A Travellerspoint blog

Day 2: Lewis & Clark R.A. to Custer State Park, Black Hills

Nebraska & South Dakota

semi-overcast 88 °F

This morning, I awoke at the jolly hour of 4:40am, threw on my clothes, and hopped in the car to head to Kansas to search for three possible life birds in the area: Greater Prairie-Chicken, Sharp-tailed Grouse, and Lark Bunting — I knew that all three would be long shots, but this would be one of my best shots at the ST Grouse. So my hopes were high!

First — a few shots I missed from last night at Lewis & Clark Recreation Area. BALD EAGLE:


Along the way, I picked up one of my first birds of the day which was a singing EASTERN WHIP-POOR-WILL: very cool!

I arrived at my first stop, unofficially named “Hermit Warbler Hill” on eBird from a vagrant Hermit Warbler which graced the area a few years ago. In reality, the area is a dirt road on a gentle rolling hill with a tapestry of farmland, grassland, and hedgerows. A good sign was a large number of openland bird species including dozens upon dozens of WESTERN MEADOWLARKS which posed for some crippling photos.


And I saw and heard probably about one thousand DICKCISSELS today (since I covered a lot of territory by car-birding the dirt roads).

A definite highlight of the morning was my best look ever at a RING-NECKED PHEASANT cock in the dazzling morning light:

A few scattered woodland areas held a few interesting species including RED-HEADED WOODPECKER and this EASTERN PHOEBE. Birding Nebraska is cool because you get a nice mix of more eastern species (RH Woodpecker & the Phoebe) as well as Western ones like Western Kingbird and Meadowlark.

I scanned the grasslands intensely for hours checking for any grouse or Lark Buntings.

At one point, I heard an extremely melodic song coming from the roadside and I soon spotted a deep blue dot in the agricultural field next to the road. Upon zooming in, I discovered I had a male BLUE GROSBEAK — a cool bird and definitely one of my favorites considering it is not common, at all, in either the New York or the Chicago area.

Unfortunately, I dipped on all three of my targets this morning. Dang! That’s just how it goes sometimes. So, I headed back to the Lewis & Clark Recreation Area on the other side of the Missouri River and helped my family pack up so we could continue on to our next destination: Custer State Park in the Black Hills! My target life birds in the Black Hills area include Long-billed Curlew, Pygmy Nuthatch, Baird’s Sparrow, and McCown’s Longspur.

Along the drive to the Black Hills, we spotted a good amount of wildlife including Prairie Dogs and these Pronghorn alongside the highway.

In many “prairie potholes” along the way (little ponds interspersed within the larger prairie), I saw many species of waterfowl including REDHEAD, BLUE-WINGED TEAL, NORTHERN SHOVELER, and this NORTHERN PINTAIL (pictured in the back):

And an AMERICAN WIGEON (right) with AMERICAN COOT (left). Again, on these photos, you’ll just have to trust me since as you can imagine it is impossibly hard to photograph from a 70MPH-moving vehicle.

Then, I spotted two big shorebirds fly over with impossibly long bills and, given the grassland habitat, there was only one option: LONG-BILLED CURLEW! Life bird! I have looked for this bird in vain for many years in Idaho and was happy to finally nail it down, but I do hope to get photos of this impressive species later the trip...it was unsatisfactory to simply glimpse this bird from the highway (although it was a clinching look).

When we hit Rapid City, SD, I spotted a classic western raptor species: SWAINSON’S HAWK! It was being mobbed by AMERICAN CROWS.

After five hours of driving, we arrived at the idyllic state park which will be our home for three nights. Lo and behold, there were three American Bison foraging in the meadow right across from our campground!!! At first I wasn’t sure exactly how wild they were, but they were gone about an hour later so obviously they can roam...

And I picked up a number of western specialty species at the campground including an absolutely stunning male MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD:


And the western “Audubon’s” race of YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER which can be told from the Myrtle race because of the Audubon’s yellow throat.

One unphotographed bird at the campsite that was quite noteworthy was a YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT! Heard-only.

Bird-of-the-day to the Western Bluebird with runner-up to my life bird Long-billed Curlew along the highway — I really hope I get a chance to photograph this species later in the trip.

Stay tuned: tomorrow, I will head to Thunder Basin National Grassland just across the border in Wyoming in hopes of Baird’s Sparrow, Greater Sage-Grouse, Long-billed Curlew, Lark Bunting, and if Im very lucky, Chestnut-sided or McCown’s Longspur.

Good birding,
World Life List: 1116 Species (1 life bird today: Long-billed Curlew)

Posted by skwclar 19:32 Archived in USA

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This is really cool-you have a cross between SW Wisconsin and the Great Plains. The ring-necked pheasant cock in the windy cornfield is a bird I see and hear every day. We also have both Eastern and Western meadowlarks, but not in the numbers you saw. I can't get over the clarity of the pictures! What a great trip!

by liz cifani

Have fun in Custer State Park. It’s one of my favorites!

by Katie

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