I tend to be a minimalist when compared to most wildlife photographers. My ego might claim that this constraint is by design, a way to force creativity, but reality is less kind than the fiction. I am a minimalist because I live within a restricted budget. Teaching offers great flexibility to a creative, but financial success is not one its perks. Were it not for the budget limitations of being a public school educator, I’d probably be a walking camera store rather than a minimalist. So whenever I plan a wildlife shoot, I’ve learned to dwell on the details... details are the difference between producing something good and making something great.
Prior to leaving for Moorhead MN, I studied the maps of the Bluestem Prairie SNA and searched the web for photographers who have worked these blinds in the past. Since my dates at the lekwere scheduled well beyond the peak mating period, I was less than confident that this experience would be much better than my shoot at the grouse blind in 2008 (See: I Laughed in the Face of Chaos Theory).
Climatic chaos (the late Minnesota spring) was my only consolation. Historically, the prairie chicken lek is most active in mid-April, and the interesting territorial behaviors diminish as daylight hours grow and the temperature warms. It turns out that this year’s unseasonably late snow might have been an unexpected bonus. The cool weather delayed the hens, so the males were forced to maintain their territories until the females were in the mood. By the time I was able to get to the blinds, the males were out in full force booming, hooting and fighting for a piece of turf. If these males intended on propagating their genes, they had better stick around to strut their stuff. In the end, it was the combo-platter of preparation and luck that conspired to create an unprecedented opportunity to capture the drama so late in the season. Lucky or good, I don’t care... May 4, 2013 was a great day to photograph prairie chickens in Northwest Minnesota.
In the next post, I’ll focus on the gear and techniques I used to get the shots.
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