This story was submitted by a member, Marion Britts of Orland, and we wanted to share her joy and excitement with others. We love hearing about how our members are making connections with the wild world around them. It has been included in full here with only minor edits.
One morning as I was riding the four-wheeler, towing a trailer filled with firewood to the splitter, a movement caught my attention. I stopped the wheeler and turned to face the area that had drawn my eye. There, on a pile of brush, sat a grouse, more commonly known in Maine as a partridge. [Note: the full common name of the species is the Ruffed Grouse.]
I was thunderstruck! Never had a partridge allowed me to enjoy it at such close proximity. I talked to the bird for a few minutes, then continued on my way to the splitter. Another thunder moment! The bird was following me, keeping a short distance away. At the splitter I dismounted, and the partridge disappeared behind a large boulder.
I split the wood, reloaded the trailer, and then while I was making the turn for home Patricia came running in front of the wheeler as if to divert me. I stopped, turned off the engine, and remained seated. Pat approached, talking as she came toward me. She pecked at gravel, snipped at leaves, then paused five feet away. I leaned forward, letting my hand dangle close to the ground while gently moving my fingers. Pat stared at my hand, took a couple of steps forward, then made a clucking-type sound, turned, and walked away.
A new and lovely friendship evolved. Every time I was on the four-wheeler Pat appeared. I hoped she had a nest nearby and therefore was careful where I walked or rode the wheeler. One morning, despite the fact that I was running the chainsaw, Pat took a dust bath less than fifteen feet away!
This unique friendship continued for several weeks with bonding “conversations” and my gratitude for the chance to enjoy this unusual gift.
I had not seen Patricia for several days and missed our daily visits, but today … today was an absolute bonus! No sooner had I driven the four-wheeler into the yard when Pat approached at a dead run. I stopped, dismounted, and crouched down. Pat walked toward me and stopped a mere two feet away. I remembered I had the camera in my pocket and slowly retrieved it. Pat moved a short distance away and started preparing a dust bath. There were twigs and fine roots in the way so she moved to another site. I was busy taking pictures but decided to help her by preparing a place nearby. I picked up a stick and started scratching and fluffing the dry dirt. All of a sudden Pat made a chortling sound and attempted to pounce on my hand!
Aha! The truth was revealed! Pat was NOT Patricia … Pat was Patrick and was looking for a mate!
Patrick then took a lengthy dust bath, looking at me and talking every now and then. I did not respond. I was busy taking photographs. Pat completed his bath, shook vigorously sending a cloud of dust into the air, then, with apparent disdain, walked away.
I was immediately struck with a rush of sadness. I fear that our friendship, his courtship, is over.
I am filled with gratitude to have had this experience. Ah … if only we could be “just friends.”
[Note: We checked back with Marion and she confirmed that the dust bath encounter in June 2019 was the last time she saw the grouse. For more friendly grouse stories, check out this Portland Press Herald article from April 2019, where Maine Audubon Staff Naturalist Doug Hitchcox and others discuss this strange behavior.]