I’m not grousing! In fact, this year I’m thrilled that we were able to photograph Sharp-tailed Grouse again! In 2019, when we last visited the Switzer Ranch in Nebraska to photograph Prairie Chickens and Sharp-tailed Grouse, I was grousing because a blizzard kept us from photographing the Sharp-tailed Grouse on their lek. The last time I photographed these fascinating birds was in 2018. This year, with changes in the way the Switzer Ranch is operating as we emerge from Pandemic mode, we had the opportunity to shoot on a Sharp-tailed Grouse lek we’d not visited before. For the first time, we were shooting from small blinds set up next to the lek so we gained a unique perspective that put us on the same level as the birds. To me, photographing birds on their level is the perfect way to photograph Sharp-tailed Grouse.
Closely related to the Greater Prairie Chicken, Sharp-tailed Grouse also have a complex mating ritual that they perform for a brief period in spring, facing off in stare-downs and sparring bouts with other males on their lek. Their display calls are different from those of the Chickens and they stamp their feet to create a jack hammer like sound that resonates across the fields. Thursday morning started off clear and cold but after a brief rosy glow from the sunrise, the clouds returned. The sparring birds still thumped and hooted and chattered and tried to intimidate their sparring partners despite the overcast sky. Just seconds before these two birds called it quits temporarily and looked to see what was going on around them, they had been sparring. Seconds after I took this shot, they resumed the business at hand.