Thursday, April 16, 2009
Nebraska Part II
This post will contain a brief trip log of the Nebraska portion of the trip thus far. Tom and I arrived in Nebraska after driving 21 hours straight from Virginia and arrived at a blind location (5:00 AM) in southeast part of the state. Our goal was to photograph prairie chickens. The sunrise was awesome and we did see a number of birds, but unfortunately they were on an adjacent ridge, a 1/4 mile away. So we scouted some and located more birds on another lek on a piece of private property. Tom was invaluable as a Nebraska guide, having grown up in the state, so he knew where to locate birds. After speaking with the lek landowner, we had a location for the afternoon and following morning shoot.
Both prairie chickens and sharp-tailed grouse are found on leks. A lek or booming ground is a place where males and interested females gather. The males conduct mating displays on leks. This occurs during the breeding season. They usually meet at the same location every year. In the above photo you can see some sharp-tails on a lek displaying for the girls.
Having never observed this behavior it was absolutely thrilling. The males stomp their feet rapidly, blow up their pouch and make an incredible cooing sound that can be heard from quite a distance. As you can see from the above image, the yellow pouch is quite a dynamic sight.
Also, the males often jump in the air and often attack charge each other like the top photo.
The females watch all this and some males get lucky, like the second photo above.
Next, we headed to the western side of the state checking other potential wildlife locations. The Sandhills of Nebraska was especially interesting country. Basically, rolling sand dunes with a grass layer on top. I ended driving the truck 12 miles off a hard surface road onto a sand lane to a sharp-tailed lek. You can see how desolate it was in the photo above, where I parked the truck for evening. When I arrived, I hiked 1/2 mile to the potential lek location. Stayed till 8:30 PM and did not see any birds.
Up at 5:00 AM and on my way back to the same location, I was almost tripping over birds. Birds gathered quickly well before light and were dancing all around me, some even landed on top of my blind. As you can see from the above photo, the sharp-tails do a lower profile dance than the prairie chickens, with their wings outstreached. They do a similar rapid foot stomp.
As you can see the sharp-tails do have a different colored pouch.
Leave tomorrow for the Tetons and Yellowstone. Been great spending some time with my son and wife in Colorado. Hope to post again soon.