Saturday, July 19, 2014

(Sage) Grousing

Spot the greater-sage grouse.
Despite the inner darkness, there have been moments of lucid light in the past few months when the birds fly into my consciousness. One of the briefest was in April, when I finally managed to add the greater sage-grouse to my life list.

Getting these wary gamebirds as lifers isn't so much birding as it is a quest. For me, it began at four in the morning (so not my idea of a good birding time), with a nerve-wracking drive through pitch black canyons and with somewhat vague directions. Admittedly, the directions were fairly spot-on, but to me, being unfamiliar with the area they led me to, they were vague enough for apprehension. Yet I did manage to arrive at the Henefer lek as dawn was breaking over the eastern horizon, and as I crept closer to the marked fence - windows rolled down - I could hear the distinctive "popping" of the air sacs as males vied for the admiration of the all-too-uninterested females.

The one-way drive took roughly 75 minutes, but within two minutes of arrival, I had the lifer I sought. Good thing, too, because less than five minutes later, an asshole of a golden eagle overflew the field, and the grouse scattered to the southeast, not to return. I'm glad I arrived when I did, and I'm glad I got at least a minor view and heard the birds as well, giving me the lifer to count. And for the record, I don't really think golden eagles are assholes, but he couldn't have waited a few more minutes?

I did stay in the area for a bit after the grouse had flown their figurative coop, and was rewarded with a few other good birds - some beautiful morning songs from western meadowlarks, and the early morning foraging of a variety of sparrows. It was disappointing to make the long drive home after such a brief birding, but still, the birds and I did manage to cross paths at least for a moment.

I'll be back on this quest next spring, I think. While I have the lifer, it's what is known as a BVD - better view desired. I'd love to see the birds more closely, and for more than a few moments. The drive might be harrowing, but in the end worthwhile.

Henefer lek at sunrise, through a dirty windshield (don't get out of the truck, it might disturb these sensitive birds).

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