Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Crooked Creek: A Sage Grouse Spectacle

Steve Grourke from The Nature Conservancy's Inland Northwest Office files this report of his recent trip to The Nature Conservancy's Crooked Creek Ranch, located in eastern Idaho 20 miles northwest of Dubois:

My recent journey from the forests of northern Idaho to the sagebrushcountry to the south was an epic adventure - measured in miles behind the wheel (almost 1000 miles round trip) and strutting sage grouse (50 plus!). Joined by my colleague, Jeanne Liston, and nine Nature Conservancy members over the course of two evenings, we were captivated by the sounds and sights of Idaho's most charismatic upland game bird.

Nature Conservancy ecologist Alan Sands led our group, which was participating in the first of six Explore Idaho field trips being held throughout the summer. Prior to our pre-dawn exodus to the blinds, spread out across the lekking area, Sands gave us an overview of the natural history of sage grouse and the habitat in which they exist. He also went over our plan of action, much like a coach would prepare his team before a big game. Alan told us that we might spook the grouse and they would leave the lek when we walked into the blinds at 5:30 a.m., but they would soon return and resume their springtime mating display. He was right. Before we even zipped up the sides of our blind, the birds were back - surrounding us on all sides.

Before our eyes had a chance to focus in on the birds, our ears were in tune with the plopping sounds of the birds deflating their air sacs in hopes of attracting a female. As the sun rose behind us, we could see males strutting in front of us with fanned tails. When a male stepped too close to a more dominant bird, the subordinate was chased away by a series of rapid and aggressive wing movements.

The scene was dramatic and inspiring for all of us. After more than two hours of glassing across the landscape with our binoculars and snapping pictures with our telephoto lenses, we counted more than 50 birds from distances ranging from 200 yards to 20 feet from our blind. Despite the strong winds and temperatures in low 20s, I've got my calendar marked already for a return next year.

1 comment:

Jean said...

Wow - sounds spectacular. Looking forward to going there myself in 2011