Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Hot In Minot And An Experiment With Trees

After being shutout of our expected boondocking location we noted that the weather was predicted to be in the 105 range for the next few days.  So we opted to take the longer drive to Minot and to settle in until the weather decided to break.  With the highest of our temperature days reaching 106 and a 'feels like' much hotter we utilized the local library and bookstore as a means to stay cool during the very warm peak afternoon times. 

Thankfully, the morning and evening times were still pleasantly cool.  So, on a few of the mornings we stretched our legs exploring local parks and trails.


We saw a lot of familiar birds and listened to many others that we could not always locate.

Flycatchers are active and flirty little things.  They always seem more curious than others.  This Least Flycatcher intently watched us explore.

Some of the hardiest flowers persisted in the heat.

The next day we found a wonderful city park with lots of trees and wonderful paths to walk.

We spotted many familiar things and enjoyed the exercise and the early morning cool weather.

IMG_9109 Black Squirrel Mammal (1)
But the highlight of this adventure had to be spotting this Black Squirrel.  For some reason our cameras and the sunlight brought out some more brownish colorings but his slick hair was definitely black.

Black squirrels are a melanistic subgroup of both the eastern gray squirrel and the fox squirrel.  What a neat sighting.

We spent four nights in Minot riding out the warmest days and nights of the passing heat wave before heading out to continue our adventures.

IMG_9140 Ring-billed Gull Bird (3)
In case you thought we were exaggerating about the heat check out this ring-billed gull that had resorted to gular fluttering - opening its mouth and “fluttering” its neck muscles to promoting heat loss.

Next up, an experimental forest.

Despite having volunteered much time with the Forest Service, this was something new to us and we were excited to check it out and spend a few nights.

Since it was just a short drive from Minot we decided to arrive around dinner time.

IMG_9144 Turkey Bird (1)
Apparently the turkey and

the deer had the same idea.

We arrived at the main area and opted to venture down the two track to see if we could find a good boondocking spot.

Our adventure quickly revealed two things 1) a four wheel drive vehicle would have been a better idea due to sugar sand in some sections and 2) even if we had four wheel drive, there were not any spots where others had been camping - which means that we would have had to impact the grassland and we were not willing to do that.

So, we returned to the perfectly suitable front section near the restrooms and the campground host and settled in.

There was another couple there in an RV and after we had settled in they asked if we'd like to take a walk around with them.  The husband had worked in the area and spent much time driving through this forest so we let him lead us around as we took it in.

Our walk quickly revealed that no matter how far we went into this 'forest' there were no dispersed camping sites like we are used to.  So, we were happy that we had made the more ecologically sound choice that we did.  We also had a nice time meeting some new friends.

We were surprised to learn that there are 76 experimental forests in the United States.  Not all of them are run by the Forest Service and some are on privately owned land.

The one we stayed at in North Dakota is called the Denbigh Experimental Forest.  It consists of 640 acres and was established in 1931 on a site that had been excessively over-farmed and grazed and had became a contributor to the dust bowl.  President FDR had the idea to plant a 100-mile (160 km) wide "shelterbelt zone" from North Dakota to north Texas to reduce wind erosion and eliminate dust storms.  Although the entirety of his plan did not come to fruition, the Denbigh Experimental Forest remains.

Of the more than 40 species of trees that were tested in Experimental Forests around 30 have survived the test of time (87 years for this particular forest).   There is an arboretum section to the property and as we walked around we noticed that many were planted in sections and labeled.

While the southwest half of Denbigh Experimental Forest was planted with trees and shrubs the remainder was left as natural prairie habitat.  A group is currently working to clean up the prairie sections of undesirable species that have taken over while the property went through a state of disrepair.  Yet another reason why we chose to NOT boondock off the two track.

Instead we parked on the well used front section of the property and opted to hoof it down the roads and along the interspersed trails.

On our walks we saw many things including...

Horsetail going to seed - which was slightly confusing until we learned that this forest also had a boggy component to it (possibly a remnant of the pothole prairie construct).  We also found some cattail!

Wirelettuce was blooming.

Waves of color throughout the fields.

Purple courtesy of Blazing Stars.

This Stiff Sunflower - Helianthus pauciflorus ssp. subrhomboideus - was growing right in the middle of the trail.

IMG_9186 Velvet Ant Insect Bug (5)
We watched this velvet ant leave tiny tracks in the sand as she scurried along keeping busy.  Although their nature is to run from confrontations, females have no wings and leave a painful sting.  Males have wings and no sting.

We were finding beautiful pieces of Scots Pine bark all over the ground.

The Prairie Roses were still adding a bit of color to the landscape

as was the Purple Prairie Clover.

This crab spider was defending his favorite Goldenrod plant

IMG_9228 Female Orange Sulphur Butterfly (7)
While this female Orange Sulphur Butterfly enjoyed a tasty treat.

IMG_9243 Orobanche ludoviciana Louisiana broomrape Flower Plant (2)
We nearly missed seeing any blooms on this unique (parasitic) Louisiana Broomrape plant.

IMG_9243 Orobanche ludoviciana Louisiana broomrape Flower Plant (1)
It really is a neat plant although from a flowering standpoint most would not consider it much to look at.

IMG_9248 Coccinella septempunctata - Seven-spotted Lady Beetle Insect Bug (8)
We sighted this Coccinella septempunctata - the Seven-spotted Lady Beetle.  Isn't it neat how spot number seven looks a bit like a heart.

It really is fascinating how these grasshoppers will completely bury their abdomen to lay eggs in the soft sand.

This well camouflaged juvenile Yellow-bellied Sapsucker was tricky to spot.

Busy doing its 'job' was Helophilus fasciatus - a flower fly (also known as a hover fly).

At one point we were surrounded by a whole bunch of chattering Chickadees (Black-capped to be exact).

Of course there was plenty of furry cute to go around, as well.

These Golden Willow trees were just beautiful.

Darlene takes a closer look at the needles of the Scots Pine

IMG_9349a D (3)
while Nicole goes on a hunt to find a very talkative wren.

GOTCHA!  Well, sort of.  Still hiding behind a twig.

This was a slightly older Yellow-bellied Sapsucker than our previous sighting.

IMG_9433 Potter Wasp Insect Bug Nest (1)
What a neat find.  This nest is that of the aptly named Potter Wasp.  Doesn't it look like something spun on a potter's wheel?

No trip into the woods is complete without some caterpillars.

Our first discovery was this beautiful cocoon constructed by one of the Giant Silk Moth Caterpillars.

Followed by a very hungry Monarch Caterpillar.

Finally, there was the discovery of this beautiful creature and lifer for us - Hyles euphorbiae - the Spurge Hawk-moth Caterpillar.

We sometimes hesitate to publicly share too much when it comes to locations such as this.  Perhaps this post will in some way be a positive, however.

With the ever disappearing grasslands and less than 2% of North Dakota being forest, this location was sure a true treasure not only for us but for the environment and all species as a whole.  While we are supporters of utilizing our public lands, if you choose to visit this particular forest location, please consider what it represents and treat it as the rare jewel that it is for North Dakota.