Beyond Deadwood

Saturday, June 22: Today it was on to Wyoming. As yesterday, I headed up 385 early, getting through the construction zone just as the road crew was arriving. Yesterday, I turned left to Lead and Spearfish Canyon. Today, I went right to Deadwood and I-90.

I started birding seriously soon after I crossed the state line, birding Sand Creek in the Wyoming partion of the Black Hills. New birds there included Bullock's Oriole and White-throated Swift. I wasn't back on I-90 very long when a Sharp-tailed Grouse flew across in front of me. It was at perfect distance—easy to ID, but in no danger of me hitting it. [Red Beds]

After that, I went to Devil's Tower National Monument. In spite of walking both loop trails, it was difficult to find birds. A heard-only Brown Creeper was a highlight, as were the White-throated Swifts cavorting over the tower (sometimes joined by Rock Doves!). I also got killer looks at a Townsend's Solitaire, and finally tracked down a Plumbeous Vireo. The tower itself is pretty impressive. The Red Beds Trail (outer loop) goes over some nice red rock formations, while losing and then gaining 400 feet. By the time I was done, I had plenty of exercise!

[Devil's Tower] [Devil's Tower] [Devil's Tower] [Devil's Tower] [Devil's Tower]
Views of Devil's Tower

On the way back to I-90, I noticed some waterfowl on Keyhole Reservoir. They turned out to be Canada Geese. Avocets were also present, and 2 California Gulls.

After that, it was back to I-90 for a while. I got off at Lake De Smet. There I found Ruddy Duck, Bufflehead, and Common Merganser I also found a Brewer's Sparrow alongside the road. Just down the road, I waited while a Mule Deer with two young crossed the road. There may have been a Sage Thrasher around (it darted across the road), but I wasn't sure. It started pouring immediately after, so I didn't look for it. It would have been a lifer. However, they're supposed to be relatively easy to find in sage county, which I'm starting to get into.

After Lake De Smet I birded various locations near Story, including Wagon Box Road, the site of the Wagon Box Fight, and the Story Fish Hatchery. It was pretty birdy. New birds included Calliope and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds and Lazuli Bunting. I moved Dusky Flycatcher from the heard-only to seen category.

After leaving the Black Hills the countryside has become much more arid. As I approached Buffalo, WY, I noticed the first big mountains on the horizon, the Bighorns.

I covered about 370 miles today, seeing 71 species and bringing the trip total to 154. I'm starting to see a lot more western birds. The Eastern Kingbird is the most notable eastern bird I'm still seeing.

Sheridan, WY

Across Wyoming

Sunday, June 23: Today's first stop was Tongue River Canyon in the Bighorn National Forest. It was a lovely spot to bird. Unfortunately, the advertised Clark's Nutcracker was not present (a would-be lifer). Curiously, although the Dusky Flycatchers that were supposed to be there weren't found either, they were replaced by 4 Least Flycatchers on the edge of their range. Most of the birds were the normal riparian birds, but I found a flock of Red Crossbills feeding on the ground on my way back to the highway.

The next order of business was to cross the Bighorn Mountains. New birds included Common Snipe, Common Raven, and Lincoln's Sparrow. The terrain was less arid as I ascended the Bighorns, and then more arid over the top, turning into a virtual desert in the Big Horn Basin. Water was certainly present at Shell Creek Falls, which is at the head of a wonderful gorge on the west side of the Bighorns. Out here, they call these things canyons, but it very much reminds me of the gorges of the Finger Lakes region, in particular the upper Tauhannock gorge.

After the Bighorns came the very dry (except where irrigated) Big Horn Basin. Evidently all of the water is squeezed out by the Absorokas on the west and Bighorns on the east. Supposedly, there is Mountain Plover in these barren lands, but I didn't have time to search for it. I did drive to the Pinnacles area near Shell looking for Chukar. I had no luck with the Chukar, but the area foreshadows the red rock canyon county that is still over a week ahead.

[Mountain Stream] At Cody, I checked several lakes, including Beck Lake and Alkaline Lake, adding Wilson's Phalarope, Horned Grebes, and some ducks. I followed the Chief Joseph (formerly Dead Indian) scenic highway out of Cody into the Absorokas. There's lots of impressive scenery around here! I took some pictures, but it was mid-day and I didn't bird.

Instead of taking US-212 directly into Yellowstone, I turned the opposite way (east) to head up toward Beartooth Pass in the Shoshone National Forest. Beartooth Pass lies at nearly 11,000 feet. There is alpine tundra at the top. There are also Black Rosy-finches! I had barely gotten out of the car near the east summit when I heard my life bird. A quick scan of the rocks revealed it on an outcropping. I crossed a snowfield to get a better look. American Pipits were also present. I had to make a quick return to the car as rain was approaching (note the threatening clouds in some of the photos). My timing was perfect and the rain started just as I got back to the car.

[Pilot and Index Peaks] [Absaroka View] [Alpine Lake] [Wet Tundra]
Pilot and
Index Peaks
Absaroka View Alpine Lake Wet Tundra

From there it was on to Yellowstone, and more gorgeous scenery, both there and on the way. During the brief loop into Montana, I stopped at a pullout in the Gallatin National Forest and added Mountain Chickadee to my trip list. I entered Yellowstone through the northeast entrance. I soon noticed someone looking through a scope at one of the pullouts. It turned out there were Mountain Goats on the mountains. A lake in the Lamar Valley had some cooperative Yellow-headed Blackbirds.

[Lamar Valley Lake] [Yellow-headed Blackbird]
Lamar Valley

Today's mammal list included Uinta Ground Squirrel. The bird list totaled 64 species, including 1 lifer. The trip total is now 166. I would have liked to dawdle a bit more on the way, but had reservations at Roosevelt Lodge in Yellowstone.

Roosevelt Lodge, Yellowstone, WY