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Drumming season is here for grouse

Ruffed grouse have eye-catching spring rituals, drumming to attract mates. (Steve Maanum / For the Enterprise)

In 1981 I met a ruffed grouse that our kids named Rudy. He had the unusual habit of chasing cars and anything else that moved through his territory.

When a good friend told me that a grouse had flown into the front wheel of his car, I was a bit skeptical. A few days later when another friend, who lived in the same area, informed me that this odd grouse flew in his open car window, smacked him along the side of the face, and then flew back into the woods, I was pretty sure they were working together to set me up for a practical joke.

Nevertheless, my curiosity got the best of me and I went searching.

As I was driving through that questionable stretch of woods, I was busy watching the ground, half expecting this strange bird to run at my car and half expecting that I had become the brunt of a pretty good tall tale.

About the time I decided that the latter was true, I looked in the rear view mirror. Rudy was flying right over the trunk of my car, going at the same speed I was going. This bird was real strange, but real.

I spent the next year with Rudy, following him through the woods and photographing him throughout the seasons. Since then, I have witnessed five other grouse with similar habits. For whatever reason, they simply lacked a fear of humans.

Drumming season is only weeks away and if you have a desire to see and photograph this spring courtship display, but don't know what steps to take, let me offer a few suggestions.

Go for early morning walks on woodland trails next month. Stop about every hundred yards and listen for the drumming, which sounds like an old tractor starting up.

If you don't hear anything after about five minutes, move on. Male grouse drum to attract females and to warn other males to stay out of their territory. Once you hear the sound, try to determine the general direction it's coming from.

The drumming sequence will only last about ten seconds and it will be repeated every five to ten minutes, depending on such things as weather, female availability, and competition with other males.

Plan to move in the direction of the sound when the next sequence begins. During the in between times, survey the woods, looking for fallen trees or other elevated sites that might be a drumming log. When the drumming sequence resumes, move quickly and quietly in that direction. Repeat this process until you locate the log.

Look for droppings. Droppings will tell you two things - how much time this grouse has been spending on his log and what direction he's facing. Both pieces of information are important for the placement of your photo blind.

Try this photo assignment and remember what Thoreau said, "If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it's because he hears a different drummer."

Steve Maanum can be reached at sdmaanum@