Frank Woolner wrote a book called “Grouse and Grouse Hunting” back in 1970. This classic has one sentence in the book beginning with the line, Flowers tell all. Those three words tell it all to a seasoned grouse hunter, those words are the key to grouse habitat.
Flowers tell all!
Grouse habitat varies, but prime habitat is early successional, fringe woodlot country where the sunlight hits the ground and life has a chance to live! Swamp edges, cutover woodlots, clear cuts, abandoned farmsteads, brushy fields and hedgerows are all home to sun loving plants. The majority of food, including fruit, grows in the sun, not the shade. Pioneer species need sun.
Pioneer species inhabit an area first, once the shade loving trees are removed and some soil disturbance allows seeds to get a grip in the soil. These include aspen, cherry, barberry, winter berries, wild grape, wild apple, crab apple trees, raspberries and hawthorns, all of which supply feed for wildlife, especially Ruffed Grouse, Bonassa umbellus.
Those flowering plants all grow food for wildlife, they are the habitat story! Where the flowers are growing in spring, is where the food will be in the late summer and fall. The flowers tell all!
Preservationists want the woods left alone, no tree cutting, and no management. They say it provides more diversity! Diversity means where things differ, or variety. Old timber stands do have some diversity, no doubt, and add to the richness of our area. There are shade loving plants that grow in dark woods. However, real diversity comes when there is a disturbance in the forest by fire, hurricanes, tornados and timber harvesting. These natural or man- made disturbances all create openings that allow sunlight to reach the earth. Seeds germinate and early successional plants thrive. Flowers tell all!
Habitat diversity is a mix of young growing plants that are only a few feet in height and spaced tightly to old age trees that are shading the ground and widely spaced. We need all of this. Vegetation management is vital to have a real diversity of habitats and species.
Just the other day I was cutting wood in 85 degrees and 85 percent humidity, my clothes soaked in sweat, having fun, while I was making some habitat for deer, birds and other wildlife. Making habitat, plus getting saw-logs and firewood, that’s the second incentive to manage your woodlot, it pays you back in many ways.
Looking up at the canopy to see how I was doing managing my woody vegetation management, I noticed some sugar maples turning orange and yellow, fall is in the air and its mid -August. Welcome to the Adirondacks!
Soon, many of us will be walking the woods with a 20, 16 or 12 gauge pump, over and under or side by side shotgun in hand, keeping an eye and ear out for our flusher or pointer dog who will be working the woods, nose to the ground, or held up in the air, sniffing for the scent of a bird. Tails wagging and getting birdy! We will be on the lookout for that early successional habitat that holds birds and other wildlife.
To walk into a covert with dog and shotgun in hand, see birds flush and scatter, and maybe getting a shot is what ruffed grouse hunting is all about. It’s not about killing, it’s about the moment and living.
When I see those trees turning color, it’s a reminder that hunting season is coming, and soon the lack of sunlight and cold will change our area to a vibrant kaleidoscope of colors. Red plaid briar torn wool coats, tan and orange hunting jackets and vests along with orange hats will be the colors worn. Safety is important when bird hunting, you don’t wear camo clothes as some I’ve seen do, that is asking for trouble. Bird hunters need to be seen by other hunters when a fast moving bird is in flight. Be safe, not stupid!
Grouse season is coming, and both my dogs and I can feel it in the air!
If you are a Grouse or Woodcock hunter, or a thoughtful naturalist landowner who wants to improve the habitat on your property, then there are two meetings held the same day.
The morning meeting is at Bruce Bennett’s Grouse Camp in Ellenburg NY. This is a woods walk where vegetation management for woodcock and grouse habitat will be discussed.
Early Successional Habitat on Private Lands Workshop
Location: On the Wing Grouse Camp, 775 Bigelow Road, Ellenburg, NY 12934
Date: Friday, Sept. 5, 10 am.
- Introduction and ownership history (Bruce Bennett)
- Forest Management from 1990- present. (Herb Boyce)
- Natural Resource Conservation Service programs for early successional habitat (Sarah Fitzwater)
- Role of the Ruffed Grouse Society (Andy Weik)
- Technical service provider interaction with NRCS. (Tom Brule)
Please bring appropriate clothing and footwear for the conditions as we will be walking in the woods. Bring your own snacks and beverages.
If you plan to attend, please RSVP to Bruce Bennett: 413-237-1054 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The second meeting is that evening. The Ruffed Grouse Society Chapter banquet which is being held Friday Sept. 5 at Mo’s Pub and Grill in Malone. The event starts at 6 pm and dinner is at 7:30 pm. For more information, contact Corey Brown at 518-521-4559 or email@example.com.
You can make Friday Sept. 5, Grouse day. So go forth and enjoy the day. Be safe out there, especially if you are making quality grouse, woodcock and deer habitat.
Rich Redman is a retired District Conservationist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and an avid outdoorsman. His column will appear regularly. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.