A good friend of mine, whom I had recently reconnected with, called and made me aware that the US Fish & Wildlife Service had made a blind available for watching/photographing the Greater Prairie Chickens during their spring mating ritual. Steve offered to let me crash at their place since they live near the site, so I contacted the biologist in charge of the blind and was able to reserve it for a couple of days. As my dates neared winter was not letting go in the north country and chicken activity was unpredictable. At the recommendation of the US Fish & Wildlife Biologist we pushed back my dates for a couple of weeks.
On April 25, 2022 I drove six hours to the Hamden Slough National Wildlife Refuge. Upon my arrival conditions were less that favorable. Lakes were still frozen, temperatures were below freezing and 30+ mph winds. It turns out that the Prairie Chickens had moved off their traditional Lek and established a new site in the area. Fish & Wildlife Service was planning to move the blind to the new Lek but this was not to happen for a day or two. I used the “down time” to scout the Waterfowl Production Areas and see what other photography opportunities I could find.
Only 30 minutes into my scouting mission I spotted a Striped Skunk working a batch of willows. I thought to myself, I don’t have a good skunk picture, so I drove ¼ mile to the next intersection and got off the main road where I could park my truck. I headed into the prairie grass in the direction that the skunk had been moving. After about 15 minutes I spotted the skunk in the grass with his head down and nose to the ground. He was busy hunting and grubbing. The stiff wind allowed me to get fairly close to my target. However, in the tall grass (compared to the height of a skunk) and the skunk’s constant movement with his head down, getting a good picture was challenging to say the least.
At last, two hours into the episode, I was able to get ahead of this “prairie polecat” and get him stopped for a brief moment. When he looked up between a few blades of grass I snapped the shutter. I thanked him for not spraying me, even though I made sure to stay up wind of him keeping the strong cold wind as my defense. No long “Midwest goodbye” and I headed back to the truck.