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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2016 Review… The “Far”

As with most years, many photographic opportunities presented themselves, not just in my home state of Florida, but the west was well represented in 2016.  Like the previous year end review post, I will focus primarily on the “new”.

Of course, there are a few images that never grow old, such as the frosty face of a bison fighting for survival in the harsh winters of the west.

_DSC6231-2Though I tend to forget sometimes the landscapes that lay before me, I tried to focus on them a bit in 2016._DSC4055There’s something magical about the iconic image of a beautiful red fox making its way across the snowy landscape …_DSC5569… though unique fox sightings such as this are quite beautiful and intriguing as well.  Never have I seen a setting like this one before._DSC5495It’s always fun to find a couple of coyotes in the snow as well, but it’s not everyday that you see this.  I know that to the casual viewer this looks like 2 coyotes standing there looking at us, which I suppose it was, but what makes this one so special is that they weren’t standing there being cooperative subjects by chance … they were tied after mating.  Once again, I’ve never seen anything like that before … and believe it or not, it was captured on Valentine’s Day.  🙂_DSC6495Another lifer for me was the elusive saw whet owl.  It had long been a dream of mine and I felt like I was floating on a cloud of joy when I got this one._DSC6977Sporting some nice red earrings and a necklace (i.e. tag and collar), my first mountain goats in the snow images were thrilling and a great bar to capture more natural ones in the future, though I do love the fluffy snow in this one._DSC7104This snowy day made photography a bit difficult, but I like most, still tried.  This group of elk in winter were getting tight as a group of either coyote or wolves were moving in on them. _dsc4122Speaking of wolves, I haven’t gotten a great shot of any wolves, outside of Denali NP in Alaska, before and still haven’t, but this is my first of that black wolf that calls Yellowstone home._DSC9812While I have lots of bison shots, this was the first year that I got out in the spring to capture those “red dogs”, who couldn’t be any cuter._DSC0192_DSC9570-2Predators can come in different forms and species, but the instinct to seek refuge is all the same.  Here I photographed a black bear cub who obediently climbed high (really high) to the top of a tree, while mom spotted a boar in the area.DSC_2910Speaking of things that I’ve NEVER experienced before was this aggressive protective behavior exhibited by this dusky grouse.  Though it played coy allowing images, it clearly felt threatened by some (especially women) and it ended with an entertaining, yet scary, encounter with Mr. Flashy Eyebrows, which incidentally change colors too.  LOL_DSC9981Usual sightings of beavers for me have been swimming around in the ponds, usually in the dusk hours, affording little opportunity for me to capture a great shot.  That changed in 2016 when this cooperative beaver exited the pond and sat, in the midst of flowers, on the bank and groomed itself for quite some time.  I was thrilled.DSC_4173-2Who wouldn’t want to have a lunch date with an incredible golden eagle? … Well, except the one being served as dinner.  I sat in awe as it devoured its dinner on the banks of the river, not far from where I was sitting.DSC_4697-2A first for me too was this ADORABLE little pronghorn antelope, that had to be less than one day old.  Nature is an amazing thing because this baby was so skilled at running and kept up with mom right from the get-go.DSC_2714In Florida, we have red-winged blackbirds, but out west they have these beautiful yellow-headed blackbirds.  Though a different species, their song is equally as distinct and lovely.
DSC_1400A definite goal of mine for 2016 was to get that iconic shot of the red-necked grebes swimming with their babies on their backs.  While I didn’t get that, I did manage to get not only the Western grebes, but an image of them offering the fish as part of their courtship behavior.DSC_1726Cuteness alert!  2015 I may have gotten my very first long-eared owls, but how about this?  It’s a long-eared baby owlet!  My heart melted the instant that our eyes met.DSC_21972016 was spent also on some landscape shooting … here from Steptoe Butte in the iconic Palouse …_DSC0513-HDR… and also from the Colorado National Monument, which overlooks the town of Grand Junction, CO._dsc1370-hdrIn what had to be one of the craziest shoots of 2016, was that very, very early morning at Maroon Bells in Colorado.  It was freezing when we started shooting some astro images in the wee hours, but continued to get colder as the sun began to rise.  That was my first time there … crazy, crazy, crazy the number of photographers congregating there!_dsc1135Fall in Colorado is a special treat.  The clouds, the mountains, the leaves … all jaw-dropping._dsc1577-hdrOf course, the golden leaf dropping aspens are always a favorite of mine, both on the ground …_dsc1160… as well as looking up towards the heavens._dsc7922Courtesy of Hurricane Matthew, which re-routed us from our return home, this bull elk chest deep in the lake was a new one for me too.dsc_8342The mule deer, also sporting their racks, were organizing as well.dsc_8998Yes, our time spent out west in 2016 was fascinating and full of firsts and new behavioral images.  Noticeably absent, in both this blog and in my heart, was Alaska.  It would have been our 10th consecutive year, but it wasn’t to be in 2016.  That only means that something super special must be in store for us there in 2017.  Can’t wait to find out!dsc_1673Thanks so much for our friends who participated in the fun during the year, including Jen & Travis, Amy & Scott, Rebecca, Jay, Phil, and Rick … we really appreciated sharing the good times with you guys.  I hope that you’ve enjoyed the trip down 2016 memory lane.  There’s one more segment to 2016 left though … hmm, what could it be?

