Thursday, July 28, 2016

South Dakota Badlands (continued)

Our two night stay at Circle View guest ranch in the Badlands of South Dakota was a true wildlife watching adventure. I provided a taste of the experience in my PREVIOUS POST with descriptions of my observations on our first morning as I sipped coffee on the porch of our tiny "Treehouse" cabin.  

From our cabin, this is a view of the Badlands to the north:

View to north HDR 3-20160619

Later that morning, in full sun, a Bullocks Oriole appeared in the wet meadow just to the west of the cabin:

Bullock's Oriole 01-20160618

A Blue Grosbeak stood out against the vegetation:

Blue Grosbeak 03-20160619

A female Yellow-headed Blackbird landed on a nearby fence. She was gathering grasshoppers for her young. Her more brightly-colored mate showed up later but was too far away for a photo:

Yellow-headed Blackbird female 3-20160618

An Eastern Bluebird perched on a nearby tree. I had rather expected to see Western Bluebirds as we had in Colorado, but the latter species has a blue throat and lower belly and their ranges do not overlap this far north:

Western Bluebird 2-20160619

We set out on a tour of the main portion of Badlands National Park. The color of the rock formations varies considerably, from red...

Red Badlands HDR 20160618 yellow...

Yellow hills HDR 20160618 purple (accented by a Bighorn Sheep)...

Bighorn ewe on ridge HDR 20160618

...but were mostly multicolored:

Badlands Wall HDR 02-20160618

Badlands wide HDR 20160618

A Say's Phoebe is visible in this distant shot:

Say's Phoebe 20160618

Western Meadowlarks comprised the most common bird species we encountered on the open prairie:

Western Meadowlark 06-20160618

We watched for birds roosting on fences and utility wires in the National Grasslands which surround the rugged hills. Here is another Western Meadowlark, in flight:

Western Meadowlark 02-20160618

Western Kingbird:

Western Kingbird 01-20160618

An Eastern Kingbird provided a comparison. Its more extensive range overlaps with its Western relative:

Eastern Kingbird 2-20160618

Lark Buntings were a welcome sight, I had not seen any since we moved away from New Mexico. They were very shy and I had trouble getting a good photo:

Lark Bunting 2-20160619

Dickcissels perched and sang from the wires:

Dickcissel 02-20160618

I logged a new "Life Bird" when Roly, our son-in-law, spotted this Upland Sandpiper roosting along the gravel road. Unlike many other sandpipers, it nests on short-grass prairie away from water:

Upland Sandpiper HDR  01-20160618

Remarkably, two Upland Sandpiper chicks were walking along right in front of our auto. One quickly disappeared into the roadside vegetation. Note its cryptic coloration:

Upland Sandpiper chick 02-20160618

A second chick afforded a better view:

Upland Sandpiper chick 20160618

Later we saw another Upland Sandpiper:

Upland Sandpiper 20160619

We encountered a closely related dry-land member of the sandpiper family as we exited the grasslands. It was a Long-billed Curlew:

Long-billed Curlew 20160618

Probably the most unusual bird photo I have ever obtained is that of an almost unimaginable combination-- a Western Meadowlark with a Red-headed Woodpecker in close contact. Since there were no trees in sight we joked that maybe the woodpecker was asking for directions!

Unlikely couple on prairie 20160618

There were several large Black-tailed Prairie Dog towns in the grasslands. This one stood guard and yipped its squeaky warning "bark"...

Prairie Dog 2-20160618

...while another prairie dog seemed to be curious about our presence. Note that flowers tend to grow in the cleared areas around their mounds, probably because of years of fertilization by the rodents' wastes:

Prairie Dog 3-20160618 

Thistles predominated on the prairie:

Thistle 20160618

Bighorn Sheep were common on the rugged hills. These three ewes were standing in the road and suddenly were startled and all fled at once:

Bighorns startled 20160617

A large Bighorn ram grazed along the road and seemed oblivious to our presence. I could hardly fit him into my camera's frame:

Bighorn ram HDR  20160618

Finally, we witnessed a bit of drama as a very young Bighorn lamb seemed to be reflecting on whether to jump from a very high cliff to a pinnacle which was about 10 feet away. Note its mother watching-- her head is barely visible in the background:

Bighorn ewe watching lamb 20160618

The lamb decided not to jump across the chasm...

Bighorn lamb decides not to jump 20160618

...and returned to its mother:

Bighorn lamb comes to mama 2-20160618

Bighorn ewe nursing lamb 20160618

Once again, I could not find any good reflections among the many photos I took in the arid Badlands. I don't think the picture of the car mirror meets the standard, so I must reach back into the archives. This is a storm which was developing over the Everglades, taken in our local Florida wetlands the week before we departed:

Storm over Everglades HDR 20160529

= = =  = = =  = = = =  = = = = =

Linking to Misty's  CAMERA CRITTERS,

Linking to Eileen's SATURDAY'S CRITTERS,

Linking to GOOD FENCES by Tex (Theresa). 

