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To the Chicken Lek!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Deb, Tim and I took off on a Friday for a hot date with lekking lesser prairie-chickens at Sue Selman's ranch near Woodward on Saturday morning. Thanks to impassable roads, we couldn't get to the main lek so the festivalgoers had to walk to one that, on the morning we attended, had but three males. They put on a lovely show, bowing and making their peculiar ricocheting hoot. I was really glad Deb had loaned me a sketchbook and pencil, because the photography ops were like this:
Those are prairie-chickens in the middle of the frame. It was nice through the scope, so I was really glad I'd lugged that along. I sketched happily for a couple of hours until my bladder began impinging on my lungs. The rule for unobtrusive blind-watching is to get into the blinds before the chickens get there at first light, and not to leave until after the last chicken flies off. We're talking three, four hours of sitting still and being vewwy, vewwy quiet while your bladder slowly fills. OK, I know, enough about the bladder. But it's a thing.

And once you get out, the most you can hope for is a dip in the landscape for cover.Which didn't even slow me down.

I shared a blind with John, an extraordinary young guy with what looks like the brightest of futures as a field biologist before him. He's home-schooled, and passionate about birds and birdwatching. And funny as all get out. I went into full mother-of-a-13-year-old mode, fussing about his choice of clothing for an icy, wet prairie dawn: a cotton hooded sweatshirt. Dude is gonna freeze to death before he gets to that bright future. Borrowed a real coat for him and plopped one of my ear warmers on him, too. He took it off for the picture. Tsk. I, for one, am not afraid to look like a fool as long as I'm warm. Hence the Cat in the Hat look, the big white ski gloves.

I don't want you to think that distant specks is the only kind of view you can expect of prairie chickens at this wonderful little festival. We just had a little bad luck: bad weather and distant chickens on a secondary lek. By Sunday morning, the roads had improved to the extent that lucky festivalgoers were able to access the big lek, and they got fabulous looks at the birds. At that point, I'd been out two mornings in a row, getting up at 0-dark-thirty and testing my (here it comes again) bladder capacity, so I was happy to do something else and leave my fabulous looks at lesser prairie-chickens to sometime in the future.

A nice black-tailed jackrabbit came lalooping across the lek, which was amusing. I am unused to seeing hares. They are huge, leggy, and very odd compared to our little cottontail rabbits.

On the first morning, we walked to a vantage point where we could see lekking chickens. The weather was pretty good and the company was even better.

Debby made quick sketches of distant chickens. I want to grow up to be her.

A tiny mammillaria cactus in fruit.

There is nothing quite like coming in frozen stiff from a stint in a blind, to a warm ranch house redolent of bacon and maple syrup and waffles and coffee. Ahhhh. Sue Selman, owner of OK's largest private ranch, is a wonderful hostess, and she made every festival participant feel like family. A time-tested recipe from the New River Birding and Nature Festival!

Here, Tim Ryan shows Sue Selman (seated) and stalwart volunteer Susan some photos on his iPhone. Doubtless some of the ones from the previous post...

Susan's a blur of motion as Sue serves bacon, waffles and scrambs to hungry birders.

Sue's kitchen is as generously proportioned as her breakfast helpings.

It was so cool to be having breakfast at the home of the rancher who owns and protects the land that this endangered grouse needs to survive. She's host to the prairie chickens, and host to us, and gracious to all. She's also a wonderful photographer and interested in all aspects of nature. Sue Selman is a gift to the planet. But wait! more evidence that she's the finest kind:

Someone who reads my blog mentioned to me that among her dogs, Sue has a Boston terrier. So after most people had finished their breakfast, Sue let Bug out to meet us.

photo by Tim Ryan

You can imagine how happy I was to hold a Boston terrier on my lap, after three days without Chet Baker. I mean, I had plenty of bacon, but not The Bacon.

Bug is a beautiful 8-year-old girl, solid muscle and sweet as maple syrup. Sue confessed to me that she has had a lot of dogs, but Bug is her favorite of them all. Imagine that. Bug's the principal varmint-catcher for a busy ranch, and she patrols a route several times a day. Which brought to mind Chet's chiptymunk and bunneh route. I would hate to be a gopher in the vicinity of Sue's house. Or a piece of bacon, fallen to the floor.

It amazes me how the Boston personality is so consistent from Ohio to Oklahoma. Such sweet, merry little dogs they are.

Zick, with Bug, at peace. Photo by Tim Ryan.

That night, I'd give the keynote at the Woodward Cultural Center. If it looks kind of like a frontier town in the Wild West, wal, it is.


And when will you treat us to your ravishing prairie chicken sketches, my dear? They are a must-see, everybody!

I think you look fetching in that thar hat. And Bug looks as if she's had plenty of lap practice.

Well, I think I look like I should be fetching something, but thanks, Catbird!
Deb: The sketches ain't so hot--I'd rather post yers. xoxoxo jz

I saw the sketches - they are amazing.

A month ago today we were racing across the prairie, belly full of fried chicken and okra, racing the rain. I would do it all over again tomorrow.

Letting this post sink in so sweetly. I love everything about it, esp. the fact that when you are holding Bug, you may as well be holding my Chloe.

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