Moorfowl is Fair, in Highland Heather

Red Grouse:  Moorfowl is Fair, in Highland Heather

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

“For the king of Israel is come out to seek a flea, as when one doth hunt a partridge in the mountains.” (1st Samuel 26:20b)

As noted in a previous blogpost, in “Fowl are Fair on Day 5”, the Holy Bible’s  “partridge” (which is mentioned in 1st Samuel 26:20) is a type of galliform (i.e., chicken/partridge/quail/pheasant/turkey/peafowl-like ground-dwelling bird.

Other examples of galliforms include the partridge-like birds we call “grouse”. (See also “Rock Partridges:  Lessons about Hunting and Hatching”.

RedGrouse-Scotland.SimplyBirds-and-Moths

RED GROUSE in Scotland   (Simply Birds and Moths photograph)

The RED GROUSE is a variety of fast-flying WILLOW PTARMIGAN, often camouflaged within Scotland’s heather scrublands, sporting reddish-brown plumage (with white feathered legs underneath, that somewhat resemble rabbit feet!), yet accented by scarlet “eyebrows”.   It is often hunted in Scotland, by humans as part of a regulated sport, as well as by birds of prey, to the extent that they are present in Scotland heather moors.

The Red Grouse has been described as follows:

“The Red Grouse … of the British Isles [is] a race of the Willow Ptarmigan … coloured entirely chestnut-brown, winter as well as summer. [It] presses itself low to the ground when danger threatens. … [Its habitat is] open taiga, bushy tundra, marshes and moors with willow, birch and dwarf scrub; generally at lower altitudes than [other varieties of] Ptarmigan.  … [For food, it eat] leaves, buds and berries of dwarf shrubs, especially billberries, cranberries and crowberries; in winter buds and leaves of dwarf birch; in order to get at their food plants, the birds dig long tunnels in the snow.  Red Grouse eats mainly heather shoots.”

[Quoting Jürgen Nicolai, Detlef Singer, & Konrad Wothe, BIRDS OF BRITAIN & EUROPE (Harper Collins/Collin  Nature Guides, 2000; translated from German & adapted by Ian Dawson), page 144.]

Red Grouse, as well as other varieties of Willow Ptarmigan, are ground-fowl found in cool scrublands of Earth’s northern habitats, in lands as widespread as Scotland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Canada, and Alaska. [See Wikipedia-posted range map of the Willow Ptarmigan (Lagopus lagopus), with indigo blue showing year-round residency ranges.]

WillowPtarmigan.RangeMap-wikipedia


   Range Map for Willow Ptarmigans  (Wikipedia)

In fact, the Willow Ptarmigan is Alaska’s official state bird, specifically the winter-white-dominated Lagopus lagopus alascensis variety.

WillowPtarmigan-Alaska-variety.Wikipedia

Willow Ptarmigan (Alaska variety) in winter white   [Wikipedia/public domain]

The reddish-brown plumage of the RED CROUSE is well-suited for residing in the heather fields of Scotland. Of course, despite its helpful camouflage, the Red Grouse is a resident well known to Scottish Highland hunters!

“As the rail network opened up the Highlands in the late 19th century, so it because possible for many more people to come from the south to join shooting parties on moors specifically managed for red grouse.  . . . The long-term decline in grouse numbers  [especially Scotland’s RED GROUSE (Lagopus lagopus scotica), a Scottish variety of Willow Ptarmigan, a/k/a “Moorfowl”,  a ground-fowl accustomed to heather-moor habitat] began in the 1930s – way before birds of prey began to recover [in Scotland, from] egg collectors and keepers [i.e., wildlife-regulating game wardens].  This, in part, is related to the loss of high-quality moorland to [agricultural] grass as sheep densities have increased.”

[Quoting Niall Benvie, “Red Grouse”, in SCOTLAND’S WILDLIFE (National Trust of Scotland, via Aurum Press, 2004), page 28.]

