Recap of 2018 Greater Sage-Grouse Lek Monitoring
Gary Fasnacht of Olympia, Washington was part of a group of FOHM member volunteers who visited Hart Mountain in March 2018 to assist in the annual Greater Sage-grouse lek count. Gary provided his reflection on the experience.
As a fairly new member of The Friends of Hart Mountain I was pleased and excited to be accepted as a volunteer to assist in the greater sage grouse Lek count this spring. It was scheduled to take place March 23, 24 and 25 but we were asked to arrive by 3:30 PM the day before so we could attend an introductory briefing and get settled into the Hart Mountain bunkhouse.The count of both males and females is done annually to assist in the management of the species. The grouse gather in an area called a Lek where the males strut and display shortly after daylight to compete for the attention of the females. They are present at the Lek for several hours. Our group was divided into teams of 3 or 4 people with each team including at least one Lek count veteran.
The Leks have been previously located and several are assigned to each team each day. Early to bed and early to rise allowed us to leave the bunkhouse by about 5:30 AM. We drove as close as possible, then hiked in the pre-dawn dark with headlights for one or two miles navigating by handheld GPS until about 100 yards from the Lek. As it began to get light the grouse were revealed, the males with spiky tail feathers, spread and erect, and a white patch on their breast. The females hunkered nearby watching, and “judging”. Our mission was to count the number of males and to also note the number of females. The females were tougher to see because of their coloration and shy presence.
Although the sagebrush hills of Hart Mountain appear rather featureless, even a short hike shows that the terrain is composed of dips and ridges, hills and gullies that offer a surprising amount of concealment in an area that looked devoid of creatures, from the road. Elevation in the area of the Leks is above 5,500 feet, and it was usually around 20 degrees F° in the morning, with a fairly constant 10 to 20 MPH wind. On Sunday the 25th, snow was added to the mix. We were usually done with our assigned counts and back at the bunkhouse by 10:00 AM and had the rest of the day to ourselves to take other hikes, visit the hot springs, drive into Plush for a hamburger or just hang out. Friday, I attended the board meeting in the afternoon and Saturday I went with four others for a hike up DeGarmo Canyon to a partially frozen waterfall. We saw and counted sage grouse and also saw pronghorn antelope on each of the three days. One of the teams saw and photographed a cougar.