Two Second Skirmish on a Greater Sage-Grouse Lek

/, Greater Sage-Grouse, Utah, Wayne County/Two Second Skirmish on a Greater Sage-Grouse Lek

Dawn creeps over the Greater Sage-Grouse lekDawn creeps over the Greater Sage-Grouse lek – Nikon D810, f7.1, 1/250, ISO 1250, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light

Last month I had the privilege to observe and photograph Greater Sage-Grouse on a lek in Wayne County, Utah. It was something I had on my bucket list that I can now remove. That doesn’t mean I won’t go back to a lek just because I have checked it off. On the contrary, the experience has made me want to go back again.

It was bitter cold at °21F at that was arriving at the lek well before dawn. The grouse started displaying on the lek before the sun rose and the white chests of the males were like little beacons that showed me where they were in the dark.  I tried photographing them before the sun rose over the horizon using an extremely high ISO but I wasn’t happy with the results even though I had sufficient shutter speed but as the sun lit up the hill behind the grouse I was able to decrease my ISO and achieve satisfactory results.

The image above was taken at ISO 1250 and I had a slow shutter speed which was fine because there wasn’t any fast activity going on but that would soon change.

The rest of these images were taken in just a little less than two seconds and I am really pleased with how well the Nikon D810 handled the higher ISO I needed.

Two male Greater Sage-Grouse in a skirmishTwo male Greater Sage-Grouse in a skirmish – Nikon D810, f6.3, 1/3200, ISO 6400, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light

I saw two males getting close to each other and hoped that some action would occur so I cranked my ISO up to 6400 to gain some shutter speed and I was very happy that I did because the grouse started to skirmish and the birds would have been nothing but a blur without the faster shutter speed.

Greater Sage-Grouse with wings a flyingGreater Sage-Grouse with wings a flying – Nikon D810, f6.3, 1/3200, ISO 6400, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light

Male Greater Sage-Grouse face each other they do peck each other but not as often as they smack their wings on their opponent.

Two Greater Sage-Grouse males kicking up some dustTwo Greater Sage-Grouse males kicking up some dust – Nikon D810, f6.3, 1/3200, ISO 6400, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light

Even though there was frost on the ground that morning the dust still flew as the males fought on the lek.

Male Greater Sage-Grouse fighting on a lekMale Greater Sage-Grouse fighting on a lek – Nikon D810, f6.3, 1/3200, ISO 6400, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light

My hands were numb from the cold even though I was inside the vehicle by the time I took these images so I just left my finger on the shutter button, I didn’t want to miss a shot. I was using DX mode (cropped) and I knew my buffer wouldn’t fill up until around the 60th frame.

Greater Sage-Grouse males facing offGreater Sage-Grouse males facing off – Nikon D810, f6.3, 1/3200, ISO 6400, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light

My exposure was set, I had enough shutter speed, I wasn’t worried about my buffer so I relaxed and enjoyed the action through my viewfinder.

The males broke apart briefly…

Greater Sage-Grouse males on the lek at sunriseGreater Sage-Grouse males on the lek at sunrise – Nikon D810, f6.3, 1/3200, ISO 6400, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light

And then they started skirmishing again. The dust flew and bits of sage drifted through the air as their wings flapped in the morning light.

Face off on the Greater Sage-Grouse lekFace off on the Greater Sage-Grouse lek – Nikon D810, f6.3, 1/3200, ISO 6400, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light

I was mesmerized by their beauty and their and their “dance” on the lek, a timeless dance they have done each spring for eons and eons. Only the most dominant males will breed with the females that were also on the lek .

Greater Sage-Grouse as the sun risesGreater Sage-Grouse as the sun rises – Nikon D810, f6.3, 1/3200, ISO 6400, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light

The two second Greater Sage-Grouse skirmish was over but only for a few seconds before these two males started back up again.

I did not think I would be photographing Greater Sage-Grouse on a lek when I went to Wayne County but I am certainly happy I did. I was enchanted.

Life is good.

Mia

8 Comments

  1. Mia McPherson November 21, 2016 at 5:15 am

    Thank you all for your comments on this post.

    Andy, I was inside a vehicle.

  2. Andy April 10, 2015 at 5:08 pm

    Very nice shots Mia! All of my shots have been from a blind at a considerable distance 🙁 If you ever want company of if I could tag along sometime I would love it! I take it you are shooting from your car? Must be close…I have a 500mm with a 1.4 TC and still never got shots that nice! Great shots and blog
    Andy

  3. Elephant's Child April 10, 2015 at 3:52 pm

    Wow, wow and wow again.

  4. Larry Muench April 10, 2015 at 3:39 pm

    Really nice series of photos! They do get a little combative when love is in the air. It’s fun to watch them before the fight too when they kind of circle around and hurl insults at each other. I’m easily entertained but these guys are really fun to watch. And their performance is so unique!

  5. Christine Oakley April 10, 2015 at 2:32 pm

    Fabulous Mia – took a group of birders out to a local lek in Saskatchewan years back to watch the dance – it was an amazing experience. Definitely worth repeating. Looks like you had a wonderful time 🙂

  6. Patty Chadwick April 10, 2015 at 2:14 pm

    Boy! Those guys mean business! Great series…

  7. David April 10, 2015 at 1:59 pm

    Love these action shots. Magnificent birds! Really great Fantastic quality with high ISO. Maybe I need an upgrade…

  8. Sarah Mayhew April 10, 2015 at 1:54 pm

    Very nice series! I recently went to a lek in Northern CA. But, we weren’t allowed to get close enough for good photos. Fun to watch though!

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