Sunday, April 16, 2017

Gunnison Sage Grouse! - 11 Apr 2017

I was awake at 3 am and ready for the morning. In order to view the Gunnison Sage Grouse on their lek I have to be at the Gunnison Sage Grouse Viewing Area an hour before sunrise. So, at 4:30 AM I drove out of Gunnison on US-50 and turned off I-887 to the viewing area before 5 AM

I was met by Haley, who is a volunteer from Western Colorado University. She let me know to keep as quiet as possible, and If I was going to be using a window-mounted scope, now was the time to roll down the windows. So, an hour-and-a-half before sunrise I was sitting with the passenger window open and trying to keep warm with clear skies and 28 degrees outside. 

I spent some time scoping Venus as it rose over the mountains. It appeared to be in eclipse, as only about 20% of it was visible. Shortly before first light I scoped a small herd of Elk foraging atop the ridge on the far side of the lek.  I then saw a single Gunnison Sage Grouse (male) along the fence line about 150 yds away. It walked quietly along the fence line before flying off.

At first light three more birds appeared flying across the open field that was frozen but covered w/ dozens of rivulets created by runoff from snowmelt. It would be another half-hour before I would spot the first birds on the lek; a male and female. Unfortunately, they were almost 200 yds away and required full 60X on the scope in order to view. But, I could see the male dance, strut and shake in front of a female just a few feet away. I attempted to take a video through the scope, knowing full well that distance would not favor my results.

A second male appeared, and for several minutes the two males confronted each other by strutting and displaying while the female sat nearby. After several displays all birds wandered behind a stand of bushes that obscured viewing for the remainder of our stay. I would have to settle for listening to flocks of Horned Larks and several Western Meadowlarks out in the field. A half-dozen Black-billed Magpies appeared out in the lek.

Just before leaving the area I watched a Western Meadowlark fly over the car and land up on the hill to my left, where it was beautifully illuminated by the morning sun. Just moments later it disappeared as a Prairie Falcon flew in and perched a few feet away.

By 8 am I was leaving the area and heading back to Denver. Along the way I would see two more Prairie Falcons, several American Kestrels, Western Red-tailed Hawks, a flock of 30 American White Pelicans, and six Franklin’s Gulls swimming in a pond just outside of Kenosha Pass.  

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