Sunday, May 3, 2009

Dancing At The Prairie Chicken Fair

chick4 The title of this post is a take off on a classic western novel by Ivan Doig, Dancing At The Rascal Fair. There’s not really any connection but it seemed like a spiffy title and I really enjoyed the book!

To get back to the story of the Lesser Prairie Chickens, I battened down the RV hatches and went to bed at about 9pm on Wednesday with instructions from Norma to be ready to go at 4:30 am the next morning. I haven’t had a “special” timchick2e to get up in the morning since I retired. Even when I was a working stiff I almost never used an alarm clock. I was always able to set an alarm clock in my mind and wake up at whatever time I needed to be awake.

This time however I needed to make sure I was up and ready so I brought along an alarm clock and set it for 3:45 am. I was nervous that something would go wrong and either the alarm wouldn’t work or I’d sleep through it….Shouldn’t have worried. Between a fierce wind that blew all night long and rocked the RV more than I’ve ever experienced before, and my constant checking of the time, I got very little sleep and finally just got up at about 3:30 am.

By 4:30 am the wind had died down and Norma and I headed out in her pickup truck to the lek we were going to watch this day. For whatever reason I was the only customer this day so I really got the personalized treatment. As we approached the lek it got overcast and foggy. Norma said that the Prairie Chickens might not be active because of the weather and I got this sinking feeling. Within a couple of minutes however we could hear the birds calling to one another in the dark.chick3

Sure enough, as soon as it was light enough to see we could see six males about 50 yards away doing their daily dance. Each male had staked out a territory and every couple of minutes another male would come running into the others territory all puffed up with tail spread and ear feathers pointing to the sky. The two males would circle each other squawking pejoratives about the others mother or some such insult and jump up and down in front of each other. After about 30 seconds of this they would back off and sit down in the grass facing each other. After a rest of a minute or two they would break off and go challenge one of the other Prairie Chickens.  chick5

We stayed in the same spot and watched the display for about two hours. I took a ton of pictures but because the lighting was pretty poor and I was shooting at maximum telephoto distance, a lot of the pictures were not in complete focus. All the while we were watching, Norma kept up a commentary about the birds, their habits and habitat. She said she was worried for the survival of these birds because they cannot tolerate humans. They won’t nest or exist within a mile of human activity or even a building. The government currently pays landowners not to develop areas so that the birds will have some habitat but Norma said that this program expires this year. She said the landowners that are paying taxes on the land have to make some money from the land in order to pay the taxes. She feared that the few areas of habitat left would be farmed or ranched without the government program.

I feel privileged that I was able to see this natural curiosity and watch these incredible birds. I hope that next year I can bring The Bride to see it as well.  We were back at the ranch by 7:30 am and I packed up the RV and headed out for more adventure. Stay tuned and I’ll tell you about the rest of the trip.

Thanks for visiting.

1 comment:

janeywan said...

Quite an experience.

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