|Greater Prairie-Chickens, Tympanucuhus cupido; Calamus, Nebraska|
I also had an opportunity to visit the ranch of Bruce and Sue Ann Switzer of Calamus, Nebraska. Bruce and Sue Ann are conservation ranchers, managing their ranch for both livestock and wildlife. Their ranch contains about 30 active Greater Prairie-Chicken leks, and I was fortunate enough to be in a blind this past Wednesday to photograph the courtship ritual of these beautiful birds.
I cannot adequately describe the experience of watching these birds on their leks. They were amazing! Males confronted each other, rapidly stomping their feet on the ground, and filling the golden air sacs on their necks with air to boom a deep oo-loo-woo sound. The National Geographic guide to the birds describes the booming as a sound created by “blowing across the top of an empty bottle,” a description that is very accurate.
At the height of the confrontation, a pair of males would jump into the air with feet and claws toward each other. But the spat was brief as the birds fluttered back to the earth. All of this activity started before sunrise and lasted until the sun was an hour above the horizon. With little warning the birds one by one flew from the lek to feed among the prairie grass. The next morning the birds returned to the lek, and began their dance all over, with the hopes of attracting a hen.
Nikon D800, Nikkor 500mm f4, Exposure 1/2500 @ f4