19 April 2010

Sage-Grouse Expedition

It seems that the gallinaceous birds always make you work for it. You might have already read here about my trek to find Himalayan Snowcocks last fall. And perhaps you read about my attempt to see as many species as possible in one year in Cache County. Despite many attempts, one species I had not yet seen in the county was the Greater Sage-Grouse. The best way to find this species is to hike a mile and a half uphill to one of its historical leks, but you have to arrive before dawn, and you have to know where you're going. Just like the hike for the Snowcocks, the Sage-Grouse make you earn your views.

This weekend I joined Ron Ryel and Craig Fosdick for a very early Sunday morning. We left Logan well before 6:00 AM and headed up to Hardware Ranch. From there we hiked up the hillside and eventually made our way to the lek, breathing heavily the whole way and working up quite a sweat despite the below-freezing temperatures. Ron had been to the leks before and was able to guide us right to them.

When we got there, we were not disappointed. We immediately spotted a handful of male Sage-Grouse strutting their stuff on the lek, trying to defend their spots from other males and impress any female that should happen past to choose a mate. As the sun rose over the mountains behind us, the grouse were illuminated and their courtship intensified. Within an hour, we could count a total of 33 different males at four different leks in the area, plus 3 females shopping around. This was more than twice Ron's previous high count in over a dozen years of visiting the leks! It was reassuring to see that, despite a recent decision that the species is "warranted but precluded" from federal listing as a threatened species, they seem to be on the rise if anything in Cache County.