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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14 Comments

Filed under New Mexico birds

14 responses to “Lesser Prairie Chicken Festival, Part One

  1. Great Captures! The first one of the male is pretty cool. You captured it just right in its dance.

  2. Thanks Steve. There will be more from the Lesser Prairie Chicken Festival. I’ve enjoyed your posts from your trip to Yellowstone NP.

  3. Excellent description..felt like i was there listening to the tapping feet…great post.

  4. Kerry

    Nice Linda like the blog and great pictures

  5. WOW Linda ~ What a fabulous experience this must have been! LOVE the pics!!

  6. You write a good story to go along with the pics Linda. Glad you got some images of the area as well as the birds. I love a good story in both words and images.

  7. Wonderful post and photos, glad to see you blogging and although time is limited, I look forward to more of your posts.

    dan

  8. Krista

    Linda! Great post :) That miniature oak forest is the cutest thing ever! Very cool to learn about the lesser prairie chickens and their leking. Excited to see video and more pics!

  9. Very cool. Nice to have a little story to go along with the wonderful photos, too. Shinnery Oak… who knew!

  10. Mechcounsel

    Excellent photos and narrative. I felt like I was there.

  11. Pingback: Make All Prairie Chickens Chick-fil-A

  12. Pingback: Lesser Prairie Chicken to be Named Endangered

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