Native Prairie Stewardship Program Sharp-tailed Grouse Dancing Ground Survey 2001-2002


Linda D. Cerney and Paul F. Jones


The Natural Resrouces Service initiated the Alberta Sharp-tailed Grouse Habitat Program in 1995. Funding for this project was provided from the Fish and Wildlife Trust Fund. In 1997, the Alberta Conservation Association took responsibility of this program. The goal of the program was to enhance sharp-tailed grouse habitat by developing range/wildlife habitat management plans in co-operation with landowners. This is the second year of the Native Prairie Stewardship program (program changed in 2001), which continues with spring lek or dancing ground surveys and has expanded to conserve and enhance the native prairie ecosystem and biodiversity of additional prairie wildlife in southern and central Alberta. Monitoring of leks has been conducted by both the Alberta Conservation Association and the Alberta Sustainable Resource Development - Fish and Wildlife Division staff. This report summarises the results of the 2001 and 2002 sharp-tailed grouse lek surveys on participating ranches. It also includes the preliminary analysis of trends for leks on the Milk River Ridge and Special Area #4. 

In 2001, surveys were conducted in areas of the Milk River Ridge/ Writing-On-Stone and Special Area #4. Twenty dancing grounds located on landowner properties in the Milk River Ridge area were ground surveyed consisting of 14 active leks, 5 were not located and 1 was considered inactive/abandoned. One known lek was not surveyed in 2001 and no new ones were discovered. A total of 139 birds were observed on 15 leks, consisting of 64 males, 13 females, and 62 unclassified birds. The Writing-On-Stone area had 3 leks surveyed with 42 birds (38 males, and 4 females). Special Area #4 had 37 leks surveyed with 2 possible new leks located for a total of 463 birds (152 males, 31 females and 280 unclassified birds).

Surveys in 2002 were conducted in areas of the Milk River Ridge/ Writing-On-Stone, Special Area #4 and Pakowki Lake. Weather conditions did not allow for all leks to be surveyed. Of the 35 known leks on landowner property (including one new landowner to the program) in the Milk River Ridge area, all leks were surveyed. Fifteen leks were active, 8 were not and 12 leks had no birds seen at them. There are two possible new leks discovered after the spring counts that will need to be confirmed in spring 2003. The participating landowner leks included a total of 240 birds consisting of 132 males, 23 females, and 85 unclassified birds. A total of 200 birds were observed on the non-participating landowner leks with 79 males, 14 females ad 107 unclassified. The overall total number of birds on landowner leks in the Milk River Ridge area was 440 birds (211 males, 37 females and 192 unclassified). The Writing-On-Stone areas had 3 leks surveyed with 17 birds (14 males, 0 females and 3 unclassified). Special Area #4 had 27 leks surveyed totaling 398 birds (258 males, 32 females and 108 unclassified). 

Based on trend analysis it appears that the populations of sharptail on the Milk River Ridge and Special Area #4 decreased. No difference was found in the trends for leks on participating versus non-participating ranches for the Milk River Ridge project area. 

Recommendation include ongoing communication with current participants, and continuing to monitor leks to establish long-term population trends. Other suggestions include reevaluating the habitat component of the project as completed in 1995 using the Robel pole method. Consideration for dividing the total amount of leks into two sections and alternating surveys on each section every two years, due to the increased number of leks currently needed to be surveyed per year. 

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