Monthly Archives: April 2010

Photo Friday

For Photo Friday, a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, seen at the Lesser Prairie Chicken Festival right at the crossroads behind the Chicken House in Milnesand, NM.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

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Battle on the Lek–Escalation and Aftermath

When last we left our Lesser Prairie Chickens in Milnesand, NM they were engaged in a fierce struggle on on the lek. In this slide show, the battle escalates, one male dominates and another is chased from the lek.

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The dominant male gets to mate, briefly, with the female as the other males try to push him away.

There is a hen under there somewhere

As we bid a fond farewell to Milnesand, NM, the Milnesand Prairie Preserve and the Lesser Prairie Chicken Festival it is appropriate to thank the wonderful folks in Milnesand, who provided us with education, entertainment, transportation and excellent food and made us feel welcome. It was an excellent festival and a wonderful community. I will do as the prairie chickens do and melt into the landscape.

When they are not displaying they are really quite inconspicuous

Until next year!

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Wordless Wednesday

Lilian's Eastern Meadowlark

Lilian's Eastern Meadowlark

Lilian's Eastern Meadowlark

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Battle on the Lek–The Battle

Photograpy conditions on the second day of the Lesser Prairie Chicken Festival in Milnesand, NM were much better than they were on the first day. I had a superb view of the lek from my blind, and I enjoyed watching the prairie chickens in their mating display. I was particularly happy to be able to see the hens clearly, which I had not been able to do at the Shinnery Oak lek. A highlight of day two was watching the males challenge each other for supremacy on the lek. I took quite a few photos. Here is a slide show of some of them.

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Here is a short video of Lesser Prairie Chickens displaying and challenging each other on the lek. Click 720p for HD video. Best watched in full screen mode.

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Battle on the Lek–a Prologue

A lovely hen

The behavior of the Lesser Prairie Chickens on the Lek is textbook lekking behavior, involving competing males and selecting females. It was fascinating to watch these birds, and I was fortunate to be able to do it.
She appears to be ignoring him

The process begins as competing males dance and display for selecting females.The males cackle and boom and stamp their feet on the ground. The females appear to be unimpressed. The males begin to challenge each other on the lek.

A photo slide show showing challenges on the lek:

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Next post: The challenges escalate into battles.

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Lesser Prairie Chicken Festival, Part Two

On Sunday, the second day of the Lesser Prairie Chicken Festival in Milnesand, NM, we again arose early and met at the community center to travel in vans to blinds on the lek.

A male Lesser Prairie Chicken drums his feet on the lek

Calling, booming and drumming on the lek

On this day we went to a short grass prairie lek, which together with the improved weather made us hopeful of improved photography conditions. I had a blind to myself, which gave me more room for my equipment, but which also made the time in the cold and dark waiting for the prairie chickens to show up seem interminable. Finally the sky began to lighten, and I heard first a meadowlark singing and then the cackling and booming of the prairie chickens.

As it became light enough to see details of the lekking behavior, I was delighted to see females present on the lek. Although they had been present on the Shinnery Oak lek the previous day, they blended so well into the surroundings that it was difficult to see and photograph them.

Even though these may look like rather plain, drab birds to us, they are the embodiment of feminine perfection to the male Lesser Prairie Chickens, and they try mightily to impress the hens who generally look rather indifferent to all the calling, booming and dancing.

Extremely attractive Lesser Prairie Chicken hen

The males challenge each other on the lek.

Male Lesser Prairie Chickens challenge each other on the lek

Another challenge

The challenges escalate into sparring.

Lesser Prairie Chickens spar on the lek

Two more male Lesser Prairie Chickens spar on the lek

The sparring continues

At last one Lesser Prairie Chicken submits.

There is a victor and a loser in ever sparring match

In the next post I will show details of the sparring matches on the lek as well as what happens afterwards.

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Wordless Wednesday

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Lesser Prairie Chicken Festival, Part One

This year I attended the Lesser Prairie Chicken Festival. Although I grew up in southeastern NM, I had seen the Prairie Chickens on the lek only one other time when I was sixteen years old. The festival is held in Milnesand, NM, a small, unincorporated community in southeastern NM. Milnesand is on the Llano Estacado, a 37,500 square mile mesa in eastern NM and western TX. Milnesand is also on the edge of the Milnesand Prairie Preserve, an area purchased by the Nature Conservancy to preserve environment for the Lesser Prairie Chicken.

Blinds on the lek, but it was pitch dark when we arrived.

We arrived in Milnesand on Friday evening, parked the 5th wheel and signed up for activities. I was happy to meet Donna Tucker, a friend on Twitter, in person.  Saturday morning we met at 4:30. It was cold and dark, and we went in vans out to blinds in the prairie preserve to watch the prairie chickens. It was pitch dark and very cold as we waited. Just as we thought we would expire from cold and boredom, we began to hear the birds calling in the darkness as they arrived at the lek. We could hear but not see them cackling and booming. We could hear their little feet pounding on the ground as they danced. We could hear their tail feathers snapping. This was my favorite part of the morning, and it was magical.

The sky finally began to lighten, but the day was very cold, cloudy and windy.

Shinnery Oak Forest

This particular lek was located in a Shinnery Oak forest. Shinnery Oak

Shinnery Oak closeup

grows only about 12-15 inches tall. The majority of the tree is located underground as a huge root ball. It is a true oak that makes catkins and acorns and has tiny oak leaves.

The combination of low light and oak forest did not make for ideal photography conditions, but conditions were apparently great for booming and dancing, as the Prairie Chickens were not at all deterred by the weather. They boomed and danced on the lek for about two hours, the strongest males getting closer to the center of the lek, and the weaker males being relegated to the perimeter or being driven from the lek. Juveniles and hens watched from the perimeter. After about two hours, the last males flew from the lek and we returned to Milnesand for an excellent breakfast prepared by local cooks.

Photography conditions improved dramatically the next day, as you will see.

A male Lesser Prairie Chicken dances on the lek in the Shinnery Oak forest

A male Lesser Prairie Chicken dances on the lek as his pinnae blow in the wind


A juvenile Lesser Prairie Chicken perches in a Shinnery Oak at the edge of the lek to watch.

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Wordless Wednesday

Curve-billed Thrasher

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A Walk in Embudito Canyon, Part Deux

Bewick's Wren

As we walked in Embudito Canyon we heard a Bewick’s Wren singing. We saw him at the top of a Gambel’s Oak, singing his little heart out.

Curve-billed Thrasher

Bosque Bill and I had a lovely morning in Embudito Canyon. I was putting off writing a brief; he was putting off doing his taxes. Throughout the morning we heard Curve-billed Thrashers singing beautifully in the canyon. On the return trail, I looked back and saw a thrasher pop up onto a cholla right behind me. We enjoyed a close view of the bird, and we were able to take many photos.

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