Party on the Lek

Pictures: May 1, 1998, Mike Borgerding

(Taken with a telephoto lens with camera on tripod)

When I first arrived I counted a total of 33 roosters on the lek, about 12 miles out of town. Although I thought I was an early riser to be there at 6 A.M., the grouse had all taken their positions before me in the barely visible light of the morning. On two occasions a hen quickly walked through the length of the lek. Before actually seeing her, I was made aware of her presence by the heightened strutting (both in movement and sound) of the roosters. At 7:15 A.M. all of the birds, but four, flew away within a minute of the first's departure.

(Taken with Canon A-1 attached to Meade ETX Astro Telescope)

I used the hood of my car as a base for the photographic equipment. Because the field of view is so small it was somewhat difficult to locate the birds in the camera's viewfinder. I used gloves placed under the three legs of the telescope's support to adjust the vertical alignment. After framing my shot many times the rooster would "strut" out of the picture. Due to the high magnification I was constantly adjusting the focus.

It was most frustrating trying to get a picture including the hen. This was because she was constantly on the move. Trying to locate her and focus was a challenge.

Because the telescope is used as the camera lens I have no control over camera settings. Early in the morning with less light available dictated slower shutter speeds and therefore pictures were more apt to be blurred.

(Two of the four rooster which remained)
Quite ugly birds when not trying to impress the ladies!

Following from "Bomber Volunteers", by Lance Beeny, March, 1998, Wyoming Wildlife

"As night nears its end, dancers take their positions on the stage. They have battled for their place in the show and, if needed, will fight for it again. The air, colder than ice, is perfectly calm as if frozen in place. A billion tiny icicles twinkle in the cloudless sky. It is far too cold to imagine them as burning balls of fire.

For the dancers, the setting is irrelevant. They would be here if it were snowing, raining, and regardless of whether the mercury hovers above or below zero degrees Fahrenheit. Like their fathers before them, they come to this spot in the wee hours of the morning, every spring day, for months on end. It is the gathering place where their ancestors have met to mate for perhaps hundreds, or even thousands of generations.

Before the first visible hint of sunrise, some instinct cues them to begin. Blub-blup! Blub-blup! Sviish! The sounds of air sacs "popping" and wings jerking stiffly, carry through the biting Wyoming air. For an hour, they dance in the starlight, more frenzied when females approach, more sedate and rhythmic if they move away.

As the sky shifts gradually from black to blue, the shapes of sage grouse emerge enough to be counted. At six o'clock their numbers peak- seventeen cocks, strutting with tails fanned and chest inflated, nineteen hens wandering among them, avoiding subordinate males, drawn to dominant roosters at the center of the lek. It is a tremendous display, and though usually unobserved by humans, our species seems to find it intrinsically moving and spiritual."