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a wild bird question
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Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
a wild bird question on 08/17/2010 14:28:38 MDT Print View

When a buddy and I did a Yosemite 3-day backpack trip, we were covering lots of miles off-trail, so we were seeing sights and wildlife that we would never see from a trail. Sage Grouse live more on the east side of the Sierra Nevada. Every few years I will spot one somewhere high in Yosemite. This sighting on Sunday was a hen just standing on a rock. It was looking the other way, so I circled around on its blind side. I wanted to get close enough for a photo, but not so close that I would stress the bird. As I got closer, I figured out why it was looking the other way. Because its juvenile bird was following through the grass at an additional distance. So, I got photos of both birds.

Here is the question: How would you cook said game birds in the field?

Rotisserie is out, because we were at a high elevation (well over 10,000 feet) in Yosemite, and open wood campfires are forbidden there. That leaves pan frying, of course. We didn't have any wine, so we could not prepare coq au vin.

Further, plucking of the birds would yield feathers and down for insulation. Does that have to be counted into my base weight from the beginning of the trip? I guess this is a multiple-use treasure.

(I sent this to some photographers who did not know my sense of humor. In reality, in the national park all wildlife is protected.)

Greater Sage Grouse

Juvenile Greater Sage Grouse


cary bertoncini
(cbert) - F

Locale: N. California
sage grouse? on 08/17/2010 15:14:15 MDT Print View

I'd have guessed that is a White Tailed Ptarmigan or Sooty Grouse

Rick Dreher
(halfturbo) - MLife

Locale: Northernish California
Re: a wild bird question on 08/17/2010 15:15:02 MDT Print View

But Bob, if you conflate the first and second amendments, surely that means your gun has a right to self-expression vis a vis that grouse, now that they're mandatory in the National Parks.

Several times I've had the bejeezes startled out of me accidentally flushing a covey of grouse while hiking past, so I'm declaring it a draw between they and I. In June I had a hen run just ahead to draw me away from her chicks, then she circled to the side and gathered them up before heading into tbe woods. They communicated the entire time--it was really charming. (Of course she didn't have the decency to hang close while I unholstered my camera.)

Anyway, nice shots. Grouse and ptarmigan are two of my favorite mountain birds.



Edited by halfturbo on 08/17/2010 15:15:36 MDT.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: sage grouse? on 08/17/2010 17:38:11 MDT Print View

I believe that a (Blue) Sooty Grouse has a longer neck. I somehow think that a WT Ptarmigan doesn't get to Yosemite. the Greater Sage Grouse is quite common just a few miles east of Yosemite N.P.

When in Alaska a few weeks ago, I got surprised when I flushed a Spruce Grouse with juvenile, so they perched in a tree while I shot their photos.

Don't listen to me. I'm just grousing.


Chris Jones
(NightMarcher) - F
Grouse Stew... on 08/17/2010 17:41:54 MDT Print View

I think you're allowed to defend yourself from a grouse if you fear that your life is in danger.

Did she give you any nasty looks that could be interpreted as threatening behavior?

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Grouse Stew... on 08/17/2010 17:49:56 MDT Print View

Nasty looks?

No, the mother grouse kept her attention on the juvenile, which I did not see at all initially. Once I started to maneuver around a boulder to get on her blind side, I saw the chick. Never did she unholster her talons, so it would have been difficult for me to try to use the "life and limb" defense. The mother kept up a continuous series of low clucks to tell the youngster which direction was best.

Come to think of it, I have seen a Sooty Grouse once in Yosemite, but that was way down around 7000 feet elevation.

I was armed with a D-SLR with only 200mm lens, so I had to move in.


Steve O
(HechoEnDetroit) - F

Locale: South Kak
ptarmigan on 08/17/2010 20:40:22 MDT Print View

Edited by HechoEnDetroit on 08/17/2010 20:44:04 MDT.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: ptarmigan on 08/17/2010 20:53:07 MDT Print View

Yes, as far as the U.S. goes, the WT Ptarmigan is primarily an Alaskan species.


cary bertoncini
(cbert) - F

Locale: N. California
yes but on 08/17/2010 21:08:35 MDT Print View

notice the green area right around yosemite of year 'round population of ptarmigan

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: yes but on 08/17/2010 21:26:33 MDT Print View

I know that the WT Ptarmigan was introduced as a game species north of Yosemite, and then Yosemite was upset that they had been sighted inside the park, displacing some of the native species.

