Observe prairie chickens from inside the cover of a blind during the sunrise mating dance or “booming” at Prairie Ridge State Natural Area.
Use of viewing blinds at Prairie Ridge State Natural Area is by reservation only. To minimize disturbance to the prairie chickens, visiting the blind and booming grounds without a guide is not allowed. While this field trip can be exciting and rewarding, it comes with some cautions and restrictions. Please read all the information below before making your reservation.
NOTE: We are offering two types of viewing experiences: Photo-Friendly and Shutter-Free. If your desire is to capture the morning on film, we suggest you consider choosing the Photo-Friendly option. Rules for photography and photography equipment are listed below. Please read and be prepared to adhere to these guidelines.
A maximum of 12 registrations will be taken for each morning. Six people per blind. The trips will be conducted regardless of the weather.
This trip is not suitable for children under the age of twelve.
Trip Leader: Bob Gillespie, Illinois Department of Natural Resources
Maximum Trip Capacity: 12
A block of rooms have been set aside at the Cobblestone Hotel & Suites, 100 S Gregory Dr, Newton IL 62448. Mention “Illinois Audubon Society” and either Matt Hayes or Jo Fessett when making your reservation. 618.783.5550.
Please review the following before making your reservation
All participants will meet at 4:30 a.m. in the parking lot of Cobblestone Inn, Newton, on the morning of the field trip. This will allow time for the group to be seated in the blind before the prairie chickens arrive on the booming grounds. A field trip guide will lead the caravan to a designated parking spot near the blind, lead the group to the blind and will remain with the group throughout the experience. Everyone must be able to hike .25 mile on muddy, uneven terrain from their car to the blinds with minimal light. Participants should expect to be in the viewing blind approximately five hours. Once the group is seated in the blind, participants are not allowed to leave; there are no restrooms or heat in the blinds. The structures are approximately 15 ft long x 8 ft wide x 8 ft high.
- Caravanning from the hotel is encouraged and appreciated. We will return to the hotel before the 11:00 a.m. check out time.
- The group will not wait for late participants to arrive at the Cobblestone on the morning of the field trip. Once the group has departed the hotel parking lot, anyone arriving late will not be able to participate.
- Participants will be seated on wooden benches in an enclosed blind with a guide. Small pillows or seat cushions may be used.
- Each participant is allowed to bring along one backpack or duffel bag. Maximum carry-in size is 17” x 13” x 10” (approximately 35L). Space is limited in the blinds. Please be courteous to the other guests and stay within this size restriction. With the exception of binoculars, blankets, seat cushions and tripods, EVERYTHING must be transported in a backpack or duffel bag. This includes camera equipment.
- Participants will need to stay inside the blind until the birds have finished courtship displays and flushed the lek. This is determined by the prairie chickens’ behavior and cannot be precisely scheduled. Your guide will determine when participants may leave.
- Be advised that there are no bathrooms in the viewing blind or anywhere close to the lek. We recommend that you limit your liquid intake prior to the viewing tour. Bathrooms will be available immediately before departing for the blinds and following the viewing.
- Keep noise to a minimum during all parts of the trip. This includes parking, exiting your cars and hiking to and entering the blinds.
- Cell phones are allowed but must be placed on “silent.”
- Binoculars are highly recommended.
- Snacks are allowed – please be courteous and quiet when munching.
- Cameras and cell phones must be set to silent. We realize that shutters make noise, but some cameras have tones for other functions and these can be alarming to the birds.
- NO flash photography is allowed. Flashes of light will disrupt the birds’ natural activity you are there to observe. This includes cell phones.
- There will be ample time after sun up to take pictures. Be patient–take time to listen to the ethereal audio performance of the birds as they arrive at the lek before first light–it’s quite magical!
- The space is VERY limited in the viewing blind. The blind has bench seats and two openings across the front for viewing. The lower opening accommodates sitting on the bench seat while shooting. The higher opening allows the photographer to stand in the blind and shoot.
- There is no room for a tripod; consider using a monopod. Photographers will find that resting their lens in/on the window edge will provide a stable platform, or rest, for photography.
- The blind openings are sufficiently wide and tall enough to allow free movement of the camera lens to the left and right, as well as tilting the lens up and down. The openings are not tall enough to accommodate a large “prime” lens (400mm and 600mm) to be extended through the opening or rested on the ledge. However, they are tall enough to accommodate the use of a 100 – 400 mm zoom and 200mm – 600mm / 150mm-600mm zoom lens.
- Most photographers bring both a long and short zoom lens (such as the 100mm-400mm / 70mm-200mm class lens) in the event that the prairie chickens wander close to the blind.
- The blinds are directly facing the lek with the sunrise at your back. No need to attach a lens hood to the lens. Distance to your photo subject will range from 20’ to 200’.
- Photography is permitted for personal use only.
If you have photography questions, please contact us.