Saturday, May 7, 2022

Lekking with Friends Ben & Tory

My wife and I were out trying to count sage grouse one more time for the Oregon Wildlife Foundation and hooked up with friends Ben and Tory from Louisiana. It was a muddy good time for all.
You might notice that we both have Outfitter Campers and that was how the friendship started back in 2007. 

When there's room, I try to go around or at least keep two wheels on hard ground. Believe it or not even small mud holes can bog a truck in a muddy second. Ben has the same idea.

Even with mud squishing under the wheels, the sky and landscape were totally beautiful with storms raging in the distance around us, trying to find us.

With so much mud we decided to walk ahead a bit to check out the road. Truck campers are visible in the distance along with a rain cloud that was trying to catch us. Luckily we were never dumped on, escaping with only a few sprinkles now and then.

The puddle checkers having a pow-wow. Thru it or around it Dear? Well this one was a bit larger. The problem is you can never seen the bottom to tell if it's only an inch deep or more, if it has gravel in it or just...mud. 

There was a lek, the particular place where the sage grouse gather to do their spooning, right at this cattle pond. And yes, the clouds were just that dark. I will say that as good as the new iPhones are at capturing images, mine seems to add an unwanted tint to darker areas of the clouds. I'll have to come up with a solution. Speaking of solution, the water in the reservoir was so muddy that it could have been an inch deep and you wouldn't know it.
It was afternoon and past time for the birds to be lekking, usually an early morning affair. They would have typically gone back into the brush to do what they do best, grouse a bit. I wanted to walk the area and look for signs they had been there and yes, many feathers were found on the ground. It was a good sign, and we'd be up before dawn the next morning to count them using our spotting scope

Ben and Tory got right with it, taking pictures of the local wildlife. I was thinking of doing the "Bird" dance but then again an old grouse like me would probably trip and fall on my beak, picture that.

In the meantime many pictures were taken of awesome skies and scenery...

as clouds and sun came and went.

I drove down below the berm/dam of the reservoir but it was too muddy to camp. I don't have the experience to make a call as to how far away we needed to be from a lek, believing the further the better. Yet on some written instructions was a paragraph stating that in very rare situations it was ok to use your vehicle as a blind to observe from. It seems the birds won't be bothered by a distant vehicle. So with no place close to camp we pulled as far away as we could onto some drier grass. The fact it was level was a great benefit as well as being able to walk without collecting mud samples on hiking boots.

Hang on, too many pictures of trucks and campers coming on.

Not wanting to have a fire or spend time outside for fear of disturbing the lek, I took a last picture before we all went inside for the night.

Lynn and I were up before dawn, yes it was bloody cold. We were excited though to see the lek and could just start to hear the males as they made those weird sounds with the air sacks on their chests. It is a sound you would know and remember for the rest of your life, I suggest YouTube a sage grouse lek for the near experience.
Ben and Tory stayed inside their camper and viewed the grouse thru camper windows, it was all good. 

These pictures were taken hiding behind sage brush with a camera and 400mm lens, and I still had to digitally crop in to see them like this. 

Two female grouse are to the left while the dudes show off tail feathers. Hmmm, I don't think that would have worked for me back in the day.

The two air sacs are visible on his chest. Somehow they throw them forward of their body making a strange wobbling kind of sound. Typically those sacs are hidden beneath feathers.
We counted a total of 10 male and 2 female grouse. Seems a bit lopsided to me, maybe the girls were off on beak somewhere else.

We still had four other leks to hike to and count before midmorning so off me and Lynn went.
No other birds presented at the other leks but the morning was glorious and the walk about perfect. 
The view from a ridge, campers barely visible way left of the reservoir.

The PLF's were out, Pretty Little Flowers. I don't know what they all are but did recognize the yellow cous.

Getting back to camp we found that Ben and Tory had not come out yet, not wanting to scare off sage grouse even though the birds had already gone. Are these great friends or what? 

Off we went for the day's drive, not knowing where we'd end up.

I gave Ben some sage advice, stay out of the mud. 

Yet again mud happened, it's that fast. I teased Ben about that mud but honestly it could have been, and has been before, me stuck in that sticky stuff without the benefit of someone to pull me out. I carry two small rolls of carpet now just for that reason. I figure that mud is nature's version of super glue, two seconds and you're stuck.

Ben was just a foot or so off of my tracks but you never know which line is the best. When water sits for so long in one spot the ground is saturated and gives way under 10,000 pounds of vehicle. I got lucky again. 

A quick pull-out happened and we were off again, to the next mud hole.

So many mud holes, it actually became fun using nature's version of a slip-n-slide. Both sides of this hole were totally saturated making a go-around a bad idea.

Traffic, darn cattlacs driving too slow. Where's my bullhorn when I need it?

Then I found my house and property, the one to die for...

It had a two-holer needing some help. 

Ben wanted steak for dinner. No problem there Pard, it's on the hoof...and the roof.

A lessor mud hole, the last of the trip. We didn't know it at the time, but I missed them when getting back to hard pack.

Checking my Avenza Maps it looked like we were close enough to a river canyon to make it well before dark. An overlook happened...with Tory and Lynn showing off the view.

I was about to do my version of the Flying Nun, with a cowboy hat...

making Ben and Tory wonder where I'd gone.

Ok that was the best I could do, but it was all goofy fun from four kids at heart.

Back to the drive, cows took the place of mud. 

Waiting for the bus?

Dropping down into the canyon the road gets really rough tho not in this picture. We waited for a young guy coming up with his kayaks on top of his, Saab. Getting to the top without putting a hole in his oil pan he was ecstatic. I highly recommend NOT doing that hill in 2 wheel drive low clearance, the kid was lucky.

An old stage stop, a vestige of the old west still standing. I enjoy seeing these old places and try to imagine them back in their day.  

Camp for the night on the River

Let's see, hot dogs, hamburgers and steak. I guess you can say we had raided the meat section at the grocery store.

Even if the meat was in small doses.

The tamarisk, aka salt cedar, is taking over the far bank and has started in front of us as well. In the future you will no longer be able to get to the river here. Times like this I am glad to be old, I've seen the best of things and feel sorry for what younger generations won't get to experience. Forests are disappearing due to drought and beetles which give fire its fuel, invasive species of plant and animal are replacing our native flora and fauna. I tell anyone that loves the outdoors to go now and see what is still there, before it's gone. 

The morning drive out and last look at the confluence of the River north coming into the Main from the East, say what? Yet the River Middle Fork had already joined River North just out of the picture, picture that.
We had been camped along the river at the far right in the picture.

Driving through day care...

There's always one to challenge us. Or was he amazed to see a GMC/Outfitter in his neighborhood?

Then on to a walk-about after leaving the cows 

Ok I see a canary, and a worm from the movie Tremors. Lynn says she sees a bear but I'm not getting it.

Then to camp for the last night.

This explains why we enjoy Ben and Tory so much, fun is there for the taking.

That's it, I hope you lekked it as much as we did, thanks for sitting around the fire with us...