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9 April 2001

by Phil and Barbara Davis

Gunnison Sage Grouse Trip

I know many people are planning to "go for the grouse" later this month, so maybe this information will be of some use.  I couldn't access the COBIRDS (Colorado Birds) web archives, so I don't know if similar information has already been posted or not.

Sunday, April 8, 2001

On our way to Gunnison to spend the night, Barbara and I passed the County Route 887, Waunita Hot Springs turnoff around dusk, so we decided to check out the observation area in preparation for the morning.  The observation area is about 1/2 mile from the Rt 50 turnoff on the east (right) side of the road.  There is no formal structure as some accounts may lead you to belive.  There is merely a series of hay bales set up long the side of the road, that serve as a blind.  The nineteen miles on Rt 50 between the lek turnoff and Gunnison mostly has a speed limit of 65 mph.

Note: There are not many restaurants open in Gunnison on Sunday night ...  plan to eat early !!!  Note: Gunnison is statistically one of the coldest places in the lower 48 states ...  see temperature, below.

Monday, April 9, 2001

Sunrise time: 6:40am
Temperature: 15 degrees F
Winds: calm
Skies: clear

We arrived at the Waunita Lek at 5:55 am - there were already five other cars present.  Most cars parked parallel to the road, allowing you to roll down your side windows and look straight out at the birds, rather than try to cope with looking the front windshield glass that is often curved on most cars, and distorts vision.

Around 6:10 there was enough light to see the birds displaying.  We were expecting them to be closer than than they were.  There is a wire fence that runs through the middle of the sage meadow.  the birds were on the other side of that fence ...  distance estimated to be about 300 - 400 yards away.  We could see the birds with the naked eye ...  and could clearly see what was going on with binoculars ...  with the scope, we could see details, like the tail banding and the thick filoplumes on the head.  We brought a photographic "beanbag" to drape over the window glass and rest the scope on it.  This worked fine.  Unfortunately, we noted that some people were out of their cars and using scopes on tripods, in contravention to the viewing area's posted rules and the published lek viewing protocol and etiquette (even though the birds were quite far away).  We could not hear the birds courtship sounds.

We counted about 25 birds.  About 6:33 one group of 16 birds flew from the lek.  They flew from east to west, over the road in front of our cars (north of the observation area) and disappeared over the hill on the west side of the road.  We did not actually count the mix of males to females of this group, but I sensed that it may have been mostly females with a few males.

Nine birds remained on the lek (7 males and two females).  Between 7:05 to 7:15 they flew from the lek in three separate groups of four, four, and one (a last lone male), They all flew the same direction as the earlier large group.  At 7:15 the show was over.


The Gunnison Sage Grouse

Able, Kenneth P.  2000.  Gleanings from the Technical Literature: Sage Grouse Futures.  Birding 32(4): 306-316.  (August 2000 issue).

Phil Davis
Davidsonville, Maryland  USA


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