Michael Pearce

Time to get a ticket to the prairie dance

Even most Kansans who enjoy watching nature have never sat on a prairie chicken lek in the spring. Two groups are offering guided trips to the tall grass prairie leks this spring.
Even most Kansans who enjoy watching nature have never sat on a prairie chicken lek in the spring. Two groups are offering guided trips to the tall grass prairie leks this spring. Bo Rader

It’s already been going on for a month or more, and will probably continue that long or beyond. As they have for centuries, the participants will arrive with the slightest grayness of dawn and dance and sing their haunting songs well into the morning.

I’m talking about the annual display male greater prairie chickens do on breeding leks across broad stands of grassy prairie in Kansas. I’ve heard the sounds hundreds of times and seen the dancing on dozens of occasions. It never gets old. I’m going back to view a lek on Friday with Kathy and a friend. If you act soon, you can see the show hosted by the following groups.

Kansas Wetlands Education Center is taking reservations for their blind north of Claflin. It holds seven guests and a guide. Wednesday morning the lek held 18 male greater prairie chickens and a few hens. The cost is $25 per person and children must be at least 12 to go the blind. Guests will meet at the Wetlands Center, near Great Bend, about 90 minutes before sunrise and stay in the blind until mid-morning. They have at least six open days through the end of April. For reservations call 877-243-9268.

Kanza Prairie, the 8,600 acre, Flint Hills preserve near Manhattan is also taking reservations for viewings through April 19, on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The cost is $25. Groups are led by naturalists who can explain the the birds, their history and the story of the Kanza prairie. Call 785-587-0381 for reservations.

More updates

Chronic wasting disease continues to spread across western Kansas. Six new counties had deer with the disease that’s 100 percent fatal, based on tests done on deer from last fall and winter. Nine deer in all were found with the disease from a sample of about 600 animals. The disease now stretches from the Nebraska border to within about 30 miles of the Oklahoma line.

You can click here to see a article I wrote Wednesday about the disease and recent testings.

As stated on Sunday’s Outdoors page, Wildlife and Parks is in the early stages of possibly changing the boundaries of some of Kansas’ duck zones. I’ll have more details as they progress along. As of now I’d say you can expect possible changes in the low plains southeast zone. There’s also some push by hunters to make changes in boundaries or season dates in the low plains late zone, too.

Much of western Kansas is still hurting for moisture. Without some rain soon, the wheat crop in many areas will suffer. That’s hard on farmers and on an area’s pheasant population since a lot of nesting occurs in the wheat.

No reports of morel mushrooms yet, but it’s early and dry. Most people are saying the majority of bucks have lost their antlers. Now’s a good time to be looking for shed antlers, before greening foliage makes them harder to see.

I’m still hearing some good reports of people seeing more quail and greater prairie chickens than they have for several springs. A friend reported a lek in the Flint Hills with more than 40 males on it. That’s pretty good in the Flint Hills, these days.

Oh, ticks are out in full force already this spring. Fishing is pretty good. Walleye are spawning as are crappie at a few small ponds. It’ll probalby be a few more weeks before the spawn gets going on reservoirs.

Upcoming coverage

Sunday’s Outdoors page will have a column of personal reflection or an article based on a trip Friday morning to a prairie chicken lek near Americus, in Lyon County. It’s been nearly 30 years since I had my best-ever morning on a lek in that same area. Kathy and I figured we saw more than 90 birds that morning and counted 70-plus males at once displaying on the prairie.

There’s no way we’ll see that many on Friday morning, but our host says there’s been close to two dozen males so that could, hopefully, make for some good photography.

Next week I’m hoping to head to eastern Kansas to do a story on one of America’s top wildlife artists, Joeseph Tomelleri’s works are some of the most colorful wildlife art in the world. He paints fish, mostly freshwater fish, and some of his works are amazingly realistic and colorful. It’ll be a fun trip.

I’m also in the early stages of the annual preview of the Kansas Governor’s Turkey Hunt in El Dorado on April 16-18. The main angle will be on how much funding they’ve raised for their scholarship program through the years. This spring they’ll be auctioning a pair of original Wayne Willis paintings to help the cause. Probably the most high-profile guest on the hunt will be David Blanton, of Realtree. He’s been producing Realtree’s videos and television shows since the company began them. Nice guy. I hope a lot get to meet him.

Hopefully I’ll find time to do a blog on a pet peeve of mine - plastic bags. You know, the kind we get our groceries, fast food, outdoors gear and about every other kind of purchase we make in. One day I counted over 100 in trees, wrapped around barbed wire strands, bouncing across the landscape.

I’m still in the early stages of an article on Lyme disease and other nasty illnesses carried by ticks.

Michael’s World

I had a great time at the Dyck Arboretum in Hesston Monday evening. They’d invited me over for a talk and presentation on the outdoors cookbook. They served me an enviable meal of venison casserole and soup. The people were a lot of fun. It’s a great facility that sits on gorgeous grounds.

It was one of the most enjoyable evenings I’ve had in quite a while.

I haven’t been fishing much lately, but I have found time to scout a few properties where we hunt for wild turkeys. No shortage of birds, it appears. I”ll spend Saturday trying to help my buddy Jake hunt a ranch we can access in Butler County. Jake’s hoping to shoot one bird with his bow this season, and the other with his shotgun. He’s been practicing, but we’ll see how well things go when he gets the adrenalin rush going. I’ve certainly missed my share of shots I should have been able to make due to the excitement.

Asparagus is up in our garden, and that’s a welcome sign of spring. We’ll probably enjoy the first batch this weekend. I’m a bit behind getting the garden ready for spring plantings, but I can probably catch up if I put in a good day’s work. I swear, I’m not going to add any more plants than I’ve had in the past. I promise!

I don’t watch a lot of outdoors television, largely because I get frustrated with some of the things I see and hear. Often the television shows set things up, recreate a sequence after it’s happened or try to put a positive spin on what’s an obvious mistake. I have a pretty sensitive “baloney meter,” and it’s pegged to the max on many shows.

Wednesday morning I caught bit of a show of some guys from a Louisiana decoy company up for the Kansas firearms deer season. The bucks they took were nice. Their adherence to Kansas game laws were not, especially in regards to our orange garment requirements.

One guy sat in a deer blind with no orange on as he hunted. Another had on the orange vest but not an orange cap as he hunted. I’ve talked to Wildlife and Parks game wardens about such things on television and they say the usually just don’t get involved.

I know if I was someone who’d gotten a ticket for not wearing the proper amount of orange while deer hunting in Kansas, I’d be pretty upset.

It’s disappointing stuff to watch.

Hope you all can get out and enjoy some of this great spring weather.

Bests,

Michael Pearce

mpearce@wichitaeagle.com

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