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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365 Days & Counting

Well, I can’t believe it, but 5 days ago marked my 1st complete year in Colorado!  Man, time sure has flown by … guess that means I have been having fun, right?  🙂  I wanted to use this post as a reflection of my life so far in CO … what I have learned, what I miss, what is new, and pretty much what hasn’t changed much.  So let me get started.IMG_4281-2

I don’t want to frighten anyone by sharing how long it was that I lived it FL … but let’s just say that it’s been since I was 3.  Deciding to make the BIG move to Colorado was quite the adventure, as many of you can relate to.  For me, it was Tom and I, along with my mom and her husband … so the challenges were many.  Oh, and how could I forget my “live outside” cat … just getting over the plane trip was enough to fill most people’s quota of adventure.  LOL

For those of you who don’t know me personally, we decided to move to the small rural mountain biking town of Fruita, CO.  So I started out with the culture shock of moving from a large metropolis (Hollywood, (south) FL – population of ~ 150,00) to the rural community (Fruita – population of <13,000).  While we do have gas stations, grocery store, downtown shops, and even a hospital … most of our services are obtained about 15 miles away in the “big” town of Grand Junction, CO (population of ~ 62,000).  It took me 10 days before I heard a horn honk … and even then it was someone waving as they drove by to their neighbor.  LOL.  After about a week or 2 of being in Fruita, we had business to take care of in GJ and I told Tom I needed to get out of town, because it was too crowded.  Funny how quickly perspectives change.IMG_5713

Early on I learned that the year did in fact include seasons … and the colors changed and leaves were lost and snow may or may not fall.

I learned the sounds of farm animals, which I now call “neighbors”.  Changes of season were a welcome change for the better.  I learned that flights around the country often involved 4 hour drives to either Denver or Salt Lake City … both beautiful places so it could be worse.850_1084

I also learned just how precious water is … for it was something plentiful in south FL and I realized that my appreciation for it will now be forever changed.  IMG_4434-3

I learned that while I didn’t have to worry about hurricanes as much ….IMG_4808

…. I did have to pay close attention to wildfires.IMG_7896

One of the reasons why we wanted to move out west was the abundance of wildlife living there.  In Colorado, we have been treated to mountain goats, bighorn sheep, badgers, marmot, and pika as real treats … and also for birds, I was treated often to golden eagles, greater sage grouse, and Northern pygmy owls.850_6326-Edit-Edit-4DSC_8358-Edit-Edit500_1718

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Landscapes of mountains scenes are abundant and I have taken full advantage of indulging in them.

Some things never change and I find that I still get to photograph coyote, deer, fox, bald eagles, great horned owls, and screech owls (albeit western versus eastern species).

DSC_8740-2DSC_7876500_9375-Edit-Edit-4500_1291500_4553-4_DSC9055The above image showed a pair of eastern screech owls that called our neighborhood home and used our back yard to raised its young.  The image below is just one of the many western screech owls which call Grand Junction/Fruita home.  Actually, GJ/Fruita have the highest number of WESO in the country!  At least, on bird count days.  Yes, we take them quite serious here.DSC_2554-Edit

All of those subjects, whether species that are now new to me having in my home state, or those that I still have available to me, make me quite excited to be here.

I would be lying though if I said that there weren’t things that I do miss out here though.  No, it’s not really the beach, though sunrises on the ocean do pull at my heartstrings a bit._DSC1375-2

When I peruse the photographs of my friends still in Florida, I find myself myself missing things such as the grace of swallow-tailed kites …DSC_5426

… the beauty of the roseate spoonbills …20150501-DSC_9839

… even the red-shouldered hawks.  OK, I know I have red-tailed hawks galore, as well as other species, but it’s funny how your mind goes to things that you don’t have.  LOL._DSC2671-4

Such as the crested caracara ….

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Crested caracara surveys its surroundings during a rain shower – Kenansville, FL

… barred owls …._DSC2711

and alligators and crocodiles._DSC7989-4

Don’t even get me going with the burrowing owls and the sandhill cranes.  OK, most of you know that Colorado does have those birds, but it’s quite a bit different.  Let me explain … CO burrowing owls are quite timid and much less animated and social than our Florida ones.  Also while they are tons of sandhill cranes that migrate through here in the winter, finding them breeding and nesting here is so much more complicated.  How I long for shots like these ….

So, as they say …. sometimes you tend to want what you don’t have.  I don’t necessarily agree with that, for there are so many things that I really appreciate about being in CO.  There are just those few things that I wish I could see again, but I guess that’s what visiting home is all about.  😉  Least I forget, I do miss tremendously the family and friends that we left behind.  If anyone heads out to CO, please be sure to let us know.  🙂IMG_5455IMG_6696

I’ll leave everyone with another benefit of CO life … dark night skies, offering up gorgeous starry night skies like this …850_4473-Edit-4

Hope that everyone enjoyed this look back at 365 days of living as a Colorado resident.  I’m proud to be here.  🙂  Lastly, I want to thank Tom, my husband, for his support in this move and for all of his hard work in making the transition as smooth as possible.  ❤IMG_6689

Next up:  Local sights and sounds

© 2017 & 2018 TNWA Photography / Debbie Tubridy

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