A Morning on the Lek

I have worked in the Nebraska Sandhills and now in the Pine Ridge as a natural resources manager for six years now.  I’ve heard all about the experience of sitting in a blind and watching the spring displays of our native prairie grouse.  I’ve always come up with excuses not to experience it myself…too early in the morning, sunlight not good enough, too far to drive, something going on at work etc.  Yesterday, I finally did it.

A while back, I found a lek just a couple of miles from my house.

Sharptail Grouse-1

Canon T1i, Sigma 150-600 C, 600mm, f/7.1, 1/1250, ISO 800

I was a little concerned about disturbing the dance setting up my blind early in the morning, so the evening prior, i went out to the area and set up a pop-up hunting blind. That night, I set my alarm for 0500. I had all of my gear (tripod, camera, etc) packed up in the truck, so all I had to do was make some coffee and head out before first light.

 

I got to the blind around 0545 and got settled in.  It wasn’t 10 minutes later that I started hearing the guttural clucks and rapid foot stomping that I’d read about and only heard from a distance.

Sharptail Grouse-20

Canon T1i, Sigma 150-600 C, f/7.1, 600 mm, 1/1000, ISO 800

As the sun came up, i started taking photos.  I didn’t have great light throughout the morning, but I’m pretty happy with several of the photos.  It was hard to really capture the dance that the Sharptails do because of the poor light and the fact that my blind was actually a little bit lower than where they were dancing.

Sharptail Grouse-43

Canon T1i, Sigma 150-600 C, f/7.1, 600 mm, 1/1250, ISO 800

It was a great experience.  There was probably 15 or 20 birds in the group.  I’d say 3/4 of them were actively dancing. I noticed a few of the birds acted as “sentinels” for the larger group.  I also saw several of the female stopping by to watch and try to pick a mate.

Sharptail Grouse-31

Canon T1i, Sigma 150-600 C, f/7.1, 600 mm, 1/1000, ISO 800

I encourage all that work in tourism or natural resources to get out and see some of the wonders that go on in their area.  I know my experience will help me to tell the story of the plains and has given me a new respect for the things that you don’t always see from the highway.