Beverly Engstrom of Crescent Township is an avid bird hunter. Frequently, she can be found working cover with her dogs, looking to put a grouse or woodcock up.
One grouse can count itself safe from Engstrom’s shotgun, however.
She’s become closely acquainted with a grouse that lives on her property. It comes to her calls and follows her as she walks. She has even held her feathered friend.
When in the company of the grouse she’ll talk and make noises and the grouse will make noises in response. Engstrom said the bird’s attachment to her started in April.
“It was in the evening and I remembered I hadn’t put my lawnmower away, so I went to put it in the shed and I heard something going through the leaves,” she said.
She knew it was some kind of animal and listened with interest.
“All of a sudden this grouse comes out and starts walking beside me. I thought, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe this.’”
Many more encounters with the friendly bird were to follow. A friend told her that a grouse will grow attached to a person sometimes. Engstrom was curious and wanted to learn more.
In May, she called Larry Meiller’s show on Wisconsin Public Radio. Meiller’s guest was Scott Craven, a professor of wildlife ecology at the University of Wisconsin.
“I called him up and I said, ‘I have a grouse that is very infatuated with me,’ and he kind of laughed,” she recalled.
Craven told her that it wasn’t extremely unusual and commented that he gets phone calls about such occurrences most years when spring rolls around.
Engstrom told Craven that she believed the behavior was because of the spring mating season and she assumed the grouse was a male. Craven agreed.
“He said, ‘You’re probably assuming right. Enjoy the experience, take lots of photos. You’re lucky to have it, but it’ll be short-lived,’” she said.
But the experience hasn’t been all that short-lived.
“We’re almost into October and he’s still around,” Engstrom said.
She said the bird is relatively shy around strangers, but that many of her friends have gotten to see her interactions with it.
“If the dogs are around he stays under cover,” Engstrom added.
She owns a German shorthair, a German wirehair and a springer spaniel.
“My dogs have pointed him lots of times and the flusher’s flushed him lots of times, but he’s smart enough to get away,” she said.
Engstrom enjoys photography and had an idea a few weeks ago.
“It was late afternoon and the sun was just right and it was starting to look [like autumn]. I thought, ‘This would be a great time to take some pictures ... I wonder if I could call him out?’”
She went to an area she knew the grouse frequented.
“I had nicknamed him Honeysuckle. So I went to where he usually hangs out and I was calling, ‘Honeysuckle, come here Honeysuckle.’ And lo and behold that bird walked out,” Engstrom said.
She couldn’t believe the ease with which she had solicited a response. And how cooperative Honeysuckle was for the ensuing photo session.
“I got some maple leaves and I set them down by a stump ... that bird came around and I patted [the stump] and he sat up on the stump and I started snapping pictures,” Engstrom recalled.
She wondered if anybody would believe what had happened. A few days later, she tried it again.
“I thought, ‘Did he really come, or was it just a coincidence?’” Engstrom said.
She went to his favored area and again called out, “Honeysuckle.” The response was quick and surprising.
“He came flying in and sat down at my feet!”
Engstrom laughs when she thinks of her many photo opportunities with the grouse. It wasn’t so easy early in the spring before she became acquainted with Honeysuckle.
“This spring I was down on the river. I was down there really early in the morning when it was really cold, trying to get some pictures of wood ducks. While I was doing that I would hear this grouse drumming,” Engstrom said.
She really wanted pictures of the grouse, so she scouted the area and found the drumming site — a stump. She set up a turkey blind nearby.
“I’d sneak in there real early, when it was real cold, and wait ... I never caught him there. Then I found another place where he was and I tried to sneak in on him — well you can’t sneak in on them. It’s next to impossible,” Engstrom said.
Now, a grouse is a frequent companion, even as she roams the woods. At least if her dogs aren’t accompanying her, as they frequently are.
When Engstrom is alone, Honeysuckle will sometimes follow her down the trails she walks. He’ll even follow her across a plank that spans a creek on the property.
“The first time I walked across I thought, ‘Will he follow me?’ And sure enough, I mean, just as fast as he could go,” she said.
The gregarious grouse even cooperated when this reporter showed up. Engstrom was at the edge of her long driveway in the midst of a visit with Honeysuckle. She had called him out again.
Engstrom talked softly to him and patted the ground. The grouse stayed near her as long as she kept the communication going.
Engstrom noted that the grouse is relatively protected by an area that’s primarily privately owned. And there are other places to hit the woods with her dogs.
“I won’t be hunting around here,” she said.
Craig Turk may be reached at email@example.com.