(EnviroNews Nature) — The following is an excerpt from the EnviroNews Nature full feature documentary Lions and Tigers and… Sage Grouse? Oh My! — The Granddaddy Endangered Species Battle of Them All. That film may be seen in its entirety on EnviroNews. The transcript reads as follows:
Urry (narrating): While the bi-state and greater sage grouse showdowns could get pretty ugly, in another place in Utah, visited by EnviroNews a couple weeks before Jewell’s announcement, birds were lekking hard, in what is referred to as the “hub” of sage grouse in the Beehive State — Sage Hen Hollow.
One of the most unique, and quite frankly, coolest things about Sage Hen Hollow, is its close proximity to Bryce Canyon National Park — unarguably one of America’s great treasures. Bryce provides what [are] surely some of the most breathtaking and unusual landscapes on the face of the planet.
As many as 160 flamboyant male birds have been counted here in a single morning session, and this year was no different, as dozens of displaying male birds were seen strutting thief stuff in the bustling lek, just outside Utah’s infamous park — and when we say the bird struts, we really mean it.
The lek is basically like a bar for birds. Males drop in by the hoards with one thing, and one thing only on their minds — impressing the ladies of course! The term “barhopping” has been used to describe the adventurous human that jumps around from club to club looking for a great time, but in recent years it’s been discovered that, just like people, grouse actually “lek hop” if they’re not finding what they’re looking for in a particular scene.
Nicki Frey to Urry: The majority of these locations are within the last year, and we have roughly 7,000 locations.
Urry: And you were saying too, that birds actually; they go barhopping. Maybe we should call it “lek-hopping.” There we go.
Frey: Lek-hopping. They’re lek-hopping. So, this great app called “Track Analyst” actually will say where the birds move from one location to the next. Because we have the time information and the date information on these satellite transmissions, we can actually say that: at 6 a.m. was here, and at 12 noon, the bird was over here.
Urry: So basically, he partied all night here, and he didn’t get lucky, he got tiered of the scene…
Frey: He’s going to go somewhere else.
Urry (narrating): Nicki Frey is a specialist in human-wildlife conflicts with the Utah State University Land Extension Program, and has been part of an ongoing study wherein birds are trapped, radio-collared and tracked in an effort to understand their movements, patterns and behaviors.
Frey to Urry: So, here you can see Sage Hen Hollow where we were, and you can see every color is a different bird, and you can see how the birds lekked at Sage Hen Hollow, and then moved down here to what we call “Hatch,” and then here is a new lek called, “Hatch Bench,” that we didn’t confirm until we got these locations.
Urry: New meaning it actually is a new lek, or new meaning that it’s newly discovered?
Frey: Newly discovered by us. So, the [Utah] Division [of Wildlife Resources] is now counting it as a lek where it wasn’t five years ago.
Urry (narrating): Frey took an EnviroNews 4K night-shot camera along for the ride on one of her outings – allowing us an inside look at one of the countless efforts underway on the ground – programs aimed at saving a species.
Frey for EnviroNews: We are back at Sage Hen Hollow. We’re going to do some sage grouse trapping tonight. So, we’ve got an ATV; we’ve got some nets over here; and we’ve got some spotlighters, and we’re basically going to walk along the trails until we find sage grouse.
Frey to Team Member: No, we’ll get the male.
Team Member: Do you want to take it?
Frey: Yeah. All right. We’ve got a male, and we’re going to put the transmitter on it. So, what I want you to do is put its head against you like that.
Team Member: Okay.
Urry (narrating): Frey and her team are ahead of the curve compared to other research groups we’ve observed – at least when it comes to the technology they deploy. For example, the tiny backpack-style GPS collars seen here are on the cutting edge and offer an alternative to the old-school, around-the-neck-style systems. These collars create less bother for birds, while reducing the risk of them getting hung up, and possibly killed, by the collar itself.
Frey to Team Members: [I] found your knee joint, so thank you. I would check to see if he’s an adult male, but I’m guessing by his size he’s an adult male. Almost done buddy, hang in there. Hang in there. You can stop recording. We got the transmitter on. All right, there’s your bird. Okay, you can just go ahead and put him down in the brush, and then we’ll let him do his thing. And there he goes!
Team Member: Thanks.
Urry (narrating): The data is collected and analyzed through a sophisticated, real-time, interactive, multi-filtered software that gives Frey’s team up-to-the-minute information on their collared birds.
Frey to Urry: And then the software… then each company that deals with the satellites has what’s called parsing software, so it makes the satellite transmissions readable to our GIS. So, I have an Excel spreadsheet with all these locations and I can upload it directly into the software package. And so, then from here, I can figure out distance; I can figure out habitat; I can figure out the home-range sizes. So, here’s the distribution of all the birds. You know, here’s one lek area, and then, this would be one lek, you can tell ‘cause there’s a cluster of locations. And then we go all the way down to South of Alton into a little place called Ft. Pasture.
Urry: And what happens with this data that you’re gathering? I know you put trackers on some of the birds, correct, and follow those?
Frey: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
Urry: But in general, what happens with it? Is it used on these environmental impact reports?
Frey: Absolutely. Yeah. So, our data, the data that I’m collecting down here, is really the only data we have in the southern region of Utah on sage grouse. So, all the data that I have, before I even publish it or anything else, once I quality control it and I analyze it, I send it to the BLM and the Division of Wildlife Resources.
Urry (narrating): In Sage Hen Hollow, birds start lekking as early as February, and competition can be fierce. Unlike many avian species who are monogamous and mate for life, oftentimes on a large and contentious lek like Sage Hen Hollow, one or two dominant males will breed all the females, leaving youngsters and birds with less mojo to wonder about things that might have been.
What we were filming here in April is known as the “round of second chances.” Most females are bred early in the lekking season and wonder off in the brush to make their nests on the ground — sitting and incubating their precious eggs almost around-the-clock. But life in the Sagebrush Sea can be rough for a nesting grouse. With much less ground cover than in decades past, often females must abandon their nests after they are raided by predators, trampled by cattle, or run over by vehicles.
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