The story of this weekend adventure actually started a year ago. Late spring 2022 my wife and my cousin’s wife decided that they had never been to see the prairie grouse dance. Each spring prairie chickens and sharptail grouse have a mating display where the males “dance” to attract females. It is a spectacle. I had seen prairie grouse performing their spring mating rituals in many of my travels and adventures in Nebraska, but I told the girls to make plans and this spring we would do it!
And we did!
The Valentine National Wildlife Refuge has viewing blinds that are open to the public during the spring grouse dancing. My cousin’s wife reserved a couple of blinds for us on a Saturday morning. Uniquely, the refuge offered one blind set up on a prairie chicken lek (lek is the name of the area where the birds do their dancing each morning), and one blind set up on a sharptail grouse lek. Oh, one other term I should define, the male prairie chickens make a distinct booming sound while they are displaying. Therefore, some folks refer to the mating activities as booming in addition to dancing.
Anyway, some of you know all of that. . . .
You also know the spring weather in Nebraska is schizophrenic and that has been especially true this past month. The weekend we planned to go see the grouse ended up being wet, windy and COLD, but we went anyway!
My wife, son, and I went to the prairie chicken blind. My cousin Robin and his wife Theresa went to the sharptail blind. It was cloudy, cold, and windy, as you will see and hear. We were in our blinds at the appointed time, an hour before sunrise. You have to be in the blind early, before the birds show up, and you have to stay in the blind until later in the morning when the mating activity is done for the day.
In the daylight, here is what the blind looked like:
Me and my blind mates:
Yes, all three of us got in that little box!
An hour before sunrise on a cloudy, cold, windy day, everything is pretty much dark. Through the wind we could hear a few sounds. I laughed at my wife; every sound brought the question, “What was that?”
No, that was not a grouse, it was a duck. That was a goose. Another duck. That was a teal. Etc., etc. for a half an hour.
Then in the darkness I heard an unmistakable chuckle. The prairie chickens were here!
Looking out the slats in the front of the blind we could just make out two prairie chicken forms in the short grass in front of us. It was still too dark for photographs! Later, as it got lighter we got better pictures, although they were still not great on the cloudy, gloomy morning.
One male gave us a great show, right in front of the blind. A couple of times, he was even on top of the blind!
There is video. I am not a professional videographer, not even a “YouTuber”. I am just a blogger telling you the way it was. My wife and son shot some video on their phones. I told you the wind was blowing.
At least you can hear the “booming”. I love that sound. On a calm, crisp morning you can hear that for miles.
We only had the two male prairie chickens show up that morning. I suspect maybe the weather dampened the activity? No females ever appeared. The males displayed actively for thirty minutes or so and then they started to feed more and dance less. Eventually they fed off towards the tall grass and soon they just up and flew. There they were, gone.
We waited another twenty minutes or so to see if they would come back, but that was it for the prairie chicken blind. As my son and I got out of the blind to stretch, we could hear other prairie chickens “booming” to our south. Turns out there were another dozen or so birds back on another meadow near where we had parked. They were dancing in an unapproved area where there was no blind. They would have only had to come a few hundred yards to be over in front of the blind. I wonder if that is where they would have been on a nicer morning?
Meanwhile over at the sharptail blind, my cousin and his wife were being entertained by more birds. I did not get any of their pictures, but I got a video clip:
I told you they were entertaining!
Besides the grouse we saw an unbelievable amount of wildlife in the Nebraska sandhills. It was a long winter in the ‘hills this past winter, and the hills showed it. But there were the first hints of greener days ahead and wildlife were everywhere: mule deer, whitetails, pheasants, turkeys, meadowlarks, waterfowl of every kind, and more, much more. I have one more picture to illustrate just some of what we saw:
Some of you may have quit reading by now or you are disgruntled thinking this post has nothing to do with fishing!
“Not so fast, my friend”–Lee Corso
You know the fishing gear goes with me everywhere I go. We did not spend a lot of time fishing, and again the weather was lousy. My son and I did sling baits for a few hours in the rain, sleet, and snow. I found one pike that wanted to eat:
We also spent a lot of time with family, and if that was not enough, we did some of this too:
The wind actually quit blowing for a glorious evening. We heard several turkeys gobbling, but could not close the deal on any of them. That was OK, we had not had nearly enough spring turkey hunting, yet.
We did it all. That weekend perfectly illustrates how I feel this time of year, so much to do outdoors and so little time!
Therefore, I am outta here, I just heard another turkey gobble!