Sharp-tailed Grouse Dancing Ground Surveys in Southern and Central Alberta 1999-2000


Linda D. Cerney


The Natural Resources 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 with monitoring conducted by both organizations. The goal of the program is to enhance habitat by developing range/wildlife habitat management plans in coordination with landowners. As part of this program, spring lek or dancing ground surveys were to be conducted to identify sharptail activity and obtain site specific habitat information. This is the programs fifth year and summaries of the results of the sharptail lek surveys conducted in 1999 are located in this report. 

The basic method used to inventory sharp-tailed grouse numbers involved ground counts of birds displaying on leks from mid March to the end of April. Surveys have been conducted in 1999 in areas of the Milk River Ridge, Writing-On-Stone, Foothills, and Special Area #4. Dancing grounds in the Milk River Ridge area were ground surveyed with 38 leks surveyed, 6 of these were new leks and 3 were considered inactive/abandoned. A total of 1117 birds were observed, consisting of 368 males, 33 females and 716 unclassified birds. The Writing-On-Stone area had 8 identified leks (3 new) through ground surveys with the 1153 birds (32 males, 6 females, and 115 unclassified). Seven dancing grounds in the Foothills area were surveyed, of which 6 were on co-operating landowners properties, consisting of 7 unclassified birds sighted. Six lek surveys, including 1 new lek in this area, were on co-operating landowner sites with 19 males, 0 females and 85 unclassified birds. Special Area #4 had a total of 305 birds sighted. Of this total, 22 leks were surveyed with 124 males, 14 females and 167 unclassified birds. Comparisons of each of these areas were completed for all the years surveyed.

Trend Blocks were initiated in 1999 with 3 block areas, two in the Milk River area and one in the Writing-On-Stone area. A total of 318 birds were seen on the blocks in the Milk River Ridge area (Block I= 254 birds, Block II=64) and 170 birds on the Writing-On-Stone block.

Some preliminary trends are provided, however there has not been consistent monitoring of all identified dancing grounds. Of the data collected there appears to be a constant trend throughout many of the dancing grounds that were surveyed. 

It is recommended that all known dancing grounds on co-operating landowners ranches be surveyed every year to allow for better trend comparisons. Trend block surveys conducted in 1999 provided some preliminary information on the general numbers of sharp-tails and should be continued. Habitat management and monitoring should be encouraged on a regular basis when trends show large differences from year to year, which could also influence other species utilizing the area. 

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