Sunday, April 12, 2015

For the birds (Sharp-tail grouse, that is....)

The grouse danced in the field as the sun rose over the Highwood Mountains

Sharp-tail grouse drumming on their lek

Inside the viewing shed

Outise the viewing shed on a cold morning
After all these years I've finally witnessed the sharp-tail grouse mating dance ritual near Great Falls and think I now understand what all the fuss is about regarding their habitat.
On Sunday we were invited to the Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge, about 10 miles northwest of Great Falls, to the dancing area called a lek, where we saw some 40 males raise their tail feathers, puff their chests, pound their feet and clack their tails in a show for about 20 females, who seemed harassed and unimpressed.
We were housed in a small shelter built as a Boy Scout project (thanks Chris Gray of Troop 151!) and the birds performed almost if on cue about 50 to 100 feet in front of us.
The sharp-tail grouse have been using this area at least since 1988, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
The FWS requires reservation and there is room for six viewers in the shelter.
We arrived about 5:45 a.m., and despite the darkness we knew the birds were there because we could hear them because their were already active with their dancing, also known as drumming.  We stayed two hours.
As the sun rose just north of the Highwood Mountains, the birds became more and more clear to us.
We were treated to a spectacular sunrise as well as quite the bird show.
I would put this experience in the category of the snow geese and tundra swans that swarm Freezout Lake National Wildlife Refuge near Fairfield each spring.  In fact, it was just a month ago that we saw the arrivals of the first geese and swans there on an equally clear day.
The Benton Lake site is on a very flat plain, which makes our big sky look even bigger.
I marveled at what I was looking at, and plan to return again and again each spring.
Snow geese in formation

Taken a month ago with arrival of snow geese at Freezout Lake near Fairfield

1 comment:

Camille Consolvo said...

Thanks for a wonderful morning! Your photos are great and I love the description.