The WT Ptarmigan is a smaller bird, probably much less than 1 pound. The bird that I photographed seemed to be a larger bird, more like 2-3 pounds, and that puts it into the category of either a Greater Sage Grouse or a Sooty Grouse. The Sooty tends to be found at a lower elevation, like 4000-8000 feet, and this one was well above 10,000 feet.

I guess we are just going to have to get a DNA test.


cary bertoncini
(cbert) - F

Locale: N. California
wow on 08/17/2010 22:07:30 MDT Print View

2lbs is a big bird! From the pic I was guessing less than a pound. Holy cow--I mean a red shouldered hawk, which is a pretty big bird, doesn't even go 2lbs. If it was that big, definitely not a Ptarmigan & I'd think a sage grouse be only thing in that genus that big.

BTW--you should report it. I don't think there are any recorded sightings of sage grouse in YNP.

Edited by cbert on 08/17/2010 22:09:12 MDT.

Stephen Barber
(grampa) - MLife

Locale: SoCal
WT Ptarmigan on 08/17/2010 22:42:45 MDT Print View

It's a ptarmigan, folks. Look at the legs on the adult: feathers down to the toes. That's a ptarmigan characteristic, not a sage or sooty grouse marker.

Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Re: Probably not Sage Grouse on 08/17/2010 22:51:29 MDT Print View

Most likely this is not a Sage Grouse. The tail is too short and the white plumage on the undertail coverts and rear part of the belly give it away as a bird that changes colors with the seasons. I agree with Cary that it is either a Sooty Grouse or a White Tailed Ptarmigan. Because of the changing seasonal plumage and the white plumage at the beak I tend to think it is a White Tailed Ptarmigan. The Sooty Grouse tends to have a yellowish coloring above the eyes, too, with no white on the beak. Also Sooty Grouse don't have feathered feet, like Ptarmigan do, and, in this case, but less so, Sage Grouse.

The information you find in birding books is all generalized, of course. Birds don't follow our guidelines. You'll often find animals completely out of context. I once came face-to-face with a Japanese Macaque at 3,000 meters (10,000 ft) on the summit of Japan's fourth highest peak. What it was doing there I'll never know. It seemed to be enjoying the view as much as I was, though it must have been pretty hungry!

Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Re: WT Ptarmigan on 08/17/2010 22:52:41 MDT Print View

You beat me to it, Stephen! :-)

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Cookin' your goose (or grouse) on 08/17/2010 22:55:22 MDT Print View

I went through a bunch of photos on the web. Looks like a sage grouse. They are the largest too. A White Tailed Ptarmigan is around 16oz.

A rotisserie would be my first choice. I guess you could bake one with a canister stove and a 2L pot. Eating it with handcuffs on might be a challenge :)

Grouse can be pretty stupid. You could walk right under one in a tree and pick it off with a slingshot if you had to eat. We bagged a bunch that way with a .22 single action revolver when I was a kid (circa 1968). Pretty good eating for "survival" food. It would beat bugs and grass!

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: WT Ptarmigan on 08/18/2010 09:21:40 MDT Print View

You see Ptarmigans all around Mt. Baker in high altitude here in Washington.

Grouse live down lower (like in the 800-3500 feet) - they are mean buggers. Ever seen a male grouse in mating season? Their tails are so cool!

That is just what I have noticed is all.

David Olsen

Locale: Steptoe Butte
Ptarmigan on 08/18/2010 11:11:48 MDT Print View


There is a limited season for them in CA. Mostly in Alpine

You can clean and pull the skin off them without a knife.
Dry tasty meat.

Some populations of sage grouse are endangered
and protected.

I have seen some blue grouse that I thought were small
wild turkeys they were so big.

