Friday, April 23, 2010

SkyWatch Friday - More storms

More storms continue to roll through Idaho.  The only difference is that rain is falling instead of snow.  But it is needed and the grass is now greening up.  Usually the we get a break in the evenings as the sun try to break through the clouds as it is setting over the Henrys Fork of the Snake River.

The end of another wild day in Idaho.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

More Sharptailed grouse

Hit the Sharptailed grouse leks this morning and saw over 30 of them.  Another great show - but no fight up close to get pictures of.  First came the displays, dancing and posturing.

This fellow came the closest to me and you can see some of the battle scars on his purple air sacks from the fights.

The dance includes the stomping of feet, rubbing the two middle tail feathers together while the tail is held high, puffing out the purple air sacks on the neck and extending the bright yellow combs on the head, spreading the wings and dancing in circles.  All this to attract the females.  Show-offs.

Here a hen comes in and surveys the 20 males looking for a suitable mate.  Breeding happens so fast with Sharptails, that by the time you realize something is happening it is over.  I have never been able to capture the breeding being done.

After the sun came up,  a young male tried to horn in on the dominate males near the middle of the lek.  First one of the older males would chase him, running through the thick dead grass or flying after him.  I was lucky enough to capture a couple of these chases.


Just another great start of a wild day in Idaho.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sharptailed grouse are at it again.

The Sharptailed grouse are at it again.  Chasing the girls and fighting over bragging and breeding rights.  With their tails held high, looking like popcorn exploding, they are not hard to find once you get into their area.  The beating of the ground with their feets and their calls can be heard for a quarter of a mile.  Most of the battles are short but occasionally a battle over the center of the lek can be several minutes long.  I just witnessed one such battle last week.

It started with a challenger attacking the dominate bird on the lek.

The fierce battle ensued.  They locked bills, not unlike a lustful Hollywood french kiss, with both bodies twisting trying to gain control over the opponent.

Soon after the "kiss" broke up, both bird would fly into the air beating each other with their wings.  At one time, both locked onto the left wing of the other with such violence I thought we might end up with a broken wing - but they survived without anything broken.

To end the battle, the dominent bird "pinned" the challenger, by flipping it on its back.

To escape the fierce battle, the losser flew to the hood of my truck, resting there for a couple of minutes before it realized there may be danger inside.

Meanwhile, the victor rested on the ground showing the feathers of honor still in its beak, daring any other bird stupid enough to challenge him.

What a way to start another wild day in Idaho.  Two hours of sex and violence beating the heck out of  any TV show or movie I have seen - except for some recent Sage grouse shows.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

SkyWatch Friday - Sunset over the Henrys Fork

It has been a week of storms with four inches of snow on Tuesday.  Wednesday night the storm started to break and this was the sunset over the Henrys Fork of the Snake River.

A great view of the wildness of Idaho.

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Saturday, April 10, 2010

Sage Grouse Lek

Great morning.  I got to the sage grouse lek at 5:15 this morning and 10 minutes later the grouse started arriving.  First the males with their flowing white collars and then while it was still dark the cackling hens arrived.  The hens that were ready to be bred arrived first.  I did get four poor pictures with the aid of my flash to get some breeding pictures.  Here is one of them.  This cock bred six of the seven hens I witnessed being bred.   Data says that 10 per cent of the cocks do 90% of the breeding.

As it got lighter,  I started getting pictures of the displaying males around me.  Here is a non-breeder just east of me as the sun rose, the sun lighting up his fanned tail feathers.

The dominant cock of the lek was surrounded by 11 hens after the sun came up.  Here he is with three of them.  None of them squatted and spread her wings indicating a willingness to be bred.

I thought this hen would eventually welcome his advances while the sun was shining, but it would not happen.  All of his displaying was wasted.

After all the hens wandered off into the sagebrush, the dominant male displayed for 30 minutes trying to entice them back to the lek.  Here is a series of his display.  First he sucks in a big breath of air.

Then he puffs out his chest air sacks a little.

He then rubs his wings on his chest making a squeaking sound as he takes in a huge breath of air.  Notice his mouth is wide open and he has extended his body and legs to allow the greatest intake of air.  From the side view, he would be leaning backward.

Next he brings his head down, burying it in his white collar, forcing all the air into his air sacks, pushing them out and making a loud "plopping" sound.

With the air sacks being stretched to the limit, they show wrinkles as the air escapes.

With 30 to 40 males displaying on one lek, it can be very intertaining and a wonderful way to spend a few hours watching another wild day in Idaho dawn.  I was back home by 8:15 in time to do yard work.

Sorry this was so long - could have been longer, but this will suffice.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

SkyWatch Friday - Sunset over the desert.

With the sun setting last night I captured a silhouette of a wild rose bush.  We got at least one day without snow but more is predicted.

The end of another wild day in Idaho.

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Sunday, April 4, 2010

Snow, Snow, snow

Three days of snow slowed the birding during my Spring break, but did not stop it.  I encountered some old and new birds.

Between snow storms I located the Long-eared owl nest without disturbing the female.

While the male circled and kept an eye on me.

The snow started to fall on Thursday after I left the owls and the sandhill cranes, teal and coots did not seem to mind.

But then on Friday, the ground was covered and I slipped out at 5 a.m. to see if I could find my first Sage grouse of the season.  I found them on a lek, but only seven males and no females showed up.  I was able to get a few pictures, but they did not stay long as they preferred the sage rather than the bare snow covered breeding ground with no breeding to be done.


With snow showers and wind up to 40 mph, the ice on Mud Lake started to break up exposing winter-killed fish.  On the edge of the ice 54 eagles, mostly immature Balds, gathered to feed.  That evening, I hid in some large cottonwood trees and photographed the eagles coming into roost.  The grey skies did not make for great shots, but it was exciting to watch these birds fight the wind to find their roost for the night.


Even in the snow, it was a great way to spend two days in the wildness of Idaho.  Happy Easter.

Friday, April 2, 2010

SkyWatch Friday - Sunset

Snow, snow, snow.  But between the snow storms, we sometimes catch a thin line of the setting sun against the mountains.

As the sun completely sets,  the colors become more vivid until it is totally gone.

The end of another wild day in Idaho.

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