Posts tagged ‘lek’

Video—Dancing Chickens: Shooting with Sparky

A morning on the Greater Prairie-Chicken lek at Tympanuchus WMA in Northwest Minnesota; April 26, 2019

Chicken of the Prairie: A Morning in a Greater Prairie-Chicken Blind—Part 1

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4767

Greater Prairie-Chicken battling at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 2000; handheld]

April 26, 2019

Photographers and Birders never really get to enjoy the benefits of staying in a hotel. And this was true for me on Friday morning. I rolled in to Crookston, Minnesota late (after a 4 1/2 hour drive) and after packing my photo/video/sound gear it was already 11pm. Not much time to sleep before the alarm went off at 3:30am. No complimentary breakfast for spring/summer birders! Two granola bars would have to suffice. I had to be in the blind by 4:50am.

Even at that dark hour, the birds had beat me to the lek. Reflectors had marked the 300 yard path to the Greater Prairie-Chicken blind at Tympanuchus Wildlife Management Area in Polk County, Minnesota (in the northwestern part of the state). Honestly it was one of the nicest grouse blinds I’ve ever been in. Spacious and roomy with semi-comfy stools, and even a plywood floor! But like all blinds constructed for the public and not specifically for photographers, it lacked a low-angle shooting window. Photographers like to get eye-level shots. It makes the images more intimate and helps isolate the subject from its background. The addition of two “shooting windows” about a foot off the floor/ground would be really nice.

But as spectacular as their displays are, the sounds these guys make are simply mesmerizing. Crazy cackles, hoots, booms against a background of overhead winnowing of snipe and singing Savannah Sparrows, Grasshopper Sparrows and Western Meadowlarks. I even heard a couple Greater Yellowlegs and a Marbled Godwit. A true spring chorus!

I am far more familiar with Sharp-tailed Grouse displays, and in comparison, the Prairie-Chickens dance less and fight more. Sharptails perform fancy footwork dance displays and inflate purple throat sacs. Greater Prairie-Chickens do less dancing and seem to rely more on their impressive yellow-pink throat sacs and erected feather tufts. They also seem to face off with other males frequently.

By 9am, the energy level had dissipated and the birds melted into the brushy landscape.

**I WILL POST A VIDEO, INCLUDING SOUNDS AND SLOW MOTION, OF THE PRAIRIE CHICKEN DISPLAYS SOON. STAY TUNED!

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5098

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

The male’s display is

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 500; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5166

Greater Prairie-Chicken males displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

At the peak of displaying, I counted about 15 Greater Prairie-Chickens…Maybe 12 males and 3 females. In this photo you can see 4 males displaying.

[Canon 7D with Sigma 50-500mm lens at 167mm; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 320; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5113

Though there were no low angle shooting windows in the blind, I did manage to lay on my belly and shoot a couple shots under the canvas blind’s zippered door. I like the out of focus red dogwoods/willows.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f6.3; ISO 640; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5123

Greater Prairie-Chicken male at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 500; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4941

Greater Prairie-Chicken males at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f6.3; ISO 640; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4601

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/500 at f5.6; ISO 2000; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4918

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

Prairie-Chickens are a bird of open prairie and brushy grasslands. This part of Minnesota has thousands of acres of such habitat preserved in many Nature Conservency sites, DNR Wildlife Management Areas and the massive Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge (along the old beach line of Glacial Lake Agassiz).

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm L USM f4 lens; 1/800 at f4; ISO 250; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4836

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

The sun came up at 6:18am and the photography really kicked into high gear. I took over 1200 photos but “chimped and trashed” 700 of those, keeping about 500.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f6.3; ISO 800; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4887

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

Love the head-on view!

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f6.3; ISO 1000; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4769

Greater Prairie-Chicken: two males facing off and battling at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

Brief aerial “battles” were fairly common during my 4 hours in the blind. Most often they would face-off and then one would back off and wander away. But occasionally fights would erupt.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 2000; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4768

Greater Prairie-Chicken: two males facing off and battling at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 2000; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5011

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 1250; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4979

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying n a shrub! at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

Now here’s something you don’t see every day…A displaying Prairie-Chicken in a shrub!