Linking to SKYWATCH FRIDAY by Yogi, Sylvia and Sandy


Linking to BirdD'Pot by Anni

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday by Stewart

Linking to Today's Flowers Friday by Denise

Linking to Wordless Wednesday (on Tuesday) by NC Sue

Please visit the links to all these memes to see some excellent photos on display

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Badlands and Birds

Following our 56th Wedding Anniversary family reunion in Colorado, we took a road trip with our daughter's family back to Illinois. Our route took us through South Dakota, where we spent one night at Custer State Park in the Black Hills

We then traveled a hundred miles eastward to Badlands National Park, where we spent two nights at Circle View guest ranch. I had expected South Dakota to be mostly flat cattle-land planted in field crops. This is not the case in the southwestern corner of the state. After leaving the high forested ridges of the Black Hills the land did turn flat, but within an hour the rugged and forbidding peaks of the Badlands loomed up in the distance.

Badlands HDR 01-20160618

Before checking in at the ranch we took a detour through Badlands National Park and drove 23 miles to Wall, the nearest town. Smokey Bear greeted us:

Graci and Cari with Smokey 20160618

The Wall Drug Store is a hodge-podge of vendors selling anything a tourist might wish to have as a remembrance of this unique part of the USA. It is famous for free chilled water and 5 cent coffee:

Wall Drug Store 20160617

After stocking up at the only supermarket in town we checked into our lodging. We grilled some steaks, made pasta and salad and enjoyed the repast. On the working ranch our accommodations were indeed spartan. As advertised, both of our cabins had nice propane-fired barbecue grills. 

Our primitive "Treetop Cabin" had electricity, running water, air conditioning, a tiny refrigerator, two beds and clean linens. At our only tap, in the bathroom, the water smelled of rotten eggs-- very likely (we hoped) just naturally occurring sulfur from the well. We brought lots of water bottles so this was not a problem: 

Schneider Tree House Cabin 20160617

In our daughter's adjacent "Cowboy Cabin," her family enjoyed four beds, a kitchen sink, a hot plate, coffee maker and toaster, as well as assorted dinnerware and a couple of pots and pans. 

Orama Cowboy Cabin at Circle View 20160617

Since Mary Lou must have her early morning coffee, we borrowed the Cowboy Cabin coffeemaker, forgetting that our cupboard was otherwise bare. Up well before sunrise, she had the coffee brewing before I woke up, just as she was asking "Where are the coffee cups?" 

We had forgotten to bring some disposable cups from next door! I crept out to the Cowboy Cabin in semi-darkness and quietly tried to open both doors but they were locked. Leaving the occupants in peaceful sleep, my recourse was to retrieve two discarded plastic water bottles from the refuse container. I cut off their upper half and washed them. They did not melt and served us well! "Necessity is the mother of invention:"

Cowboy coffee cup 20160618

I sat on the little front porch, drinking coffee and listening to mostly unfamiliar bird songs. A Black-tailed Jackrabbit did not see me as it moved out from behind the cabin and hopped a couple of feet past me. I took one poor iPhone photo before my movements scared it away:

Jackrabbit Blue Bell SD 20160617

The sun's early rays coursed the dark sky. 

Sunrise Badlands SD HDR 20160617

One persistent song sounded vaguely familiar, somewhat like that of an Indigo Bunting. As darkness abated, I located the songster and discovered it was a Blue Grosbeak:

Blue Grosbeak 04-20160619

Another song was really new to me, but I suspected it came from a member of the sparrow family. Indeed, as the light improved I recognized several Lark Sparrows:

Lark Sparrow 06-20160618

Lark Sparrow 04-20160618

A Western Meadowlark, which looks almost the same as its Eastern counterpart, sang its distinctive song from a fence post (Westerns warble "look-a-diddle-deedle do" while Easterns whistle "swee-till-see-dee" (I translate their songs respectively as "Look at me I'm a Meadowlark," and "Spring of the Year.)"

Western Meadowlark 01-20160618

A Dickcissel chanted his name from a dooryard treetop:

Dickcissel 01-20160618

In the meantime I watched a drama unfold as a large female White-tailed Deer emerged from the far side of the meadow to the east. She seemed to be paying much attention to a wooded area adjacent to the meadow. She huffed and snorted as three smaller does joined her. 

White-tailed large doe 20160619

Suddenly all took flight. A bit later I heard more deer sounds and the largest doe bounded out of the wooded area with a Coyote on her heels. The predator would have no hope of taking down an adult deer and risked being injured or killed by her sharp hooves if it tried. Either it was playing a game or, more likely, the doe was leading it away from her fawn. I got only one poor shot of the Coyote through the tall grass:

Coyote 2-20160619

The doe soon returned, and this time I could see she was carrying enough milk for two fawns:

White-tailed large doe 3-20160619

These were just a few of my observations on the first morning of our stay. I will save more for a subsequent post, including my photo of a new "Life List" bird species.

Again, searching for a photo of a reflection, I remembered six years ago, when we celebrated our 50th Anniversary with family, also at YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park. Our children, grandchildren and great-grandson presented us with this plate. At the time we did not realize that it was reflecting the snow-capped mountain peaks:

Anniversary Platter 20100615

= = =  = = =  = = = =  = = = = =

Linking to Misty's  CAMERA CRITTERS,

Linking to Eileen's SATURDAY'S CRITTERS,

Linking to GOOD FENCES by Tex (Theresa). 

Linking to SKYWATCH FRIDAY by Yogi, Sylvia and Sandy


Linking to BirdD'Pot by Anni

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday by Stewart

Linking to Today's Flowers Friday by Denise

Linking to Wordless Wednesday (on Tuesday) by NC Sue

Please visit the links to all these memes to see some excellent photos on display