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Conservation at its best!

So this is going to be a quick one! This morning was exciting because I got to go out and do an aerial survey for sage-grouse! Conser...

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Scientist-in-Training: Observations - "I don't know" is a scientific answer

So I have a ton of footage.. a ton! But before I show you some choice videos I wanted to give you a link to sage-grouse information.

There is a lot of information out there on Greater Sage-Grouse and as a field biologist the first thing you would like to get down is identification! Identification is not always easy or clear cut. The first thing you have to be able to say as a citizen scientist is....

"I don't know"

This happens to everyone (even those who are experts). Sometimes identification is something that comes with experience; going out birding and seeing many different kinds of birds to get a sense of what they look like, and how they are similar or different. And sometimes the reason you can't tell whether it is a female or a male has to do with the direction the bird is facing, if it is too far away and you just can't  get a good enough look to make a determination, or maybe it is a young male who doesn't have full adult plumage and isn't displaying. There are many reasons why you might not be able to identify a bird or whether that bird is male or female.

Male Greater Sage-Grouse in the center and two females on either side. Photo

'Unknowns' are an important part of any data set! If a data set doesn't have any "i don't know's" then I am skeptical. Especially with a bird that has the potential to be hard to ID.

Here is a link to the Natural Resource Conservation Service's (NRCS), Sage-Grouse Initiative Greater Sage-Grouse Field Indicator Guide. There are some really great descriptions and photos of male and female sage-grouse. Also, did you know that there are other kinds of grouse found in Wyoming? This guide also gives you a good look at what other kinds of grouse look like, how to use behavior or where you observe them to help determine what kind of grouse it is. They even show you how flight patterns can be different between different types of grouse.

Here is my description: Male and female sage-grouse do look different, but sometimes it is hard to tell them apart. A good indication that a sage-grouse is a male is that it is displaying (puffing up its air sacs and doing a little dance). All males have that white plumage on their chest (it looks like a nice feather boa to me) and yellow above the eyes. Females do not have the white plumage. Often they are seen just hanging out and foraging in the videos. If they aren't facing the camera though you can not be sure whether it is a female or male. And that is okay.

And now for the test:

There are three photos below. Are they male or female sage-grouse?

Photo credit: Katherine Zarn
Photo credit: Katherine Zarn

Photo credit: Katherine Zarn

Now to make some observations!

Lek 1 Camera 1 videos from March 27th and 28th

Happy sciencing!

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