Sunday, April 19, 2009


After a long winter I’m as happy as anyone to see and hear the signs of spring. Though I can still see plenty of snow in the yard when I look out the window, at least it has melted away from the house and I can walk across the yard without needing to wear boots.

Songbirds are busy in their mating seasons and are singing in the mornings before light and stop only when it gets dark. Snipe are flying throughout the day and their woo-woo-wooing is nearly constant. Geese are flying steady and mallards and mergansers are on every open water. In the last few days I’ve heard timber wolves howling in the early mornings before sunup but I don’t know the reason. Are they celebrating spring? Or announcing the birth of a litter? Perhaps it’s the male lamenting an unsuccessful hunt knowing there’s a grumpy bitch wolf with a hungry litter back at the den.

April is the month most resembling October, so it’s only natural to get into the woods and see how things survived over the winter. It’s a good time to check out prospective new hunting covers, stretch winter weary bones on myself and the dogs, find some deer sheds, and see how the birds are doing. And seeing the dogs handle grouse that have survived the winter is a treat, because after months of eluding the cold and about every predator from weasels to wolves, these can be some of the toughest birds to get pointed.

What we bird hunters really look forward to this time of year is hearing ruffed grouse drumming. Through the winter I’d seen plenty of sign and quite a few birds themselves, and I’ve been finding grouse with the dogs on our spring outings and seeing birds on the roads. Going into the breeding season with good numbers of grouse is a good omen and the fodder of happy and encouraging conversations for us grouse hunters. If we’re not talking shotguns, gear, or dogs, we’re mulling over the general health and population of our favorite game bird.

I’ve been lucky enough to have seen a number of drummers doing their thing over the years and last spring I watched one jump on his log and beat his wings within a few feet of the road like he was showing off for me. Perhaps the most memorable was the Quetico grouse that drummed from a big rock at waters edge as I paddled by.

Last week I was working along the Embarrass River when I heard the first drummer of the year. I listened for a bit trying to pinpoint its direction in the rolling country and heard another drumming from a different bearing. Over the next couple of hours I heard them intermittently and what a pleasant sound it was. Yesterday morning I started hearing one here at home and am happy to report he continues through today and I expect to hear drumming daily throughout the next couple of weeks, at least.

Woodcock go hand in hand with grouse, of course, and the little birds mating ritual is another event I look for, but haven’t yet heard or seen any this spring, despite a long evening walk into the night along known woodcock haunts. This morning I took the dogs up the forest road that is just now passable to my old and favored training grounds. There’s a spit of alders surrounded by an island of popple that is often good for finding a woodcock or two, but nothing today. I know others around the country who have been finding woodcock for weeks, now, but I’ve talked to no one locally who’s seen any. I’m kind of worried about the little birds. It seems there are fewer and fewer woodcock each year so I hope this seemingly late return isn’t an indication of poor times ahead for timberdoodle.

I’m on a mission now to see some woodcock on their singing grounds and will spend some of the next evenings on the search.