Thursday, April 22, 2010

Bird-Rock-History Combo Continues.....

April 15, 2010

Sunrise was again pleasant. With my travels taking me west, the drive through drive through Smiley made perfect sense. I scored the trip’s only Osprey (very cooperative for the camera) and Magpies again (very uncooperative for the camera). More Mountain Bluebirds, too.

After getting the desperately needed fuel in Harrison, I had no desire to wait for the 8am opening of the only place in town for breakfast (Note – a lot of the small towns had Subways, but no McDonalds. This town did not seem to have either one). I opted to shoot over to Sowbelly Canyon. VERY cool place. Rock Wren, Wild Turkey, and Wood Duck were all noted. After breakfast, the Gilbert Baker WMA, which felt very much like Chadron, was not very productive. Like Wildcat and Chadron, I’m sure this place would have been hoppin’ in a few weeks.

Just a few miles south of Harrison is a site that has produced some of the best Miocene fossils known. Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, named for the Agate that can be found in veins throughout the region, was certainly worth a stop. Early camels, giant pig-like beasties, bear-dogs, pony-sized rhinos, and early ancestors to the modern horse have all been found here. Take that, creationists!

The long hike to Carnegie and University Hills was NOT what I was expecting as there were no fossils in situ (“in place”). It was more of hike to show you where they found the fossils as opposed to showing you fossils in the ground. I should have confirmed that before I did the 2.75 mile round trip hike. I would have been pretty irked had it been 94 degrees! However, I can't deny that the Horned Lizard wasn't cool. I'm not sure I have ever seen one in my travels.

The Daemonelix Trail, on the other hand, is part of what fossils are all about. First, they were in situ. Which ones? A handful of corkscrew-like tubes that are known to be the burrows of a now extinct beaver ancestor called Paleocastor. They apparently dug these tubes with their teeth, not their feet, and lived in colonies, not unlike prairie dogs. The burrows filled with sediments that, over millions of year, hardened. "Daemonelix “ translates to “Devil’s Corkscrews”. Cool, huh? The plexiglass booth shown here is as large as a phone booth.

With plenty of time in my afternoon, I followed through on my plan to head back to Scotts’ Bluff. The drive to the top had since be re-opened. It was so worth it. The White-throated Swift trio that zipped by 30 feet away like a flight of F-18s was pretty cool. They were matched by my Nebraska Long-billed Curlews, Burrowing Owls, and Vesper Sparrows I had a few minutes to the north is a field. The view from the Bluff? Incredible.

After soaking in the sites, I took the “back roads” from Scotts Bluff to Wray, Colorado. I was hoping for a Ferruginous Hawk and Mountain Plover in Nebraska, but it did not happen. The Rough-legged Hawk and Ferruginous Hawk in the Pawnee National Grasslands, in Colorado, were a nice contrast in buteos. One is a large but delicate bird while the latter is a total butt stomping monster. Nice.

Sunset was spent scouting a location for my dawn birding just a few miles north of Wray. What is north of Wray? Yeah, you probably guess it - more chickens....

1 comment:

Rachel said...

Ok, so this is one of those annoying posts where it's really all about college I was on a team to develop the interpretive plan for Pawnee National Grasslands. You didn't know you were friends with a star. :) That place is fantastic!