Ruffed grouse by Paul Greci, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

Last week I found my wife Gosia and our visitors from London and Poland in an excited state. Gosia explained that a raptor swooped out of the sky, and its wings blocked her view from the van’s windshield. Gosia braced for impact that never came. At the moment of truth, the raptor soared up and away.

“What do you think it was?” Gosia asked me as she warmed up supper.

“I’m sure no expert but maybe a gyrfalcon,” I said.

Gosia and the European guests went to the Visitor Center at Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge and consulted local bird illustrator Mark D. Ross. Based on the bird’s size, bulk and wings, he thought it was possible they might have encountered a Northern goshawk.

Ross’s knowledge of birds engrossed Gosia and the visitors from London and Poland. They later described how he did bird call imitations and answered all their questions on fowl. Gosia wanted to know why the wild swan went south for winter. He explained that they needed to swim and to feed from free-flowing water.

Our visiting friend Eva Borucka from London loved his enthusiasm for birdlife. “Mark heard a bird on a microphone that he thought already had migrated, and he jumped on his bicycle to drive off to the woods to find it,” Borucka said.

On Tuesday evening we found an unfortunate game bird on a bench outside our kitchen picture window. We thought he might have tried to attack his own reflection but could not say that with certainty. The deceased bird was plump, soft to the touch and still warm despite the falling temperatures.

I saw it was a game hen but contacted outdoor friends Mark Lindberg and Chuck Gray with cellphone photos to ask their opinion of type. Each judged the bird to be a ruffed grouse.

“The best tasting of the grouse in my honest opinion,” wrote Lindberg. “Breaded and fried in wine. Yum.”

Gray, a lifelong outdoorsman, answered me by email. He said the ruffed grouse had “the only white meat of all the grouse family. Best eating of all the grouse. A day-old in a cool area is probably still OK to eat.”

After easily cleaning the bird, I put the breast on a cooking tray. We had no wine and substituted rice cooking vinegar. I coated the breasts with paprika, wild mushroom powder, dried onion and bell pepper, garlic powder, rosemary, cayenne pepper, and more.

I put the sliced white meat portions on 350 degrees for a tad over 25 minutes, making sure the portions did not burn or dry out. In case the breast contained parasites, I made sure not to undercook the meat. Voila, the bird came out gold and brown perfect.

Aunt Sabina from Warsaw and I sat at the table and dined on grouse hen. The meat was delicate chicken with no trace of suet. Gosia and Eva passed on the meal. Neither is a fan of game for a meal.

Gosia and I were happy the bird hadn’t gone to waste. Still, we couldn’t help wishing the grouse once again was, as they say, alive and free as a bird.