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Birds, Hares, Turtles, and Badgers

Monday, September 7, 2009

My photographic record of our North Dakota trip is spotty. Upon returning to Ohio, I had a huuuge amount of trouble downloading my photos; in fact, trying to force-feed all the images to my overloaded laptop started a series of crashes that defined July for me as a month of extreme technofrustration. It's one of the side effects of becoming a blogger, I think, one of the hidden costs of taking photos of practically everything you do. That translates into a lot of memory, which translates into a smoking-hot laptop that is prone to crashes, which resulted in the loss of a good part of my summer photos. They just vanished, never made it to the hard drive or the backup. Believing I had them all finally shoehorned onto my hard drive and the backup, I deleted them from the camera. I didn't find out until last week that most of my North Dakota bird photos and all--all--of my wild horse photos were deleted. Arguing stallions, nursing foals...landscapes with paints and dapples... I can't think about it without getting teary.

A few remain, a hop-scotch across the prairies, disjointed and spotty. For someone who loves to tell stories with photos, that's a bummer.

As always in the prairie potholes, the birding was incredible. This one flooded field had so many duck and shorebird species we literally didn't know where to start, or where to stop. So we hung out and scoped until our eyes crossed, always finding something new. The field was chock-full of migrating shorebirds, white-rumped sandpipers chief among them.

There were some sanderlings still coming through in high breeding plumage. I wasn't sure whether they were headed north or south! It was a funny June--cold as heck. They might have gone up, seen the ice, and headed back south without even trying to nest.

Quite a different birdie from the white and gray ghost that runs on Carolina beaches in winter, huh?

I've posted lovely Baird's sparrow photos in past years. This is not one of them, but it's all I got in the rain. Baird's sparrow is a specialty of the Potholes festival, one many people travel to North Dakota to add to their life lists. On this day, walking through the sodden prairie vegetation was akin to wading in knee-deep water.

A black-tailed jackrabbit sits in the road, waiting to run.

And sproinks away, all four feet in the air.

A lovely painted turtle crosses a deserted road. How did she get here, in the middle of the prairie?

Her kind have always been here.

We moved her where no one would run over her, in the direction she was headed.

A sora waited to say hello to her on the other side. See its yellow bill?

The American badger is a quest animal for us each year. It's rare, getting rarer as agriculture and persecution crowd it out. Darned hard to find, even in the stronghold of its range, and spooky as heck. Large carnivores who dig huge holes are considered a nuisance in agricultural areas, whether they're rare or not. This is is not the way I had hoped to see a badger.

In seven Junes in North Dakota, Bill and I have yet to see more of a badger than its rear end disappearing into a ditch. And that, only once. Seeing this evidence of their cruel and senseless persecution makes it clear why. Humanity's sacred claim to dominion over the beasts and birds never made sense to me. It still doesn't. My father quoted Scripture to me whenever I argued or pled for the rights of animals. And even then, as a little child, the holy writ sounded like it was being twisted into a justification for behaving like a jerk. Drive-by shootings of mother badgers: do they fall under Acceptable Behavior for We Who Have Dominion? Let's see...

This from the North Dakota Game and Fish Department's "Furbearer Guide:"

18. Red Fox, Gray Fox, Coyote, Raccoon and Badger Hunting or Trapping

Open year-round (officially from April 1 - March 31)

Apparently so.

News flash to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department: There were about a hundred people who traveled from 14 states to attend the Potholes and Prairies Festival who were yearning to see a live badger in the wild. Many of us drove around specifically looking for badgers, and found little more than empty burrows. We were shocked, saddened and sickened to see graphic evidence of North Dakota's year-round open season on American Badgers. Is this scene the message you wish to send ecotourists about your vanishing native prairie wildlife?

The songs in my head: "Tell the Universe" and "Beautiful Creatures" by Bruce Cockburn.


Julie, have you tried MediaRecover or Card Rescue for your camera card? They can recover even erased files. Worked amazingly for me.

I've had the privilege of seeing a couple of badgers in the wild, here in Colorado. Amazing creatures.

