What are you... CHICKEN???
When I first started to get serious about photography, it was in collaboration with a passion for birding. In June of 2014, when I captured that first bird photo, I was hooked. I spent hours on the weekends, and sometimes entire days over the summer, tracking down new birds to try to photograph.
In December of 2016, I learned of an opportunity to photograph the Greater Prairie Chicken on a lek (an area where courtship rituals are performed) in Northwestern Missouri. It was too good of an opportunity to pass up. I made my reservations for April 6th, 2017 and waited patiently.
I received my packet in the mail in late March with information for the day. I had to meet them at 4:30 AM in a parking lot and we would then walk about 30 minutes, in the dark, to a blind that had been set up near the lek. The blind sat there all winter and spring, so the birds would be use to it. Viewers were only allowed to use the lek with Department of Conservation personnel a couple days a week so that they could make sure the birds were not disturbed.
April 6th arrived and I was on the road at 2 AM. I didn't want to be late! I arrived there at about 4 AM. As I looked out the window at the dark parking lot, I noticed that I could see the Milky Way (that's a story for another day however). When the other people and the Department of Conservation worker showed up, we stated our hike. It was silent, and cold. I was full of excitement for this rare opportunity. The Greater Prairie Chicken is currently listed as vulnerable (one step away from endangered), and is only found in small area in the central part of the United States.
Once we got to the blind, and took our seats, I started to get my camera gear ready. We had a little 4 inch square window to look out of and take our photographs. As the sun came up, there were 5 very happy photographers snapping away! One of the most interesting moments was when a Northern Harrier started to swoop in towards the Prairie Chickens. It was also awesome to see two males fighting. I will never forget the sound that the males made as they called out to attract a mate.
We stayed in the blind for about 3 hours before we walked back to the parking lot and all went our separate ways. How sad is it that we spent 4+ hours with each other, not talking, and I don't know the name of a single person that was with me. Okay, so I'm not really sad about it. After all, I was witness an absolutely amazing act of nature, and one I will never forget.
Check out the Missouri Department of Conservation website and see if you can book a viewing. If you like unique experiences... this is it!