Quarry

We stepped over the prickly pear cactus and avoided the tall sagebrush.  Every few steps our jeans accidentally brushed against the sage creating a seemingly loud *scrrrrrritch*.  We pointed and whispered, our quarry lay ahead in the dim light.  We could hear them and see their white patches in the the deepening gloom.  Unfortunately the sun had set and darkness was upon us.  Too little light was left to take any photographs, so I just enjoyed their show.  We paused, listened a while, and then continued on, trying to get as close as we could without disturbing them.  Where at first we had seen 6 or 7, there now were 25 visible and we knew more were hidden behind sagebrush or crouched low against the ground.  There, look at that one!  Low against the rocky ground a handsome guy stretched upward, inhaled in a raspy breath, filled his air sacs, and with a double bob of his chest, sent a unique sound over the prairie.  To those that have never witnessed a sage chicken lek, the best approximation of its sound is a rubbery plunger double suction!  He puffs his chest out, and the whiteness surrounding the air sacs is very visible.  He blurbs again… and again… trying to impress the girls and intimidate his opponents.  His tail is fanned out.    He turns and dances, strutting for all he is worth!  He is an impressive sight.  Years ago, I told my kids they couldn’t be real Wyoming natives until they had seen sage chickens strut.  To this day, they haven’t seen it in person.  We battled bad weather, muddy roads, school days, and the pull of a warm bed.  The best time to see chickens strut is at daylight, and, though I made some attempts through the years, I am a failure at being a Wyoming mom and showing my kids a lek in all its glory.  At sundown they may repeat the show, with less enthusiasm, but I wanted the full show not a matinee, and as a result, never have my kids witnessed Wyoming’s Broadway musical.  The costumes are gaudy and used once a year.  Background music is provided by meadowlarks and horned larks and a couple of coyotes.  The rhythmic drumming of a lek full of strutting males rivals “Stomp”.  Then all light fades, the meadowlarks go still, and the sage chickens launch into their heavy flight, the show now over.  It was a good run.  See you next spring!  Maybe I’ll have my kids with me!


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