Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Sage Grouse Lek Count

On the 15th of April Marjie and I headed for the Jordan Valley area of southeastern Oregon to volunteer with the BLM and Oregon Dept of Fish and Wildlife for 4 days for the annual Sage Grouse count. We were assigned 3 leks on which to count the grouse. A lek is an area where the male Sage Grouse congregate in the spring during mating season and try to attract a female. The same lek areas are used year after year. We were given a 2 hour class, the GPS coordinates for our leks and we headed southeast. We camped out in the desert on the BLM property. No hook ups here. Click on any picture for a larger view.

The male Sage Grouse puff up the air sacks on the front of their necks and strut around with their tail standing up trying to look "cool". If a girl wanders across the lek area things really get going.

This is what a typical lek area looks like. Just an open area in the sagebrush where the males can show off. We counted on a different lek each morning.

We went out the afternoon before the count date and located the lek and found a good observation point. The next morning before light, like 5:00 am, we went back to the lek found the observation point in the dark, hunkered down in the sagebrush and waited for daylight. Just before daylight the males begin to strut and make a real fuss. They are active until about an hour after sun up then fly off. We counted all the grouse, both male and female, that are on the lek for this period.

The female is all brown and the male has a white breast like this guy.

The sagebrush was full of Western Meadowlarks and their song was a real treat in the early morning chill.
Also a lot of Horned Larks in this area.

We couldn't get real close to the strutting males or they would flush and fly away so my pictures leave a little to be desired. We tried not to disturb any of the grouse on the lek.
This little badger poked his head up near our camp site to check us out. Lots of ground squirrels in the sagebrush so he was pretty happy and wasn't sure we belonged there.
During the afternoon one day we drove 20 miles west to Jordan Craters.
Jumped a couple coveys of chuckers along the road.
Jordan Craters is really a strange looking spot. The lava boiled up out of a crack in the ground in the middle of a sagebrush flat and covered over 18,500 acres. Looks a little like the McKenzie Pass but no mountains or trees.

We were the only ones there.

The second afternoon we drove up Cow Creek Valley until the road got a little rough. I thought I could make it but Marjie chickened out. Did spot a pair of Greater Sandhill Cranes, many geese and ducks and a few shore birds along the valley. All in all we had a great time and will probably do it again next spring. The BLM and ODFW count over 50 leks in southern Malheur County so maybe next year we will get a different area.

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