on a mound that borders the natural woods. Macro photography of two snakes together requires focused efforts to avoid potential injury. They eventually slithered into a hole that I presumed to be their den. As I was checking the photos on my screen, I suddenly heard the distinct, gentle rustling of leaves scuttling towards me. Before I knew it, I saw Barry leap up onto a lower tree branch. There he stood, looking down proud and inquisitive. I felt a roller-coaster of emotions ranging from pleasant, surprised, relief to puzzlement as to how he eluded my earlier quest. Non-the-less, this called for an immediate lens change. After a brief photo session, and with a big smile pasted on my face, Barry disembarked and led me into a wooded clearing where we had first met. All the while, both of us were clucking gently. As the shadows drew longer, I lamented under my breath at the need to depart. I left with the intent of returning for a longer visit and hoped to have conveyed this to Barry in our “conversation”.

Carefully planned, the following day afforded a lengthier stay. Our arrival seemed to be synchronized, despite coming from opposite directions. I imagined our last clucking session had conveyed our rendezvous. I was enchanted and surprised to see that Barry had shed any hesitation as he trod towards me. In a small clearing, I slowly sat down on the leaf-laden forest floor. As though on a mission, Barry, with his crest down, marched slowly around me. Mystified, I watched him do this a second and third time. With each encirclement he came closer and closer to me. On a final time around, it became apparent to me that Barry was courting me as he brushed up against each of my elbows, all the while strutting with his crest upright and tail feathers fanned, never breaking stride. His colourful frock and ornamental throat feathers were fluffed up and vibrating to his clucking. I then realized that this behaviour was taking place on a lek; his area of courtship display. His courting ended as he hopped up on a nearby log next to me and lay down to rest with eyes half closed. I drew in a deep breath of air as I sat in silence and total disbelief. The realization that I had just been courted by a grouse left me bemused. My heart was ever so gently touched. I felt flattered and fortunate to have experienced such an intimate connection with a wild bird. To this day, I feel the privilege of events that so very few humans will ever see, let alone experience. On this day’s end, parting with Barry was more difficult than ever. He seemingly raced me to the parking lot as he passed along side of me. He then stood on the top rung of the parking lot fence where we literally saw eye-to-eye. We exchanged clucking pleasantries (I hoped) as we parted company. As I drove away, in my rear-view mirror I could see Barry heading back into the woods.

The Curtain Falls…

In late October of 2012, the massive hurricane “Sandy” pummelled the North Eastern shorelines bringing with it torrential rains and 100 km/hr winds churning disaster on shore. The Ottawa Valley was at the receiving end of Sandy’s aftermath with solid, thick cloud cover, bouts of very strong winds and continuous rain. A subsequent and first visit after Sandy’s emergence, with eagerness and anticipation in hand, I set out to visit with Barry. As I drew near the lek, I discovered that Barry had succumbed to the wrath of nature. He lay on his side, motionless, on the colourful forest bed. Taken aback and broken-hearted, I buried him.

Francine ©

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