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2014 Sage Grouse Lek Viewing Tours & Places to See the Wondrous Dance

photographerinbus402February 28, 2014

 

March, April and early May mark the  sage grouse dancing season, when males assemble at dawn every day on “leks,”  (open natural dance floors in the sagebrush) and put on breathtaking displays as they compete for the very picky hens. The timing of the breeding season depends a bit on elevation.  

Sage Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus)

Males sometimes actually fight on the leks–when a dance and a display takes a more aggressive turn. Photo by Rick McEwan for SGI.

Since sage grouse are very sensitive to disturbance, several tour opportunities are available that assure the sage grouse will be safe from people coming too close and to provide stellar viewing opportunities.  There’s also a watchable wildlife site where you can go on your own in Colorado, as long as you adhere to all the ethical precautions. Please see this section on our SGI  website.

Birdwatching Daily published an article in 2012 on where to go to view “prairie dancers” (sage grouse, sharp-tailed grouse, and both lesser and greater prairie chickens. The article has a map with 50 viewing locations—note, that it’s important to double-check with all the contact information to make sure all is still up to date.

Tips for Ethical Viewing of Sage Grouse

From Wyoming Department of Fish and Game:

•  Arrive at the lek at least one hour before sunrise.
•  Don’t drive on or near the lek and park away from the edge of the lek.
•  Turn off the engine and lights and stay in your vehicle.
•  Use binoculars and spotting scopes to observe birds.
•  Don’t make loud noises or sudden movements.
•  Do not leave the lek site until the birds do.
•  Keep your pets in the vehicle or, better yet, leave them at home.
•  Do not trespass on private land.
•  Postpone your visit if roads are muddy.
•  Late April is the best time to visit leks because most breeding is complete but the males are still actively strutting.

A PARTIAL LIST OF SAGE GROUSE VIEWING OPPORTUNITIES IN SPRING 2014

Colorado: Conservation Colorado offers sage grouse tours March 28th to April 13th in NW Colorado out of Craig. They fill up fast.

What: Fully guided Greater Sage Grouse lek watch – Only 14 people per trip. Purchase your seat before they sell out!  Tours occur in a remote area often during inclimate weather. Please inquire before registering children or if you have special needs accommodations.Ticket Prices:

  • Residents of Moffat, Routt & Rio Blanco Counties – $25
  • Regular – $50
  • Regular + Conservation Colorado Membership – $75
  • Group rates available – contact us for more information.

Colorado: Gunnison Grouse Viewing —both self-viewing available and a trailer for reservation. Offered by Sisk-a-dee.

Gunnison Sage-grouse Viewing 
Waunita Watchable Wildlife Site: General Public Users

Directions to the Waunita Lek: 
Gunnison Sage-grouse predictably use the Waunita Lek, located 19 miles east of Gunnison just north of Hwy 50. Turn north on County Road 887 (Waunita Hot Springs Road) and go 0.6 miles to a small pull-off on the right where you can view the birds. A viewing trailer, just north of the parking lot, is available by reservation only or Sisk-a-dee tours, free to the public.  The lek is located to the east of the road in the open meadow (see map). This observation point offers a good view of the birds through binoculars and spotting scopes and is far enough away from the lek to minimize disturbance to the birds. The lek is located on private property, but the pull-off is a Colorado Parks and Wildlife managed Watchable Wildlife site.  The site is open April 1st through May 15th. 

Gunnison_Sage_Grouse_500-310x206

Gunnison sage grouse. Photo by Noppadol Paothong
From http://www.birdwatchingdaily.com/featured-stories/prairie-dancers/

Gunnison sage grouse are a separate species, and a third smaller than the greater sage-grouse. Their current range is only in SW Colorado and SE Utah. The USFWS listing decision is different for the Gunnison, proposed to be listed under the ESA as a threatened species. The range is very limited to SW Colorado and into a corner of Utah. Read more here.

Idaho: Don’t miss the Annual Dubois Grouse Days, April 12, 2014 

viewingfrombus402

Sage grouse displaying on leks are spectacularly easy to see from the bus at Grouse Days. You won’t be disappointed. (Photo, Deborah Richie, SGI, Grouse Days 2013)

Dubois Grouse Days is a conservation and educational experience to celebrate the shrub-steppe ecosystem and the distinctive animals which live there.This year’s one-day event features wildlife presentations,  photography blinds for Greater Sage-Grouse, great food and fun.  Also included are guided tours to grouse breeding grounds (leks) to view the Greater Sage-Grouse courtship.  Proceeds from the event support local conservation projects and educational activities, including one to two college scholarship(s) for a graduating senior from Clark or Jefferson County.

 

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