The Mating Dance Ritual of the Greater Sage Grouse

In the last blog post, I shared images from a spring trip to the small town of Walden, CO.  Though we saw a variety of wildlife as well as a variety of birds, it wasn’t actually the purpose of our trip.  See, we had a date with some greater sage grouse.  I was quite excited and totally willing to get up at 4 AM, gather up my gear, layer up for the coldness of the early spring morning, and head out to meet our group.

The Chamber of Commerce of North Park and Colorado Parks & Wildlife offer spectators and photographers an opportunity to observe these amazing grouse from a viewing trailer.  One must arrive in the darkness, well before the earliest of light, as to not disturb the upcoming activities.
IMG_6880Greater sage grouse (centrocercus urophasianus) are the largest species of grouse.  They reside in the sagebrush environment and during the spring, they congregate – males and females – on ceremonial mating grounds called leks, which they return to year after year.

Once we arrived at the trailer, we were put ushered quickly and quietly into the trailer and remained there in the dark.  After some time, we could hear the sounds of the grouse gathering outside, but our trailer blinds were down.  It was quite cool to listen to, as our minds curiously wondered how many were out there … and how close.  Eventually, our awning was lifted.  In the beginning we couldn’t see anything … but a quick glance through my binoculars proved that they in fact had arrived.
500_1521Males would sometimes confront each other almost seemingly sizing each other up.500_1735The females would gather in the center of the action, as if to judge the displays of the males.500_1725It’s incredible to witness this display, as the males transform themselves into a semblance that one wouldn’t recognize just hours earlier.  500_2288Basically, the males perform mating rituals on the lek through strutting displays.  The more dominant males gather on the inside of the lek “circle”, where the females are hanging out.

The strutting starts by a male who fans its spiked tail first ….500_2409….. then its yellow eyecombs follow, along with its “ponytail” filoplumes.500_2531As the male begins to strut, he inflates a pair of yellowish throat sacs, which are underneath its white breast feathers. 500_1790500_2576500_2533-Edit500_2558An incredible popping noise is audible … which we became very attune to in knowing when the press the shutter.  500_2563Then the courtship dance ritual is repeated over … and … over … as many as 6-10 times per minute for an incredible 3-4 hours daily.500_2464500_2471

500_2415On this particular day, there were about 47 males on the lek, courting approximately 11 females.  The more dominant males would enter the center of the lek, where the females were congregated, while the younger and thus less dominant males would strut their stuff further outside the inner circle, unlikely to get noticed.500_2473

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500_2577They say that 80% of the females mate with the dominant or alpha male, while the next male in line mates with the remaining 20%.
500_2293Then, with no warning it seems, the party is over and they revert to their pre-mating ritual selves … and fly away!500_2611Once they have all vacated the lek area, it’s safe for us to emerge.IMG_6881As I gather up my belongings, I can’t help but think back to the privilege I had just experienced in watching the Greater Sage Grouse.  IMG_6883Their numbers have been declining overall due to loss of habitat (secondary to a number of reasons) and efforts to get their protections that they desperately need via the Endangered Species Act have been unsuccessful.  I sure hope that one day everyone can have the privilege to witness their amazing courtship/mating dance for themselves and appreciate their instinct in returning to the lek year after year.  Please read up on these amazing creatures and assist in protecting them for generations to come.  Thanks.500_2474

Next Up:  Local birding near Fruita, CO

© 2018  TNWA Photography / Debbie Tubridy

http://www.tnwaphotography.com                 http://www.tnwaphotography.wordpress.com

 

 

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My Walden Adventure

So, I had always heard about Walden, CO … a small town in Jackson County.  It’s other claim to fame is the self-proclaimed title of the “Moose Capital of Colorado”, boosting hundreds of them.  I certainly hoped that we would see some moose, but our purpose on this trip was not the moose, but rather an Endangered Species, but more on that in the next blog post.

