Leks Are for Sex

Hey if they are doing it right out in the open, I shouldn’t feel weird, like voyeuristic, taking pictures of them, right? No reasonable expectation of privacy here, right? Another early morning at the Napier Road lek, a very public place.

The sage-grouse stalker; yep that’s me.

Adding yet another strange entendre to the Sage Grouse moniker. Double, triple, what are we up to so far?

So I popped out of bed at four, made coffee, rounded up cameras and lenses and headed west from my home in Gillette on I-90 to Barber Creek Road, thence wandering every direction but mainly south on the county roads to the Marquiss Ranch, then south a little more, and there they were: six or more males and eleven females. A light plane was flying around counting leks; they were very careful about not flying too close.

I watched and photographed for about an hour; my getting in and out of the car usually did not bother them. When you are too close for a 400mm lens, you know you are close.

To get to this lek from I-90 one passes dozens of power lines, one gas-fired power plant, several oil wells and heater-treaters, many groups of CBM wells, and many roads which serve oil or gas wells.

To get to this lek from the south one passes dozens of CBM wells, reservoirs used for produced water, power lines, big oil field processing facilities, equipment yards and more roads.

About five miles away is a fairly large produced water reservoir which is popular with sage-grouse; this morning there were seven or eight, mainly females. A huge noisy compressor sits about one-half mile away. The males were strutting right next to the county road; when I stopped my car about six feet away, they slowly flew over the dam to the ground next to the reservoir, in an area filled with gas wells and stored gas well equipment. The males took a couple of minutes and started strutting again. I got pictures.

This is what scientists call anecdotal information; it has no statistical significance. But every year these grouse are strutting and mating at these two locations in the middle of intense oil and gas activity. This year I got there earlier in the season and saw more females than ever before.

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