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Sharp-tail grouse entertaining, colorful

Sharp-tail grouse cluck and dance during mating rituals. (Steve Maanum / For the Enterprise)

So far this spring I've shown you a photo of a prairie chicken and talked about them in an attempt to get you in a blind so you could watch them for yourself. Have any of you called for reservations yet? I also discussed ruffed grouse and tried to interest you in walking woodland trails to listen for drumming. I told you one way to identify a drumming log is to look for droppings. Have any of you heard drumming or found a drumming log?

Well, far be it from me to leave out a third member of the grouse family - the sharp-tail grouse. In Minnesota, their range is mainly north of Highway 2. Last Saturday morning I left Park Rapids at 4 a.m. to meet a group of Master Naturalists in Bagley before driving north of Clearbrook to a sharp-tail blind. It was a clear, windless morning and the birds were there, but not close enough for the camera lens. The field also had sand hill cranes and through binoculars we could observe some of their courtship display.

Courtship displays may differ from species to species, but they are all interesting. Ruffed grouse drum, fan their tail, and curl their neck feathers over their heads as they strut around to impress females. Prairie chickens boom, cackle, and whoop while inflating their bright yellow air sacs as they pound their feet on the ground in their attempt to show off.

Sharp-tail males have their own way of attracting females. They put their wings out to the side, tail in the air, and make a clucking sound while inflating their purple air sacs. Their dance consists of semi-circles and what's unique is that a group of males will all cluck and dance at the same time. When one stops, they all stop. It reminds me of a game we played as kids called freeze tag. All the males remain motionless until the leader resumes the dance. Then they all chime in. If you have never watched it, consider a trip to a blind as a form of natural entertainment.

April 22 just passed and with it, the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. Park Rapids fifth graders built 110 bluebird houses to celebrate the occasion. Did you find a way to celebrate our natural world? It's not too late. Take time to share a nature experience with your kids or grandkids. It doesn't have to be anything fancy; build a bird house together, or clean out the ones you already have, fill the feeders, or go for a walk and discover some of nature's secrets.

A future event to put on your calendars takes place on June 12. It is called Minnesota's first annual National Get Outdoors Day. Itasca State Park will be hosting a camera day in the Park. Connie and Sandra have titled it, "PSI - Park Scene Investigation" and the day will be filled with photo lessons and photo opportunities. We hope to see you there.

Steve Maanum can be reached at sdmaanum@