Monday, July 17, 2017

Don't live in South Dakota if you can't stand the heat

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 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 was so 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.

Burrowing Owls

We saw about 40 around the plateau in and around prairie dig towns

Bell's Vireo

Swainson's Hawk

Black-headed grosbeak with a hidden find seen only on the photo

Not that I needed the nighthawk but always interesting to see something unexpected on a photo.  The car thermometer maxed out at 115........115........OMG, 115!

We camped at Comanche Park Friday night in a sea of foreign tourists.  I had a German walk up to me.  "Do you speak English?"  He smiled.  "I wanted to reply.  "Jag ...sprechen inte English."  I sighed and then told him how to register for his campsite.  He and his wife and two teenagers were from Bremen, and camping through the US.  It may be a majority of tenters in NFS land are not US residents these days.  

I awoke to the sounds of Pygmies,  They can be hard to find and I've never seen one before.  SD life bird, 260.  Blurry photo but at 0530 this morning but was ID able as a pygmy

We went for a hike a few miles west.  We ended up in a sea of hummingbirds.  They landed on my cell phone, they landed on my head, they buzzed me, and then Barry who brought a feeder with, broke it and then I said.  "Just stand there and hold it out Barry."  It took a few seconds and Barry had a new friend.  

State Lifer bird for me.  Broad-tailed Humming bird, Hell's Canyon, SD

The lifer haul continued, not great birds for ABA standards but In South Dakota these birds reside in very limited areas.

Western Tanager

Western wood-pewee

Cordilleran Flycatcher

Violet-green swallow

Most of South Dakota's tourist sites are Kitsch.   Mt. Rushmore was funded by an organized plot to fool Calvin Coolidge on a fishing trip.  Thousands died and were made homeless by the Miississippi flood while Calvin caught record trout, refusing to leave.  (The state was planting trout just upstream all night each day specifically trained to only bite what the President was using for bait.)  In the end, Hoover was sent to deal with the flood and Calvin made an executive order allowing for the tourist trap that is Mt Rushmore to be built.

Crazy Horse will never be finished.  Sturgis is out of hand and is not what is once was (a crazy week of decadence) now it is just a way to gouge the visitors.  Deadwood is a Casino trap and Harney Peak has an ugly view tower on top of it.

The Black Elk Wilderness is great.  The granite spires are cool.  Why did they spoil it by erecting an ugly tower a three mile walk from a parking lot?  Wasn't standing on the mountain top enough?

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.

A great place to swim and hang out.  Especially when the thermometer is at 104 at 10 am.  They also have yellow breasted chat and a great SD bird, Lesser goldfinch there.


Lesser Goldfinch....
One of the few places to ever see that bird in South Dakota.  Definitely a birding hot spot worth visiting.

The water holes and the mountain vistas are great tourist sites, why not highlight them?

Barry is happy because for years all I have heard from Barry is a desire to find the holy grail of Black Hills breeding birds.  It has become an obsession, I think.  I sort of roll my eyes.  The Cadillac of birds as everyone thinks at some point they want one but only a few will ever get the ruffed grouse. Barry dreams of grouse.  Hot, out of water, and tramping through forest looking for jays, jays that were never found.......I flushed a grouse, it was a brood.  "Grouse!" I yelled.  Barry has never ran so fast gto catch up to me ever.

Only the second sighting reported on ebird this year!   If it wasn't for the fact that my entire body was covered in ticks, and I was running on empty, and....i grew up in grouse country, i would be happy too.  It was SD state lifer 265.  Barry wanted to scream, and eventually, did.  I was ready to pass out.

Brown creeper on a tree was in reality, a better bird for me.  I've seen less of them, but not in South Dakota

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.

Unfortunately, when we arrived, it had closed recently under odd circumstances.  It was busy and it just closed permanently.  The next problem was that all the other restaurants in Lead close at 8pm on a Saturday night in tourist season..........8pm??  Just my luck.  Eating, I guess is over rated.  cold salami in a cooler is my usual I am used to it.

We did get a room and Barry passed out and I was not too far behind

Our last days in the hills were in Spearfish Canyon and Crow peak.  I was almost hiked out and 3 more miles on foot would be it.

American Three toed woodpecker ripping off bark in a recent burned forest.

A ?dusky flycatcher, finally heard and probably seen

MacGillivray's Warbler

A red-naped sapsucker, hiding under dead needles of a pine.  State lifer bird 269 for me, my finally tally for the trip

We were the closest to Milbank so I just started to drive home from Spearfish after we ate our one meal of Sunday at McDonald's, fancy eating for us.  

I headed home adding 15 state lifer birds.  Barry put 20 on his year list and I left in thankfully as bad of shape as I arrived.  My knee was only oozing the same fluid it had been oozing for three days but
gosh it was still hot.  If you were thinking of what craziness would happen to Olaf, I disappointed you.  Generally nothing happened on this trip.  It was just too HOT!  How hot was it?  It was so hot that all of the water had became holy water as all of the heat was boiling the hell out of it.  Okay...enough of that.

In truth, the crops are withering, much of it should never have been planted and well, it was at least good, knowing I'm not ranching out here.

Some call this hell, I guess, but I call this home. Three hundred and twenty miles later I jumped up and tapped my heels and said.  "There is no place like home Olaf...there is no place like home."




    I'm coming for your 2013 au natural record just that it will be lifetime not big year. I'm following your rules and I'm eBirding the AANR locations first. I should have thought of this in 2008, now I have to revisit locations.

    1. good luck on that! having done the big one last year, and knowing I left some meat on the bone, I'm pretty sure about 620-630 could be attainable. Wreck beach should be on your bucket list in Vancouver as I skipped that costing me probably 600, one for sure

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This is not a bird trip organized for sissies.  Seeing the King aside, this almost seems like work.  The typical day is up at 0530, load up ...