Denali field notes: Sexy birds, and a kitty

Working in Denali, there’s never a day when I get bored with the scenery or dismiss my great fortune in being able to do research here.  Certainly though, some field days are better than others either because the jays were particularly cooperative or because of some other wildlife highlight.  Today was one of those latter days.  The jays weren’t especially busy, and I’ve grown increasingly concerned that one of our females has died, but the park pulled through in delighting us in other ways.

Spruce grouse are such a daily occurrence that it’s borderline obnoxious, but only because of their habit of waiting until the very last minute to flush and then nosily flying into your face like some kind of helicopter poltergeist. If you can manage to detect them before their fun little game of surprise though, watching them play statue can be quite comical.  It’s hard not to imagine them sitting there, praying they don’t get noticed and wishing they were still velociraptors.

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A female spruce grouse

Today offered a very different kind of behavior outside of their usual repertoire, however.  I spied a male strutting about the undergrowth and couldn’t help but notice he was rather marvelous looking. The red comb over his eye was looking rather sharp, and his breast and tail feathers were fully erect.

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At first I wondered if he was perhaps trying to intimidate me, but I quickly discovered that I was not the lady he was trying to impress.

Given that spruce grouse don’t start breeding until April, I can’t really imagine what this female made of the whole situation.  Evidently though, nonbreeding season courtship displays are not uncommon in grouse, prairie chickens or other galliformes (heavy-bodied ground birds).  Most of what I’ve heard suggests that these displays are the work of young males, eager to practice their skills for next year.  I did come across one paper that suggested such early season displays in black grouse are actually important for securing territories, and confer higher reproductive success.1  In any case while I can’t speak for her, I’ll tell you I was 100% feeling his moves.

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Our second encounter was substantially shorter but by far more thrilling.  I barely captured even one rather derpy photo but I don’t think you need much more to understand my excitement.

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This was my first wild feline ever.  I hope it’s not my last lynx of the season, but either way I’m not complaining.

***

Literature cited

  1. Rintamaki, P.T., Karvonen E., Alatalo, R. V., and Lundberg A. (1999). Why do male black grouse perform on lek sites outside of the breeding season? Journal of Avian Biology 30: 359-366.

13 Comments

Filed under Denali Diaries, Field work

13 responses to “Denali field notes: Sexy birds, and a kitty

  1. Joyce Shyloski

    Beautiful photos. Thank you 😊

  2. Michael F. Steltenkamp

    A spruce grouse fantasizing his velociraptor ancestry! Your empathy for these wonderfully camouflaged creatures is great. Keep providing us with reports of your work. Very informative.

  3. GrandmaTheGrey

    Should be another good year for the lynx; supply of rabbit seems abundant.

  4. Alix Reeves

    DERP?! No way, the lynx shot is incredible. To be so close and have him still enough to be in focus is a big deal. Let’s hope the jay female is okay, though.

  5. James

    Very cool! I’ve heard Ruffed Grouse drumming in Pennsylvania in October; I guess that’s probably for the same reason.

  6. Jessica

    I don’t know how you managed to keep your composure upon spotting a lynx (and getting an amazing photo, I might add), but kudos to you! What an absolute thrilling opportunity!

  7. Janet

    The video made me laugh! “Hey chickie, do you believe in love at first sight, or shall I walk around the spruce again?”

    • Michael F. Steltenkamp

      Seeing this article reminded me that you’ve not been sending updates from corvid research–unless you’ve stopped posting it, or unless I’m not on the list anymore. Hope you’re okay.

      https://www.sciencenews.org/article/bad-moods-could-be-contagious-among-ravens?utm_source=Editors_Picks&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=editorspicks052619

      On Mon, Jan 14, 2019 at 1:41 PM corvidresearch.blog wrote:

      > Janet commented: “The video made me laugh! “Hey chickie, do you believe in > love at first sight, or shall I walk around the spruce again?”” >

      • Hi Michael, everything is okay! I’ve just been busy with some other projects. I have a laundry list of posts I need to turn out though so don’t worry-the blog will resume it’s normal activity level soon! Thanks for checking in.

      • Michael F. Steltenkamp

        Hopeful that this goes to the person who started corvidresearch, I just wanted to mention that I encourage your continued corvid research and sharing.

        I say this relative to what apparently was sent out over the airwaves today to everyone–the Indian/Native/Indigenous/New Age commentary.

        I encourage staying within the corvid field. ________________________________ From: corvidresearch.blog Sent: Wednesday, June 5, 2019 5:46 PM To: Michael F. Steltenkamp Subject: [New comment] Denali field notes: Sexy birds, and a kitty

        corvidresearch commented: “Hi Michael, everything is okay! I’ve just been busy with some other projects. I have a laundry list of posts I need to turn out though so don’t worry-the blog will resume it’s normal activity level soon! Thanks for checking in. ” Respond to this comment by replying above this line New comment on corvidresearch.blog [https://corvidresearch.files.wordpress.com/2018/09/cropped-logo7color.jpg?w=60] [http://0.gravatar.com/avatar/94e1c967058e35c91bf3974436c64d8b?s=60&d=identicon&r=G]

        corvidresearch commented on Denali field notes: Sexy birds, and a kitty.

        in response to Michael F. Steltenkamp:

        Seeing this artic

      • Hi Michael there’s only one person who writes for and runs this blog (with the exception of one recent guest post)–me. I obviously feel that the topic of today’s post fits within the scope of my work, my role as a corvid science communicator, and as a corvid enthusiast. But regardless, I will continue to incorporate and discuss topics of anti-racism in all capacities I am able. Have a good one!

      • Michael F. Steltenkamp

        I suspect we’re on the same page relative to social justice issues. My PhD is in anthropology with my specialization being Indians and religion. The topic you aired today is well known to me–Kirkus Reviews even saying that a book I wrote was “a real step forward in American Indian religious studies.” Be assured I’m not a racist white guy upset that you expressed a sensitivity in this area. I commend your effort to offer counsel. For all I know, you’ve been swamped by people interested in having “totem” animals or “spirit protectors.” I’ve written about these things and am just thinking that 99% of your audience (I HOPE) is not the New Age element that matches your reflections. Those “out there” who you’re addressing–I don’t think are numerous–and probably won’t listen to the advice you offer. I’ve tried. Again, my main point is simply that you continue sharing with us your experiences with the great corvid population you know so well. Maybe you’ve see the video below. Peace. Mike

        https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/10/why-bird-brains-are-more-brilliant-anyone-suspected?utm_campaign=news_daily_2020-10-22&et_rid=349520533&et_cid=3529629 [https://www.sciencemag.org/sites/default/files/102220-bird-thumbnail.png] Why bird brains are more brilliant than anyone suspected The secret may lie in a newly discovered brain structure http://www.sciencemag.org

        corvidresearch commented: “Hi Michael there’s only one person who writes for and runs this blog (with the exception of one recent guest post)–me. I obviously feel that the topic of today’s post fits within the scope of my work, my role as a corvid science communicator, and as a co”

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