Friday, March 24, 2017

Sacred Grounds

"Hey there Mr. Gordon? Watcha looking at?"  It seems like everywhere I turn, I see this guy with that lens poking out of some window or tree branch.  He nudged his head towards the booming sounds of THE LEK.  

This male Greater sage grouse ventures close to our vehicle before heading to the lek.  
I nearly messed myself as I turned towards the booms. I didn't bring any Depends with me so I'm glad that nothing happened:) It was......THEM!  How many years has it taken me to see this event?  How many attempts?  I don't even want to talk about it.  But it was happening NOW.  Magic. 

A true North American bird, the Greater sage-grouse, is often a difficult grouse to find if they aren't on their leks performing their ritual mating dances.

At sunrise, our friend and guide, Khanh Tran, took us into a remote area to observe these beautiful birds at sunrise.  It was on private land.  And we were all alone.  Often times, birders have to set up these trips together with regional agencies to observe these birds in the wild.  When there are lots of birders all packed together to observe a special bird, it's called a......and pardon my language here......a "Shit Show".  I laugh every time I hear that expression:)

We were on their sacred grounds just far enough away to not disturb their incredible dances. As the sun rose, the snow sparkled from the new light while the males BOOMED and spun around in semi-circles for a female in the area.  A true wildlife ballroom!

I can show you pictures but I can't really express how spiritual this moment was for me.  It was THE top bird on this trip.  We drove hours and miles to see these birds and it was well worth the effort. 

This bird is listed as Near Threatened due to habitat loss.  Historically, their range covered 16 American states and parts of Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan in Canada.  These birds once lived in places like Arizona, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and New Mexico! However, recent reports from the US Fish and Wildlife Service have shown that this species has done quite well over the past couple of years and will not require endangered protection status. 

In the meantime, as responsible birders, we'll keep this lek secret.  If you click on the video above, you'll see how far we actually were from the birds.  We lucked out with one bird and had a close-up of a male on his way to the lek.  In the audio, you'll hear Western Meadowlarks and Horned Larks in the background and if you listen carefully, you may hear the booming that the males make.  The smart phone still has a long way to go with the audio sensitivity.  The pictures you see today were taken with a 500 mm lens at a very healthy distance from the lek.  More adventures to come......


  1. Replies
    1. You live in a beautiful state full of amazing birds!

  2. It sounds like an incredible adventure - so glad you saw the birds. Must have been one of those really magical experiences. Great post Chris :)

    1. It was so much fun. A lot of work but it was worth it. This moment was one of the top experiences from that trip.

  3. This is wonderful Chris. We went to a birding festival one time in Burns Oregon and were taken on a bus to see a lek and the courting ritual. Were not allowed to get off the bus (rightly so) and nor to take pioctures, but back then I didn't even have a good camera anyway. Still it is one of my favorite birding memories. (Those of us unable to explore as strenuously as others must take our memories where we can find them.)

    I loved this series.

    1. We are so good about not disturbing leks. That's the number one no no that some photographers do. Their inappropriate and irresponsible photography can destroy a lek and interrupt the mating dances.


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