The blues migrate to higher elevations in the sierra for
winter! You can some times see them as high as 10,000

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: WT Ptarmigan on 08/18/2010 11:22:55 MDT Print View

If it is a white-tailed ptarmigan, then I will have to lure it out of the park where it can then be legally euthanized. I could do that in a few weeks when the Sierra Currants are ripe and use them for stuffing.


E.L. Boston
(El_Jefe) - F

Locale: The Pacific Northwest
Cooking game birds in the backcountry. on 10/09/2010 15:09:51 MDT Print View


I have assembled a lightweight, tack-driving .22 pistol (equipped with a lightweight scope that does double-duty as a monocular, and a suppressor that minimizes noise pollution and keeps my pansy dog from freaking out) which I take into the backcountry with me quite often. It's an excellent tool for harvesting small game birds; it provides me with extremely reliable shot placement, giving the creatures I harvest the most humane death possible (instantaneous destruction of the brain), and leaves a very nice, clean, un-tainted carcass with which to work. It's really quite nice. Anyway, although I often spit-roast these meals over hardwood embers, I have prepared them in the backcountry in a more "civilized" manner before:

First, I season the meat ("seasoning" properly refers exclusively to salt, not to other herbs and spices). Then, I lube the pan with a little oil (single-serving packets can be had at places like Subway) and sear the meat over high heat. I'm careful to get lots and lots of color on there; deep caramelization is where flavor complexity comes from. Then, I remove the meat from the pan, let the pan cool for a bit, then add several packets of "Chopped Onions" I liberated from a store selling hot dogs (truck stops and convenience stores are a good source). next, I add a bit more oil, then gently caramelize the onions to a nice, deep, mahogany-eque color before adding a bit of liquid (wine, liquor, water, whatever you fancy) to the pan, scraping off the bottom any browned bits (called "fond") that may have stuck there. Once I'm done "deglazing" my pan, as it's called, I return the browned meat to the pan, along with whatever else tickles my fancy; beans, rice, fresh or dried veggies, foraged edibles (I quite enjoy cattails), et cetera. I add a quantity of water sufficient to cook/rehydrate the pot's contents, add whatever herbs or spices I've selected, and simmer the whole thing over low heat 'till everything is cooked. Then I eat it with a little bread; maybe some freshly-baked bannock, maybe hardtack (whole wheat Wasa "crispbread" makes me happy).

1) The amount of water, and the size of the pieces in the pot determines if the finished dish is a soup, a stew, or "something else." Whichever route you go, it will all be tasty!

2) If you want to make a stew, it helps to add a little crumbled bread, or cracker crumbs to thicken the cooking liquid. If you are using dehydrated ingredients (rice, beans, veggies, et cetera), do this towards the end of the cooking time, lest the ingredients not rehydrate fully.

3) I generally prefer to make a stew because it seems to "stick to your ribs" a bit better than a soup. And on cold nights, stews seem to keep me warmer, longer (although, I'll freely admit that this effect could well be psychological).

4) Just like poultry, overcooking game birds can yield tough, stringy meat, and most people have a propensity for overcooking. If you are using a dry cooking method, the key is to do it fast, and hot. Wet cooking methods (like braising, for example) are more forgiving, due to their lower temperatures. Remember: creatures like grouse and quail are very small, and it doesn't take much go from from "done" to "overdone."

5) The delicious smell if this "recipe" seems to carry even farther than the more pedestrian backpacking meals (like freezer bag rehydration, et cetera), so do your cooking well away from your sleeping site if you are in bear country. Even if you aren't in bear country, you might consider cooking away from your sleeping site if you don't have a canine companion to ward off the smaller animals that the aroma will attract after sundown.

Edited by El_Jefe on 10/10/2010 00:33:43 MDT.

Scott Johnson
(scottyjsr) - F

Locale: The GREAT pacific Northwest
Wild birds it backcountry on 10/09/2010 15:25:25 MDT Print View

I was born and raised in the PN West.. These birds are abundant.. Grouse or Pheasant breat with stove top stuffing in tin foil in the FIRE :) Oh its fantastic.. You gotta try it.. The stuffing is lightweight and you must pound the breast out then wrap the stuffing in the breast...