South Dakota

January 11-13, 2011
[Photos]

As part of my design to ease back into retirement, I'm on vacation for two weeks. I wanted to head east to the Mississippi this week for my annual eagle chase, but snow conditions looked challenging so I headed west to the Black Hills instead.

Bighorn
Bighorn

My primary Black Hills photo target is bighorn sheep. Unlike recent years, I didn't find any in Custer State Park. I moved on to reliable location #2, Cleghorn Canyon State Fish Hatchery in western Rapid City. I found a flock of 12, including three rams, grazing on the steep hillside across the highway from the hatchery. I didn't get many hillside shots on previous trips, so this was deemed to be a good situation. I forgot my tripod at home so wielding my 500mm lens was a workout, but with image stabilization it was do-able.

I also found other critters in Custer State Park and on the road home. In addition to the usual assortment of bison and pronghorns in CSP, I found a bald eagle, a golden eagle, some sort of hawk, and a flock of turkeys. Not shown is a coyote (or fox?) I saw sprinting across a field but couldn't get close to.

Along the road
Along the road

On the way home, I detoured south through Winner to the Ft. Randall dam on the Missouri. There were dozens of eagles and hawks along the road before Winner, and a smattering after that before getting to the dam. On the west side of the dam I got a few snapshots of bald eagles roosting near the road, and a binocular sweep showed dozens of eagles downstream. With the sun going down, I raced to the east side of the dam and took the turn for the shore road, which was rutted with tracks. Tracks of high-clearance 4WD vehicles as it turned out. By the time AAA pulled me out of the snow, it was after dark. Although I've gotten some roosting shots in that area in previous years, I wasn't sure whether there were passable roads that would take me where I wanted to go. Rather than stick around for another day, and with no assurance I would be able to get any closer, I decided to head home.

I'm still on vacation next week, so I'm planning to cross Iowa for the Mississippi River eagles. I expect the road to Lock and Dam #18 will be plowed.

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All photos 1998- by Thomas O'Neil