The male Sharp-tailed Grouse were still dancing on their leks at Namekagon Barrens in northwestern Wisconsin. When we walked to the blind on the Sunday morning it was 20° F (-6 C). The blind was snug and well designed; one of the best we have used. We were comfortable with our winter boots, snow pants and long underwear. We had awakened at 3:30 a.m. to be in the blind a few minutes after 5. There were some birds already at the lek. (When we had scouted the leks the first evening, we saw a few birds at one of the leks.)
Forty-five minutes later, as the sun peeked over the northeastern horizon, a warm glow tiptoed across the lek. There were at least 20 males visible through the blind’s port openings. More were seen occasionally jumping just over the edge of the highest area in the middle of the lek.
The birds did not tiptoe but stamped out their flamenco steps while rotating and sometimes moving quickly to one side. They spoke a language of cackles and chuk-a-luks with cooing undertones. Perfect music to accompany their performances.
Even as it became light we needed to keep high ISOs and shallow depth of fields to keep the shutter speeds up enough to stop the action as the birds danced. One frustration was their tendency to move to spots where their heads were blocked by tufts of grass while their bodies and tails remained in sharp focus. The job of deleting such images is always a necessary chore.
After the last birds flew south across the Barrens just before 8 a.m., we walked back to our pick-up camper on a beautiful morning and headed to Virginia. While there we did programs for the Williamsburg Bird Club and the John Clayton Chapter of the Virginia Native Plant Society. The weather was warm and and the reception friendly.
Our hosts took us to Jamestown Island where we found the large patches of Jamestown Lilies that the first settlers commented on 400 years ago. They were in full bloom around the edges of wetter grassy areas. More on them next post.