I took a month-long vacation in summer 2002 and headed for the Rockies (with a few stops both on the way and way back). I visited 6 national parks (Badlands, Wind Cave, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, and Rocky Mountain), 5 national monuments (Mt. Rushmore, Jewel Cave, Devil's Tower, Dinosaur, Colorado), 3 national grasslands (Ft. Pierre, Buffalo Gap, Pawnee), 8 national forests (Bighorn, Black Hills, Shoshone, Gallatin, Bridger-Teton, Grand Mesa, Gunnison, San Isabel), 3 national wildlife refugees (De Soto, Balcones Canyonlands, Attwater Prairie-chicken), 4 state parks (Horeshoe Lake (IL), Custer (SD), Lost Maples (TX), Pedernales Falls (TX)), Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Area, Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, and a variety of other natural locations such as Box Canyon Falls at Ouray Colorado. Needless to say, this kept me very busy!
The trip was 3 trips in one. I did some birding, hiking, and photography. I took about 1000 photos. I would have taken more but for lack of time and a camera malfunction starting the last day in Rocky Mountain NP. A selection from these photos is available here on this set of 8 web pages. On each page, you can click on the images to get a larger picture, sometimes with additional information. If you're just interested in the pictures, you can use the photo list.
The Trip Begins
Sunday, June 16: I left Miami about 7am. The day was dedicated to driving, and I covered about 800 miles before stopping for the night at Chattanooga, arriving there about 7:30.
Highlights included a flyover Snail Kite in St. Lucie county, a flyover light form Short-tailed Hawk in Indian River county, 4 Sandhill Cranes by the side of the highway in Osceola county, and a Swallow-tailed Kite at the Ft. Drum service plaza. My trip total is 39 species.
Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Monday, June 17: I got a late start, leaving at around 8am. The target today was Eurasian Tree Sparrow. Before that, I had some distance to travel. I started out with Chimney Swift, Towhee, and Barn Swallow at the motel. An actual Rock Dove (flying between cliffs) was a nice change from city pigeons. Kestrel was added somewhere in Tennessee. Except for an acrobatic Eastern Kingbird, the short stretch through Kentucky didn't yield much until the very end. Construction on the Ohio River bridge brought traffic to a stop, and I opened the windows. I was immediately rewarded with the song of a Song Sparrow, and before I got on the bridge I had added Indigo Bunting, Common Yellowthoat, and Carolina Chickadee. Illinois was waiting on the other side of the river. The first interesting bird was a Chipping Sparrow near a rest stop. Several interesting-looking birds flew by both in Illinois and Kentucky, but I couldn't get good looks.
Finally, I arrived at St. Louis, gateway to the west. The arch was visible from the highway before I went to Horseshoe Lake State Park (free) in search of the ETS. Following the directions on the web, I went to Walker's Island. There were birds there: Great Egret, Hairy Woodpecker, Warbling Vireo, Tree & Barn Swallow, Brown Thrasher, and others...but no Eurasian Tree Sparrow. After looking around a bit, I went outside the park and tried Schoolhouse Rd., as per directions. As I drove slowly down the road, I noticed some sparrow-like birds near the first house. One turned out to be a Savannah. I quickly turned my attention to one of the others, and found myself looking at the first lifer of the trip. Brown cap, black on the face, it was the Eurasian Tree Sparrow! After about a minute, I even managed to find 2 adults with 2 hungry youngsters (lifers with young=bonus points).
With the ETS ticked off, I followed IL-111 up to I-270 and resumed my trip west. Next stop was Columbia, where I haven't been in around 30 years (for those who don't know, I went to high school there). Columbia has certainly changed. It's grown a lot, and seems to have become a major retail center (it's the largest town in 120 miles...to either Kansas City or St. Louis). My old neighborhood looked pretty much the same. The main new addition were a couple of signs marking parks. One seemed to mark a trail that presumably leads down the bluffs to a stream and thence to Hinkson Creek...at least it was right next to a neighbor's house where we used to cut through the yard for that purpose. I also noticed that another informal trail still seems to be there 30 years later. Amazing!
After leaving Columbia I pressed on to KC. I got there shortly before 9 EDT. Total travel for the day was about 750 miles. I saw/heard 40 species, bringing my trip total to 63.
De Soto National Wildlife Refuge
Tuesday, June 18: I got up early today, only to find myself in a rain delay due to heavy thunderstorms. It was just too wet to put stuff in the car. I finally got away from the motel at 7:10am. Attempts to bird at a couple of rest stops yielded a few species, including Eastern Kingbird, Yellow Warbler, and American Goldfinch. On impulse, I decided to check out De Soto NWR while headed up I-29 through Iowa. It should be named Dickcissel NWR. Dickcissels were everywhere! Other highlights included Bobwhite, YB Cuckoo, Red-headed Woodpecker, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Sedge Wren, Waxwing, Field and Vesper Sparrows, and Baltimore Oriole.
When I got into the refuge, I was surprised to find that although it is all on the east side of the Missouri River, a big chunk of it is in Nebraska. I didn't plan to visit Nebraska at all on this trip. As it turned out, I ended up with more species in Nebraska today (39) than in Iowa (34).
While driving through extreme west Iowa, I was struck by the way the landforms are almost western, although it is smaller-scale and hidden under a carpet of green. The land doesn't really look like what I think of as midwestern.
I had thought about visiting some parks near Sioux Falls, SD. This was out due to the De Soto excursion. When I pulled into a rest stop near Salem, SD, I found Orchard Oriole and Western Kingbird, and shortly after leaving it I spotted a Yellow-headed Blackbird on the roadside.
The terrain in eastern South Dakota is actually rather nice, with fields and ponds. The topography is starting to hint at the badlands to come.
I took it fairly easy today, and even stopped for dinner at Mitchell. From there it was about an hour to my target for the night...Chamberlain (on the east bank of the Missouri). Tomorrow, I will make my 4th Missouri crossing of the trip. This will be the decisive one. At Chamberlain, the Missouri is in an impressive valley (see the photo above). There is a nice overlook (with stone teepee) within sight of the motel. I went over there around sunset. Besides great views, I added Cliff Swallow, Ring-necked Pheasant (heard calling well downslope), and Spotted Towhee to my trip list.
Today I covered about 570 miles, found 58 species, and now have a trip total of 91 species. The serious part of the trip begins tomorrow when I leave Chamberlain and cross the Missouri for the 4th time. I will not cross it again on this trip.