So off we went, my good friend Amy and I, on our adventure.  It was my first trip there, so I had no idea what to expect.  It was about a 4+ hr drive, but with us, it tends to take longer.  You guessed it … lots to see along the way, therefore lots of photo stops.  LOL

It wasn’t long before we started seeing lots of deer … often crossing the road in front of us, but sometimes just hanging out on the snow covered landscape along the way.

850_1214It wasn’t just the deer either … we came across several groups of wild turkeys.  It was such a cool sight to see this tom turkey chasing one of his ladies.  LOL850_1295-EditThe herds of elk were much more elusive and stayed relatively higher except for a herd that was crossing a field down low.850_1375One of my favorite sightings is a northern harrier (as some of you know) so when I saw these two fly by, soaring over the field, I was thrilled.  Funny, but to me they almost seem to be holding hands … or should I say … wings.  ❤500_9443Other birds witnessed along the way were the ever abundant horned larks …500_9506… and a personal favorite of mine, the American dipper.  500_9410Once we arrived into Walden, we drove around the area to see what we could see.  Canada geese were plentiful everywhere, and it was quite a thrill to see several northern pintails.500_9517In addition to that there were also northern shovelers… so very pretty.500_9782Pied-billed grebes were also plentiful … and they were sporting their breeding plumage.500_9927Then the white pelicans flew in and sort of stole the show.  In Florida, we got our share of white pelicans, as well as brown pelicans, but we never got the white pelicans in their breeding plumage.  See the horn on their bill?  That is present when they are ready to breed and then afterwards they lose them.500_9732The pelicans worked with much effort and speed to feed in the waters.500_9887Probably one of the more interesting observations with these pelicans was the interaction between 3 of them.  One was clearly in the lead and when it would change course, the two immediately following changed course.  The two following would also get quite aggressive with each … challenging and snapping beaks.500_0182Finally, one of the two grabbed the first one by the neck and thrashed it left to right and then eventually straight down into the water, while the other simply watched.  Not sure what that was about … but I have my hunch.  :-O500_0274Later the two were swimming together notably alone.  I just love how for “white birds” they are quite colorful and full of detail.500_0229-Edit-EditDriving down a dirt road, we came across this lovely hawk.  It was calling out repeatedly in what could only be compared to as a red-tailed hawk call.  However, this wasn’t a red-tailed hawk, but rather a Swainson’s hawk.  It was then that I realized how similar their calls sounded.  It was quite persistent too … calling over and over.500_2845During our travels we came across a pair of American kestrels, which I believe might have been beginning to prepare their nest.  The pair were flying around and announcing their territory.  Isn’t the male just gorgeous?500_3470Now one of the star raptors always is the golden eagle and there was no shortage of them.  Quite beautiful in flight as they make their way past us over the landscape.500_3442Being that Tom and I have been doing a lot of raptor observation lately, I knew right away from its field marks, that this was indeed another golden sighting.500_2696Of course, there were a variety of birds spotted throughout the sagebrush landscape.500_3411Some were even showing off for the camera.  🙂500_3387We then headed back to the lake and found several otters playing … of course, they were a bit camera shy and headed out for a more distant view.500_3090We also found muskrats and beavers in an adjoining waterway.  The surface of the water was like glass and as such the beaver’s head had a perfect reflection whether it was coming or going.500_3273500_3292-EditWell you can’t come to Walden and not look for moose, right?  OK, so we did eventually do that, but at first I had to get some beautiful mountain bluebird poses and images.  Is there any prettier bird out there?500_3012So we did finally get our moose sightings … about 5 if I remember correctly.  Early spring  moose are not that exciting, as the bulls have already lost their antlers and re-growth hasn’t started.  Also, they tend to be more secretive and deep into the brush foraging for food.500_2964The sunset was also fabulous and I think, the perfect way to end this blog post.  There was so much seen and photographed.  Too much to include everything in this post, so forgive me for not sharing it all.  Yes, Walden is a magical place.850_1601

Next Up:  The main attraction in Walden … i.e. Why we went.  🙂

© 2018  TNWA Photography / Debbie Tubridy

http://www.tnwaphotography.com                 http://www.tnwaphotography.wordpress.com