September 29, 2010

Custer State Park - Wildlife Edition

Today we visited Custer State Park, 71,000 acres of forest and prairie located between the Black Hills National Forest to the north and west and Wind Cave National Park to the south. It was certainly an exciting day and there is too much to say in just one blog post. So, I am splitting it up into two.

Custer State Park and the Great Plains beyond
Today's post is about the wildlife "safari" we ended up experiencing. I am not sure I have ever seen so many species of wildlife in one day. The day began with a view of an overlook across the park from a high point on the northwestern end. Here, Hilina noticed a hoof print that looked awfully similar to a buffalo print.

We told Hilina we were coming to South Dakota to see buffaloes. It was a major incentive to put up with the many hours of driving to get out here. But, as it turned out, we hadn't yet seen any. When Hilinda saw this print, she got really excited.

Then just minutes later, there they were in the forest

As we headed out toward our hike for the day, we stopped at this spot because we saw these two giant birds soaring right overhead. They were golden eagles, although I couldn't get a good shot of them. But, we quickly realized why they were there when we looked on the ground. It was a prairie dog town.

Proghorns were all over, including this male munching away

Or these female proghorns here

Along the way, we encountered a herd of wild burros. Descendants of pack animals that used to work the mines and mountains in the area, they were released into Custer State Park in the early 20th century. Well, some of them have apparently been given hand-outs, because several of them were on the side of the road sticking their heads into open windows.

Any food for me?

Custer State Park is home to about 1500 bison. To prevent over-grazing, the herds are rotated across vast tracks of prairie through the seasons. In September of each year, there is a roundup and auction to cull the herd and prevent overpopulation. Many of the other bison herds being reestablished in places like Kansas, Oklahoma, and Montana have their origins here at Custer State Park.

The roundup occurred on Monday and we arrived at the corrals to see the bison who were bought at auction and are awaiting their pickup. Beyond the fence, the remaining herds have been released to redisburse across the park.

We also encountered 4 male bighorn sheep. Man do they have some cajones!

Flock of turkeys anyone?

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