More Greater Prairie Chicken Excitement!

Greater Prairie Chickens, Elk Chapel Road, northwest of Lamoni Iowa. Sunday, February 25, 2024. 8:27 am.

I’ve been back to the prairie chicken location a few times over the last week, but I have not spotted him since February 18.  That all changed Sunday morning. And there were two males instead of one!

Photographers, Elk Chapel Road. February 25, 2024. 8:30 am.

The word is spreading. When I arrived at 8:21 am, there were 6 photographers in four cars. Not long after I arrived two more photographers showed up.  A couple of cars left and then another car with 2 photographers showed up.  11 happy photographers took advantage of this rare photo opportunity.

Greater Prairie Chickens fighting. February 25, 8:34 am.

The prairie chickens would walk around doing their courtship display. Then they would face off to intimidate each other. Then they would fight for a second or so. The fights were short. It would end when one or both of them would fly from 20-100 yards away. They would make their way back to the edge of the corn field near the county highway and the whole process would repeat. Mating displays, face off, short fight, fly away.

Greater Prairie Chickens fighting. February 25, 8:34 am.

After a couple of fights, I switched my camera over to high speed burst mode which captures 10 frames per second. Each time a fight erupted I fired off a short burst, hoping to catch a great frame. The photo immediately above is one of my best of the day.

Autofocus was a problem during the short fights. The autofocus sensor would find the background between the birds and the focus would be off. I switched from a single focus sensor to a group of focus sensors. That did not seem to help. (Multiple sensors turned on does help with flying birds against a clear bluy sky.)

I use back button autofocus so the button on the back of the camera focuses and the shutter button does not engage focusing. I would have my thumb on the back focus button all the time to track the birds. When a fight would erupt I would lift my thumb off the focus button which essentially locked focus at the point where the birds were standing when the fight started.  Since they often went straight up when they fight, my hope was they would still be in focus.  That seemed to help but I can’t be sure. I switched back and forth between one autofocus sensor and a group of sensors, and between holding the thumb button down through the fight, and letting it up at the beginning of the fight. Some photos are spot on and some are blurry.

It was a great morning for photography. It ended at 9:30 am when they both flew out of sight. The photographers left.

I came back by at 10:30 am on my way to church. One of the prairie chickens had returned, as had one of the photographers. I was surprised he came back so late in the morning.

Rare Birds

eBird Greater Prairie Chicken Report

Greater Prairie Chickens are a rare site in Iowa, and especially at this time of year. When I went to to report the sighting of two males, eBird asked for more information and any photos or sound recordings I might have. In addition to a description of what they were doing, I added two of the above photos to my report.

Posted February 26, 2024. Updated February 29, 2024.


Greater Prairie Chicken Excitement!  – the prior article

Where was this Photo taken? How to Use an EXIF Viewer to Find the Location of an Online Photo.

Iowa Rare Bird Alerts