Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Short Two Day Grouse Trip

May 15-16, 2013

May 15

Paul Hudson and I went on a mini-Grouse Trip.  Rain poured in Denver all the way to Silverthorne and then continued as we headed north through Kremmling to Rabbit Ears Pass, then east toward Walden.  As we approached the Jackson County Road Leks, the rain stopped.  A large clearing/hole in the rain clouds floated over the lek.

Our timing was off and we arrived a good hour before sunset.  On most of my 200+ visits over the years (only three exceptions), the Greater Sage-Grouse do not come out of the sage until after sunset.

Paul and walked the county roads and did a little exploring.  The air was filled with singing Vesper Sparrows and a few Brewer's Sparrows.  Northern Flickers called as did a male Downy Woodpecker.  Horned Larks added their tinkling high pitched songs.

The lek area is surrounded by distant mountains on all four sides.  Gray clouds hung over the mountains, however the sun piercing through the few clouds overhead, lit up the nearby green grasses, fields of sage and mountainsides.  Quite an enjoyable sight that I often wonder how few people are fortunate to experience.

As predicted, the Greater Sage-Grouse did not exit the sage (where they are well hidden) until shortly after sunset.  Eventually, fourteen males crossed the road and walked to the lek.  They put on quite a display with their communal dancing. 

No females appeared to show.  From the many "kuk kuk kuk" and "popping sounds" we believed there to be more than fourteen birds.  It had gotten too dark to see them all.

May 16, 2013

An hour before sunrise, Paul and I drove up the 80 Route Road.

Again as we waited for sunrise, the many songs of Vesper Sparrows, Brewer's Sparrows, Western Meadowlarks, and Horned Larks were filling the air.  While the distance, the Sandhill Crane call traveled far across the valley.  We did finally see one or two.

In my experience, Sharp-tailed Grouse come late to their "leks".  Most times, I do not see them until well after sunrise.  The reverse is true in the evening when they seldom come to the "leks" until it is too dark to see them (similar to the Gunnison Sage-Grouse).

Sharp-tailed Grouse "leks" are not as well defined as the Greater Sage-Grouse.  Instead of preforming a communal dance in an open clearing, they run like mice through the sage.  Every now and then, they will stop and lift up their heads or stick their tails in the air and shake them like a rattlesnake!

This morning skies were partly cloudy; winds were calm.  We could hear "forever".  At sunrise, the sun lit up the greening fields of wild grasses and sage.  The hills lit up, quite a contrast with the blue sky and white clouds.  A beautiful sight in itself, even if no grouse show up.

About 30 minutes after sunrise, fourteen male Sharp-tailed Grouse were observed in sage taller than themselves.  Every now and then, they would stick their heads up, some stretching as long as possible to see over the sage.

They appeared to have every direction covered as they stood and sat in a loose circle (about 15 feet in diameter).  Each looking in a different direction.

Unfortunately no females appeared.  I postulated that this may have been why the Sharp-tailed Grouse never displayed.  Off in the far distance, we could hear additional birds that might have been displaying (at least they were cackling and cooing).  Unfortunately, they were too far away to see.

Paul had to return to Denver and we had only a little time for brief stops.  The feeders at the Colorado State Forest Visitor's Center had only Cassin's Finches and a couple of Mountain Chickadees.

We drove to Whale Rock up Rist Canyon (Larimer) to look for Northern Pygmy-Owls.  None were found (or really expected).  A walk about half a mile down the rock from Whale Rock found six+ Plumbeous Vireos and five+ Warbling Vireos.

A pair of Black-headed Grosbeaks and many Steller's Jays rounded out our day list.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a great trip!

Hope to join you on this one. One of these days.

Enjoyed the post!

Jerry Petrosky