Man finds friend in Gary the grouse

Man finds friend in Gary the grouse

Brandon Zeris

Pitt-Johnstown Machine Shop Manager Bob Timulak kneels near his friend “Gary,” a grouse he found near his Jennerstown area home.

Brandon Zeris, Editor-in-Chief

Pitt-Johnstown Machine Shop Manager Bob Timulak met a peculiar companion in mid-October in the woods about a mile down the road from his Jennerstown area home. Bob considers him a friend who he calls Gary.

His friend is about the size of a football. He’s quiet and has brown feathers, which makes him hard to find unless there’s snow on the ground because he blends in with leaves and brown brush.

Gary is a ruffed grouse – a wild bird not known for being personable, according to UPJ biology professor Christine Dahlin.

“They’re a hunted species,” she said, noting that grouse are typically aversive to humans and other  species.

But Gary and Bob have become companions.

Bob had finished a day of archery hunting in October and was hiking back from his hunting spot to his truck to drive home when he had his first encounter with Gary.

“I was walking back, and I heard something behind me. I thought it was a skunk … I turned around and shined my flashlight on it and saw a small grouse. He was just following me,” Bob said.

Bob was surprised because he said people typically have short, impersonal encounters with grouse.

“Generally, any woodsman hears a flutter, and they take off,” he said. “It startles you.”

Bob said he frequently saw Gary for the next few months and decided to feed him peanuts.

“He likes those,” he said.

Bob’s wife, Sandy Timulak, said she’s seen Gary, too, but she was initially skeptical of her husband’s story.

“I believed him, but he’s always telling stories. I figured it was a one-time thing,” Sandy said in their kitchen as Bob was getting ready for another trip into the woods last Wednesday.

Bob said he had a surprising encounter with Gary that may have enticed Sandy to see Gary for herself.

“I kept telling her, ‘I saw the grouse again.’ She was like, ‘Oh, OK.’ Eventually, I went out and laid on the ground near Gary, and he climbed on my back and walked around. I told her that, and she came out,” Bob said.

Sandy said she was surprised to hear such a story.

“For a wild bird like that, it’s incredible … he brought pictures home, and I finally went out and saw him.”

Before venturing into the woods for another visit, Bob put on his usual gear: camouflage pants, hat and a jacket.

Sandy asked him whether he had everything.

“Do you have peanuts for him?” she asked. “I really hope he’s out there.”

Bob grabbed a white container labeled “Gary G” and filled it with ground up peanuts before leaving.

Bob drove his truck to his usual location, parked it in a field and set out to find Gary. But he spotted a van on the side of the road.

“I never see anyone out here,” he said.

Bob said Gary never goes into the field that borders the forest.

The wooded area is covered with trees and other brush, making it difficult to spot grouse. But, Bob said Gary generally sees him and greets him.

Bob walked to a snow-covered spot, surrounded by trees near a quiet creek, where he usually meets Gary.

After about five minutes, Gary didn’t arrive. Bob resorted to calling for him.

“I don’t know why, but he likes this sound,” Bob said, interrupting his continuous popping call.

“Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop,” he called to no avail.

Bob trudged through the muddy forest to different locations, trying to find his friend.

Bob crossed the creek, sure to find him.

“(Grouse) generally don’t venture out of their four-acre home territory,” he said. “You never really know where he’s going to be. He doesn’t tell me much,” he said, smiling.

He called again, but the only sound was a barking dog.

“That’s him,” he said while chuckling.

After about 30 minutes, he said that he had never waited this long for Gary.

“If somebody was walking through here, they may have spooked him. I generally don’t see anyone out here.”

Bob said that, one time, there was a week-long stretch when he didn’t see Gary.

“It was after the election, and I didn’t see him … when I did see him, he was bloody.”

Curious about the van he had seen earlier, Bob walked to see whether it was still there and said that maybe it spooked Gary.

He said he didn’t expect to find Gary there, though, because he had never seen him near the location by the road.

He walked up a hill and found Gary, near a log.

“Gary,” he said. “ Where have you been? You had me worried sick.”

Gary walked toward Bob who was sitting on a different log. Bob took out his container and fed Gary peanuts.

“Are you hungry? Take your time. I’m not going anywhere,” he said. “Is this hat OK? You didn’t like my last one.”

Bob said that during his prior visit, on Sunday, Gary pecked at his hat and scratched Bob’s forehead.

In January, Bob said Gary snatched his hat off his head and ran away with it.

“It’s like he wanted to play. I yelled at him, ‘Gary, get back here,’ and he brought it back.”

Gary ate some peanuts out of Bob’s hand, and Bob stood up.

“Let’s go for a walk.”

Bob walked down the hill, and Gary followed him. Gary stopped for a few seconds on a log.

“Gary, get over here now,” Bob said.

Gary jumped off the log and ran over to Bob.

“Have a peanut,” Bob said. “He doesn’t like the skins.”

Gary spit out the peanut skin.

“If I stay here, he’ll stay here.”

Gary didn’t move.

Bob said on the first day of buck season, Gary followed him around the entire time Bob was hunting – 9.5 hours.

“He never left.”

Today, they walked together, weaving around trees and brush. They crossed the shallow creek, and Bob looked to his left at some logs.

“He’ll come up on these logs. He likes those.”

Gary jumped on a log and ate some peanuts that Bob had set down for him.

“I could spend hours out here with him. Sometimes I forget that it’s unusual.”

Bob looked down at Gary and asked him whether he had enough peanuts.

“We need to save some for the hole,” he said. “I always dig a hole in the snow and leave some for him.”

Bob poured the nuts near a tree and said that there was a lot.

“You share with the squirrels,” he said.

“Well, it’s time to go Gary. You can follow me to the field, but then you have to come back.”

Bob said, when he leaves the forest, he doesn’t stop to make sure that Gary doesn’t follow him.

Bob packed his container and walked away. Gary followed Bob, but he stayed back once Bob approached the field.

“This is my least favorite part,” Bob said. “I feel like I’m abandoning him.”