Saturday, November 21, 2009

Methuselah - The Sharp-tailed Grouse

A person quarried the other day about my header - Is it a grouse?  The two fighting cocks are Sage Grouse.  Another person asked if we have Sharp-tailed grouse.  We do and I also take thousands of picture of them each spring.
In 2006, I located a banded Sharp-tailed grouse on and lek and watched him all season.  This is the story I wrote for the newspaper about him.  These pictures are all pictures of him. 

Methuselah – beating the odds. (June 2006)

Not many game birds live longer than two to four years, but one smart Columbia sharp-tailed grouse is beating the odds.

This spring while photographing sharp-tails and sage grouse on their leks, I noticed one male with a band on its left leg. I also noticed that its habits were totally different than the other male sharpies. After several calls and research, I discovered the last banding program on sharp-tails was in the mid 1990’s.

“I believe the last sharp-tails banded in the Upper Snake River Valley were in 1994,” said Justin Naderman, a wildlife biologist for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. “I really don’t think that it would be a migrant bird. So it is either an old bird or someone has banded it without our knowledge.”

I nicknamed the bird “Methuselah” and worked hard to study his habits and to get pictures of him. Thirteen mornings were spent near his spot on the lek observing and photographing him. His habits were foreign to those of most male sharp-tails.

I would have to get there early before the birds flew to the lek. If I was a little late, other grouse would fly off the lek, only to come back a little later. Not Methuselah, he would disappear into the sagebrush he used as a roost and I would not see him again.

When I beat him to the lek, he would walk into his area, park behind the sage and wait for the sun to come up. His life seemed to be centered around a single sagebrush. Most days he would not display much and would climb up into the sage that he had shaped a bowl in the middle of. From time to time he would climb off the bush to defend his territory or to display. But most of the time he would crouch low in the sagebrush, even appearing to fall asleep there.

Most grouse when hawks would attack would fly off the lek. Not Methuselah. He would dive into the sagebrush and stay there until others returned and started displaying. Out he would come, display once or twice and climb back onto the bush. Most mornings this would happen eight or nine times.

To me the most interesting habit he had was when I was ready to leave, I would get out of the blind and he would dive into the bush. He would not flush from there until I walked by it several times, always flushing behind me after I walked past him.

Hopefully he will survive the summer, fall and next winter. (He did not.)

I would love to study him again next spring; I hope old age gets him. Long live Methuselah.



Janie said...

Great story about the old bird. Too bad he didn't last until the spring.

Mary said...

It seems touching to me, for some reason, that this remarkable old bird had a chronicler so that we can know of its long life and interesting habits. Great photos, too, Bill--thank you. Also love the sunset from Thursday's post.

This Is My Blog - fishing guy said...

Bill: What a great story of the interesting grouse.

Mary Howell Cromer said...

Wow, really a neat story and lovely photographs. I wish we had these birds in KY,yet is it not wonderful to learn about birds from all over the country, all over the world, as well as their habits and so forth...very interesting~

Betsy from Tennessee said...

You got some great pictures of Methuselah, Bill. AND---you wrote a nice article about him. He is a gorgeous sharp-tailed grouse.


Nina P. said...

What a wonderful old bird and such a photo and written tribute to him. He did make it through to many more springs because of you and your talents. Blessings to you and yours. Love and Light, Nina P

Jann said...

Wonderful, touching story...I hope you see him again too. We have the ST grouse here in S Dakota too, I got my first few photos of them this year.

Mary said...

Very interesting and how neat to be able to study it and its behavior so well.

Joie Moring said...

That is one 'sage' glad you discovered his possible legacy and now we're all gunning for his continued mentoring, crouching, and timely flushing.