Sharp-tailed Grouse Dancing Ground Survey in Southern and Central Alberta 1997-1998
Paul Jones and Bryan Millar
In 1995 the Alberta Conservation Association initiated the Sharp-tailed Grouse Habitat Program. The goal of the program is to enhance habitat by developing range/wildlife habitat management plans in cooperation 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 report summarizes the results of the sharptail lek surveys conducted in 1997 and 1998.
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 the Milk River Ridge, Writing-On-Stone, Foothills, Pakowki Lake, Special Area #4, and Hild Sandhills project areas. A total of 42 leks were ground surveyed in 1997 in the Milk River Ridge area. A total of 818 birds were observed, consisting of 455 males, 22 females, and 341 unclassified birds. A total of 60 dancing grounds in the Milk River Ridge area were ground surveyed in 1998, of which 18 were new grounds previously not identified and 3 were determined to be inactive. A total of 350 birds were counted on the 60 leks, of which 169 were males, 13 females, and 349 were unclassified. Sixteen known lek locations were ground surveyed in 1997 in the Writing-On-Stone area. A total of 320 birds were observed, of which 154 were males, 37 were females, and 129 were unclassified. In 1997 51 dancing grounds were surveyed in teh Foothills are, of which 15 were previously known, resulting in 36 new dancing grounds being located. A total of 785 birds were observed, consisting of 455 males, 60 females and 270 unclassified birds. Six known dancing ground were ground surveyed in the Foothills area in 1998, resulting in a count of 73 birds, consisting of 31 males, 41 females, and 1 unclassified bird. No official dancing ground surveys were conducted in 1997 in the Pakowki Lake project area, but incidental observations of birds observed were recorded during sage grouse surveys. Eleven dancing grounds were surveyed in 1998. A total of 231 birds were counted, of which 64 were males and the remaining 167 were unclassified. Sixty-three dancing grounds were surveyed in 1997 in Special Area #4. A total of 1069 birds were counted on the 63 leks, with all unclassified. Thirty-one known dancing grounds were surveyed in 1998 with a total og 607 birds counted, consisting of 494 males, 95 females, and 18 unclassified birds. Seven dancing grounds were visited in the Hilda Sandhills areas in 1998. A total of 226 birds were counted with no classification provided. General trends on total bird numbers were provided for cooperating landowners in the Sharp-tailed Grouse Habitat Program for the different project areas. no overall trend was apparent, with some grounds increasing in bird numbers, others decreasing, and others remaining constant.
Results of dancing ground surveys are used to monitor population trends in sharptail numbers, particularly the change in the number of males observed on selected dancing grounds. Several years of data are required for a trend to become apparent. Due to biases inherent in current efforts of estimating populations we recommend the establishment of trend blocks to aid in predications of population trends. Potential areas for the establishment of trend blocks should include property of landowners participating in the Sharp-tailed Grouse Habitat Program. The trend blocks could serve as one means of evaluating the program.