Sharp-tailed Grouse captured by D6 / 180-400VR

There was no star light to speak of when I approached the blind. The ground fog that was blanketing the valleys blocked their view and the glow way off to the east suggested the fog extended for some distance. Got in our plywood box, our blind for the morning, I did my usual and just sat, watched and most importantly, listened. We’re perched on the top of a knoll, quite the opposite of the Greater Prairie Chicken lek of the days before (they are more a bowl shape). I saw just on the other side of the knoll a known shape and when it loped off to the south, I knew it was a coyote. I wondered if our morning shoot just went out the door. A few minutes later when the light levels had come up a tad, I heard a flap and a crash to my right and knew, the grouse were coming!

The Sharp-tailed Grouse share the same grass prairie habit as the prairie chickens but not the same leks. They do not share the same “dance” or sparring as the chickens. As my friend said, “they sound like jack hammers” as they stomp rapidly on the ground performing for a hopeful mate. They spin, do stare offs and on rare occasion are combative. One of the big challenges is there is more grasses on their leks so getting a clear shot can be frustrating. The entire lek freezes, on what que I do not know. Then they unfreeze, again on a que I cannot figure and when they unfreeze, they flare out their wings, stick their heads down, call and drum as they make circles in the dirt. Then, they freeze again only to start it all over again.

When a female appears, they go nuts doing all of this with more frenzy. And there you are with a lens, camera and finger itching to blast away to make the shot. You start shooting this biology before the sun even kisses the knoll. Then the light levels come up and with it the gorgeous light. This morning, with the rising light levels and temps, the ground fog slowly rose. Just as the fog started to float across the lek, the sun began to just kiss it. I was in frantic mode as I looked for a grouse who might dance in an open spot for my lens, kissed by this light with the mystery of the fog. Luck have it, one just did and the D6 went flying! I love Sharped-tailed Grouse more than chickens for so many reasons and after this morning, even more so. I simply can’t wait again cause I just love grousing about!

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