Centennial Valley Sage Grouse And Their Potential Listing As “Threatened”

About three weeks ago I was able to photograph adult female Greater Sage-Grouse and their chicks in the Centennial Valley of southwest Montana.  This species is on the cusp of a threatened species designation so I’m always thrilled to be able to see and photograph them in their natural, wild habitat.  Believe me, it doesn’t happen very often.

 

 

sage grouse 5542 ron dudley

 1/3200, f/5.6, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

Typically on my visits to the area I never see any Sage Grouse but this last trip was an exception as I encountered groups of them on three of the four mornings I looked for them.  One of the primary threats to the species is destruction and fragmentation of their sagebrush habitat so I love photos like this that show them in their natural home.

 

 

sage grouse 5117 ron dudley

  1/2500, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

 They’re not an easy species to get a clear shot of because of their tendency to duck for cover into the grasses and sagebrush.  This one eventually came out and looked me over for a few moments.

 

 

sage grouse 5608 ron dudley

 1/2000, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

 I was so very encouraged to see chicks with the adult females this time.  Usually they were buried in the grasses but once when the adults crossed the gravel road in front of me I was able to…

 

 

sage grouse 5632 ron dudley

 1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

get a few clear shots of several of them as they followed the adults.  Not a pretty setting but a good look at the young bird.

 

 

sage grouse 5451 ron dudley

 1/2500, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

This may be the clearest shot I was able to get of an adult in a setting I liked.

Each spring these birds perform their mating rituals on breeding grounds called leks.  Many leks have been used for generations – perhaps for thousands of years so when a lek is destroyed or disrupted by development it’s just another nail in the coffin of the Sage Grouse.  One such lek close to me in Morgan County, Utah is currently under such a threat and local birders and other concerned citizens are making valiant efforts to intercede but it’s definitely an uphill battle.

If you’ve never seen male Sage Grouse displaying on a lek or watched a good video clip of the behavior you owe it to yourself to watch this one.

The potential listing of the Greater Sage-Grouse as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act is a highly controversial issue because if it happens many ranchers and energy companies feel threatened by its consequences.  The issue is much too complex to do justice to here but here’s a link that does just that if you have the interest.

Ron

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Some Interesting Poses From A Rufous Hummingbird

Yesterday morning I spent more time with the hummingbirds on Antelope Island.  This female Rufous Hummingbird (it may be an immature male but for the sake of convenience I’ll refer to the bird as “she”) perched close and gave me some interesting poses.  I’m not fond of the old sunflower stem perch because it’s out of focus, parts of it are too bright and there’s an annoying dead leaf hanging down below the hummer but I like the poses and behaviors.

 

rufous hummingbird 1170 ron dudley

 1/ 2500, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, natural light, not baited, set up or called in 

Within a few moments of settling on the perch she stuck out her long tongue and at the same time demonstrated rhynchokinesis, the ability of  some birds (cranes, shorebirds, swifts and hummingbirds) to flex their bills out of their normal shape.  Here you see that the tips have momentarily separated.

 

 

rufous hummingbird 1231 ron dudley

 1/ 1600, f/8, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, natural light, not baited, set up or called in 

Then she had an itch under her eye and it must have been a doozy because she scratched it repeatedly.  Though it may look like her foot is coming from beneath her wing that’s not the case.  She dropped her wing and brought her leg and foot over the top of the wing-base (shoulder) to reach the itch.

 

 

rufous hummingbird 1208b ron dudley

 1/ 1600, f/8, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, natural light, not baited, set up or called in 

 In an earlier shot you can see how she dropped her wing before bringing her foot and leg over the top.  The attachment of the upper leg to the body in birds is often higher up than I expect it to be.

 

 

rufous hummingbird 1237 ron dudley

 1/ 1600, f/8, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, natural light, not baited, set up or called in 

After scratching she fluffed (roused).  Though I wish she had looked back at me while she did it I love the play of light on the fluffed plumage.

This bird had been feeding on some of the Rocky Mountain Bee Plants I’ve reported on in earlier posts.  This year those plants are extremely rare on the island (at least in places where they’re accessible) and yesterday we noticed that someone had ripped out and removed the largest, showiest and most flower-laden plant of them all.  I can only guess at their motivation but some of the possibilities are less than flattering…

Ron

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