100 Birds in 2018 – #12 Golden Eagle

I have better photos of a Golden Eagle than this one, but I like the way it tells a story.  I have been reading a book on the North American prairie called “Prairie Dog Empire“.  In that book, the author talks about all of the species that inhabit grasslands.  Prairie Dogs (obviously), Bison, Badgers, Pronghorn, etc.  But somehow, the Golden Eagle surprised me a little.

Golden Eagle

Golden Eagle (1/2500, f/7.1 ISO 320, Canon 7D Mark II, Sigma 150-600 C)

I generally relate eagles to areas of water.  Probably because I see so many pictures of Bald Eagles catching fish and flying around wooded areas.  However, the larger Golden Eagles almost exclusively hang out in open areas of prairie.  That’s why I chose this photo.  You can still see that it’s a Golden Eagle by the tan/gold cape and it also shows the openness of the prairie contrasted by the clear blue sky’s.

These are magnificent birds who have made a comeback in their numbers.  In the mid-1900’s, in an effort to rid the grasslands of Prairie Dogs and Coyotes, humans poisoned hundreds of thousands of acres.  Many times, the poison they used ended up in raptors bodies causing them to die as well.  Since that time, regulations have been put into place to minimize this secondary poisoning and numbers seem to be on the rise.  This is great!  I would be a shame to not see these iconic birds cruising the wide open spaces of the American West.

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100 Birds in 2018 – #7 Rough-legged Hawk

I’m finding it harder to get a blog entry done during the week.  I’m hoping to get a few new ones done, or at least started over the weekend, so I can edit and post throughout the week.

Rough-legged Hawk

Enough about excuses…this post is a photo of a Rough-legged Hawk.  I took this on the same day I took the one of the young Bald Eagle I posted a couple of weeks ago. As my son and i were getting close to the highway to head home, I spotted this guy on a telephone pole.  As we got closer, he few of the pole and lit on one of the many windmill towers we have in Western Nebraska.

I have seen a ton of these hawks over the last several months.  At first, I was mis identifying them as immature Red-tailed Hawks, but was corrected by a follower on instagram who set me straight.

According to Audubon Society’s Guide to North American Birds, they migrate south into the northern half of the United States from their breeding grounds in the Arctic every fall.  Additionally, their breeding success is often determined by the population of lemmings.  (I didn’t even know what a lemming was until I looked it up.)

I’m sure we will start seeing less and less of these and other raptors over the next couple of months.  They will be replaced with the meadowlarks and other song birds that do their breeding here in the northern great plains.  I’m looking forward to it, and maybe some warmer weather too!

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.

 

 

Picking a Title

Today’s assignment was to pick a title and tagline.  I struggled for a bit and landed on High Plains Husker.  I think it says who I am and what I’ll be writing about.  I’m passionate about the natural wonders that are our prairies.  Mountains and forests are great and beautiful, but to me, an open prairie will always be home.

I chose the meadowlark picture as my site icon because there isn’t a more iconic representative of the open prairie.  Anyone who’s spent more than five minutes outside of their car will hear that unmistakable song.  I can’t think of anything better than the image of one singing his heart out on a fence post.

So, that’s how I got to the title and tagline.  I aim to bring more photos, appreciation, and hopefully information on the importance of these shrinking ecosystems to those that don’t get the chance to experience it the way I do everyday.

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Prairie Sky. (iPhone 6, f 2.2, 1/3200)