Fort Pierre National Grasslands Bioblitz

Adventuress is a nature gal, and heard about a Bioblitz happening at Ft. Pierre National Grasslands in the middle of June.  Naturally, the first thing I asked was “What’s a bioblitz?”

“Oh, it’ll be great!  We’ll meet with a bunch of other nature types and inventory all the plants we come across.”

I’m usually suspicious of anything involving other people, but Adventuress seemed intent on doing this.  So, at the end of the work week we piled into the car with Adventure Dog and headed south to Pierre.

We camped at Griffin Park in Pierre.  The park is next to the river, by the hospital.  The camping area was a little confusing for us.  Eventually, we figured out that we could just pitch our tent anywhere on the grass by the RV parking.  The facilities were a little spartan, but manageable.  We were awoken at 1 in the morning by two gentlemen who loudly expressed their deep concern to each other about being respectful to the other campers.  Thankfully, it started raining, which convinced them to abandon the conversation and head in for the night.

We struck camp in the morning and headed to the local Perkins for a muffin breakfast.  Coffee and ginormous muffins in hand, we met the rest of the blitzers at the grasslands HQ.  This being a government operation, there were safety briefings to attend and paperwork to fill out.  They had been warned ahead of time that Adventure Dog would be along, so veterinary information was available just in case.  A couple of birding groups had headed out earlier that morning.  There was also a fish group, but they had done their survey earlier that week.

I’s dotted and t’s crossed, we headed out into the grasslands.  The first thing that hit me was the almost total lack of trees.  I’ve been out to western ND a number of times, but this was something else.  I could see why “Dances With Wolves” was filmed here.  We pulled into the first area, and began the blitz.

 

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Usually I see grasslands from afar while zipping down the road, or in the fall while pheasant hunting.  In the fall, the plants have pretty much run their course and are various shades of brown.  Now, in the late spring, the grass was green, and dotted with a multitude of colors from wildflowers.  I took in the scene as the botanists began their hunt.  There wasn’t a lot I could offer to their Latin laced observations, so I mostly hung back and kept Adventure Dog out of the way, and tried to absorb what knowledge I could.

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The first area thoroughly scouted, we moved on to the next.  This new location was on the other side of the rise, just down the road from the first spot.  This area had a small creek running through it.  The botanists resumed their hunt, and again I stayed back a bit.  Odd dragonflies buzzed around.  A family of mule deer wandered through, eyeing us suspiciously.  The botanists were so consumed with the plants that they never noticed our deer audience.  Meadowlarks and orioles provided background music.

 

The third and final stop of the blitz was Sheriff’s Dam.  We met up with some of the birders there, and continued looking for interesting plants. There was some excitement as a wildflower not previously seen in this area was spotted.  Soon after, an American Bittern popped up to surprise everyone.  Of course, this bird was too camera shy to let anyone get a decent photo.  By this time, it was 90 degrees and high noon.  I took Adventure Dog back to the car and let her cool off in the lake.  Soon, the rest of the group joined us.  Lunches were broken out, and we ate and chatted while storm clouds built to the north.

Now that the blitzing was over, the hosts had one final treat.  We drove up to a fenn on the grasslands.  An arachnologist gave a presentation on how spiders were captured for study.  He had a couple different traps that were used.  One was a ramp trap where spiders marched up a metal ramp and would fall into a plastic container filled with a glycol solution.  The solution was effective at preserving the structure of the spiders, and the DNA of their cells.  Next, he demonstrated his vacuum pack, which looked like something out of Ghostbusters.  This gadget was a little less successful on this day, as nothing came up during the demo.

The blitzing day done, we headed back to Pierre for a quick stop at the state capitol.  We took the scenic route home, which took us up to Mobridge, and across Lake Oahe.  We drove through Standing Rock during the golden hour, and were treated to a beautiful view of the broken plains there.

It was a good, but long day.  I learned a great deal, and Adventuress had a good time.  Adventure Dog would have liked to have run free for a while, but the heat wouldn’t allow it.  I don’t know if we filled out any of the missing pictures in the soon to be updated Ft. Pierre wildlife guide, but we had fun trying.