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Mako Sica- maybe not!

From the Badlands National Park website FAQs:

Why is it called the Badlands?

The Lakota people were the first to call this place “mako sica” or “land bad.” Extreme temperatures, lack of water, and the exposed rugged terrain led to this name. In the early 1900’s, French-Canadian fur trappers called it “les mauvais terres pour traverse,” or “bad lands to travel through.”

My son Garrett & I spent 3 nights at Badlands National Park on the way back to Colorado from Wisconsin last week.  I hadn’t been to the park for about 30 years but still recognized the multi-hued, Kodachrome-friendly clay hills and gullies as old acquaintances.  Beyond the inspiring rugged scenery, the park is famous for the world-class fossil resources found within its boundaries, particularly late Eocene and Oligocene mammal fossils along with other fauna from ca. 40-28 million years ago.

What I didn’t really remember from my teenaged visit but immensely enjoyed on this trip was the park’s horizon-spanning mixed-grass
prairie habitat
surrounding the barren areas most visitors frequent.  With so much pristine habitat (the park encompasses 244,000 acres), native wildlife is sure to abound and in my opinion this is the park’s best kept secret (though I’m sure my SD buddies are all over the birding there!)

A sea of grass entices Bighorn Sheep away from their cliffy strongholds for some rich grazing opportunities.

Pronghorns feature on the landscape along with crowd-pleasing Prairie Dogs.

The most mega of the park’s charismatic megafauna are  American Bison.  This old bull hung out in the Sage Creek Campground, giving me a nice pose as I sat at our picnic table.

Near-constant companions of the bison, Brown-headed Cowbirds are a bit less charismatic and a lot less mega but I think them not too odious when they are in their natural milieu instead of, say, laying eggs in a Kirtland’s Warbler nest.

This Long-billed Curlew joined an American Crow in harassing a Coyote.  My son & I enjoyed the show immensely but I’m not sure if the Coyote was as appreciative.

I’ve never experienced Grasshopper Sparrow density like I did in the mixed-grass prairie of Badlands NP- it seemed that every time I stopped in grassy areas to listen there were ‘hoppers singing.

Western Meadowlarks were also legion in the park, nice to see for a species that has declined across most of its range due to prairie fragmentation and habitat loss.

Mountain Bluebirds are at about the eastern edge of their normal range in the Dakotas at Badlands NP.

Lark Sparrows seemed to be around every turn in the rugged portions of the park, especially where grasses bordered areas of exposed bare rock.

After a dramatic morning thunderstorm, we found this Wild Turkey drying itself and sorting its feathers on a Badlands ridgeline.

A snazzy Sharp-tailed Grouse dazzled on the high wire just west of the Sage Creek Road entrance.

Another indicator of good habitat and a danged neat bird in my book, this Upland Sandpiper wasn’t about to be outdone in the fence line balancing department along Sage Creek Road.

Anyway, if you are transiting the northern Great Plains I’d highly suggest blocking some time to spend birding and soaking in the prairie  ambiance and scenery at Badlands National Park!

Sunset rainbow, Sage Creek Campground, Badlands National Park, 21 June 2013.  (iPhone panorama shot with AutoStitch.)

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Bill Schmoker

Bill Schmoker

Bill is known in the birding community as a leading digital photographer of birds. Since 2001 he has built a collection of digital bird photos documenting over 640 species of North American birds. His photography has appeared in international nature publications, books, newspapers, interpretive signs, web pages, advertisements, corporate logos, and as references for art works. Also a published writer, Bill wrote a chapter for Good Birders Don't Wear White, is a past Colorado/Wyoming regional editor for North American Birds and is proud to be on the Leica Birding Team. Bill is a Colorado eBird reviewer and is especially fond of his involvement with the ABA's Institute for Field Ornithology and Young Birder Programs. Bill is a popular birding guide, speaker, and workshop instructor, and teaches middle school science in Boulder, Colorado. When he isn’t birding he enjoys family time with his wife and son.
Bill Schmoker

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