Sunday, August 26, 2018

Our 48th Contiguous...

We really weren't sure that it would happen this year what with Annie's multiple Birthday celebrations and extended stays here and there.   But, we did it!

Finally reaching North Dakota means that we have now visited some part of all of the 48 Contiguous United States. 

To be honest, it wasn't really a milestone we were aiming for.   One day though we were looking at the map of our travels and the roads we have driven.  We noted a big blank spot (no roads in or through) where North Dakota was.  Without even knowing it we had been to 47 of the 48 Contiguous States. 

So, we figured, if we could, we'd might as well go ahead and make it 48 out of 48.

As soon as we crossed into North Dakota we headed for.... can you guess?  If you guessed a wildlife refuge you were right.

Before we could even get to the refuge though we had to drive through more pothole prairies.  That meant, lots of stopping and pulling over to look at and take pictures of critters.

IMG_8536 Swainson's Hawk Bird (1)
One of our first sightings was a Swainson's Hawk - a long sought LIFER!  North Dakota was going to be a great state, for sure.

IMG_8551 Domestic Greylag Goose Bird
Next, we spotted a Graylag Goose peeking at us through the cattails.

IMG_8554 Double Crested Cormorant Bird (2)
Double-crested Cormorants were sunning themselves.

IMG_8554 Double Crested Cormorant, Hooded Merganser, Blue-winged Teal Bird (3)
A juvenile Double-crested Cormorant looks on at a passing Blue-winged Teal and Hooded Merganser.

We rounded a corner, crested a hill (oh, yes, the pothole prairie region of this part of southern North Dakota has hills!) and noticed some birds in the parking lot of a grain operation.

IMG_8559 Franklin's Gull Bird (1)
LIFER #2 of the drive - The Franklin's Gull!

IMG_8559 Franklin's Gull Bird (10)
A whole bunch of them.

IMG_8573 Red-tailed Hawk Bird (2)
Down the road, a red-tailed hawk left its perch to grab a snack.

This was only a small sampling of the birds that we saw on this drive.  While only two of the birds we presented were lifers for us, we made a point to include others to do our part to demonstrate the importance of the prairie grasslands and the pothole prairies.

The importance of fields of sunflowers is that they make you smile!

Eventually, we made it to Long Lake National Wildlife Refuge and took a ride on their auto tour route.  Our sightings at this location were not new but we enjoyed the drive as always.

IMG_8602 Ring-billed Gull Bird (3)
The Ring-billed Gull is spotted virtually everywhere we go but it is still a pretty gull.

IMG_8620 Western Kingbird Bird (4)
We have not seen the Western Kingbird since the last time we were out west.

In the absence of native bison, wildlife refuges are beginning to utilize local cattle and permit grazing to maintain the original design of the prairies.

IMG_8670a D Ruddy Ducks Bird (2)
We have seen the Ruddy Duck before but had not yet seen the babies.  Mama doesn't look much older than her kids.

Lastly, as we were preparing to exit the refuge we pulled over so that Darlene could take the above photo of the Ruddy Duck babies on her side of the van.  As she sat there, Nicole looked around and spied something exciting on her side, as well.

IMG_8652 Black Tern Bird (10)
Two Black Terns sitting on a rock right near the shore.  What an improvement over our last views of them.  Exciting.

That is our introduction to North Dakota.  Pretty sure we're going to like it here.

Friday, August 24, 2018

South Dakota ... In A Nutshell

After breezing through our residency process in Sioux Falls we were excited to get to exploring some more prairie lands.

First up was Aurora Prairie.  We booted up and set off into the fields.

IMG_8103 Western-tailed Blue Butterfly (3)
Right off the bat we spotted what appeared to be a Western-tailed Blue Butterfly.  However, it was very worn with age which makes that questionable.

Right after that we realized that we were getting covered in mosquitos!  We were in the grasslands so their numbers were confusing.  

So, Aurora Prairie proper was nixed.

IMG_8089 Meadowlark Bird
Instead we walked down the road where we spotted a Meadowlark on the fence.

IMG_8107 Swamp Sparrow Bird
Then we spotted a Swamp Sparrow.  Given their name is a product of their favored environment, the mosquito theory was more aptly explained by this sighting.

IMG_8117 Pearl Crescent Butterfly (4)
Sticking to the mosquito free road we spotted several familiar things like this Pearl Crescent Butterfly before deciding to move on.

We knew that we would be driving through the prairie grasslands for the next few days. What we didn't know was that the section we were going through was Pothole Prairie.

IMG_8299a D (26)
The pothole prairies are mid to tallgrass prairie lands that contain thousands of shallow wetlands.  Some are small like a pothole and others appear more like shallow lakes.  When the glaciers of the last ice age some 10,000 years ago receded they left behind millions of shallow depressions that are now wetlands, known as prairie potholes.

Agricultural and commercial growth has drained many of the potholes over the years and 40% or fewer of the original pothole prairies remain today.  Not only were they a beautiful addition to our prairie grassland drive but 50% of migrating waterfowl depend on them so we were happy to learn that many are being preserved or restored.  We saw evidence on many farms of plantings being done in such a way that the pothole remains.

Nicole was at the wheel and we were cruising at our normal 55 mph when she spotted something out of the corner of her eye.  "New Bird!", she said and instructed Darlene to prepare her camera as she did a three point in the middle of the empty two lane road.  Nicole described to Darlene where the bird would be but as we snuck up on it the bird made for the skies.  Darlene started shooting.

