Eschscholzia Californica—California Poppy—what a glorious flower to represent the Golden State.
The sounds that male Greater Prairie Chickens make during their mating displays on the leks include low hooting moans and high pitched clucking noises. The sounds begin before daybreak and intesify as activity increases on the lek as the sun risees. This male Greater Prairie Chicken appears to be saying something as the sun shows above the horizon, lighting the drops of dew on the blades of grass surrounding him.
This is Spanish Lavender, lavanda en español. Depite my benign (or could it be intentional) neglect of my garden and the pounding rains we’ve had recently, the roses, complete with aphids, the salvia, the azaleas, and the Spanish Lavender are in glorious spring bloom. We finally have some sunshine here and it’s beginning to look, and even feel, like spring. I used my Nikkor 500mm PF lens with the Nikon D5 set to high speed crop for this image.
We were warned about the blizzard for the first few days in Nebraska. It didn’t prevent us from going out in the mornings to photograph chickens and grouse. It did keep us indoors most of one afternoon. It was very windy. It was quite chilly. The snow blew. By the time I ventured out onto the porch to see what I could see, the worst of the storm had subsided. This is what I saw.
A male Greater Prairie Chicken reacts as his rival flies up to attack. The males would pair off in what appeared to be staring contests that suddenly erupted into fierce confrontations with claws thrashing and beaks tearing at rival feathers. This is life on the lek in April as the male Greater Prairie Chickens try to dominate the lek. Their goal is to mate with the females who watch seemingly indifferently from the sidelines. The cold and snow did not seem to have any adverse effect on the ongoing skirmishes.
This year, our Prairie Chicken adventure was much different from past years. There were high winds, a blizzard, temperatures ranging from the 70’s to below freezing, and thunder and lightening during a snow storm. The weather didn’t bother us a bit. We were out in it every day. Our best day, photographically speaking, was early Friday morning before we packed and drove to the Lincoln, NE airport. The viewing blinds were filled with snow that blew in during the night. There were high winds but fortunately, they were mostly behind the blinds and only occasionally blew directly in on us. We had the best light of the week on Friday. And, seeing and watching the Prairie Chickens in their skirmishes on the lek covered with snow was a fascinating sight to behold.
This male Greater Prairie Chicken thrummed his feet on the snow as a part of the ritual on the lek just as the sun began to show through the cloud cover. Despite the cold and the snow-covered lek, the activity seemed to rise to a desparate level as the males tried eagerly to impress the females and to fend off rival males.
For a few weeks in April, male Greater Prairie Chickens spend much of their time in skirmishes on the lek with a goal of impressing one of the females watching from the sidelines. This male took a break from the fray to fly to the roof of the school bus blind we were sitting in for a better view of the females he was trying to impress. He stayed atop the bus only briefly but returned several times to survey the possibilites. He was only about 10 or so feet away from my lens when he took off from the lek, flew directly toward me and landed on the roof just above my head.
Nikon D5, Nikkor 500mm PF with 1.4X teleconverter.
We’re back on the prairie in Nebraska to photograph Greater Prairie Chickens on the Switzer Ranch in Burwell, Nebraska. The Sibley Guide to Birds refers to the Greater Prairie Chicken as rare, local, and declining. It is considered a vulnerable species. A member of the grouse family, it was once abundant across the Great Plains but it is becoming rare and its population is decreasing although conservation efforts keep localized populations on native grasslands in the midwest thriving. One such area is run by Calamus Outfitters located on the Switzer Ranch. This is my third visit in as many years to the site. Early Tuesday morning before daylight we arrived at the blinds in the middle of the vast pasturelands of the ranch. Retired school buses, with the seats and window removed, serve as blinds. We set up our gear and waited for daylight surrounded by the sounds of the Prairie Chickens which carries across the prairie. The birds have elaborate mating rituals on leks, also known as booming grounds.
Two male Greater Prairie Chickens face off on the booming ground. Nikon D5, Nikkor 500mm PF, 1.4 X Teleconverter.
We’re used to Turkey Vultures where I live in California but in the eastern United States, both birds coexist. This Black Vulture sat perfectly still and posed for me in the Orlando Wetlands Park in Florida this past February. In my view, the Black Vulture is not nearly as homely as the Turkey Vulture, but neither one would win a beauty contest.