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Venus and a crescent moon dominate the pre-dawn sky, but already the prairie is alive with the mating songs of birds. Dave Trauba, manager of the Lac qui Parle refuge, makes early morning runs to listen for the booming calls of male prairie chickens to monitor how the re-introduced birds are doing. In each of the last three years, he has heard fewer prairie chickens. Tribune photos by Tom Cherveny

Bell ringer days relaying a quiet message

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WATSON -- Venus and a crescent moon hold court in a star-filled sky, and a red blush on the horizon gives promise of day break to come.

Dave Trauba is already out of the pickup truck, miles from home and surrounded in all directions by open grasslands.

He listens.

There is a wild chorus of bird song greeting the coming of day, and as the inhabitants announce their presence he jots down notes.

He is taking roll call.

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