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Prairie Chicken Blog
Working in cooperation with the Iowa DNR, Chris Hansen is working to reestablish the Prairie Chicken in Kellerton, IA. Follow his adventures this summer with this blog.
Several Zoo employees went down to Kellerton, IA early one morning recently to watch these birds hop up and down, run around, call, and fight to attract the female prairie chickens.
11 April 2011 - 15 April 2011
Finished the first round of surveys this week and managed it just before the
rain started to fall on Thursday. Now begins the task of entering all of the
data that has been collected into GIS.
I fit in another lek survey this week. This one was the second run for Ringgold
County. This round went slightly better. I managed to hear and see a few more
chickens lekking than the first time. I was informed that there had been a
Prairie Chicken heard out in Adams County. I went up there to search, but I was
not able to locate it. I will try again soon and hopefully find be able to
There was a special visit from the Blank Park Zoo. Five dedicated employees
braved the early mornings and joined me on a close up viewing of the Prairie
Chickens lekking. I turned out to be a good day for it; we saw nine males and
one female. This was the highest number of males I have seen on a lek all year.
Geese have started to lay eggs and all the birds are becoming more territorial.
The flowers have started to bloom and the trees and bushes are beginning to leaf
out. It won’t be long before summer is here.
4 April 2011- 9 April 2011
It was a good week this week. The weather was nice when it needed to be and I had enough time to help out on a couple of projects again.
I was able to help out on another Prairie Chicken lek survey. This time I was in Ringgold County so I got to sleep in till 5am. It was a wonderful morning with no wind and a starting temp in the 50’s, couldn’t have asked for more. I was able to hear some chickens this time, unfortunately they were all on known lek sites, so I didn’t find any new areas with chickens.
I also helped out on the second half of the Bald Eagle survey for Ringgold, Adams and Decatur Counties. It was a shorter flight this time (we finished over half of the survey the first time around), but a bumpier ride with the winds really pushing our plane. Like the first time, we came up empty on eagle nests, but that still doesn’t mean that there are none here, just that they weren’t in our survey. Hopefully in a few years when this is done again they will find a few nests.
Saturday was Prairie Chicken Day down here at the Kellerton Bird Conservation Area. There was a pretty good showing; the parking lot and viewing platform were both filled. The day started out foggy, which is always disappointing when you
are trying to see birds, fortunately half of the fun is being able to hear them boom. Hearing them through the fog was amazing. Then the sun started to finally push back the fog and we could see the silhouettes of the birds and by the end, the fog was finally gone and we were able to get a good view of the chickens.
This was also a good week for seeing wildlife. I managed to kick up another Short-Eared Owl which is always fun to see. I also saw some Blue-Winged Teals and a Northern Shoveler. There was also a Red Fox bounding through a slightly forested area. Where there is good news there is also bad news, unfortunately, tick season is here as well pulling 4 of them off of me this week.
27 March 2011 – 1 April 2011
It was a different week, I helped out with a couple different projects that the IDNR was doing. The first was a lek survey of Adams County. This survey consisted of me arriving at my first survey point 45 minutes before sunrise (~6:15am) and finishing two hours after sunrise (~9am). After I arrived I would get out of the truck and listen and look for lekking Prairie Chickens for two minutes. I did this at 15 different survey points throughout the county.
The next day I was able to help out on a Bald Eagle Survey. For this survey I was up in a small airplane flying over rivers in the Clarke, Decatur, Ringgold, and Union counties looking for eagle nests. After about 3 hours of flying we unfortunately didn’t find any nest. That doesn’t mean there are none there, just that we didn’t see any in our survey areas. This was part 1 of a two part survey so hopefully there will be some seen on the next survey.
I was also able to lend a hand on a prescribed burn this week. That was an interesting experience. It was the first time that I ever had the chance to join. We burned a couple of small patches of prairie inside the Mt Ayr Wildlife Unit. It was a lot of fun to listen to the grass crackle and smell the smoke. It felt to me like a giant campfire. The DNR here did a good job of making sure the fire was always under control and protecting things like power lines and otherstructures near the burn area.
I also managed to do some more habitat surveys of the Grand River Grasslands area. I finished up the Iowa portion of the project (nearly 3 weeks ahead of schedule) so I have started to help out on the Missouri side.
This was a busy week that went fast. I saw a lot of neat birds including a group of 6 Buffleheads and a Red-Headed Woodpecker. The geese are starting to become defensive of territories and even saw a few protecting nests.
21 March 2011 – 26 March 2011
What a week for Iowa weather. It seems that I went through multiple seasons in just a few short days. The week started out with sunny and in the 70’s and quickly turned south from there. By the middle of the week there were strong thunderstorms that brought with them damaging winds, torrential rain and even a few tornados. By week’s end, it was winter again. I woke to find 2 inches of snow on the ground Friday morning with yet another inch predicted by day’s end.
Work was about as variable this week as the weather. I had two office days this week that consisted of making maps, reading papers on the Prairie Chicken and trying to figure out what still needed to be accomplished. The field days were nice though. I was able to get out a couple of days and hear all the birds calling. Cow birds are starting to arrive along with more Wood Ducks. The geese seem to keep moving along; I am seeing and hearing fewer. I did manage to catch
a glimpse of a couple of pheasants and two Great Horned Owls. The most exciting things to me was seeing some of the bushes starting to bud.