Saturday, April 4, 2015

Sharp-tailed Grouse III, Continued

     Watching and photographing Sharp-tailed Grouse and Prairie Chickens is one of the greatest experiences I have had as a birder and bird photographer.  Whether you are a birder, a bird photographer, or you just loves nature this spectacle should not be missed.   So, how can you see this fantastic event for yourself?  I recommend two locations, Nebraska National Forest and Grasslands near Halsey, Nebraska and Calamus Outfitters about seven miles north of Burwell, Nebraska.
Sharp-tailed Grouse Lek at Bessy Ranger District.  Public blind on left, personal photography blinds brought to sight by my friend and I.  Photo blinds need to be set-up at least a day prior to use.  Contact the National Forest and Grasslands headquarters to select a let of your choosing.

     There are numerous locations in Nebraska to see and photograph Sharp-tailed Grouse and Prairie Chickens, but I can’t imagine a better place for photography than Bessey Ranger District in the Nebraska National Forest and Grasslands.  There are about 30 different grouse and chicken leks in the grasslands and all are available for viewing or photography.   
     The national forest is just west of Halsey, but amenities in Halsey are quite sparse.  Halsey is very small, there is one hotel, and one bar/restaurant.  There is no gas station, and no source for groceries, so be sure you fill-up with gas and groceries before you arrive.  Halsey is quite isolated, but if you want to photography Sharp-tailed Grouse and Prairie Chickens this is perhaps the best place to get close to the birds.  I had grouse only a few feet from the blind. 
  Sharp-tailed Grouse, Tympanuchus phasianellus:  Bessey Ranger District,
Nebraska National Forest and Grassland near Halsey, Nebraska 

    Only two leks in the Bessey Ranger District have viewing blinds, one Sharp-tailed and one Prairie Chicken lek.  The current public blinds are excellent for viewing birds, but are totally unsuitable for photography.  Photographers need to bring their own portable blinds. It is important to set-up the blind the day before the shoot.  It would be virtually impossible to set-up a blind in the darkness and be prepared to shoot the same morning.  Whether Viewing bird or photographing birds you must be in the blinds at least forty-five minutes before sunrise.  This is essential.  If birds are on the lek before you are in the blind, they will be frighten off when you arrive.  The blinds are right on the lek. 
     Once in the blind a flashlight is essential (preferably one with a red filter) to get gear set-up for the big event.  Also bring a small folding chair.  You may be in the blind for 3 to 4 hours, that’s a long time to stand around.  Also bring water and a snack, once in the blind you will need to stay until the all the birds fly from the lek.  Keep in mind that Nebraska can be down right COLD during the lek season.  This year the lows reached down to around 42F, last years temperatures were between 10-20 F.  Dress warm, layers work great, just have lots of layers, headgear and gloves.
 Greater Prairie Chickens, Tympanuchus cupido:
Calamus Ranch, Calmaus Outfitters near Burwell, Nebraska

     If you are not interested in photography, and just want to view the dance of the Sharp-tailed and Prairie Chickens, I suggest Calamus Outfitters near Burwell.  They have the perfect set-up.  You meet at 6:00 AM, soon after that the groups are bussed to a viewing blind for the morning festivities.  The blinds themselves are old school busses.  The bus seats have been removed and replaced with chairs.  Windows on the side of the bus that faces the lek have been removed as well.  The distance of the birds vary, but some birds may come as close as 75 feet, perfect for viewing.
Greater Prairie Chickens, Tympanuchus cupido:
Calamus Ranch, Calmaus Outfitters near Burwell, Nebraska

    The best time to see grouse and chickens on their leks is between mid March and mid April, so there is still time this year if you have that urge to see these birds preform their age old ritual.  Below I have listed contact information for both locations that will be useful in your travels.  I have also included known motels and eateries in both areas mentioned. 

Contacts: Bessey Ranger District

Sharp-tailed Grouse and Prairie Chicken Viewing and Photography Information:
Nebraska National Forest and Grasslands area

Halsey Frontier Inn
503 Highway 2

Halsey, NE 69142
Phone: (308)533-2240

FAX: (308)533-2323

Nebraska National Forest and Grasslands
Bessey Recreation Complex

Double T Bar
103 Main St, Halsey, NE 69142
(308) 533-2208

Contacts: Burwell, Nebraska
Burwell Area/Garfield County Visitors Bureau

Sharp-tailed Grouse and Prairie Chicken Viewing Information:
Calamus Outfitters

Calamus Lodge             Rodeo Inn                            Pump & Pantry
46358 828th Rd             50 NE 11 St.                        517 1st Ave.
Burwell, NE                   Burwell, NE                          Burwell, NE
(308) 346-4331   

Burwell City Park        Calamus Lodge      Calamus State Recreation Area        
North 7th Avenue         46358 828th Rd      42285 York Point Rd           
(308) 346-4509            (308) 346-4331      (308) 346-5666

D & C Calamus West                                 Kamp Kaleo on the River            
45538 Hwy 96                                            46872 Willow Sps Rd  
(308) 214-0013                                          (308) 346-5083
Willow Springs RV Park and cg                91 Pines Campgrounds               
46854 willow Sps Rd                                 Hwy 91  (6 miles west of Burwell)
(308) 750-1364                                          (308) 214-0198

Sandstone Grill
Pizza Palace
Northside Bar & Grill
Barb’s Café
Stockman’s Lounge
The Hub
Verda’s Café
Legion Club

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