Years ago, I'd seen Sage Grouse when working in Colorado studying Peregrine Falcons for the state's Division of Wildlife. I'd arranged to stay at the Currecanti Recreation Area's employee housing near Gunnison and on the rare occasions when I was actually there (not out birding) I would see Sage Grouse hanging around the buildings & even picking at seeds under the visitor center bird feeders! Of course, after they split Sage Grouse into two separate species I found myself in the VERY unique position of having seen the rare Gunnison Sage Grouse and never seeing the more widespread Greater Sage Grouse. Since then, I'd never found myself in Greater Sage Grouse range and had never made an effort to see these birds. Upon arriving in Colorado Springs near noon, I was faced with a decision; to drive or not to drive?......
Well those who know me probably know my decision. I was off on a quest, heading in the opposite direction (also not unusual for me). I made a few brief stops and noted some of the local color. At a rest area on I-25, I saw a migrant Virginia's Warbler hanging with "Audubon's" Yellow-rumped Warblers, Spotted Towhees, Mountain Chickadees, Steller's Jay, Broad-tailed Hummingbirds, and others. I stopped briefly to soak up views of Franklin's Gulls, Mountain Bluebirds, and even local wildlife like the Pronghorn buck above. Unfortunately, I had a long drive ahead of me and was starting with half a day gone already, so I couldn't really stop and smell the roses if I was going to make this thing work.
I saw more Pronghorns, deer, and Elk along the way, but again I had to make tracks to make it to my destination with sunlight remaining. After a long anxious drive, I arrived at the proper habitat toward late evening. Swainson's Hawks were numerous, Vesper's Sparrows crowded the roadsides, and a large female Prairie Falcon marked my turn off the main road. At this point, I slowed to a crawl and put the windows down looking and listening for any sign of my quarry. I stopped for close up views of 2 counter-singing Sage Thrashers since I rarely see these birds on my normal travel schedule, but not much else.
I drove by the best looking area thinking, "If I were a Sage Grouse, I'd be here..." but I saw nothing as I crept along. I got out of my car and scanned in a 360 degree circle. To my amazement, 2 large Grouse were sitting at roadside just a few hundred feet behind me. How I'd driven by two birds nearly as large as Wild Turkeys, that were less than 10 foot off the road was beyond me, but I was happy to admit I had! I quickly back tracked and pulled off to view and digiscope the birds from my car! As I sat there watching, more and more birds magically appeared amongst the sparse vegetation and I could now see 7 individual male grouse sitting quietly within 30 feet of me. The closest bird broke from cover and slowly strolled away from the roadside as I continued to digiscope it, providing spectacular views. It took me nearly 25 years of birding to finally see these beauties but they were both worth the wait and the very long day as I still had to turn tail and head south to Canon City, CO! I can't wait for my next chance to view these birds again and hope to see them displaying on the lek one day... so many birds and birding opportunities, so little time!