Switzer Ranch and Calamus Outfitters first made it onto our radar when mentioned in the March – April 2010 issue of Audubon Magazine (http://audubonmagazine.org/issuearchives/issue1003.html). The Switzer Family has owned land for cattle ranching near Burwell, Nebraska since 1904 and cattle operations are overseen by Bruce, the patriarch of the family. Son and daughter duo, Sarah and Adam, with the help of their mom, Sue Ann have embarked upon a novel approach – tying ranching to ecotourism with Calamus Outfitters.
Every spring in the sandhills of Nebraska, male sharp-tailed grouse and greater prairie chickens vie for the attention of hens. Their raucous courtship displays include clucks, whoops, gobbles, exposed tail coverts and balloon-like air sacs flashing orange and yellow.
Eighteen of us from Audubon Society of Greater Denver traveled to Switzer Ranch at the end of March 2011 for a one-night stay. Before dawn, the majority of the group loaded onto a school bus for the five minute drive to the greater prairie chicken lek (an assembly area where animals like prairie chickens display courtship behavior). Parked near the lek were two more school buses that serve as viewing blinds. We saw feet stomping, tails raising, and air sacs expanding. The prairie chickens and sharp-tailed grouse impressed all of us with their attempts at wooing females.
If you decide to check out the leks at Switzer Ranch, we recommend staying at least two nights so you may visit the greater prairie chicken lek one day and the sharp-tailed grouse lek the next. We also recommend checking out Calamus Reservoir just across the road from the ranch. Bring your binoculars — the reservoir acts as refuge for an abundance of ducks, geese, bald eagles, and American white pelicans at this time of year.