DSCN2727 Black Crowned Night Heron Bird
Shew!  Thank goodness one came out.  Our first Black-crowned Night Heron.  LIFER - with a cow and cattle egret backdrop!

At this point we decided that it might be nice to pull over and walk along the road to check out some of the potholes.

IMG_8174 American Pelican Bird (4)
One thing we never quite get used to seeing flying over the prairie is a pelican - the American White Pelican.

Driving along again, we spotted either a large lake or an extremely large pothole (it is sometimes difficult to tell) and got out to take a walk around. 

Come to think of it, perhaps this post is explaining why we typically only make it 100 miles in one days drive!

IMG_8275 Pectoral Sandpiper Bird (6)
There we again saw many familiar things and we also spotted our second lifer of the day - the Pectoral Sandpiper.

Next, we made a stop at Waubay National Wildlife Refuge to take a walk on one of their trails.

There we spotted a new moth that we still have not identified.

IMG_8287a (2)
Also seen was this cool new insect known as Pelecinus polyturator - the American Pelecinid Wasp.

We enjoyed the views as we walked spotting many familiar things.

IMG_8291a D (6)
We sat for a bit overlooking the water and watching the storms start to roll in which prompted us to speed up our walking and get done with the trail.

After a quiet evening spent in a local city park we headed off for our last stop in South Dakota.

Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge has a beautiful wildlife drive.

IMG_8317 Orchard Oriole Bird (2)
We had only just started out when we grabbed a front shot of the new-to-us Orchard Oriole.

There were few new sightings on this trip so we just relaxed and enjoyed the scenery.

IMG_8328a D (1)
Some of the critters really wanted to be seen like this midge on our mirror

and this chickweed geometer - Haematopis grataria, that had found its way inside the van.

Alongside the road

yellow and white Clouded Sulphur Butterflies were abundant

and we finally got a reasonable shot of their topside pattern.

For the most part it was just nice to be able to drive slowly through the grasslands

and down by the water.

An Eastern Kingbird surveys

beautiful fields of yellow.

IMG_8381a D (1)
We finally managed a shot of the American White Pelican - not flying.

IMG_8390a D (5)
We were pretty sure we saw both pheasants and grouse crossing the road

IMG_8397a D (2)
but usually we only caught their backsides entering the brush.

There were loads of waders and shorebirds in this area but the distance prevented our identifying them.

It was nice to see White-faced Ibis again and to get an improved shot over the ones we got years ago.

There you have it.  South Dakota in a nutshell.  We've moved on down the road so stay tuned...

Monday, August 20, 2018

Leaving The Sunshine State For .... The Sunshine State?

Annie's registration expired a week before the end of July.

However.... the plate itself simply said July.  So, we figured if we didn't break too many rules we might be good until the end of the month instead.

Back in April we had re-signed up with the same PMB service we had the last time we were full-timing and hadn't thought much about it since then.   The town it is located in, Madison, S.D., is a small town.  Small in the way that their Driver's License place is only open on day a week (Tuesday) for a few hours. 

So, we made sure we arrived on Monday night, the 30th in preparation to take care of everything on Tuesday. 

We pulled into our chosen campground and began a conversation with the host that went something like this...

Us:  "Just one night."
Him:  "Just one night?"

Us:  "Yes, we are just staying our required one night to change our residency."
Him: "You weren't planning on using My Dakota Address were you?"

Us: "Yes, we will stop in to see Teri tomorrow."
Him: "Um... Teri went out of business and tomorrow is her last day before she closes the doors."

Us:  "What?"
Him: "Yes.  Don't know what happened, it all went down very quickly but they are done and closing up shop."

Us: "Well, that's a bummer.  Guess we need to make other plans since our tag expires / technically is already expired."
Him: "Why don't I put you right here next to me so you can get internet."

Us: "That sounds great!  We cannot however pay you until we have an address to put on our receipt as that is required."
Him: "No problem.  Just wait until the office opens in the morning and pay then."

After we parked and ensured that we could indeed get internet we decided to eat dinner and then take a walk around.  We discussed our options and then went back and started searching the web.  We were not interested in driving across the state to Rapid City as we had plans to stay on the eastern side of S.D.  There were a few options in Sioux Falls.  However, after speaking with Teri herself and realizing that she was referring everyone to one particular location we opted to speak with them first.   They were indeed taking over the majority of her clients and provided us an address immediately over the phone.  The next morning, we paid forour campsite using our new address and then headed down to Sioux Falls with our receipt to complete everything.   With the exception of the extra two hours of driving, the process was seamless and we were in and out just as quickly as we would have been in Madison.

The company we chose was Dakota Post and despite essentially tripling their business overnight they were extremely friendly, courteous and organized had all of our paperwork ready for us to sign the minute we walked in the door.

So, we still managed to put our new tags on Aug 1 and we belong to the state of South Dakota once again!

Ah.... and what's with the title of this blog post?

Well, did you know that for decades South Dakota used The Sunshine State as their motto?  That ended in 1992 though and left Florida as the only 'Sunshine State'.  South Dakota now uses the motto The Mount Rushmore State and are also affectionately known as The Blizzard State.  We aren't too fond of blizzards so happy that we were there when we were!