On Easter Sunday, Sam and I decided to take a drive out to Golden Spike just to get out of the city. I talked her into heading that way via East Canyon and the Henefer Greater Sage-Grouse Lek. We left Salt Lake shortly after 6am and got to Henefer before the sunrise. I arrived a little later than I had hoped, but was shocked at what I saw when we hit the Summit/Morgan County line. There were 10 female grouse along the south edge of the road in Summit County. There were no grouse in the road, but on the north side of the road in the area where I normally watch the grouse display were 8 vehicles parked up to the fence . There was one van on the south side of the road where for years we have parked and watched the birds.
More vehicles than I have ever seen at the lek, parked right where normally birds are displaying.
I pulled off to the south and for a moment sat confused and befuddled. Why were all these cars parked where the grouse often displayed? I thought about parking where I normally would by the corral, but then I would be facing no birds, and have a wall of vehicles blocking the birds that were in the fields to the north. Instead I pulled in behind the convoy of folks that were presumably mostly photographers--there was a row of 500+mm lenses projecting from windows. I wondered how many of the folks were here for the first time and jsut following the lead of other vehicles. I had never thought to park on this side of the road, becuase it was apparent when you arrived most mornings that the birds were on the road. I was upset that in the past I could watch these birds form as close as 20' and see their display up close. Now the closest birds were over 150’ out into the field
The "sage specks" barely visible at 500mm in my view finder
As I sat there longer I had mixed feelings. For one the birds were displaying out in the field, and there were plenty of males and dozens of females. Because they were out in the field, they weren’t on the road, meaning they weren’t going to be killed while trying to mate. It was a silver lining. But at the same time it was not the experience I had come to expect up here. As with previous posts about Henefer I always have mentioned parking as far to the south and east as possible, but in the case of this morning everyone was as far north as they could go, north of the actual pull off in an area I would consider off limits to vehicles. It was directly where I have watched birds displaying year in and out.
This male grouse had plenty of admirers... maybe the fields are the best place for lekking...
Don’t get me wrong, I fully expect people who want to see and photograph wildlife to go to places like this and enjoy it--I am actually all for it. The more people learn about birds like this, the more aware they might be of our impact on them. But its hard to watch something change so drastically in just a few years. My biggest worry is it turning into (and excuse my French), the shit show that Farmington has turned into surrounding the Eagles. I had several people email me privately, including folks who have visited from Wyoming in the past, expressing their frustration with the situation too. Some complained abotu the actual people, getting out of their cars, letting kids run around, and even one person letting a dog out of teh car. I was shocked to hear that. When I went I saw none of that--everyone was in their cars and being respectful of the birds--it was just where they were parked that had me bothered. Take a look at the difference a few years makes in how close the birds were...
Here is how close the birds were in 2006:
And again in 2007:
It’s hard to believe those birds were in the same place as my best shot from this morning:
In the end I actually felt like it may what's best for the birds. I would rather watch them from a distance where they can display safely away from the cars, then watch them get hit by drivers not paying attention. But if the only reason they are displaying where they are is because cars are parking where they want to display, then that is an issue. When you visit the lek, please be mindful of the birds, and just use common sense. I still advocate parking to the southeast, and giving the birds as much space as possible--and if you are like me, you probably won't want to head up there on a weekend with the growing crowds.
Labels: commentary, upland game birds