More effective methods for counting greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) are needed to better assess population trends through enumeration or location of new leks. We describe an aerial infrared technique for conducting sage-grouse lek counts and compare this method with conventional ground-based lek count methods. During the breeding period in 2010 and 2011, we surveyed leks from fixed-winged aircraft using cryogenically cooled mid-wave infrared cameras and surveyed the same leks on the same day from the ground following a standard lek count protocol. We did not detect significant differences in lek counts between surveying techniques. These findings suggest that using a cryogenically cooled mid-wave infrared camera from an aerial platform to conduct lek surveys is an effective alternative technique to conventional ground-based methods, but further research is needed. We discuss multiple advantages to aerial infrared surveys, including counting in remote areas, representing greater spatial variation, and increasing the number of counted leks per season. Aerial infrared lek counts may be a valuable wildlife management tool that releases time and resources for other conservation efforts. Opportunities exist for wildlife professionals to refine and apply aerial infrared techniques to wildlife monitoring programs because of the increasing reliability and affordability of this technology.
Additional publication details
Can reliable sage-grouse lek counts be obtained using aerial infrared technology