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Grousing About Idaho

by Bryan on March 17th, 2012

In the sparse lowlands of western Idaho, a pre-dawn breeze swirls gently. Horned Larks break into a serenade of tinkling glass. One of North America’s great displays of sexuality is about to begin. Erupting from the darkness are pulses of white feathers, the chest-pounding of male Greater Sage-Grouse on the make.

Can there be a better welcome to Idaho? Well, yeah, if you’re here with members of Golden Eagle Audubon Society, who invited me as keynote speaker for their annual banquet on March 10 in Boise. GEAS is more than an Audubon chapter; it’s a community of kind, dedicated, smart folks of varied interests and a long view. I arrived in Boise around midnight on March 8. Four hours later I was up for our Grouse trip with Louise Maley, Sue Norton and our expert guide Dave Hazelton. That’s Dave below pondering Prairie Falcons and other matters during another birding trip he and I took along the Snake River. I thoroughly enjoyed birding with Dave. (He’s got a place in New Hampshire.)

Rare is the opportunity to see Greater Sage-Grouse. As the sagebrush communities of the West vanish to cropland, invasive species and even wind development, these birds are in trouble. Their habitat is shrinking. And, most likely (it’s a hard bird to study), grouse numbers are dropping as well. But the grouse gods were kind to us. We had nine males displaying for a group of females on the sidelines. What female could resist those yellow esophageal pouches, those filoplumes, the tail rattle, all the strutting. It was a major turn-on. (Photos below.)

But it didn’t stop there. We also found another grouse rare in these parts – Sharp-tailed Grouse. They’re not as ornate, nor were they courting just yet. But they’re a thrill nonetheless. We bumped into a dozen of them foraging. Other highlights from Idaho included: Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle flying at the same site along the Snake River, courting (zooming) and copulating Prairie Falcons, and the astonishing Ferruginous Hawk (so beautiful that it rivals the grouse as my Bird of the Trip [BOT]).

But before I close (and offer the good photos), I must offer most sincere thanks to Golden Eagle Audubon for a spectacular weekend, particularly to Dave, Sue Norton, Susan Hazelton and Linda Rodda, among many others. I enjoyed these people more than their birds. My warm and humble gratitude extends in a huge way to Louise and Terry Maley, who offered me transportation, a place to sleep, a fabulous supper, books to read and vibrant conversation on topics ranging from the geology of the West to the politics of Idaho. I gotta plan another visit!

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  1. Thanks, Kristen and Ruth!

  2. Kristen permalink

    Beautiful writing AND amazing photographs–you’ve got it goin’ on, Bryan!

  3. Ruth permalink

    Really beautiful writing.

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