The area around Pierre and Ft. Pierre National Grassland in South Dakota is quickly becoming one of my favorite areas in the country. The beautiful rolling hills, prairie dog towns, intersting wildlife communities, sparse human population, and beautiful evenings make this a great place for natural history study, photography, and just sitting and enjoying the open space and subtle beauty of the prairie.
The area is also great for interesting birds as was evidenced by the five Whooping Cranes that I saw this morning.
These birds were from the only self-sustaining wild population of this species – one of the rarest birds in the world. This population breeds in Alberta’s Wood Buffalo National Park and winters in coastal marshes in Texas. The population declined to only 16 individuals by 1941 as a consequence of hunting and specimen collection, human disturbance, and conversion of the primary nesting habitat to hay, pasture land, and grain production. It now contains around 200 individuals. These birds were foraging in a corn field and apparently awaiting some south winds in order to continue their migration north.
Later in the morning I searched for the signs of a Sharp-tailed Grouse lek (droppings and feathers plucked during fights) in a prairie dog town where I photographed them a couple of years ago. After some searching I found the spot, set up my blind, and enjoyed the beautiful rolling hills. Chorus frogs were in full chorus in a small wetland near the lek, a pair of Marbled Godwits winged by, and a big surprise – a Sprague’s Pipit sang several times overhead.
This evening I visited another prairie dog town and photographed Chestnut-collared Longspurs. As the light waned and the sun went down, Greater Prairie-Chickens were booming form a nearby lek and a half dozen Burrowing Owls began to chorus from their respective burrows.
Tags: Whooping Crane