RedGrouse-heather-moorland.ScottishNaturalHeritage

RED GROUSE in Scottish heather moorland   (Scottish Nature Heritage)

Of course, the Red Grouse is wild, so it is fair game – pardon the pun – to be photographed by nature photographers, such as Niall Benvie, Scottish author of THE ART OF NATURE PHOTOGRAPHY (and other similar books). Once Mr. Benvie was preparing to photograph a strolling Red Grouse, as he recalls:

 “I once met such a bird [i.e., a Red Grouse] in a quiet glen near [my] home.  As I edged my car closer [preparing my camera to take a photograph of the grouse], I was grateful that, for once, my subject [i.e., the Red Grouse who was approaching] wasn’t camera-shy.  I glanced in the rearview mirror only to see, to my dismay, a woman walking up the narrow road behind me.  As she passed the car I withdrew my camera and prepared to leave [ — assuming that her approach would frighten off the grouse, thus spoiling my opportunity to photograph the avian pedestrian].”

[Quoting Niall Benvie, “Red Grouse”, in SCOTLAND’S WILDLIFE (National Trust of Scotland, via Aurum Press, 2004), page 28.]

RedGrouse-on-Scottish-roadway.ScottishGamekeepersAssocn

RED GROUSE on Scottish roadway   (Scottish Gamekeepers Association photograph)

Of course, as a wildlife photographer, Niall Benvie is bothered by human intrusions into the “wild” world of this tranquil ground-fowl. If the Red Grouse doesn’t bother humans, why should humans interfere with the Red Grouse’s habitat in the Highlands?  Yet this perspective has its flaws, as the following anecdotal report (from Niall Benvie) illustrates.

“But the grouse, rather than [squawking] loudly and whirring off over the moor, began walking up the road to meet her. He [i.e., the Red Grouse] pecked furiously at her [shoe]-laces, and she bent down, picked him up and held him in her arms!  She was the local keeper’s wife [i.e., game warden’s wife], and [she] knew this first year bird well [and obviously the bird knew well that he could trust her to pick him up caringly].

[Quoting Niall Benvie, “Red Grouse”, in SCOTLAND’S WILDLIFE (National Trust of Scotland, via Aurum Press, 2004), page 28.]

RedGrouse-Northumberland.HawsenBurn-wikipedia
RED GROUSE in Northumberland field   (Hawsen Burn photograph)

Although that one-year-old Red Grouse was “wild”, it obviously remembered some kind of kindness form the game warden’s wife.

So much for condemning the meddling “interference” of kind-hearted humans!


 

“B” is for Bobwhite and Buteo: “B” Birds, Part 2

“B” is for Bobwhite and Buteo: “B” Birds, Part  2

James J. S. Johnson

Northern Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus) ©StateSymbols

Northern Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus) ©StateSymbols

BOBWHITE QUAIL (Colinus virginianus)

In this series the “B” birds began (in Part 1) with Bluebird and Bittern. 

In this Part 2 the “B” birds will continue with Bobwhite Quail and Buteo Hawks.

Now for Bobwhite, i.e., the Bobwhite Quail — and the relevance of 1st Samuel 26:20 will be noted below.

Bobwhite is the name of a bird belonging to the New World quail family.  Other members of that quail family include the Yucatan (Black-throated) Bobwhite, the Crested Bobwhite, and the Spot-bellied Bobwhite.

Northern Bobwhite

The Bobwhite Quail (Colinus virginianus), a/k/a Northern Bobwhite and Virginia Quail, is a “New World quail”, meaning that it belongs to the group of pheasant/grouse/partridge/quail-like ground-fowl that habituate parts of North America.  In particular, the Northern Bobwhite is the only small native galliform (i.e., chicken-like ground-fowl) in the eastern region of North America.

The name “bobwhite” is supposed to represent this quail’s terse two-syllable whistle-call.  The Bobwhite’s call has a lower (and slower) first syllable, followed by a sharply projected (and quicker) “whhht”.  One variety of the Northern Bobwhite, known for habituating Virginia, was formerly called the “Virginia Partridge” (e.g., by ornithologist John James Audubon) – that local variety now being called Colinus virginianus virginianus (identified by Linnaeus in AD1758).

Virginia Partridge (under attack by diving hawk) depicted by John James Audubon (Public Domain)

Virginia Partridge (under attack by diving hawk) depicted by John James Audubon (Public Domain)

Bobwhite Quail, a/k/a Virginia Quail (and a/k/a Northern Bobwhite), are quail.  Accordingly, it is unsurprising to learn that they hybridize with other quail – reports indicate successful hybridizations with Blue Quail (Coturnix adansonii), Gambel’s Quail (Callipepla gambelii), California Quail (Callipepla californica), and Mountain Quail (Oreortyx pictus).

