A Travellerspoint blog

Day 3: Trip to Wyoming & one angry bison!

all seasons in one day 72 °F


Today, I woke up before 6am to drive 90 minutes west from the Black Hills in South Dakota to Thunder Basin National Grassland in Wyoming in search of Long-bilked Curlew, Lark Bunting (the “easy” target bird today), and Baird’s Sparrow.

Upon turning off the highway, I spotted a new bird for the trip: SAY’S PHOEBE, a classic western species! One of the coolest things about a road trip west is seeing the progression of eastern to western birds. Today was the furthest west I am going to go on this trip.

Then, my eyes nearly popped out of my head when a SHORT-EARED OWL flew over the road! I thankfully managed to pull off in time to snap one photo — photographic life bird!

Upon arriving to the appointed road, Mush Creek Road, I immediately spotted a chunky, smallish songbird with white wings fly across the road and land in a nearby shrub — female LARK BUNTING, a life bird for me!

That species, as expected, soon proved to be extremely common throughout the grassland and I was of course treated to many great looks of a lot of adult male birds, as well.

Several LOGGERHEAD SHRIKES were also great to see today.

Then, I heard the “wolf whistle” of an UPLAND SANDPIPER and started scanning the fields around me. I could just not find the bird for the life of me, and as I was almost ready to give up, I happened to glance at the sky and the bird was winging around overhead! Incredible! I should have remembered that this bird tends to give the “wolf whistle” while in flight...anyway, this is only the second time I have ever seen this bird, so I was absolutely stoked.

The “gray ghost” — male NORTHERN HARRIER!

SWAINSON’S HAWK perched on a rock outcropping — quite a change from the predominately eastern species seen and heard yesterday in Nebraska!

Today in the grasslands I heard dozens — possibly hundreds — of GRASSHOPPER SPARROWS, but true to their nature, I only saw one or two.

At the appointed place along Howard Road, I walked into the field and checked for my target Baird’s Sparrow, but unfortunately came up empty! Dang! This was my best shot at that species this trip. I did, though, get my first-ever looks at an American Badger:

My view for the day in the grasslands.

BREWER’S SPARROWS proliferated in several spots in the grasslands, another new one for the day.

HORNED LARKS were also common.

Here is a juvenile:

And I saw plenty of Pronghorn Antelope throughout the grasslands — a sight that actually made me sad because they remind me of Idaho and how I won’t be able to visit this year...

Next stop: Morissey Road in nearby Newcastle, WY to search for Long-billed Curlew which have been reported alongside the road recently. In a random fluddle, I saw a number of waterfowl along with two smaller birds...could they be? Yes! WILSON’S PHALAROPES! Only the third or fourth time I have seen this species, and the first time ever seeing their striking breeding plumage. I hope this pair can stay and breed! They are incredibly beautiful birds.

And the waterfowl — CINNAMON TEAL:

Ducks from smallest to biggest: BLUE-WINGED TEAL, AMERICAN WIGEON, MALLARD:

A distant, large shorebird caught me eye and briefly excited my hopes for Long-billed Curlew, but it turned out to “only” be another Upland Sandpiper — still a cool bird!





NORTHERN SHOVELERS with Green-winged Teal:


Next, I headed back into South Dakota to the Black Hills National Forest to “Elk Mountain Overlook” in search of Pygmy Nuthatch. On the way, I got a new bird for the trip in the form of a GOLDEN EAGLE feasting on a deer carcass alongside the highway — super cool!
One awesome bird seen there was a PLUMBEOUS VIREO, a bird I have only seen once or twice before in southern Idaho.

Unfortunately, no Pygmy Nuthatch. A WESTERN TANAGER was present for consolation, though:

So, I headed back to the campground in Custer State Park where a BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK was waiting for me at the campsite. Cool!

Later in the afternoon, my family and I went to see Mt. Rushmore since it is a must-do being only 40 minutes away from Custer State Park. And it did not disappoint! We were treated to some great views along the drive there.

At one point, we stopped at a vantage point for Mt. Rushmore where I checked for Pygmy Nuthatch, and although I failed to find my target, I did frustratingly enough find the other two nuthatch species — WHITE-BREASTED:


As well as the “Audubon’s” western race of YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER:

The views of Rushmore were just as impressive up close.

Then, thanks to a friendly ranger, I got directions to another location where Pygmy Nuthatch had been seen. After we had had our fill of Mt. Rushmore, we drove ten minutes over to the appointed trailhead and I started birding. There were quite a number of Marmots:

And I did get one new bird for the trip, BELTED KINGFISHER, but unfortunately, no photos and no nuthatch. The last stop of the day was the in-progress Crazy Horse monument:

One last excitement for the day: right before arriving back to the campground, we saw two American Bison right next to the road. I hopped out of the car (staying very close) and snapped a few selfies and photos with my camera.

