April24, 2015 Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon

Sage Grouse Display
Sage Grouse Display

Near Perfect Morning at the Sage Grouse Lek

Today was the day ! I left home around 5:15 and headed down Route 205 and out Foster Flats Road to the Sage Grouse Lek. I arrived while it was still all but dark, but I could just barely see some stationary white neck collars out on the lek. The darkness slowly faded to a nice subdued light as the clouds were doing a nice job of keeping a lid on the harsh light. But the five heads out there on the lek remained dead still, no movement whatsoever. This was different.

I had been thinking that all the stars had aligned for me, birds on the lek, clouds softening the light, and I had the place all to myself, no one else here, so I had maneuverability and could move around if I had to to get the best angle on the birds. They were there, but they just weren’t doing anything … what’s going on ? All the previous mornings, they were dancing before the sun came up. Six thirty, seven o’clock, seven thirty … no movement, dead perfect shooting conditions and they choose today to cancel their performance ?

As always, click on any image for a larger, sharper version.

Sage Grouse Display
Sage Grouse Display

Finally, about eight fifteen, more than two hours after arriving, one, then another, popped up and the mating ritual finally began. For the next hour and a half, I had the opportunity of a lifetime to grab shot after shot after shot of this bizarre performance, still under as close to perfect conditions as one could possibly hope for ( only nit, it was cold, my hands went numb early on ).

Sage Grouse Display
Sage Grouse Display
Sage Grouse Display
Sage Grouse Display
Sage Grouse Display
Sage Grouse Display

Over the next hour and a half, I shot well over a thousand action shots, with the birds at times approaching within forty feet of my position. Where on my other days here, I was having to crop my shots as much as seventy percent, today’s shots were often full frame images, they came that close ( perhaps because no one else was here ? ).

Sage Grouse Display
Sage Grouse Display
Sage Grouse Display
Sage Grouse Display
Sage Grouse Display
Sage Grouse Display

Absolutely fascinating to watch, and listen, as they all went through the weird sequence of moves, that though quite strange to me, apparently does the trick for the female sage grouse.

Sage Grouse Display
Sage Grouse Display
Sage Grouse Display
Sage Grouse Display

By nine I had finally had enough shots to last me a lifetime and called it quits, though the dance continued on. Every other morning I had been out here, the grouse stopped dancing and flew off by eight thirty or so. Today, I was the one that flew off while the show was still going on.

Sage Grouse
Sage Grouse

This is the somewhat normal appearance of a sage grouse before they start all the contortions shown above.

Where Sage Grouse Live
Where Sage Grouse Live

And this is what sage grouse country looks like. Just try finding a landmark in that landscape to pinpoint a lek location. Good luck with that !

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