Thursday, April 22, 2010

Goofy Chickens - Part 1

April 12, 2010

The 3:30 am wake-up was hardly a big deal. Traveling west is always awesome. Getting up early is soooo easy. By 4:00am, Fred and I were on the old bus heading to Granada (Colorado, not Grenada, Nicaragua. That drive would honk on a school bus.). We met a crew of people from an Eagle-Eye Tours group and shot off to the lek. The crescent moon and Jupiter at dawn? Stunning. Fortunately, the temps were very pleasant. In fact, I was dressed a bit too warm.

In the early light, if you looked real close, you see these little black blobs jumping up over the grasses. As the light got better, lo and behold, the blobs had feathers and red air sacs. Bingo! Lesser-Prairie Chicken! #631. All the while, that bizarro bubbling was heard. How cool. We figured there were at least 10 chickens on the lek.

With a scope, the view at 100 yards (?) was very satisfying. What more could you ask for? Well, okay, one thing – shorter grass. I was a bit surprised at the height of the grass. It was much taller than I expected.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, while we were enjoying chicken stuff, Norma was cooking up a great breakfast. She would not give me the recipe for the eggs. Damn good. A family recipe, apparently. I swore she was a lost relative but she wouldn't buy it. Biscuits and gravy. Juice. An awesome way to start the day.

Unfortunately, the “on-again off-again” Barn Owl that was known to some roost in the box car was not to be seen that morning. So, with that, it was off to Casper, Wyoming.

That drive was clearly the worst part of the trip. 400+ miles was a drag. Fortunately, the posted speed limits in both Colorado and Wyoming are “warp factor 10” but I was only comfortable doing 7.5 or 8.

Grass, grass, grass, grass, and more grass. If you are going to bird this part of the country in April, you had better like grass. For that matter, you had better like grass any time of year that you are here. I saw it all. Tall grass. Short grass. Brown grass. Tan. Yellow. Blowing in the wind. Standing tall. Grass grass grass. Everywhere.

Some parts of Wyoming had land that looked very much like the Badlands (they are not far). Both Bald and Golden Eagles were tallied along the way. Beyond that, folks, from the expressway, the bird pickings were pretty light.

Casper, the second largest town in Wyoming with about 50,000 people, is tucked away in the east/central part of the state. Lodging was secured in no time. I was hoping to see some ghosts ...

Dinner was at Sanford's Pub and Grub. (I would link to the place's site, but there seems to be some trouble. Maybe try it yourself sometime.) What a total trip. Keeping with theme of Looney Tune characters, 15 foot tall statues of Bug Bunny and Daffy Duck greet you. Oh, the alligators are pretty out of place, too. If you are one of those people who fear clowns, this place will be the death of you – there are troops of them parachuting from ceiling. You can find them right next to the motorcycles, P-47s, and a whole host of other weird crap all wrapped around a place that is rooted in a 1950's stainless steel diner theme. What a crazy place. The beers were both quite good as well – Red Line Amber Ale (#735) and Oil Can ESB (#736). I recommend Red Line over the Oil Can ESB. Boy, those extra special bitters will really pucker ya…..

As fate would have it, these were the ONLY new beers I had on this trip. While many of the small towns of Colorado have their own breweries, the ones were I would spend my time, didn't. Nebraska? Forget it. No beer culture in the western panhandle (for that matter, there are basically no people in the western panhandle....). Wyoming? Sanford's was it in Casper so far as I could tell.

(It needs to be noted, by the way, that I was not originally going to drive to Casper. After lurking on line, I found a fellow from the University of Wyoming who was prepared to take me to a lek near Laramie, Wyoming. Apparently, this lek is rather tricky to get to, especially for an out-of-towner driving in the dark. So, he offered to meet me and guide me there. Well, he scouted the place out a few days before my departure. No go. The snow from winter had thawed and then froze repeatedly. Even his 4x4 could not get him over what were now glaciated fields. Even if we waited for warmer weather, there was the risk of mud fields impairing access . Regardless, there was a solid chance I was simply not going to get there in the early part of my trip. Fortunately, thanks to my iPhone and email, I knew this before I headed north. So, instead of the drive to Laramie, I just kept going when I got to Cheyenne and continued to Casper.)

After dinner, I scouted the Hat Six Lek. This is a well known Wyoming Greater Sage-Grouse lek and is named after the road that runs right next to it. The lek was a key location for my trip and I wanted to make sure I knew where I was going when I had to find it in the dark. (Apparently, there is lek not far from there called the Sock Nine lek…)

As the sun was setting behind the mountains west of the lek, I managed to see four grouse! Life bird #632. No courtship. No pop. No sizzle. They were just standing there looking cool. Two were right next to each other looking like they were going to either strike up a conversation or punch each other’s lights out at any minute.

The real show was in morning....

1 comment:

Rachel said...

Try a dash of ranch dressing in your scrambled eggs instead of milk or water. Good stuff. I could make other fantastic comments about the birds and beer, but I'll wait until the next posting. Ha!