Posts Tagged ‘Black-tailed prairie dog’

On Sunday morning, I headed back to Bear Canyon Road to look for Sagebrush Sparrow again.  Remember, I was looking for these birds instead of Black Rosy-Finches because I was scared to drive the Beartooth Highway.  I got to the road several hours earlier than the previous day, but I found even fewer species and did not find my target bird.

After two hours of serious searching along the two-mile stretch of road, I set my GPS for Tellico Plains and started driving.  I was soon in Wyoming and enjoying the beautiful landscape, even prettier than Montana if possible.  The distant mountains were gorgeous and before I knew it, I was driving up into those mountains.  The road became narrow and steep with sharp drop-offs and hairpin turns.  A sign at a scenic overlook told me that I was in Bighorn National Forest.  Another sign a short time later stated that the elevation was 9430 feet.

I talked with a guy who had ridden his motorcycle up and he told me that the Beartooth was “a piece of cake” compared to what I had just driven.  I’m not sure that’s true, but I did drive one of Wyoming’s scenic mountain roads that had not even opened for traffic until May 20.  I had been somewhat uncomfortable driving WY 14A, but not terrified.  There was no time to anticipate the road ahead and I had no choice but to keep driving.

After discovering that I can drive mountain roads, my only regret of the trip is not driving the Beartooth Highway to look for Black Rosy-Finches and, of course, enjoy the views on one of the most beautiful roads in America.  Next time …

After I finally got out of the mountains, I drove to Devils Tower.  I was stunned that a piece of rock could be so captivating.  The entire park around the landmark is absolutely gorgeous and easily worth a full or half day to hike the trails.  I walked a short way on one trail and saw this young guy.

And, the park had a prairie dog town! Who doesn’t love prairie dogs?  This time I heard them “talking.”

Update: The prairie dogs at Devils Tower are the same species that I saw at Grasslands National Park, Black-tailed prairie dogs.

Update: The prairie dogs at Devils Tower are the same species that I saw at Grasslands National Park, Black-tailed prairie dogs.

Yesterday, I started the day by crossing the state line just into South Dakota to look for Virginia’s Warbler in Roby Canyon.  It’s an isolated location where you don’t expect to run into anyone else, but I met two other birders.  Together, we searched for a couple of hours without seeing our target bird.  I was disappointed, but at least I could blame the miss on luck rather than lack of birding skill when two top local birders could not find it either.  They described the Virginia’s as one of the warblers that just does not want to be seen.

Here is a pretty female Mountain Bluebird that I did see on the way to Roby Canyon.

Mountain Bluebird

Mountain Bluebird

I spent most of the afternoon driving through Wyoming and crossed into Nebraska just before I stopped for the night.  Before I left home, I had read about half of “The Oregon Trail” by Rinker Buck, a modern-day adventure with lots of history.  As a child, I was fascinated with the story of pioneers who moved west and now I am seeing the country through which they traveled.

I’ll leave you with a Lark Sparrow that I saw yesterday when I detoured down a random dirt road.  And, now I’m back on the trail, slowly heading home.

Lark Sparrow

Lark Sparrow

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Grasslands National Park is one of the quietest places in North America.  The peace and beauty of this place for the past three and a half days has been wonderful.  I am staying at The Crossing at Grasslands, which is adjacent to the park.  Here is the view from my balcony.  The other direction overlooks a little pond with ducks and Wilson’s Phalaropes.

My most important target bird here was Baird’s Sparrow, so I looked up the locations within the park where it had been reported in eBird.  On Monday morning, I headed to the closest of those locations, the road to Two Trees.  I heard it singing as I slowly drove the road, so I got a recording, but I wanted to see the little sparrow.  However, I felt intimidated by the huge grassy area with no landmarks and even with my scope, I could not find the bird.  Plus, I was distracted by the mosquitoes that swarmed all around.  I figured it might just have to join Black Rail on my life list as a heard-only bird. I continued with my day and the ecotour drive.

The next morning, I was more determined and confident about finding the Baird’s Sparrow.  I decided that it made the most sense to go back to where I had heard it.  It had to be there and it was close to where I was staying.  I went back to the road before breakfast to look for the sparrow.  Again, I heard it.  And, then I saw it.  I got a good look with the scope and then slowly walked into the field a few feet at a time.  The sparrow flitted from one bunch of grass to another, but I was able to keep track of him.  Finding my own Baird’s Sparrow was one of the highlights of my birding life and I will never forget that beautiful morning on the prairie.

Baird’s Sparrow

The rest of my time here is a jumble of birds and other wildlife, quiet and solitude, peace, and gorgeous scenery.  I was frequently alone on hikes or at stops along the roads.  But, when I have met others, everyone has been exceptionally friendly.  If birding can be a vacation, this is it.

I certainly was getting practice with common sparrows, like Vesper.  They were so numerous in spots that I worried I would hit one with the car.  Like the pretty little Horned Larks, they like to hop down the road in front of the car, staying just a few feet ahead.

Vesper Sparrow

Black-tailed prairie dogs were fun to see and I counted at least 30 at the dog town.  While their conservation is secure in the U.S., they are threatened in Canada and the government is taking steps to protect them.

Black-tailed prairie dog

I was also pleased to see a couple of beautiful Chestnut-collared Longspurs on the ecotour drive.

Chestnut-collared Longspur

Eastern Kingbirds are everywhere; they are much more abundant here than at home.  This morning, I even had a pair on my windowsill.  A Western Kingbird was the first bird that I saw after I crossed the border, but I have seen very few since then.

Eastern Kingbird

Swainson’s Hawks are fairly common here, too, and surprisingly they do not always flush from fence posts when I stop.

Swainson’s Hawk

And, a flight shot.

Swainson’s Hawk

Sharp-tailed Grouse seem to be easy to find. Here is the second or third that I’ve seen so far on this trip.

Sharp-tailed Grouse (female)

It has been wonderful to have a few days to relax and be a little lazy after pushing so hard at the start of the trip.  I had hoped to find Sprague’s Pipit and McCown’s Longspur here, too, but it wasn’t meant to be.  The longspur doesn’t appear to be as common as I’d hoped and I think that the pipit could turn into a nemesis bird for me.  The combination of my poor vision and hearing and desire to actually SEE the bird, field marks and all, before counting it makes it challenging.  However, I have more opportunities for both still on this trip.

Tomorrow I head to another Canada park, Cypress Hills Provincial Park.

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