Nebraskaland April 2019

NEBRASKAland Magazine is dedicated to outstanding photography and informative writing with an engaging mix of articles and photos highlighting Nebraska’s outdoor activities, parklands, wildlife, history and people.

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38 Nebraskaland • April 2019 Dance Party STORY AND PHOTOS BY ERIC FOWLER T here are some things you just have to see to believe, and others you have to hear. Few provide a treat to both of those senses like watching prairie grouse perform their courtship dances in the spring. Sitting in a blind before fi rst light, you will hear the birds fl y into the lek before you can see them. When the greater prairie-chicken's eerie, moaning call hits your ears, you will wonder what kind of creature could make such a noise, and then understand why their lek is also called a booming ground. And even after you've heard it, you still might not believe how much noise can be made by a sharp-tailed grouse clicking its tail feathers together. Sprinkle in the clucks, hoots, coos and squawks, and it's music to a birdwatcher's ears, or anyone's for that matter. Until darkness fades, you will strain your eyes until you fi nd the source of the sounds. When the subject is clear, you might shake your head in wonder as you watch male sharptails infl ate the purple air sacs on their necks, stomp their feet and dance in circles – or at the larger, orange air sacs of the prairie-chicken and its upright pinnae feathers. You will watch almost as intently as the males watch each other when they crouch low to the ground in a face-off . And you might wonder if any birds ever lose an eye when they launch themselves in the air and bare their claws at each other. And they do it all just to try and get the girl, who will occasionally pop in on the lek to check on the boys, strolling through with a sense of indiff erence that causes them to try even harder to impress her. The dance begins in mid-March and will last into May at a prairie near you. It's something everyone should see and hear. And you still might not believe it.

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