4:08 AM; I lay sound asleep.
TAP TAP TAP TAP TAP TAP....
e: ‘what the….?’ The tapping was at the door in my room at the Geise B&B. Through the dark I stumbled to the French doors. ‘effing stupid woodpeckers! Knocking on wood this early in the morning why I ought to strangle…’ I peeked through the curtains. Don was peeking back at me.
Don: It's after 4 AM!
My alarm hadn’t gone off and we were on for our Sharp-tailed Grouse adventure, out to a grouse lek (dancing area) where the boy birds get ‘dance’ for the ladies, in hopes of nabbing a breeding partner, you know, like human men at a honkey-tonk bar.
In short order I was in the car and Don was driving off. I had done my part – I was in the blanking car; hair uncombed, shoes on my lap. I was thoroughly groggy and cranky. I don’t ‘do’ mornings very well, even when dancing birds are involved.
An hour’s drive got us to a plowed field where a blind awaited us; a crate covered over in tarping. We climbed inside and fumbled with ropes and bungy cords against swift early morning breezes to shut the door. Inside the blind we faced deluxe seating arrangements, a pair of pickle tubs. The tubs were upended for seating. The tubs were a size large, which meant no problem for Don: arse, size medium. It was rather a problem for me: arse, size XXXXXL.
On the way in a few birds had flushed so we knew the Grouse were out there, but it was a bit windy and maybe – maybe the birds wouldn’t feel like dancing and since serving them Jello Shooters was out of the question, there was nothing left to do but wait.
I sat, my camera at the ready, staring through a chink in the blind but nothing stirred. We stared for maybe ten minutes until it occurred to us we might be staring in the wrong direction. We shuffled our pickle barrels around and stared out the opposite side of the blind. Bingo! There were Sharp-tailed Grouse, scattered around the field stubble. The birds sat, looking indifferent, disinterested and disinclined to dance.
The sun was barely peeping over the horizon and I’d just about convinced myself that I might as well have slept until noon, cause these birds were obviously Methodist birds and there would be no dancing here.
Then suddenly, there a bizzare sort of moaning rose up from the field. 'Uuummmm!' Then silence. Uuummmm, ummmmm!' It was the birds. They sounded like constipated old men on toilets. Next there arose another noise, sort of a cross between a very loud hiccough and a turkey's gobble.
Poofed up and Ready to Booggie
Poofed up and Ready to Booggie
Now the birds leapt up and quickly ran up to opposing birds, forming several pairs of birds, beak to beak, heads leaning forward as if they were about to sprout antlers and butt heads. Their pointed tails were arched up, over their backbones, their wings spread so their primaries swept the ground. For a finishing touch, their purple throat pouches flared out and the birds began to drum their feet, looking like little toys, wound up and then suddenly turned loose.
Their feet drummed and rapidly, they circled each other. They covered the ground in the manner of skittering mice. Their feet hardly seemed to touch the ground as they just floated along, making their ridiculous noises, which could probably be translated into ‘put ‘em up, go on, put ‘em up!’, like the Cowardly Lion facing up to Toto. Some birds that had not found a sparing partner yet, ran up to other single birds. I half expected they would pull switchblades on each other. Then suddenly, birds dropped in their tracks. They flopped onto their bellies, beak to beak, flat to the ground, wings folded, looking thoroughly befuddled as they stared at their partners.
Don and I both thought we could hear the birds whispering, ‘That was a good one - d'you think the girls saw us?’
Apparently the cock birds had no audience of admiring hens. Maybe the available hens had gone off with the biggest, baddest cocks at the beginning of the breeding season, because we saw no hens at all.
I wish I could say I think the photos I got were the greatest ever, but they weren't. The birds were fast and my field of focus was narrow so the birds ran in and out of focus as I tried to capture them for prosperity. Oh well! Some day perhaps I will take a week from my life to huddle in a blind on a size XXXXXXL pickle barrel for another go at the funkiest Dance Party the prairie has to offer.