A regional endemic now split from Greater Sage-grouse, the declining Gunnison Sage-grouse is high on every birder's wants list when visiting Colorado.
We're now more than halfway through this Colorado tour, birding mountain and prairie and many places in between. Days are long and nights are short, but it's been worth every minute. Last night was the shortest yet, waking at 4 am to head out well before the first glimmer of morning light struck the sagebrush lekking grounds of Gunnison Sage-grouse.
We were delayed slightly by discovering the skid marks of an 18-wheel truck that had left the road and plunged down an embankment, but it seemed to be an old crash not requiring further intervention on our part. As we finally arrived on site and settled in place in what to us still seemed like pitch darkness, it was clear the grouse were already active. Shadowy forms eventually began to take shape as male grouse, fluffing up their neck feathers, inflating the air sacks on their necks and fanning their impressive tails as they threw their heads back and called, drawing in a small number of females.
This impressive performance lasted for some two hours before the birds finally departed in two main groups. Feeling entirely satisfied with the experience we left too, passing the totalled 18-wheeler and its attendant recovery vehicles on our way back to the hotel for a late breakfast. There, a sign above a bin full of plastic plates and styrofoam cups urged guests to recycle. "What is it exactly that you want us to recycle?" I asked the manageress. "The plastic cutlery - that goes in the dishwasher," she explained, completely missing not just the point, but the meaning of the word 'recycle'. When I asked why she didn't use china plates and cups, she said: "You must be joking. We get construction workers staying here - they break 'em all." I gave up at that point - you can only say so much.
Some fine birding during the rest of the day was followed by a meal in a Mexican restaurant patronised at some point by Barack Obama, as evidenced by the photos of him, the First Lady and their daughter plastered all over the table opposite ours. I wonder if he also came here because he needed Gunnison Sage Grouse?