It has been three years since I last visited Wyoming, and I still remember trekking through 8-feet of snow trying to photograph Columbian sharp-tailed grouse. I spent 5 days there and came back with many memorable images.
After returning from the trip, I thought I’d never try that again. But after several years I was itching to go back and challenge myself and hopefully to document those snow dancers again.
My trip didn’t start as well. A 14-hour trip from Missouri to Wyoming turned to 36 hours. There was a blizzard in both Nebraska and Wyoming, and the highway was shut down for 24 hours.
As you can imagine, being wildlife photographer, there are a few things you can’t control, including bad weather, animals, their behaviors, environments, etc. etc. But then again, bad weather with snow blizzard creates wonderful photography opportunities – well, as long as you stay alive.
Upon arrival, my contact told me he saw over 40 birds on the same lek. My heart started pounding. Having that many birds on the lek usually meant great actions!
The lek was still covered with 4 feet of snow. The sky was clear and no snowstorm was in the forecast. I set up my photo blind late in an evening and was happy to see so many fresh tracks on the fresh snow. I was so ready to see them.
The next morning birds arrived around 5:30. It was still dark, but the sounds – feet stamping, tail rattling, and hooting – were unmistakably sharp-tailed grouse! I even had a few birds came so close to my blind that I could literally hear them breathing.
After three years I finally felt the redemption and fulfillment. They were still amazing snow dancers!