(Bert) Quite a few days have transpired since our group parted ways in Winnipeg. Shari and I drove through rain in Manitoba, Minnesota, North Dakota, and eastern South Dakota, sometimes passing houses half-submerged in water even though surrounded by sandbag walls. We stopped for three days at Badlands National Park, giving us plenty of time to view the magnificent landscape where jagged white peaks cut the deep blue sky so sharply an Exacto knife could have done the cutting. Our last night there was punctuated by a hail storm with golf ball sized ice that dented our car hood, cracked its windshield and pierced holes through our RV slide awnings. We went from the White Hills to the Black Hills of South Dakota and today we explore Wind Cave National Park and Custer State Park, interconnected and surrounded by Black Hills National Forest. It is a day of large mammals and I cannot recall seeing such variety anywhere else on a single day. From small to large we see, and many in great numbers, Least Chipmunk, Red Squirrel, Black-tailed Prairie Dog, Bighorn Sheep, Pronghorn, White-tailed Deer, Mule Deer, Wild Mule, Longhorn Cattle (domesticated), Homo sapiens (mostly domesticated), and American Bison.
During our Manitoba trip we saw 27 mammal species, an impressive list not easily matched in most states and provinces, a testament to the wildness still preserved and the wide range of habitats we visited. Our bird list is also impressive and we finished up with 224 species identified, with 222 in Manitoba and two more in North Dakota the first day. Although I did not add any birds to my life list, I added seven to my Manitoba list, bringing my total to 274 species.
One of the main reasons I wanted to visit Manitoba again was to see Ross’s Gull. This has been my fourth visit to Churchill and I still have not seen the gull. In fact, it hasn’t been reported there since our last trip when those in the back of the bus I was driving got to see the famous gull, but my view was blocked by the side mirror and it had disappeared by the time I got outside the bus. I am again reminded of Bill’s song, with the lyrics he wrote and sang around the campfire on our 2005 Manitoba caravan. The chorus starts, “Oh, we went away a birdin’ on a long and lonely road, no matter where we looked, that bird, he never showed.” The lyrics continue to trace our route through Manitoba, increasing my curiosity at what is “that bird, he never showed.” Finally, the fifth verse gives us the answer: “Now, what can that bird be that eluded us so long. Well you know what? It’s different for everyone, so we keep on searching just to find that special one, and hope we never find it, ‘cause that will end the fun!”