The National Audubon Society, the nation’s leading bird conservation nonprofit, named six photographers in the 10th annual Audubon Photography Awards today. Among them is Pinedale photographer Elizabeth Boehm, who won the Professional category with her photo of two lekking Greater Sage Grouse.
The photo was taken in Pinedale and will be featured at the biennial Audubon Convention this month, in Audubon magazine, Nature’s Best Photography magazine, and in a traveling Audubon Photography Wards exhibit across the country.
The winning photographers were selected from 2,253 entrants from all 50 states, Washington D.C., and 10 Canadian provinces and territories. Boehm’s photo of lekking grouse captures part of a unique and rare springtime mating ritual that few people get the chance to see — puffed chests, spiked feathers, and seemingly choreographed movement makes for quite the spectacle. But before the dance, male sage grouse often compete for the best spot on what’s known as a “lek” so the female birds can see them.
“I spend a number of cold spring mornings photographing the courting display of the Greater Sage Grouse from a blind on the perimeter of the lek,” Boehm wrote on Facebook. “I watch for the dominance fights between males. The two contestants sit side-by-side until, upon some invisible cue, they suddenly throw blows, hitting each other with their wings. The photo, captured on hard snowpack, shows the power they exhibit when they are fighting for mates.”
Greater Sage grouse generally perform the strange mating dance early in the morning for a few short weeks a year, so it’s a rare phenomenon to witness. Sage Grouse also only live in sagebrush territory in the Western U.S. and are rapidly losing habitat to farmland and overgrazing.