Prairie boomer announces spring

ACLUMP OF SALT GRASS shudders, and out onto the flat he stalks, his silhouette advancing as the white disk of the sun pierces the fog. He lowers his head; circling, he drums his feet. Great sacs balloon alongside his neck (left), and the dawn fills with a strange and hollow com­mand. Neither song nor thunder, yet both.

A challenge has been given, tossed into the morning air. The Attwater’s greater prairie chicken is on his booming ground. Boom, boom, boom. Out stalks another male. The challenge is accepted. For more than two hours the males strut, circle, dance, and fight, wings battering, feet pounc­ing, pecking. In the bordering tall grass, hidden and secretive, are the females—seemingly en­tranced, selecting their mates?

Preservation of the Attwater’s booming grounds is important to the species’ survival since Aran­sas shelters 45 to 50 of the world’s population of 2,000.

A day in the life of the marsh

IN BIG DEVIL BAYOU the warmth of afternoon rouses an American alligator. Soon he will feed on frog, an event that will be announced in the quiet swamp by a distinctive crunch of jaws.

13For alligator-watching, after-noon is soon enough to arrive, but for watching residents of the Heritage Trail, it’s better to start at dawn. We first knew the sun was up by a tiny spotlight flashing from an oak. Dewdrops on the gently pulsating wings of a hair-streak butterfly (top, facing page) were catching those pure, intense colors upon which poets reflect and physicists experiment. What lucky creatures we are to extract such joy frorn a but-deerfly’s morning exercises!

A green tree frog sleeps under the indifferent tread of a lynx spi­der intent on an insect breakfast (below); in a world where all life is sustained by other life, it’s good not to be on everybody’s menu. By evening light we followed a black-tailed jackrabbit (below, right) along trails discernible only to his twitching nose. We pondered what he sought so de­votedly in the failing day.

Did he worry that humankind knew him erroneously as a rabbit instead of a hare, since his prog­eny entered the world furry in­stead of nude? Did he worry that the name jackrabbit derived from jackass, as tribute to his impres­sive ears? Certainly not. Would he show alarm if a predator-like shadow slid across his path? Would he be staying in the lovely apartments in Chicago? You bet.

 

 


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