Jay and I, along with our good birding buddies Louie and Ileana had the idea of getting up early this Sunday to go in search of some lekking Sharp-tailed Grouse. We were all excited to get out and bird, but somehow it didn’t seem like such a good idea when we were meeting up in Meridian at 4:45.
We hit the highway (caffeine in hand) and headed out toward Weiser where we’d been told about a Sharp-tail lek that was located on some private property in the area. In exchange for the info from the biologists at Fish and Game, Jay had offered to check out a lek that hadn’t been surveyed for a few years because of road conditions. We were hopeful that we’d see at least a few birds, but kept in mind that it could be a ‘wild grouse chase’. We arrived to the area just as the sun was coming up, and from the car we were able to spot a displaying male Greater Sage Grouse! Not what we were looking for, but still cool. We quietly got out of the car (climbing through to the far door so we wouldn’t scare the birds) and we started to hear some funny noises that weren’t like the “buh-wump” sounds coming from the Sage Grouse. Soon, we spotted a Sharp-tail dancing very close to the sage grouse! We kept listening and realized that the sounds were coming from all over the place in front of us. A few times the Sharp-tail’s leapt into the air during their dancing and we were able to count at least six. We pulled the car a little closer and continued to watch. We had some sweet views of the dancing males, and got to listen to all their funny noises and feet stamping. (there were certain people commenting on all the 'nice tail' we were seeing...but I don't know who that could be) As the sun came over the hill we could really see their yellow eyebrows and the purple on their throats. (I loved their fuzzy white tails and their cute little wind-up toy actions!) They’re so funny! Also this whole time, the big dorky Sage Grouse continued to go at it…boy was he confused! A few times, one of the male ST’s faced off with the sage, and actually scared him! After a while of watching them, the whole flock got up and flew up the hillside, and there were WAY more than 6 birds! We were able to count 20 birds in flight, and they soon returned to give us even closer looks! These were LIFERS for Louie and Ileana, and while I’d seen a ST in flight over spring break, this was definitely the sighting I’ll remember! Sweet!
photo by Ileana!
We left the grouse to do their thing, and headed down the road. We needed to get back on time for Jay’s soccer game (and for naps for the rest of us!), and there were still plenty of places we wanted to get to, so we tried to limit our stops along the way…but of course we had to stop for all the ‘dinky birds’ (as Louie calls them). And we weren’t disappointed! We saw and heard lots of Spotted Towhees, White-crowned Sparrows, a few Lincoln’s and Savannah Sparrows, some Brown-headed Cowbirds, a Red-naped Sapsucker, and singing Rock and House Wrens. But the real treats were a singing Nashville Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, and a Dusky Flycatcher! Welcome back guys! We also saw plenty of other signs of spring along the road: lots of nests of both hawks and owls.
After birding the road to the lek, we decided to check out Mann Creek Reservoir. On the way there we got to stop to check out a pair of Long-billed Curlews, and Ileana got some more great photos!
At a place called "Devil's Elbow" along the highway, and also at the reservoir, we checked out the birds on the water which included, sadly, tons of Ruddy Ducks! (A species that Jay didn't have on his yearlist yet...shoot!) We then birded in the day-use area near the N end of Mann Creek. Along with a large flock of Yellow-rumps, we were able to find yet another Nashville Warbler and a few more Orange Crowns. Cute!
While at this stop, 'the boys' obviously had a bit too much energy because while watching the warblers, Ileana and I turned around to see two 'sharp-tailed grouse' facing off in front of us (Jay here: Um, I think we were encouraged - at least by Ileana, who wanted to see her man strut his stuff; i.e., we didn't just start this behavior on our own). They encouraged us to join in, but (in what I'd consider true female sharp-tailed fashion) we refused, and simply laughed and rolled our eyes at these two dorks...oh, and snapped a few pictures too :D
Including Louie's great imitation of a grouse's leaping abilities
Photo by Ileana :)
To finish up our day, we headed to the New Plymouth sewage ponds. (because what birding day would be complete without a stop at at least one sewage pond, cemetery, or landfill?) There were lots of waterfowl, including some baby Canada Geese, tons more Ruddy Ducks, some Scaup, Redheads, and a new yearbird: an Eared Grebe! (I've never seen them in breeding plumage before, so that was cool) After scoping for a while, we decided it was time to pack up and head for home...we were tired!!
Ileana took so many great pictures that I've put some extra ones into an album for you to check out here !