Sunday, September 5, 2010

September 5: Spruces

This obviously isn't the only major distinction, but compared to Midcoast Maine, Down East Maine is very boreal. Spruce and fir are the dominant trees on the landscape, which is also marked by quite a few ancient peat bogs and blueberry barrens. A spruce forest has a different feel to it--denser, darker, impenetrable, with thick beds of moss carpeting the forest floor--wilder. It's a forest in which you can imagine gnomes or elves living. Or, if you're a birder, Bruce.

Bruce the spruce grouse is a regular on the Boot Cove Trail in Cutler.  A friend who's a professional bird guide regularly takes clients there for their lifer spruce grouse, a boreal forest specialty species. He told us this morning, when my husband and I ran into him and his wife while watching the hundreds of shorebirds at the South Lubec Sand Bar, that he has often seen Bruce within the first tenth of a mile down the trail, once even in the parking lot. Bruce apparently has a small territory, which he patrols carefully. The key was to get there first thing in the morning, before people walking dogs there had spooked Bruce further back into the trees.

So of course we were driving by the trail head just before sunset, after more great birding at Quoddy Head State Park, and decided to give it a shot anyway. We've both already seen a spruce grouse, so had no life list "must see" anxiety. This was just on a whim. With the sun low in the sky, the woods were dark and a bit spooky. In the distance we could hear the roar of waves and a ghostly-sounding fog horn that sounded like someone blowing across the top of a giant bottle. We went silently, hoping to catch Bruce foraging one last time before roosting for the night. We startled a garter snake. A red squirrel scolded us. In these primeval woods, the grouse's appearance really seemed possible-- we knew he had to be there somewhere, probably watching us from within a tangled spruce thicket.

Then a loud family with kids came up the trail, and we knew we weren't going to get lucky this time. We sat on a bench overlooking a bog as the sun dropped behind the pointed spruce horizon, and then made our way back to the car, wishing Bruce a good night as we left his woods behind.

Grouse territory--
we can feel his spirit here
though we don't see him.

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