What started out as a frustrating day, soon morphed into a beautiful spring morning…I’ll start at the beginning, because that seems about right.
Every spring for the last decade or so, I’ve volunteered to help survey the Sharp-tailed grouse population in Wisconsin. While the population has always been small in my lifetime, Wisconsin once had tens of thousands of the native prairie birds scattered widely throughout the state. It’s difficult for people to understand that much of this state, particularly in the northwest corner, was not covered in vast groves of pine and oak and maple, as it is today. Much of our state was historically tall grass prairie. Not anymore.
There are a scant few remnants of the prairie hereabouts, and naturally, the prairie species, flora and fauna alike, suffer. That includes the sharp-tailed grouse–a prairie species if there ever was one. Northwest Wisconsin remained the last bastion for the native prairies for a long time. Times change. The remaining tracts of prairie-brushland are quickly growing into managed forests. Timberlands are valuable, goes the thinking; sand country prairies not-so-much.
The loss is truly apparent this year. Where I once counted 10, or 20, or 30 sharptails, this year I have counted–let me tally this up quick–um…none. Yep. Not a one in three mornings of looking and listening. I’m sad and frustrated. I hate seeing the native species disappear. I’ll try again a couple more times, but the 4 a.m. risings are extra wearying when they are fruitless. I hate to sound pessimistic, but the end of sharptails in Wisconsin is approaching.
Fortunately, the morning much improved when, sharptail surveys completed for the day, I sat in a small blind at the edge of a quiet river. Camera in hand, I watched a wide variety of spring migrators vie for the attention of the ladies. It turned into a handsome morning indeed.
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