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News.bytesNews.bytes Extra, issue 324

Looking at leks

A male sage grouse in full self-displayAn hour before sunrise, wildlife technician Blair Parrott heads out into northwest Nevada from Cedarville, California, in hopes of seeing sage grouse at one of the 48 active leks found within lands managed by BLM-California's Surprise Field Office.  A lek is a gathering place for male sage grouse for the purpose of competitive mating display.  Sage grouse congregate before and during mating season, which is usually March through mid May, on a daily basis.  Males and females meet at the same location every year and put on an extravagant display or "mating dance."

This time of year, accessing sage grouse strutting grounds is tricky -- it could require use of snowshoes, all-terrain vehicles or snowmobiles.  In past years wildlife staff have also conducted aerial surveys of the leks.  Each Spring, Surprise Field Office wildlife staff coordinate with the California Department of Fish and Game and Nevada  Department of Wildlife to ground-check all known active leks within the Surprise Field Office boundary.  This requires visiting the leks (from a respectable distance) in the early morning hours as often as weather will permit during the sage grouse mating season.  Using a high-powered spotting scope or binoculars, wildlife staff count how many males and females they see on each visit, while also collecting basic weather and field condition data.  Due to the remote location of each lek, getting to more than one lek per sunrise is a challenge.  On this morning (March 21, 2008), Blair drove about an hour from the office in a 4x4 truck, parked on the main road and then travelled by ATV and snowshoe to the lek.

Starting the day at sunrise, not much to see here yet...
Sunrise at a lek - hard to see much yet

Wildlife technician Blair Parrott casts a long shadows as she snowshoes into the sunrise...
On snowshoes, a wildlife biologist casts long shadows as he heads into the rising sun

Stopping for a look with binoculars...
Stopping for a look with binoculars

Seen from a distance...
A sage grouse in the snow, seen from a distance

Brought close up with a camera lens, a male grouse flares his tail feathers and puffs up his chest in display for a female
A front view of the male sage grouse in all his brown and tan glory, tail feathers splayed out and chest puffed upA male sage grous flairs out his tail feathers to display for a female

A spotting scope, tool of the trade
 A spotting scope, tool of the trade

- B. Parrott, 3/08

BLM-California News.bytes, issue 324

Last updated: 03-26-2008