Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Sooty Grouse: Mount Rainier's "Turkey?"

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, much of the nation is looking to the turkey to be the centerpiece in their festive feast.  Mount Rainier has over 230,000 acres of beautiful wilderness, but you would be very hard pressed to find a Wild Turkey grazing in the park.  But surely there has to be a similar bird somewhere out there, right?

Sketch of the "turkey" of Mount Rainier
 by C. Frank Brockman

In the November 1, 1928 Mount Rainier Nature News Notes, the second full-time Park Naturalist, C. Frank Brockman, wrote an article giving that honor to the sooty grouse.  An excerpt from Mr. Brockman's writing:

"Perhaps you know the Sooty Grouse as the "hooter" for one of his chief characteristics is the throaty hooting that is often kept up for long periods. To some this continued vocal effort is a sign of rain--like the continued call of the dove--but this theory is not borne out by fact. The Sooty Grouse is a handsome bird, about the size of the domestic hen and its dark slate or "sooty" color is finely mottled with grey and brown. Thus, like many other of Nature's children, it finds its chief protection in the fact that it looks like the region in which it lives. We find it in meadows between 4000 and 6000 feet, strutting about in the huckleberry patches or perched on a gnarled limb of a Mountain Hemlock surveying the passer-by with a calm deliberation that bespeaks of a total absence of fear."

C. Frank Brockman with park visitors and Charlie, circa 1941
 During his tenure at Mount Rainier, C. Frank Brockman helped to shape many of the programs that we still see in the park to this day.  When he was first hired as the Park Naturalist in 1928, one of his first tasks was to convert the Old Longmire Administration Building to a public museum, the Longmire Museum, which is still in use today.  He also oversaw the creation of a visitor's center at both Paradise and Sunrise throughout the early 1930's.  After leaving the National Park Service, Brockman became a Professor of Forest Recreation at the University of Washington, retiring in the late 1960's.  C. Frank Brockman passed away on March 20, 1985, but his legacy can still be seen throughout Mount Rainier National Park today.

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