From the Editor
In the Middle of it All
Prairie chicken photos put you in the middle of the dance floor.
Like many farm kids growing up in Minnesota’s Red River Valley in the early 1960s, my dad made his own fun. He trapped pocket gophers, shot BB guns, and played in the haymow. Occasionally, he got extra creative, like the time, early one spring morning, when he and his brother camouflaged themselves with sticks and crawled along the prairie floor near the family farm. When they reached the edge of a rough clearing, they stopped and waited for the show to begin.
In the audience with them was a group of female prairie chickens, seemingly oblivious to the human visitors. The crowd watched as a handful of male prairie chickens began their ancient mating display—a colorful, frenetic combination of booming sounds (created by the males’ bright-orange neck sacs), aggressive posing, and the intermittent airborne attack.
My dad recalls the spectacle lasting about a half-hour. “It was quite the show,” he says. “And in retrospect, it was kind of a crazy thing to do!”
Modern prairie chicken conservation has ushered in a more civilized, less intrusive way for humans to view the drama. Each spring, throngs of birders reserve spots at observation blinds on booming grounds across northwestern Minnesota. Didn’t make it out to the lek this year? Don’t worry; this issue’s prairie chicken photo essay puts you in the middle of the dance floor, no camouflage required.
Field reports can be found throughout these pages, including a story on a forward-thinking program that introduces new Minnesotans to the state’s great outdoors. Elsewhere, we take you on a nearly 50-mile paddle down the St. Croix River and go deep on the country’s feral pig problem.
If you appreciate MCV’s fly-on-the-wall approach to journalism, consider donating to the magazine, which relies almost entirely on readers to fund its operations. And to those of you who have given in the past year, thank you, as always, for your help. We literally could not do it without you.
Chris Clayton, editor in chief