The ground-fowl lifestyle of this grouse-like ground-fowl is comparable to the Rock Partridge (Alectoris graeca) of which Israel’s king David once wrote:

Now therefore, let not my blood fall to the earth before the face of the Lord: for the king of Israel is come out to seek a flea, as when one doth hunt a partridge in the mountains.  (1st Samuel 26:20).

(See “Rock Partridges: Lessons about Hunting and Hatching”, citing 1st Samuel 26:20).

Now for the last category of “B” birds, the Buteo hawks. 

So what are the most prominent characteristics of buteo hawks?  Describing the birds of prey we call Buteo Hawks (a/k/a “buzzard hawks”), Roger Tory Peterson says:  “Large, thick-set hawks, with broad wings and wide, rounded tails.  Buteos habitually soar high in wide circles”, taking advantage of thermal air currents to lift their heavy bodies. [See Roger Tory Peterson, A FIELD GUIDE TO WESTERN BIRDS (Houghton Mifflin, 3rd ed., 1990), page 174.]  The different sexes often look similar, yet the female buteo is typically larger than her male counterpart.

Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) by Daves BirdingPix

Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) by Daves BirdingPix

Buteo hawks, as a category or raptors, are routinely contrasted with the Accipiter hawks (a/k/a “bird hawks”) that were described in the previous article on A” birds (see “A” for Accipiter and Alcid: “A” Birds, Part 2, featuring Cooper’s hawk as the representative accipiter).  Hawk-like raptor birds include kites, falcons (including kestrels), harriers, eagles, Old World buzzards, vultures, osprey, and the exotic Secretary Bird.

Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) ©WikiC

Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) ©WikiC

Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo, of Eurasia)

The paradigmatic buteo, in Europe, would be the Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo).  However, that hawk has non-artificial range in the Western Hemisphere, so the Common Buzzard is not “common” to American birders.  Besides the Common Buzzard, there are many buteo hawks around the world, such as the Ferruginous Hawk (Buteo regalis), Grey Hawk (Buteo plagiatus), Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo swainsoni), Eastern Buzzard (Buteo japonicas), Himalayan Buzzard (Buteo burmanicus), Cape Verde Buzzard (Buteo bannermani), Short-tailed Hawk (Buteo brachyurus), and many more. For this article, however, to represent the entire group of buteos, one buteo will be reviewed, the Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) of North America.

RED-TAILED HAWK  (Buteo jamaicensis).

Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) ©WikiC

Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) ©WikiC

The Red-Tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) is described by ornithologist Mary Taylor Gray as follows: “The most abundant, widespread, and familiar hawk of he West, the Red-tailed Hawk resides year-round in Colorado [and elsewhere].  Adult birds are readily identified by their rusty-red tail[s].  Dark bars along the undersides of the leading edge of the outstretched wings, near the shoulder, are also characteristic.  We often see redtails perched on power [utility] poles or soaring in the air on broad wings, carving slow, wide arcs.  The redtail’s dramatic call fits its image as a western icon.  The down-slurred scream—Keeeer!—is often heard as a background sound in movies and television shows.”  [Quoting Mary Taylor Gray, THE GUIDE TO COLORADO BIRDS (Englewood, Colorado: Westcliffe Publishers, 1998), page 66.]

Gray’s observation – that the Red-tailed Hawk is the common buteo of America’s Great West – is illustrated by my own birding experience, even 20 years ago! – having seen redtails during AD1996 in places as divergent as Montana (eastern side of Glacier National Park, July 2nd AD1996) and South Texas (Rockport-Fulton shoreline, Aransas Bay region, March 10th AD1996).

Bee-eaters From Pinterest

Bee-eaters From Pinterest

Of course, other “B” birds (such as the colorful and gregarious bee-eaters, shown above – photograph taken from Lee Dusing’s “Fellowship”,  exhibit our alphabet’s second letter – but this article is already long enough.  God willing, the next contribution to this alphabetic series will be some “C“ birds – such as Cardinal, Chicken, Coot, Cormorant, Chickadee, Caracara, Crane, Cuckoo, Curlew, and Corvid (including Crow)!  So stay tuned!    > JJSJ

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“B” is for Bluebird and Bittern: “B” Birds, Part 1

“A” is for Avocet, Albatross: “A” Birds, Part 1

“A” is for Accipiter and Alcid: “A” Birds, Part 2

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