12 October 2010

"We beheld a most butifull landscape": Spirit Mound

Spirit Mound at sunrise

We travelled to Vermillion on Friday for the fall meeting of the South Dakota Ornithological Union. Short version: Gene is now on the board of directors for SDOU and we've added a couple of new sites for future visits.

One thing to bear in mind about birding trips is that you will become well acquainted with the endless colors and varities of sunrises. This may not seem to be a good thing when the alarm goes off, but I have yet to see a sunrise that wasn't worth it.


Distant thunderhead across the prairie

Barn at sunrise

The most impressive site was Spirit Mound Historic Prairie, a little rise of Niobrara chalk above the prairie, near the confluence on the Vermillion River and the wide Missouri. It's one of the few places where anyone can provably stand on a site where both Meriwether Lewis and William Clark stood. They ventured up here on August 25, 1804. Tribes in the region considered this a bad spot, full of klittle bad spirits. In Clark's words:

"...droped down to the mouth of White Stone River where we left the Perogue with two men and at 200 yards we assended a riseing ground of about Sixty feet, from the top of this High land the Countrey is leavel & open as far as Can be Seen, except Some few rises at a Great Distance, and the Mound which the Indians Call Mountain of little people or Spirits.."

"...here we got Great quantities of the best largeset grapes I ever tasted, some Blue currents stil on the bushes, and two kinds of plumbs, one the Common wild Plumb the other a large Yellow Plumb…about double the Size of the Common and Deliscously flavoured-“
--W. Clark, August 25, 1804 

Queen Anne's lace in the fall

Fall flower heads

Fall flower heads

Tall grasses

Tall grasses, part of the prairie native plant restoration effort.

"...one evidence which the Inds give for believing this place to be the residence of Some unusisal Sperits is that they frequently discover a large assemblage of Birds about this Mound is in my opinion a Sufficent proof to produce in the Indian mind a confident belief of all the properties which they ascribe it."
--W. Clark, August 25, 1804. There is a good chance that they were seeing flocks of swallows around the summit.

 LeConte's sparrow, profile. NB: The photographer is not this good. The camera is not quite this good. The bird was extremely cooperative.

LeConte's sparrow, other profile.

LeConte's sparrow, still posing.

"...from the top of this Mound we beheld a most butifull landscape; Numerous herds of buffalow were Seen feeding in various directions, the Plain to the N. W & N E extends without interuption as far as Can be Seen- … no woods except on the Missouri Points…if all the timber which is on the Stone Creek [Vermillion River] was on 100 a[c]res it would not be thickly timbered, the Soil of those Plains are delightfull."
---W. Clark, August 25, 1804

Barn from the summit of Spirit Mound

Shadow of Spirit Mound on the prairie

In addition to the LeConte's sparrows flocking at the base of Spirit Mound, we saw an American bittern fly by within 10 feet of us, close enough to see individual feathers. If the spirits of Spirit Mound were in fact birds and not evil beings, as has been suggested, we understand a bit of the awe.

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