Western U.S. Travel Diary Sage Grouse lek (74990 bytes)

2 May 2004
I really really enjoy birds that gather at leks, whichSage-Grouse display (72543 bytes)
are communal sites where the males display for the
females in hopes of mating with one, or even
several. Take the Greater Sage Grouse, for
example.  This morning I'm in a blind near Walden,
Colorado, watching and photographing about 75
males at their lek.   Spread over several acres, they
strut, call, and inflate air sacs on their chest, which
deflate with a deep booming sound. So intent are they
on catching a female's eye that they are oblivious to
observers, allowing long looks and easy photography.



                                                                                                                 The blind is actually a trailer with most of one
                                                                                                                 side cut open, used by the Colorado Department of
                                                                                                                 Wildlife for supervised public viewing of the lek.  Five
                                                                                                                 other birders and I gathered last night at the Moose
                                                                                                                 Creek Cookhouse & Saloon in Walden for a great
                                                                                                                 barbecue meal, followed by a talk on the natural
                                                                                                                 history of Sage Grouse.  Ranging from Colorado to
                                                                                                                 Oregon, these
Grouse male & female (61767 bytes)birds occur wherever sagebrush
                                                                                                                 grows.  The toughest part about being a Sage
                                                                                                                 Grouse is surely winter, when they must tolerate the
                                                                                                                 bitter cold nights and subsist only on sagebrush
                                                                                                                 At 4:30 a.m. the van met us at our motels, and we
                                                                                                                 were driven to the lek.  It's important to be in the blind
                                                                                                                 before first light so as not to upset the birds.  But to
                                                                                                                 be honest they were rather nonchalant about it,
                                                                                                                 standing around in view by the van's headlights as we


It was a chilly 25 F. when we entered the blind, but early May is actually near the end of lek activity.  Most females are already off incubating their eggs, which will hatch in time for the first burst of bug activity as the weather warms.  However, a few females drop by.  One of the other birders counted 4 instances of mating, but it seemed a rather small reward for all the hours that the males spent strutting their stuff.


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