Greater Sage-Grouse: Harney County, Oregon
Saturday, April 21, 2012
I’ve been hoping to observe the elaborate courtship ritual of the greater sage-grouse for a few years now. It’s been a matter of finding the right weather on the right weekend at the right location. (And it hasn’t helped that the “festivities” begin an hour before the sun comes up.) After five years of thinking about it, last weekend we decided to actually do it—or at least try.
Sage-grouse perform their rituals at staging areas called leks. Finding one isn’t always easy. Once common, the sage-grouse is disappearing from the American landscape so bird lovers are justifiably protective of the locations of these leks. I was able to find directions to one outside the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon. It was located nearly 10 miles down a rough dirt road. We arrived in our camper the night before, uncertain of whether or not we were in the right place or even if it was too late in the season. We hoped to wake up the next morning to the unmistakeable sound of sage-grouse looking for love.
Sunrise was at 6:11am but by 4:30am it was clear that we were in the right place. We could already hear sage-grouse outside the camper doing their thing. We laid in bed for awhile just listening to all the activity. When we finally pulled up the shades there were more of them than I had expected, maybe fifteen males, all strutting around trying to look impressive. The display was everything I had hoped it would be—and the light was perfect!
Events came to an abrupt end just after 8:00am when the occupants of a newly arrived SUV piled out of the vehicle, causing the birds to take flight and abandon the lek for the remainder of the day. If you ever find yourself at a sage-grouse lek, the best practice is to stay in your vehicle.
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©2012 Timothy Linn. All Rights Reserved.