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Friday, April 9, 2010

Annual Prairie Chicken Day Provides Unique Public Viewing

Annual Prairie Chicken Day Provides Unique Public Viewing

Story and Photos by Lowell Washburn

It's a celebration no one should miss. Iowa's seventh annual Greater Prairie Chicken Day is scheduled for Saturday, April 10 at the Kellerton Grasslands Bird Conservation Area.

Although situated a bit off the beaten trail, the event is easy to find. The prairie chicken booming grounds are located in southern Iowa two miles west of Kellerton on Highway 2, and one mile south on 300th Ave. There's easy parking and the area's public viewing platform is wheelchair accessible. The fun begins at daybreak, and DNR wildlife staff will be on hand to assist with viewing. Spotting scopes, early morning refreshments, and good conversations are provided free of charge. Excellent and affordable lodging is available at the newly constructed Mount Ayr Inn.

"Prairie chickens are amazing birds and the Kellerton area is something that all Iowans can take pride in," says field day coordinator and DNR Wildlife Biologist Chad Paup. "This is our only public [prairie chicken] booming ground and there's nothing else like it anywhere in the state. Prairie Chicken Day is highly unusual in that it's an outdoor event where people are virtually guaranteed the chance to hear and observe wild prairie chickens as they conduct their annual spring ritual in a natural setting. In many ways it's like traveling back in time and catching a glimpse of what Iowa once was.

"We held our first public field day in 2004. A handful of people turned out and the event has grown ever since," notes Paup. "Last year we had over 200 people show up for the sunrise display, and we're hoping for even more this spring."

Paup adds that April weather can be brisk and recommends dressing in layers. Once participants have a firsthand opportunity to see dancing prairie chickens for themselves, most people are reluctant to leave the site, he says. The clearer the skies, the better the show, and dancing males usually remain active until mid-morning. A more low key performance usually occurs prior to sunset.

"The prairie chickens always provide an exciting show and I seem to observe something different with each new visit," says Paup. "It's a unique viewing opportunity and I wish everyone in Iowa could see this at least once in their lifetime."