Today began again at 5:00 AM, I’ll be glad when I’m home and no longer visiting leks at the crack of dawn. But the sage grouse proved to be just as captivating as the sharp tailed grouse were yesterday. After searching around the area where they were supposed to be we finally spotted a group of four flying overhead and followed them down the road to the lek. One of the things that fascinates me about birding is the amount of “intelligence” available on various birds in multiple locations. We had some conflicting info on this sage grouse lek, one source said to go 1.6 miles down the road and look for a sign- which wasn’t there- and then drive another third of a mile and park and look back to the east. This was not productive. The other source said go 2 miles and turn left at the fork, then a quarter mile down the road and the birds will come up to your car! Well, the second source was correct, though we observed them in the field beside the road and tried to give them some space.
These guys were incredible, twice as big as the sharp tailed grouse, they have large white sacks on the fronts of their necks/breasts that they puff out very large, two yellow egg shaped areas in the center of the neck also puff out in the process, there is a noise made in all of this but we couldn’t hear it over the high wind and nearby oil rigs pumping. At the same time the guys are puffing up their necks they are also fanning out their tail feathers like a small spiky turkey tail. But the thing that impressed me the very most was when they strutted away from us and there were a group of feathers in the center of the tail that were black with white dots at the tips, it was a really amazing effect.
After about 45 minutes we decided it was time to move on in search of the White-tailed Ptarmigans which we never did find despite an hour or so of scanning the area around Loveland pass. These birds are completely white in the winter, blend in perfectly with the snow and are only found above 11,000 feet so they are very challenging to find. On we drove to the town of Gunnison where we are spending the night. More fabulous scenery, including this shot from the continental divide.
One of the things we’ve been enjoying most are these plants that I think are some kind of willow growing in the river valleys, their newly sprouted branches are yellow, orange and red and when they catch the sunlight against all this snow it’s a spectacular effect. This photo doesn't really do them justice. We’ve seen miles of them on our journey this week.