Sunday, April 5, 2009
Last night I set my pop-up blind near the Sharptail Grouse lek I had scouted that morning. Then I hoped the wind wouldn't come up during the night and send it off to points unknown. As I made my way across the prairie this morning in the early pre-dawn light, I could tell that hadn't happened and my blind was just as I had left it the night before. I had to hurry up the low hill to beat the fast approaching dawn and the eastern horizon was already showing the pale bruised colors signaling the approaching sunrise. No birds flushed from the lek when I unzipped the blind and settled in but within a few minutes I could hear birds displaying on the lek in front of me and within a few minutes more they were displaying all around me.
I settled in and waited for the sun to break the horizon and provide me with enough light to take some photos. The wait gave me lots of time to just watch the birds displaying. I could hear the chuckles, growls, and grouse gobbles in the areas around the blind I couldn't see and I knew the males were facing off with each other because the birds in front of me were doing the same thing.
After settling the stare down one of the two would notice another male approaching his particular chunk of turf and he would dash over to settle the dispute.
Occasionally I could here the flash of wings and the feathery thwacks as a scuffle broke out. Then I would hear the sound of approaching flight from the incoming females and then the dancing would begin in earnest. It sounded like an unorganized drum roll of padded drumsticks on tiny snare drums, and when they were close, I could hear the purple air sacs popping as they displayed.
The first photos were bluish before the sun cleared the horizon and then the gold sunrise lit the birds up. But only for a few minutes before the sun slid into the scattered clouds overhead.
There was a lot of dancing early on but then as the females stopped coming to the lek and the day got longer, the males spent more time staring at each other rather than dancing. Occasional fights would break out but for the most part they were done dancing. Some even appeared tired and would stop and settle in for a quick shut eye.
Or a scratch.
Or a stretch.
About 8:00 am they were all done and they quickly departed as a group over the hill.