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Monarchs of the High Desert

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Each Spring, all across the high deserts and prairies of the western states, an amazing ritual unfolds as it has since the last ice age. Gathering together within predetermined leks, a plethora of what some might call upland birds, participate in some of the most exotic behavior that one can witness in wildlife north of the Rio Grande.

This past week I had the opportunity to lay face down in the dirt curled up inside a cramped blind photographing the mating rituals of the greater sage grouse – an experience that I will never forget!

The simple act of getting into place to photograph these birds is a bit of an adventure. You see, the greater sage grouse move onto the leks in the late evening right around sunset. All through the night the carry about inflating their air sacks, acting out strange little dances, and filling the night with otherworldly sounds. To photograph these birds means that you have to sneak up on the Lek WHILE the birds are all around you.

Pretty much every other situation I have photographed from blinds, I made my way to the blind BEFORE the animals arrived on sight, not while they were already there. This meant getting out to and into the blind LONG before the sky began to lighten from predawn. This meant 3am alarm clocks and driving way the heck out to the middle of nowhere. This meant fumbling my way through the sagebrush for half a mile in pitch dark and then trying to literally waltz right IP to the Lek and climb inside of a blind while surrounded by nearly 100 sage grouse.

Totally worth it!

In May’s edition of Behind the Lens I will be going into detail about photographing these birds – from finding the leks to how I approach working them.

This entry was posted in Wildlife Photography.