Saturday, September 15, was the opening day of sage grouse season here in Idaho. After 75 minutes of traveling across some very ruff primative roads, I got to a cattle watering station in the middle of the high desert north of St. Anthony. There were no birds at the tank when I got there and was a little worried about their numbers during the summer heat and drought.
I listened to the coyotes howling and bugling bull elk between short snoozes. About 6:30, I was awakened by a strange sound and saw wave after wave of sage grouse walking to the water tank. I did not realize that the tank was bone dry and the only moisure for the birds was damp dirt that had been dug out by the birds. These pockets of wet dirt probably started out as tracks from cattle when the tank overflowed. I flushed the birds several times only to have them come back for more moisture.
Here a family group works the damp dirt holes.
The young of the year were still learning to fly and was reluctent to take off, but had been taught how to get the moisure out of the dirt. They would get a mouthful of dirt, hold it a minute or two and then spit out what remained.
Another source of moisture for the birds was eating the green grass with frost on it.
The birds were so concerned about getting water, that they paid no attention to me in the truck. This sage grouse walked under my truck to get to the moist earth pockets.
One time I flushed the birds and filled a couple of holes with water from my water bottles. The birds returned in about five minutes and these two young cocks fought over the water.
There were over 100 birds that came to this water tank to try to find water. I traveled to another tank in the desert that was full with some overflowing. As I was driving up about 50 birds flushed as I got close. These were more concerned about safety than thirst.
I spent the morning in the Wilds of Idaho and saw coyotes, migrating Mountain Bluebirds, elk, Mule deer and moose. What a great way to spend some time learning and studying the wildness of Idaho.