This is the time of year for our Greater Sage Grouse.
These chicken-sized grouse gather on small properties called leks scattered throughout their range. A lek is a ceremonial “dancing ground” in which these birds gather each spring for their display rituals for mating. The males strut with their tails fanned like a turkey and then inflate their chest sac along with swishing their wings creating a visual and audible site rivaling no other. The top male gains the center of the lek position and a considerable amount of the mating goes to this bird. The females come in just for the breeding and can seem very indifferent to the displaying of the males which is going on for their benefit.
Photographing this scene can take a commitment of very early mornings, walking into the lek site in the dark, and then awaiting sunrise under a canvas blind in the cold. This time prior to sunrise I typically lay down under my blind and await the arrival of the birds just listening to the going-ons around me. The sounds consist of the arrival of the grouse, sometimes in a flapping commotion quite near me and sometimes in a fighter jet soar. The swishing and popping then starts. Added to this, the background sounds are Sandhill Cranes calling, coyotes yipping, and Canada Geese squawking. It is incredible!!
Besides the cold thwarting you there can be a number of events that can scare the birds away such as a coyote clearing the scene or a Golden Eagle flying overhead, both looking for a meal. But seeing this predator activity is also fun to witness and I have yet to see either catch a grouse although I know it can happen. It is a fun and exciting time of year in which I keep a close watch on the AM weather to see if it will be a good day to get up early!