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.
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.
Male Greater Sage-Grouse face each other they do peck each other but not as often as they smack their wings on their opponent.
Even though there was frost on the ground that morning the dust still flew as the males fought on the lek.
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.
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…
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.
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 .
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.