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ON WISCONSIN | PRAIRIE CHICKENS

Boom time on Wis. grasslands

RUDOLPH — Hoarfrost hung from the trees, fence wire and prairie grass.

A school bus, pronounced by its blinking roof beacon, slowly headed west on Highway M just a few minutes before Carl Flaig could be heard to the northeast calling in his herd of 60 cows in a nearby paddock for their morning milking. It was just past 6 a.m., the sun was rising behind us and the 10 inches of snow that fell Tuesday had given Flaig’s 350-acre organic farm a February look. The single-digit temperatures made the April morning feel like deep January.

But the reason for Thursday’s 3 a.m. car ride to central Wisconsin and a 5:20 a.m. hike to one of four blinds set up on Flaig’s back 40 had yet to appear.

This is boom time on the grasslands when greater prairie chickens strut, dance, hop and flap in their annual courtship that is unique to this region of the state.

There was anticipation, hope and mounting doubt as the sun continued its climb sans birds, but just after 6:30 a.m. the payoff arrived at the breeding ground, referred to by birders as a lek. That’s when a pair of prairie chickens flew in from the south and gently landed about 100 feet from our blind. Another arrived about five minutes later. Two more came in from the east at 6:41 a.m. By 7:15 a.m., we found ourselves

Please see WISCONSIN, Page C6

A pair of prairie chickens cavort Thursday morning in the snow-covered fields of Carl Flaig’s farm near Rudolph in northwestern Portage County. Flaig has dairy and beef cows that graze on his 350-acre farm, a practice that has helped create better habitat for prairie chickens, a member of the grouse family. Flaig’s farm is surrounded by the Paul J. Olson Wildlife Refuge, home to Saturday’s Wisconsin Prairie Chicken Festival.

JOHN HART PHOTOS, STATE JOURNAL

Guiding by flashlight, Carl Flaig directs early morning visitors into a blind for up-close views of prairie chickens, which are mating at this time of the year. Flaig, an organic dairy and beef farmer north of Rudolph, has four blinds on his property that he rents out for birders. On this day, eight prairie chickens came within 100 feet of the blind.

BARRY ADAMS

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