Another early morning and another prairie grouse species in display — this time greater prairie-chickens, 20 minutes straight north of Mullen. Unlike the whirligig antics of the sharp-tails, the booming of the prairie-chickens is a stately affair, but no less deadly serious to the performers.
This lek was a bit on the small side last year, but today we counted no fewer than 32 males at one point, no doubt drawn in by the apparent presence of an early hen or two doing a little window shopping.
The eerie moaning was still echoing in our ears when we left the lek for breakfast. Eggs and hashbrowns sounded awfully good, but we wound up making one unscheduled stop for a big dark bird on a telephone pole.
Ferruginous hawks are uncommon winterers and scarce breeders in the Nebraska Sandhills, and we don’t always get the lingering views this one granted us; we were even able to step out of the shuttle for photos, and the bird was still perched above the road when we left.
After breakfast — another good one at the Meadowlark Cafe — we bade farewell for the drive south to North Platte, interrupted by a quick stop to look at a couple of roadside pronghorn (much better views than the pair we’d had at a distance the day before).
The pond at Cody Park gave us the expected close views of cackling geese, often standing or swimming right next to Canadas; there was also a lone trumpeter swan, and the usual congregation of ducks included scattered redheads, common goldeneye, and lesser scaup.
And then back to civilization — or at least to what passes for civilization in the form of interstate 80. We zipped along to Grand Island, checked in to our hotel, and had dinner before driving south to the Alda bridge for another fine evening with the cranes. The stiff breeze cleared the human crowds out pretty quickly, nd by the time we left there was nothing to hear but the roar of the flocks settling above and below the bridge. Just as it should be.