Friday, April 19, 2013

Cimarron National Grasslands

A windmill on the background of the yucca and sage steppe of the Cimarron National Grasslands.

An American Kestrel perches on a yucca stalk. I made the trip to these national grasslands Tuesday afternoon. I had a couple hours to spend before sundown, which is no where near enough time to bird/explore the area in the way it deserves. CNG is in the extreme southwest corner of Kansas, abutting Colorado and Oklahoma. This area was very hard hit during the dust bowl, after which, the government started buying the devastated land and setting it aside for conservation. Now it is one area of short-grass prairie and steppe that has some natural character in the area.

A Badger looks up from his business in a wheat field. He wasn't sure what to make of me, and kept smelling the air, before waddling off and continuing his hunt.

Another windmill in the distance obscured by heat distortion. I know it is an old effect, but I love the impressionist painting look it has.

I decided that my goal at CNG was going to be the Lesser Prairie Chicken lek. I couldn't work out any way to visit the lek in the morning, so evening was going to have to do. The National Forest Service had set up a blind, and the log book had been reporting at least a couple Lesser Prairie Chicken displaying for the last couple mornings. I hiked/birded around for a couple hours before the sun got low. The birds were occasionally supposed to display on the lek in the evening, approximately one hour before sunset. Sunset happened to be about 8:20 central time. A very nice British couple and I got in the blind a little before seven o'clock. The weather was warm (mid 50's) and sunny, but the wind was brisk. I appreciated the windbreak of the blind. We kept our eyes and ears peeled, but the prairie chickens never showed. It was by far an unpleasant time, though. There was a prairie dog town with a pair of Burrowing Owls on guard. A Kestrel was hunting the steppe. Western Meadowlarks and Horned Larks (pictured above) sang to us. Jackrabbits and White-tailed Deer wandered past.

Slowly, the sun set, and I had to leave. Almost as soon as the sun dipped below the cloud layer on the horizon, a pack of coyotes just over the hill broke out into chorus of yaps and howls. It was quite a magical experience. I hope the Lesser Prairie Chickens can hold on against the coyotes and habitat destruction. If I ever get the chance again, I'll have to come back and try again, and look for the other specialties there like Scaled Quail, Mountain Plover, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Curve-billed Thrasher, Black-headed Grosbeak, Cassin's Sparrow, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Clay-colored Sparrow, McCown's Longspur, and Chestnut-collared Longspur.

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