Phantom in the Woods

life_in_maine_phantom_of_the_woods_1Last Friday, when Naomi and I were going out, I took our dog Hikari outside to put her into the car. On the other side of the driveway, just inside the woods, I heard something walking. I thought it was the neighbor’s cat or dog. I walked to the edge of the woods to shoo it way. But in the twilight, I could not see anything, certainly not a domestic animal. I could hear where it was, but it was completely invisible.

Just in case it might be a skunk or porcupine, I stamped on the dry leaves on the ground to warn it of my presence. The creature, whatever it was, continued its approach. It sounded big, so I tried again, but I also whistled and waved my arms. It seemed undeterred. I decided I would try to photograph it—that might reveal the mystery. The first attempt raised more questions than it answered. I made some more noise and the animal seemed to realize it was not alone. Success.life_in_maine_phantom_of_the_woods_2Nothing dangerous. Quite the opposite. The ruffed grouse, Bonasa umbellas, is rather a comical bird. When we walk through our woods, it seems unaware of us until we are almost on top of it, at which point, the bird suddenly takes flight, crashing through the brush and undergrowth in the attempt—we are always a little worried it might injure itself when fleeing us. But we are grateful for our resident. With the reintroduction of the wild turkey and the maturing forests, the ruffed grouse populations are falling. Click on the images for a larger view.