A Morning on the Lek

I have worked in the Nebraska Sandhills and now in the Pine Ridge as a natural resources manager for six years now.  I’ve heard all about the experience of sitting in a blind and watching the spring displays of our native prairie grouse.  I’ve always come up with excuses not to experience it myself…too early in the morning, sunlight not good enough, too far to drive, something going on at work etc.  Yesterday, I finally did it.

A while back, I found a lek just a couple of miles from my house.

Sharptail Grouse-1

Canon T1i, Sigma 150-600 C, 600mm, f/7.1, 1/1250, ISO 800

I was a little concerned about disturbing the dance setting up my blind early in the morning, so the evening prior, i went out to the area and set up a pop-up hunting blind. That night, I set my alarm for 0500. I had all of my gear (tripod, camera, etc) packed up in the truck, so all I had to do was make some coffee and head out before first light.

 

I got to the blind around 0545 and got settled in.  It wasn’t 10 minutes later that I started hearing the guttural clucks and rapid foot stomping that I’d read about and only heard from a distance.

Sharptail Grouse-20

Canon T1i, Sigma 150-600 C, f/7.1, 600 mm, 1/1000, ISO 800

As the sun came up, i started taking photos.  I didn’t have great light throughout the morning, but I’m pretty happy with several of the photos.  It was hard to really capture the dance that the Sharptails do because of the poor light and the fact that my blind was actually a little bit lower than where they were dancing.

Sharptail Grouse-43

Canon T1i, Sigma 150-600 C, f/7.1, 600 mm, 1/1250, ISO 800

It was a great experience.  There was probably 15 or 20 birds in the group.  I’d say 3/4 of them were actively dancing. I noticed a few of the birds acted as “sentinels” for the larger group.  I also saw several of the female stopping by to watch and try to pick a mate.

Sharptail Grouse-31

Canon T1i, Sigma 150-600 C, f/7.1, 600 mm, 1/1000, ISO 800

I encourage all that work in tourism or natural resources to get out and see some of the wonders that go on in their area.  I know my experience will help me to tell the story of the plains and has given me a new respect for the things that you don’t always see from the highway.

 

 

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First Post

I’m following the “Learning the Fundamentals” email course put on by the good folks at WordPress.  The first assignment is to tell you who I am and why I’m here.  Basically what I’d like to get out of this blog.

As of now, I don’t even have a title for my blog, so maybe I’ll get some ideas as I go, or maybe get some suggestions along the way.  I can say who I am though.  My Twitter bio says: Western Nebraska Native | Natural Resources Professional | Beer Brewer | Husker Fan.  I’d say that wraps me up in a nut shell.  I grew up in a small town in the Nebraska Panhandle.  I participated in sports and other activities throughout school.  When I graduated, I worked on the farm for a short time before enlisting in the Nebraska Army National Guard and enrolling at Chadron State College.

While in college, I started working for the US Forest Service as a wildland firefighter.  I got this job as a direct result of the training I’d received in the National Guard.  The summer of 2002 was especially dry and resulted in many wildfires in Nebraska’s Pine Ridge.  As a result, our unit was called up to help the local, state and federal firefighting agencies contain these fires.  I loved the work and the sense of accomplishment, so when later that winter, our leadership asked for volunteers to take the “Red Card” training to become certified as firefighters, I jumped at the opportunity.  When I applied to the Forest Service that following spring, I was basically hired on the spot and put into a firefighter position because of that training.  For anyone who has tried to get hired by a government agency knows that it was one heck of a break for a 19 year old kid!

A couple of years later, I was called up with the rest of my unit to serve in Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Like many others, this was a life changing event for me.  I saw many examples of leadership, good and bad, that formed the kind of man I am now.  It was at this point that I decided I wasn’t the kind of person who can be lead blindly.  Not that I didn’t trust my leaders, but that a person needs a purpose in what they do.  It also was a turning point for me in that I decided that I wanted to be a leader…I wanted to ensure that the Solders that come behind me have an example of good leadership and that, when it was my time, I’d be able to lead them the way they deserve.

Another thing that came out of my service in Iraq was “Veteran’s Preference”.  I’m not the kind of guy who takes all the Veteran discounts or free meals on Veteran’s Day, but I did take the Vet Pref when I applied for my first permenant job with the Forest Service.  This opportunity was one that I took and have always been thankful for.  I rose through the ranks with the Forest Service here in Nebraska and am now (mostly) loving what I do every day.  Being able to promote and care for some of the very few public lands in Nebraska is an honor and a privilege that I don’t take lightly.  I am a disciple of Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot, believing that Americans, past, present and especially future deserve to see and USE the natural beauty that makes this country great.

Outside of work and my National Guard responsibilities, I enjoy golf, my kids athletic events, hiking and most recently nature photography.  So, that gets me to why I’m starting this blog.  I want to be able to share the wonders that I see through my photography.  I want to help promote the natural wonders of Nebraska (and the rest of this nation).  I want to become a better photographer and writer as well…

So, there you have it…that’s me and what I want to accomplish.  It seems like a lot, and I may narrow my focus as I get into this, but that’s about it.  Let’s see where this takes us.

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Nebraska’s State Bird – Western Meadowlark (Canon T1i, Sigma 150-600 C, f 8.0, 1/2000, ISO 400)