I dragged my favorite two birders out to NW Minnesota town of Rothsay, the self-proclaimed Prairie Chicken capital of the free world or at least Minnesota to see grouse. These two birders, my wonderful wife of nearly 25 years and my 14 year old daughter Lena
The Minnesota was added after sign was built
It was an out of bed at 3am in morning to drive to the lek, which is what they call the breeding areas for grouse. We tracked down the parking lot to the blind after only one cup of coffee, one raccoon, one coyote and one missed turn.
The 3/4 mile walk in the dark to the lek was complicated by two items, first we lost our way by losing track of the reflector trail. Luckily my eagle eyed daughter spotted the square wooden blind and we got there before it was too late. Two, the bright full moon, went into eclipse, it was quite a show for the shortest total eclipse of the century and it was a very cool blood moon, but the darkness didn’t help our meandering in the Minnesota prairie.
We watched the really cool moon as it set and then waited for the arrival of the birds. 0623, was the ETA and the first eerie boom, and cluck was heard and then as the light went up we watched 28 dancing, fighting and generally crazy Greater Prairie Chickens, bird #300 for the year for me, which is my earliest to that total but I will have to pick up the pace if I do any real Big Year.
Some of the co-stars today:
Then as we watched, I noticed purple throat patched birds, “Purple?” Prairie Chickens are yellow, so what was purple? We had a two-fer, a lek within a lek. A small flock of sharp-tailed grouse had started a lek right next to the prairie chickens!
here is the hen for some purists out there, note the lack of barring on stomach
I don’t know, someone suggested the whole lot was a bunch of hybrids, a little too inbred, I guess you decide.
The male below after consultations with the old Highmore SD field biologist is definitely a hybrid, mother would be GPCX (they come back to lek of mother) and father a rather randy sharpie….apparently. There is apparently a bit of misnomer in the literature as for all intense and purposes no one has viewed a successful male hybrid breeding but this same contact from out in the central prairies says the female hybrids breed. I contacted the field biologists at Fergus Falls and well they don’t know haven’t been out there and looked at the birds this year….and not sure they did last year….go figure. At least one of the the purple ones danced like sharpies and the orange ones in general acted like prairie chickens. So I put a new tally on these birds, 2 sharpies, one hybrid and 4, I just don’t know.
One cant leave the lek until the birds do so we needed entertainment but all I heard was “I’m cold!”
We had a heater in the blind, but despite that my lovely ladies in the blind still got a little cold and then from 35 birds of both species it dropped to 20 and then something spooked them and they were gone. We were free to hike back to the car and they could warm up.
Back in 2013 my plan was to hike naked out to this blind to qualify the bird of my nude big year, ( I actually bought the heater for this particular bird! Luckily, I tracked down a prairie chicken before that ever happened. Somehow sitting there this year with winter clothes on, I didn’t feel cold at all because I could imagine it ALOT colder! But I escorted my family back to the waiting Volvo.
This was my 3rd Easter weekend prairie chicken lek. There is nothing more fun in nature than a lek blind, well in the car that was debated the entire 5 hours to Wisconsin. My daughter may have also thought the eclipse was cooler.
We saw some swans and some Snow and Ross’ Geese flying and feeding around
The Ross Geese are the smaller of the birds, but it isn’t the best picture.
Next big outing THE ROCK! 3 weeks to Newfoundland and I continue on my research for other activities and my assault on expanding my life list. Newfoundland in April, beach weather….?…..!….?
Maybe not, I may wish it was as warm as today in the blind