Carcross is always breath-taking. The community is located in a ‘bowl’ formed by the mountain foothills surrounding it, and pristine lakes dominate the area. My cousin Marilyn and I found ourselves there the evening of April 25th, waiting for a group of bird-lovers that would be led up Nares Mountain by Dan Kemble in search of Dusky Grouse.
By 6:30pm a large group of seventeen people had gathered at the wooden gazebo – most were familiar faces to me. Carpooling down to the Chootla Subdivision turnoff, and then switching to Blattas Point Road within the subdivision, we ended up at the beginning of a faint trailhead that twisted its way up the mountain-side.
The campsite where we stopped to rest and unload our gear is located just at the edge of tree line on the slopes. From here you have a fantastic view of the entire valley bottom: the small, colourful community sprawled on each side of a short river connecting Bennet and Nares Lake, the sun-warmed mudflats along the shoreline beckoning to shorebirds passing through.
We didn’t wait there long; the temptation of seeing Dusky Grouse early was greater than that of the camp-fire. Everyone spread out, trudging slowly upwards, constantly on the lookout. A robin sang further up, while Golden and Bald Eagles soared the peaks. The sun set lower, bathing everything in a rich, golden light.
In those moments where the sun sinks behind the snow-capped mountains and light dusk begins to creep over the land, the air suddenly gets cooler and everything quieter. That’s when the first ‘HOO’ of a male Dusky Grouse calling in females was sounded.
The group members higher up had spotted him, and we hurried our pace. The grade was steep though, so going was slow and our lungs burned.
The spot where this grouse was, Dan told us, is a very reliable place to find them at this time of year – a prime location for birds who want to be both seen and heard. It’s a wonder these grouse survive.
A male sat atop coppery-lit rocks, his red shoulder patch exposed and framed with brilliant white plumage. It was a beacon, a bulls-eye on the hill, a message. A female flushed from below him and flew into a tree – another puffed-up male appeared from behind a bush. There were five males and three females.
A couple of male Dusky Grouse sat meters away from each other, booming, while the others continued chasing the females. They paid us no heed; one male approached to within thirty feet of where I sat. One member in particular, Joel Luet, got the best views of them of any of us when two males practically shoved him aside in their determination to impress a nearby female.
It was a show well worth the steep hike. We had the best weather – warm, clear, and calm, gorgeous evening light, a memorable wildlife experience, and valuable time spent with great people. Thank you to Dan Kemble for leading this five-star bird walk every spring.