Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Post #19 - Last installment of Colorado grouse - Sharp-tailed!

Reminder, please "like" The Speckled Hatchback on Facebook for updates!

Sonia and I are now fully settled in Los Angeles! As I have been consumed with moving, furniture procurement, and unpacking, I am only now able to catch-up on the last of my birding exploits on the back end of the cross-country drive. I am hoping to find some time this weekend to sneak out for my first full-fledged California birding session. I will be sure to keep everyone posted when I do! 

After wrapping up with the Greater sage-grouse in Coalmont, Colorado, Sonia and I turned our attention west towards Craig. It was here that I fortuitously managed to find Sharp-tailed grouse last July (2014). That encounter, like most of my grouse sightings, consisted of several flushed birds flying away from me at great velocity. The looks were good enough to identify and count the birds, but they unsurprisingly left much to be desired. I was hoping for a bit of redemption this spring. I was not disappointed.

Leaning on some of my local contacts, I was again able to secure permission to bird the Trapper Mine, a very large coal operation just south of Craig. We arrived very early in the morning. Placing a small blind near an established lek, Sonia and I spent the better part of the next 3 hours surrounding by upwards of 60 Sharp-tailed grouse. 90% of the birds were males. On the rare occasions when a female did venture onto the lek, she was immediately mobbed by half a dozen males. In each instance, her patience for aggression short, she took to the air to escape the horny suitors. I guess it really wasn't that different from the juvenile behavior displayed by young men at some times!

Of grouse encounters of that previous week, this might have been the most impressive. Not only were the birds literally at out feet, but the preponderance of males on the lek made for constant skirmishes between them. At several points, I thought the combatants might end up in the blind with Sonia and I! The constant foot stomping, wing flapping, and squawking made for an incredibly entertaining morning! Despite the close proximity of the the birds, photography at this particular lek proved quite challenging. This lek, like the first Greater prairies-chicken lek I visited, was situated on the crown of a hill. I had a really hard time avoiding hard shadows in my shots. There was also some very high grass that cast some very long shadows across the lek. One thing that week taught me was that it is really important to visit the lek site before you actually show up to shoot. As Trapper is a restricted access site, I only got one crack at it. Hopefully, if I return again, I will be a bit better prepared.

Sharp-tailed grouse - Tympanuchus phasianellus
Trapper Mine, Craig, Colorado, 4/6/15
Canon 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 IS v1 at 320mm on EOS 1D Mark IV
1/2500 at f/5.6, ISO 800, Manual

1/2500 at f/5.6, ISO 800, Manual

Canon 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 IS v1 at 210mm on EOS 1D Mark IV
1/3200 at f/5.6, ISO 1600, Manual
Getting a clear shot of this behavior proved very tough

Canon 500mm f/4 IS v1 + 1.4x III on EOS 1D Mark IV
1/2500 at f/5.6, ISO 1600, Manual

Canon 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 IS v1 at 340mm on EOS 1D Mark IV
1/2500 at f/5.6, ISO 800, Manual

Canon 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 IS v1 at 340mm on EOS 1D Mark IV
1/2500 at f/5.6, ISO 800, Manual

Since we were already at the mine, Sonia and I took a tour of the whole operation. While I am admittedly a big proponent of more renewable energy sources, coal is, for better or for worse, a big source of the power we are able to generate at this time. Interestingly, all of the leks on Trapper's property are on reclaimed ground. Trapper has made a very nice effort to repair the habitat once they extract the coal that lies beneath the surface. They have actually received several awards for their commitment to environmental management and reclamation efforts. Regardless of how anyone feels about coal as an energy source, it is nice to know that at least this mining entity is trying to conduct itself in an partially sustainably manner. 

Sonia with some large mining machinery

More of the same

Me with tour guide Forrest Luke

In the next installment of this blog, I'll be holding an Ivory-billed woodpecker......stay tuned!

No comments:

Post a Comment