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f6.3; ISO 500; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5033

Greater Prairie-Chicken: two males facing off and battling at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 640; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5017

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f6.3; ISO 800; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5040

Greater Prairie-Chicken: two males facing off and battling at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 640; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4730

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 1000; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4759

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying for female at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 1000; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4674

Greater Prairie-Chicken: two males facing off and battling at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f6.3; ISO 1250; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4634

Greater Prairie-Chicken: two males facing off and battling at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 2000; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4566

Greater Prairie-Chicken male in shrub at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm L USM f4 lens at 200mm; 1/800 at f4; ISO 2500; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4558

Greater Prairie-Chicken: two males facing off and battling at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm L USM f4 lens at 176mm; 1/800 at f4; ISO 2000; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN

Greater Prairie-Chicken males displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

Three males displaying just before the sun came up at 6:18am. They had been on the lek since before 5am and would continue until 9am. It takes a lot of energy to impress the ladies!

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm L USM f4 lens at 70mm; 1/250 at f4; ISO 400; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4859

Greater Prairie-Chicken female at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

The females were more in evidence than at a Sharp-tailed Grouse lek (in my experience). But I saw no mating taking place. She lacks the male’s fancy throat sacs and feather plumes.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f6.3; ISO 800; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4878

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 800; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4430

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

Not much to do photographically in the pre-dawn hour…Too dark. But what is fun is to slow your shutter speed way down and crank up the ISO and try some panning motion blurs. I got about 4 good photos that I’ve included here.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm L USM f4 lens at 200mm; 1/8 second at f4; ISO 3200; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4384

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

Love this motion blur at a very slow 1/3 of a second. I left the blue pre-twilight background but increased the white balance in the bird to a warmer hue. I do wish it was framed on the left instead of running out of the frame, but I can live with that.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm L USM f4 lens at 200mm; 1/3 second at f4; ISO 3200; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4467

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm L USM f4 lens at 200mm; 1/15 second at f4; ISO 1600; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4433

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

You can shoot before dawn! I love the artistic/painterly quality of these early morning motion blurs.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm L USM f4 lens at 200mm; 1/8 second at f4; ISO 3200; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5284

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/40 at f9; ISO 100; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5367

Greater Prairie-Chicken: two males facing off at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1250 at f5.6; ISO 250; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5238

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

Another front view of this amazing bird of the prairies.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 320; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5181

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

This young male (in front) was constantly trying to display in the center of the lek. But the older males (?) would immediately attack him and drive him from the center fo the lek to the fringes. They would even bite his back. I am assuming that he is just a younger individual and has not yet earned his rightful place.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1250 at f6.3; ISO 320; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4826

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 800; handheld]

 

Sharp-tailed Grouse Lek: Shooting with Sparky

I’m introducing a new feature to The PhotoNaturalist site…Shooting with Sparky. These will be short 5-minute videos taken “on location” during a wildlife or landscape shoot. I’ll keep them together in a sidebar link called “Shooting with Sparky.”

Every April, the lengthening days triggers something in the brains of male Sharp-tailed Grouse causing them to start dancing…They return to their leks—a term for the dancing grounds of grouse species. With hormones raging, they do their best and most dramatic display for the females lurking around the edges, pretending not to watch. Males fight other males in dramatic flurries, but more often than not, confrontation ends in “Mexican standoffs,” birds just facing off and staring at one another until one splits.

I’m in the blind 45 minutes before sunrise as the full moon sets to the west. It’s April 7th and a bit chilly…35 degrees? The grouse really rev up about 15 minutes before the sun peaks above the hayfield horizon. Their strictly-for-show purple air sacs inflate, their yellow “eyebrows” erect, and then they spread their wings and perform their foot-stampin’ dance. I’ve been to a fair number of Ojibwa/Anishinabe powwows, and some of their dances are similar. I’m sure the Ojibwa learned much from their feathered dancing friends…and ate quite a few too!

At one point, a Northern Harrier swoops in for a look…She’s not interested in grouse for a meal—too big for her rodent-sized appetite—but the sharptails hunker down anyway, and a few take flight. Then, surprisingly, a crow pops in for a look. He seems curious. It almost seems like he’d like to join in! But after a brief visit, the crow takes off. The Eastern Meadowlarks are back, singing loudly around the blind. One lands only feet from me, but I’m too slow to get any video. By about 9:00a.m. most of the sharptail’s energy is spent, and they drift off to the cover of the nearby willow brush.




For these motion/panning blurs, I wanted LOTS of blur…So I put the camera on Shutter Priority (Tv setting) and set the speed to 1/20 second and auto ISO. Then I waited for some action. At these shutter speeds, you are going to get very few keepers, very few that are even somewhat sharp (“low-percentage shooting”), BUT when you do get one, the image can be very satisfying because the background is so blurred that it becomes just a wash of color. [REMEMBER: you can always click on a photo to make it larger]

All shot at 1/20 of a second with a Canon 400mm and STACKED teleconverters (a 2x and 1.4x) with Canon 7D on tripod