My definitive identification of a gray partridge two weeks ago was wrong. The friendly bird that followed us down part of the Taggart Lake Trail was likely a Sage Grouse hen. Last week, on the same trail, we saw two more, equally unconcerned by human presence. One hen was preening her feathers as five or six humans looked on from a distance of perhaps two feet. Jim says the hens are trying to distract our attention away from their nests, a more plausible explanation than lack of avian inhibition. But my bird book says Sage Grouses court in the spring — some of them on a runway at the Jackson Hole Airport — so it’s too late for nests.
Or the hens could have been Blue Grouses. The same bird book made me feel a little better about my inability to distinguish one grouse from another, noting that “[g]rouse, considering how tame they are, can be surprisingly difficult to identify. Even the experienced birder will want to take care to note all the field marks” — which, of course, I didn’t. (B. Raynes, “Birds of Grand Teton National Park”)
We’ve started our fourth and final week here. It’s getting late to learn much more about local flora and fauna, although on a hike yesterday we saw a Three-toed Woodpecker. Maybe, anyway. (It could also have been a Black-Backed Woodpecker.) And we absolutely, positively saw a Pika, our first sighting ever of these tiny, mouse-like rodents with extra-big ears.
Despite the fact that I remain largely ignorant of my environment, the rest of the world has faded away. It seems that we’ve always been in this yellow-green-gray-silver valley, the Tetons to our left as we look north, the Gros Ventre Range, shorn of the Tetons’ granite peaks, to our right, the greener streambed grasses of the Elk Refuge and Flat Creek below us, across the road. Days are punctuated by the Tetons slowly emerging at dawn and coyotes yipping and yodeling in the middle of the night. In between we’ve been living in our small, shifting commune of family and friends, fanning out on hikes, raft trips, or, in my case, solitary bike rides to Kelly on the Gros Ventre Road.
But suddenly the days are running out. Some bird is chirping as I write this, on yet another cloudless afternoon. I can’t tell what it is; maybe one of our young Western Wood Peewees (assuming that’s in fact what they are). It’s time to remember that I don’t really live here and treat the coming week as a vacation in which I want to take in as much as I can, as if — though we’ve rented this house for next September — I might never see the Tetons again.