Next Up:  Proud as a peacock moments

© 2016 TNWA Photography / Debbie Tubridy

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

It’s Just A Little Grouse … Or Is It?

Yellowstone National Park is known probably most for its wildlife … bear, elk, bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, coyote, wolf, fox, deer to just name a few.  It’s also home to some fabulous birds, such as bald and golden eagles, falcons, a variety of hawks, owls, and many species of ducks and other water birds.  Then there’s the grouse.
_DSC0032Such a sweet bird … resembling that of a chicken.  I remember one winter having such a great time photographing a grouse, though now that I think about it, while photographing it that grouse flew down from the roof of the outhouse … almost into my lap!  I was amused that year.  Little did I know that I was about to have another grouse encounter._DSC0024See, this beautiful dusky grouse was located by coincidence as we stopped to photograph something totally unrelated in the far distance.  The grouse was walking around on the grassy landscape and started making its way towards us.  As usual, I started talking softly to it as I happily snapped off some shots of it.  As it neared, it walked over to some flowers in the grass, picked them off, and proceeded to eat it.  The flowers complimented its bright yellow eyebrows.  So pretty.  Such a wonderful photo op, I thought._DSC9936I distinctly remember telling it how adorable it was and how I loved what it was doing.  I was in a squatted position and it began to come near me.  That’s when I noticed that its eyebrows were changing colors and I got caught up in the moment of wondering why.  I remember another photographer also nearby taking shots … but they were much more selective.  _DSC9957Then all of a sudden gave a call out … then rushed me … and OK, don’t think I’m crazy, but it jumped at me … making contact with my shin.  I was totally startled, jumped up, and that’s when I heard the clicking of another camera.  I noticed it was the other photographer nearby and then saw that he was laughing.  I asked if he had seen it and he responded that he did.  I then asked if he had gotten a shot of the “assault” and again he said he did.  He then told me that I wasn’t the first that it had attacked.  LOL_DSC9974This grouse then would give a shrilled call out, that I can only compare to the call that the velociraptor does in Jurrasic Park movies.  OK,  by now I’m trying desperately to vacate the area, but of course, this guy kept following after me._DSC9983All the while, its eyebrows continued to grow a deeper shade of orange …_DSC9981… to an eventual reddish color.  He would act as though he lost interest in me, then would eye me from a side glance, and rush me again!  I wasn’t alone either, as he seemed to prefer women.  He never really went after Tom or the male photographer having fun at others expense.  LOL_DSC9926_DSC9997At some point, he began to flare up his feathers and go into courtship mode.  See, they have a patch of violet-red skin on their neck surrounded by white feathers.  I wished he had turned just a bit more to show it off better, but I clearly didn’t want to hang around any longer._DSC0005I’m not sure if it has a nest nearby or if it was simply protecting its territory.  Either way, I got the message quite clearly.  As I turned to leave the area, it gave me a final glance.  It truly was a fascinating, though I must admit, a bit frightening of an experience.  Tom of course didn’t believe that it made contact with me, but Jen saw it for herself.  We laughed the rest of the day and many times since over this encounter.  I think that it goes without mention that these images are all cropped for detail.  Just making sure that’s clear.  🙂  _DSC9996

Next Up:  Lunch with a golden eagle and more from Yellowstone NP

© 2016  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

http://www.tnwaphotography.com