How I survived 2016 is beyond me. I barely survived last week. After one week, four flights, 2600 miles in a car, 2 mountain ranges, five states, three days of 100 plus temperatures, two more of over 90, and 30 miles on foot much of which basically on one leg, at this sign under Harney Peak, the highest point in South Dakota, I had reached my limit. My %^^ hurt, my knee hurt, and I was hot, damn hot....it was so hot....How hot was it? "It was so hot, even the dippers were having trouble keeping cool." It was so hot, the birds were using hot pads to pull the worms out of the ground....it was so hot....it was HOT!
As I am holding up this sign, let me discuss my weekend in the Black Hills.
There are always little bits of history I learn when I go out birding. There is a hero immortalized west of Custer SD. He has a camping park named after him. Unknown to me, there was one member of the US Calvary that survived the Battle of Little Bighorn on that fateful day for the 7th Calvary in the prairie of Montana Territory in June of 1875. His name was Comanche and he was Captain Myles Keogh's faithful buckskin. A captured Apache mustang. This camp was the last place Custer's troops camped before heading west on that ill-fated mission. One can picture when the relief arrived the next day when all they found was bodies and a lone horse grazing nearby. It makes an interesting mental picture.
Myles Keogh was an interesting figure. A major fort in Miles City, Fort Keogh bore his name for decades. He was an Irish national that served in battle for the Papal states in the battles that led to the unification of Italy, he was captured and imprisoned in Genoa before being released in a prisoner exchange. In 1862, as the Civil war happened, in need of officers, the Union army contacted the Cardinal to secure possible candidates from Europe. Keogh left service for the Vatican and then fought for the Union with distinction at multiple battles and became, for a time, the chief aide of McClellan. Eventually, he became assigned to the 7th Calvary and began serving under Custer. Keogh gets a fort named after him, but wasn't even an American citizen. Comanche got a campground named after him and he wasn't an "American" really either....
It was the end to a busy week. After falling down the mountain and now limping, my knee swollen and bandaged, I flew home and immediately headed to go birding west. My lake house was filled with in-laws and to be honest there was no room for me anyhow. In all of this history, I met up with Barry Parkin who is doing a South Dakota big year. Our plan was to head to the hills, the Black Hills to bird. His is no record breaking big year. The South Dakota record is held by Ricky Olson and Scott Stolt, both of Pierre who each saw 352 species in the year--2 more than Lynn Barber got during the same year during one of her many "Big Years." Although she claimed to have set the record, the SDOU only recognizes Scott and Ricky's effort and all of this has caused some ill-will in the SD birding circles.
Barry is no wave creator and is just trying to break 300 and I went along with for a second pair of eyes and I am trying to beef up my SD life list. I will accept no more snickering about my paltry state total and vow to be a member of the 300/800 club (300 SD, 800 ABA) as soon as possible, maybe next spring. I only list in two states now, South Dakota and Alaska, and even Alaska is not an end-all for me as I have passed on getting good state birds like the Eastern pheobe because well, that bird nests in my backyard. I'm not sure about even working on my SD list but well, a guy needs a goal. I started the year at 215 in SD and have added many birds.
The Black Hills is a a place where the the midwest meets the west in birding and is home to many western and mountain birds. beefing up the state list to over 400 species, I have only superficially birded the hills so I had many species I could get.
We drove into the Badlands in 115 degree heat. No bird in their right mind was out and about so we had to find them along rivers and just trying to survive on fences.
My favorite site is the mammoth dig near Hot Springs, something not contrived. South of that is a cool swimming hole, Cascade Falls and nearby Cascade Springs.
The water holes and the mountain vistas are great tourist sites, why not highlight them?
I made a vow right there. I was staying that night in a motel, I was having a shower, AND we were eating at my daughter's favorite restaurant in Lead. The Roundhouse would heal my spirits. the thought of their steak got my A$% up that mountain and too the car where we had drinks.