Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Home Again, Prairie Chickens are now only in my dreams

I made it home in one piece but it’s taken me this many days to get time and energy to do a final post about my big birding adventure out west.

A male Greater Prarie Chicken strutting his stuff

Sunday we woke at 4:30 AM and met our group at 5:15 to head out to the lek in the school bus. We got set up in a trailer there and when everyone was settled and quiet, the flaps on the trailer were lifted and we all sat staring into the cold darkness with great expectation. Within a few minutes we began to hear the sound of the prairie chickens “booming” off on the distance. The sound grew and more and more chickens joined in. As the light grew we could see them moving onto the lek. For the next hour we watched in amazement as over 2 dozen greater prairie chickens danced and fought on the prairie 100 feet outside our trailer. The males have orange egg shaped sacks on the sides of their necks that they puff up and it is these sacks that make the booming, really more like a cooing or hooting sound. As females enter the lek the males get even more excited and begin to issue a crazed sort of cackling sound. They flip up feathers from the sides of their necks over their heads that look like rabbit ears, and then they stomp their feet and bend forward, charging around the lek. It was a truly incredible spectacle and we were all in awe.
Two males bowing towards a female

(Click here to view a good short film that shows the sigths and sounds of the sandhill dancers.)

Just about the time we were all starting to lose sensation in our hands and feet, the females began leaving the lek, our guide closed the doors on the blind and we filed back onto the bus to drive further onto the Kitzmiller ranch where dudes and dudettes were awaiting with our breakfast of pancakes, bacon, eggs, juice and coffee.  Once our stomachs were stuffed and we’d chatted with the other birders about the beauty of the prairie chicken dance, we packed back on the bus and were returned to the motel.

There grandma was setting up for the Sunday afternoon yard sale. I read again the note on the back of the motel door about all of the behavior that was discouraged by residents of the motel including breaking beer bottles and leaving car parts in the parking lot. I’m trying to figure out how sheets and towels get burnt, but I’m not really sure that I want to know. All of this did cause me to wonder just what kind of folks are regulars at the Butte.
We quickly packed up and hit the road, stopping to bird in a couple of spots on our way back to Denver where Chris dropped me at the airport and headed on to retrace our steps and try and pick up those elusive white-tailed ptarmigans, Gunnison’s sage grouses and a pair of owls in the Cache le Poudre canyon.

I was weary when I finally arrived home at 1 AM on Monday morning, relieved to have landed without incident after lots of turbulence on the flight and tornados on the ground here that evening. I slept hard despite the thunderstorms going on outside, glad to be back in my bed with my honey by my side.

1 comment:

alison said...

i just caught up on your adventures and i loved reading about them, thank you for the thrill!