I had hoped to spend many days with a couple different populations but the monsoon rains coming early spoiled my plans. I still may try in August. I say that because the best time to get desert bighorn shots is during the hot summer when they are forced to come to water. I have 2 places I like to go, one a river the other a lake where I can cover a lot of territory in a boat. It's just too hot and I'm too old to try and go chase them through bighorn habitat with all that gear and temps in the 120's near the rocks these guys live in. As usual, I've got some bighorn natural history on the captions on the photos below. I hope you enjoy the images and the information.
Because of family illnesses and loss I had to put photography on the back burner from December to May. However I was able to get away in mid April for a Colorado Chicken Photo Tour with Tropical Birding. The trip advertised visiting both prairie chicken lek sites and sharp-tailed and sage Grouse with possibilities for other species as well. A lek site is an area where males display or dance and females visit eventually choosing a mate. I had always dreamed of visiting and photographing just one species lek site so I didn't want to pass on the chance to visit all 4 prairie species. We met in Denver and our first stop was a small lesser prairie chicken lek less than 6 miles from the NE border. I was surprised we were even able to visit the site since the species has just been listed as Threatened just 2 months before the trip. Although the birds were some what timid and stayed a distance away we were still treated to a great show as the pictures below indicate. Just after we were done we were stopped by the Colorado Division of Wildlife that asked our guide not to get that close in the future because of the recent designation so we were quite lucky.
The next stop was a private ranch in northern Colorado for greater prairie chickens. This rancher opens his ranch to many birder type trips and all he asks is that he meet everyone and give his side of ranching and how he perceives conservation. It was an interesting presentation and from the photos on his wall I was quite excited for the next morning. When we arrived the lek the next morning we first saw activity from the van headlights. However, as light increased so did the wind and we endured up to 50 mph gusts. The birds were still there in numbers and were seemingly unconcerned about us but strong winds affect all animals. I only saw males and the lack of females reduced the display activity. We were still able to get some good shots but not some of the displays we had seen the day before. I'm sure a visit on a less windy day would have been great. The birds were there in large numbers.
Again we hit the road after the lek activity and drove another couple hundred miles with a couple stops for some other Colorado birds. This time our quarry was sharp tailed grouse which proved the be the show of the tour. We were actually allowed on reclaimed strip mine land by the mine and I was quite impressed with their reclamation process. We also saw elk, deer, and pronghorn there along with numerous other species. Given the number of awards the mine has been given I wasn't the only biologist impressed with their reclamation. We had a couple blinds and soon as we had them up we were surrounded by sharp-tailed males dancing even before first light. The pictures below give an indication of just how good it was, but it was better.
Our last stop was the one I was most looking forward too, sage grouse. I had seen many in the years I lived in Wyoming but never a lek. The fact that sage grouse populations have drastically reduced even heightened my interest in this large lek area. As with every morning, we arrived well before first light and we were treated to quite a show acoustically and then in low light. My conservative count of "booming males" was 50 but I'm sure there were more as a blind limits visibility. I was super excited and took a few shots even in the low light. Glad I did because right as the sun was about to rise 2 Golden Eagles zoomed through the lek causing all the birds to flush, never to return. If sage grouse are disturbed they normally don't return and this group followed that rule. A few males returned to see if any action was going to start and we were able to photograph a couple of them from close range but none of the booming we had seen before it was light enough to shoot. Although disappointing it's hard to pout over 2 golden eagles breaking up the action. That's nature and photography. I will have to be happy with what I got below and the guide, Andrew, gave me the GPS location of the lek so it looks like a trip to Colorado may be in the cards next April.
I have no problem recommending any one interested going on the this trip with Tropical Birding. (http://www.tropicalbirding.com/us-and-canada-birding-tours/colorado-photo-journey/) I thought the guide Andrew Spencer was extremely knowledgeable about his home state and even more about the birds. I was also able to shoot other species such as the white tailed ptarmigan we were able to find at Loveland Pass. This trip has a marathon like pace as you are up well before the sun and normally have a couple hundred miles of travel that day at least. I thought the trip was some what similar to mine in that Andrew shared quite a bit of expertise on birds but little about photography but every one on this tour knew what they were doing and didn't ask for advice. I thought the price was reasonable especially since it includes your guide, travel, all lodging, AND food which I didn't expect. If you go you will come home tired but excited as you will get to see and photograph some of nature's most interesting behavior in a short period. Good luck.