Then, all the sudden, I heard my mom scream, “GET IN!” so without thinking, I dashed back into the car (without even closing the door) and basically onto Tian’s lap! I had just been charged by a Bison! So an important lesson to be learned: always, always give wildlife a liberally large distance, and Bison in particular. I’m happy to be alive!

So a great day in total! Bird-of-the-day to my life bird Lark Buntings with runners-up to the Upland Sandpipers & Wilson’s Phalaropes. Love birding out here — my list for the trip so far is attached below. Stay tuned: tomorrow we hike to the highest summit in South Dakota, Black Elk Peak (where there is also a possibility for Pygmy Nuthatch).

Happy birding,
World Life List: 1117 Species (1 life bird today: Lark Bunting)

1. Canada Goose
2. Blue-winged Teal
3. Cinnamon Teal
4. Northern Shoveler
5. American Wigeon
6. Gadwall
7. Mallard
8. Northern Pintail
9. Green-winged Teal
10. Redhead
11. Ring-necked Pheasant
12. Wild Turkey
13. Rock Pigeon
14. Eurasian Collared-Dove
15. Mourning Dove
16. Yellow-billed Cuckoo
17. Eastern Whip-poor-will
18. Chimney Swift
19. Ruby-throated Hummingbird
20. American Coot
21. Killdeer
22. Upland Sandpiper
23. Long-billed Curlew LIFE BIRD
24. Greater Yellowlegs
25. Wilson’s Phalarope
26. Ring-billed Gull
27. American White Pelican
28. Great Blue Heron
29. American Bittern
30. Turkey Vulture
31. Osprey
32. Golden Eagle
33. Northern Harrier
34. Bald Eagle
35. Swainson’s Hawk
36. Red-tailed Hawk
37. Short-eared Owl
38. Belted Kingfisher
39. Red-headed Woodpecker
40. Red-bellied Woodpecker
41. Downy Woodpecker
42. Hairy Woodpecker
43. Northern Flicker
44. American Kestrel
45. Great Crested Flycatcher
46. Western Kingbird
47. Eastern Kingbird
48. Western Wood-Pewee
49. Eastern Wood-Pewee
50. Willow Flycatcher
51. Cordilleran Flycatcher
52. Eastern Phoebe
53. Say’s Phoebe
54. Loggerhead Shrike
55. Yellow-throated Vireo
56. Plumbeous Vireo
57. Warbling Vireo
58. Red-eyed Vireo
59. Blue Jay
60. American Crow
61. Horned Lark
62. Bank Swallow
63. Tree Swallow
64. Northern Rough-winged Swallow
65. Barn Swallow
66. Cliff Swallow
67. Red-breasted Nuthatch
68. White-breasted Nuthatch
69. House Wren
70. Carolina Wren
71. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
72. Eastern Bluebird
73. Mountain Bluebird
74. Wood Thrush
75. American Robin
76. Gray Catbird
77. Brown Thrasher
78. Sage Thrasher
79. European Starling
80. Cedar Waxwing
81. House Sparrow
82. House Finch
83. Pine Siskin
84. American Goldfinch
85. Yellow-breasted Chat
86. Yellow-headed Blackbird
87. Bobolink
88. Western Meadowlark
89. Baltimore Oriole
90. Orchard Oriole
91. Red-winged Blackbird
92. Brown-headed Cowbird
93. Brewer’s Blackbird
94. Common Grackle
95. American Redstart
96. Common Yellowthroat
97. Yellow Warbler
98. Yellow-rumped Warbler
99. Western Tanager
100. Northern Cardinal
101. Rose-breasted Grosbeak
102. Black-headed Grosbeak
103. Blue Grosbeak
104. Indigo Bunting
105. Dickcissel
106. Grasshopper Sparrow
107. Lark Sparrow
108. Lark Bunting LIFE BIRD
109. Chipping Sparrow
110. Field Sparrow
111. Brewer’s Sparrow
112. Dark-eyed Junco
113. Song Sparrow
114. Spotted Towhee
115. Eastern Towhee
One new one this morning while I was posting: 116. Bullock’s Oriole

Posted by skwclar 06:25 Archived in USA

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Yikes! Bison can be dangerous! Good thing your mom screamed in time-in a relaxed moment, ask her how Lyric Opera trained her for this!

Your blog is always a pleasure to watch. Thanks!

by liz cifani

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