Back in February Five String entered us into the Sharp-tailed Grouse Blind lottery at the Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge. We didn’t really think that we had a chance in winning as the spots are limited and the blind is only open to the public three days a week between April and May. So, we were super excited when we received an email a few weeks ago telling us that there had been a cancellation and that the April 28th spot was now ours if we were still interested.
During mating season male Sharp-tailed Grouse display in a communal fashion to attract females. They do this at a site know as a “lek” which is usually a flat area free of dense vegetation. The lek or “dancing ground” where the grouse blind is situated at Benton Lake was first observed in 1988 and Sharp-tailed Grouse have been returning to it every year since.
Visitors to the blind are required to arrive one hour prior to sunrise so that they don’t disturb the grouse. For us this meant leaving our hotel in Great Falls at 4:45am. The Younger Fives were troopers at getting up and dressed even though it was pitch dark outside. From the auto road at the refuge we then had to walk about 400 yards through the dark, avoiding ground squirrel holes until we reached the blind. The grouse blind was built by an eagle scout and has seating room and viewing windows for six people.
As soon as we reached the blind we could hear that grouse already on the lek. We tiptoed inside, took our seats, and enjoyed listening to the sounds of the grouse while we waited for the sky to lighten. In no time at all we were able to view the male grouse as they displayed. Their orange eye combs and purple air sacs are really quite the sight. We were all impressed by the noise that their feathers make as they dance. We stayed at the blind for over 2 hours and while it was a chilly 40 degrees outside we were comfortable inside the blind. During our visit we were able to count 45 males and 2 females. Five of Hearts put together a short video of what we saw, so that you can share in the experience.