August 29, 2003

I scared up a coyote on this hike.  Unfortunately, I followed its trail and ran into this.  Looks like it's hard for a coyote to digest buffaloberries.

May 4, 2001

Under Surveillance by What?  A Coyote? Only on the Prairie!

Under Surveillance
Although I didn't realize it, a coyote had been watching me for probably the last half hour.  I heard it barking and howling, but never bothered to look in the direction that the noise was coming from.  Now I did, and there he was, standing on a ridge where I could plainly see him.  I took a telephoto lens out of my camera bag, put it on my camera and snapped a few photographs (I knew that I was too far away to get a good photograph).  Then the coyote turned and started walking away.  I whistled to see if I could get its' attention so it would stop, but the coyote took off running and was quickly out of sight.

My hike this evening took me to a pasture in "painted woods" township.  I'm not sure why the township has this name (another story for another day), but it always brings up some colorful pictures in my mind.

This particular pasture, which is about two-to-three miles from the "mighty" Missouri River, has sandy loam soil and thus doesn't hold water as well as the heavier soil one mile to the east - land on top of the river valley.  This is the only pasture on the home farm where I can find a lot of cactus and other plants that are typically found in a drier climate.  Landscape features include a couple of small sandstone buttes - perfect "photo ops" during a sunset.

The hike begins
Earlier in the evening, I parked my vehicle and started walking the required three-quarters of a mile to the prime "photo op" location by the buttes.  This pasture includes some hayland (with non-native grasses), and so I walked directly to where the native prairie starts (and where there's more plant diversity).  

I continued my hike and noticed a number of large circular areas where creeping red cedar had taken over the landscape.  As I stepped on the edge of one of these areas, I could hear the crunch of branches, a sound not normally heard when walking across the prairie.

I then walked down a waterway, which probably drains 200 plus acres of land to the east.  I noticed - and heard - some sharptail grouse - they seemed to be abundant on this pleasant spring day.  I startled a number of them, and they quickly fluttered their wings and flew away.  I don't know who was frightened more by this sudden action, the sharptail grouse or me.

As I walked down the waterway, I suddenly realized that the ground was soggy because of a spring in the area.  I walked over to dry land on the edge of the waterway to keep my hiking boots and socks dry.

The waterway soon turned into a "swampy" area.  About seven red-wing blackbirds were perched on some dead cattails.  They flew away before I could get my telephoto lens on the camera.  The bright red color on their wings was in sharp contrast when compared to the dull brown that the prairie now sports (except for the little bluestem, a prairie grass that has a pleasing reddish-orange tint).

A plant with purple flowers caught my eye.  This plant was growing  on the southwest corner of a butte where the sun is able to shine directly on it during the warmest parts of the day - thus ensuring a good start in the spring.  I used my telephoto lens to take a couple of photographs.

While trees are scarce in this pasture, there is some buckbrush and tall grass. I still managed to find over 20 ticks on my pant legs during this short hike.  I also slapped a number of mosquitoes that found me to be an inviting target.

Yes, it's only May 4 and a late spring, but the prairie really is alive.

Watching the sunset - the perfect way to end the evening
I walked to the top of one of the buttes and sat down, just in time to watch the sunset (8:58 p.m. CDT).  A small patch of clouds to the west gradually changed colors as the sun sank below the horizon - a scene that an art gallery could never replicate.

When sitting on top of the butte and enjoying the fading light, I heard traffic from U.S. Highway 83 - just 1.5 miles to the east.  Soon, I thought, I'll be on that highway, driving to my home in Bismarck, ND.

As I walked back to my vehicle, the colors in the sky gradually began to change.  I kept turning around to the northwest, specifically to get another glimpse of the sky where the sun went down.  Then I looked to the north where there's still a lot of light in the sky.  In another month and a half, we'll soon be enjoying our longest day of the year.

Ah, yes, I love the seasons, and the ever changing diversity of the prairie landscape.  It's what keeps me coming back for more.


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