By Phil Brown
Blue Mountain Road is a lovely dirt road that connects Paul Smiths and Santa Clara. It’s worth driving for its own sake, but it also is used to reach put-ins on the Middle Branch of the St. Regis River and the trailhead for Azure Mountain.
The other day I was driving south from Azure when I noticed a yellow road sign on a tree that warned: “Endangered spruce grouse on road” (with a black silhouette of the bird).
This surprised me. I knew that spruce grouse once lived in the vicinity of Madawaska Flow and Blue Mountain Road. But in Adirondack Birding: 60 Great Places to Find Birds, John M.C. Peterson writes that they apparently were extirpated years ago. (The book was published by my Lost Pond Press in 2008.)
This summer, though, the state Department of Environmental Conservation released spruce grouse in the area. The birds were captured in Maine and Ontario. The signs I saw were put up last year.
“We have seen many new reports of spruce grouse sightings along the Blue Mountain Road since the releases,” DEC spokesman David Winchell told the Explorer in an email.
This is good news, but drivers should be on the lookout for these rare birds. Spruce grouse may use the road for dust baths. The birds kick dust onto themselves and let it sift through their feathers to remove lice and other parasites. Here is a link to a spruce grouse taking a dust bath on Mount Washington in New Hampshire.
Grouse also have been released in suitable habitat near Tupper Lake.
The spruce grouse is a boreal species that is at the southern edge of its range in the Adirondacks. It use to be more abundant here, but its numbers have dropped largely as a result of habitat destruction. DEC finalized a plan to bolster the grouse’s population in 2012. At the time, Mike Lynch wrote about the plan for the Explorer.
The Explorer will be checking in with scientists later this year to see how well the plan is working.
You can download the recovery plan from DEC’s website.