Gunnison, Colorado – Gunnison Sage-Grouse

I’ve been back for two weeks now and the chicken run is still in my mind.  The birds I saw and the birds I missed.  Three thousand miles, 5 states, 8 days, 3 lifers and the Waunita Lek for Gunnison’s Sage-Grouse.

After all the birds I’ve photographed this is the only one I absolutely couldn’t get close to.   Most of the land these birds are on is private and access to crown land is strictly controlled.  The only choice is the Waunita Lek for viewing the grouse.  This lek is located about 18.5 miles east of Gunnison, Colorado on County Road 887.

There is a viewing trailer located at the site that can be accessed for $100 but gives the viewer no advantage at all.  Commercial birding groups are required to use the trailer blind.  Although if I’d come from abroad to see these  birds from this site, I’d probably be disappointed.

I arrived on the 18th at 5:15am, parked my car and spoke to the volunteer who ensures protocal is followed.  I asked where the birds had been coming out to the lek.  He pointed into the darkness and gave me a general direction.  I setup my spotting scope in the rear seat and rolled the window down and waited for the sun to come up.

I soon realized that it was going to be a long wait and at -13C a cold one.  Slowly though I begat to pick out details a tree, rock, bush and fence line in the general direction I was given but by 6am I hadn’t seen anything moving.  then all of a sudden all the people began streaming out of the trailer and cars, laughing and smiling.  I heard on person say “wow, what a show, too bad the eagle flushed them”.   I got out of the car and ralized I had been looking in the wrong direction and the birds were gone and they wouldn’t be back until the next morning.  I’d have to stay another day.

I went back to the hotel and tried to figure out what I was going to do the rest of the day.  On the advice of the locals, I decided to spend the day in the Hartman’s Rocks area, looking for Sage-Grouse.  Driving on an ATV track  is usually not a good idea with a rental Toyota Corolla but I really didn’t want to walk in the 2 miles.  I got to a closed gate, parked the car as best I could and started walking.  I figure, I walked 2-3 miles, looking for any movement.  After flushing 3 birds I realized it wasn’t going to be easy.  I deceded to give it up.  I got back to the hotel just after dark and crashed.  I knew that I’d given it my all that day to see a sage-grouse on my own

The next morning back in the car I was ready and knew where to look.  Like clockwork the birds arrived and the dancing began.  Binoculars are useless, the birds are speckes at 400 meters, a good quality scope is needed  to see details.

Just remember to focus on the “H” post…..

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After getting good looks at the sage-grouse, I set up my camera with my 300mm lens and 2x teleconverter, with not much hope of a decent photo.

Me

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Ciao for now…..

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