So sorry for the loss of the wild horse photos! I ache with you. I was hoping for a step-by-step painting session on the horses. Can you do one from the fragment you have left?

Red foxes and gray foxes too in addition to badgers and coyotes? I don't understand it either, but I wonder if the state officials fear that these wild animals take too many wild gamebird eggs? After all, don't they make more money from issuing all those resident and non-resident duck, goose and pheasant hunting licenses (so people can come out and "legally" kill more animals from all those eggs that hatched in the spring???)

It's not hard to figure out where the motivation comes for year-round seasons on carnivores. I always appreciate your hunter's viewpoint, Ruthie.

I think that Suwannee Cooter took a major wrong turn in the Okeefenokee swamp ten years ago!

I was sooo looking forward to that wild horse post.



I hope you don't mind too terribly that I stole a copy of your jackrabbit pic as a memory aide to add to my collection from ND. We caught a glimpse of one and I couldn't believe my eyes - the size of them! the speed! Really neat bunnehs, I think.

Wild horses? No pictures. Pooh.

I just don't get hunting or hunters. Never have, never will. If you need to kill the animal to survive, I would at least agree that if you eat it and use all parts of it -fur etc. to help, then okay. But this is 2009...and this killing is just for fun (?) in support of an industry founded by sadists and supremacists...just because they can and will hunt animals for 'sport' until there is enough dissension globally. Sunday night rant, that they'll likely never read, but it makes me feel better!

I imagine they hunt fox because fox will take over the badger dens once the badger is eliminated. If the goal is to eliminate holes in the ground, they have to exterminate all who would live in them.

That's a good point, but I think Ruthie's got it, Marie. It likely has more to do with protecting duck and grouse eggs--the hook-and-bullet laws are set up to protect game species and decimate any other species that would compete with us for them. It is antiquated, barbaric and ecologically unsound to selectively eliminate predators, but it works for us.

Susan, I understand your emotions. I share many of them. But I must defend hunting in general, and am thankful for it when I drive home late at night, dodging deer left and right. There is a huge difference between the kind of hunting that is needed to help control prolific species like whitetails, and the kind of ignorant cruelty that shoots a mother badger at her den and leaves her lying there. The two are not even remotely related, and no one who calls himself a sportsman would do that. Educated people realize that predators are necessary and desirable in any ecosystem, and eliminating them and inserting ourselves into their niche is trying to jam a square peg into a round hole. It's hubris in the extreme. Yet we do it time and time again.

As a nonconsumptive observer of wildlife, I think it's important to make the point time and time again that a badger is quite possibly worth a great deal more alive than dead. I thought a long time before posting this photo and these opinions. I knew they would be upsetting and quite possibly unpopular. My goal here, after all, is to make my readers want to visit North Dakota to see its amazing wildlife, to enlarge that pool of nonconsumptive observers who also contribute to local economies by their presence. But I felt I owed it to the badger and her kits, who also doubtless died in this fully legal act of vandalism, to bring up that point. People are allowed to shoot and trap badgers year-round, and that, in my opinion, is a crime.

Oh my heart is heavy. I've never seen a badger in the wild yet, and maybe never will. The photo made me cry.

Sitting on the burrow mound, running my hands over her coarse fur, feeling her strong claws, I cried for a long time. It wrecked the rest of my day. And I didn't cry because I'm a soft-hearted, soft-headed bunny hugger--nor did you, Christine. I cried because I was witness to something terribly wrong. It is sanctioned by law, simply business as usual. When I thought of the busloads of people who would have been so delighted to see the first badger of their lives, and the awful waste of her life, I wept.

I can't tell you how much I relate to this post and how you feel. I recently went to Two Rivers, Wisconsin and had beautiful pictures of Point Beach, the river running behind my hosts home, horses grazing, and closeups of wildflowers completely shot to h*** because of my crap computer. So sorry for your loss :(
It leaves an undescribable ache in your heart.

I'm with you, Julie. I take "have dominion over" to be a caretaking responsibility instead of permission to destroy. The decisions humans make about what's "good" and "bad" really screws up the balance of nature.

I think we do the same thing with plants. Clear-cutting land and replacing the variety of trees with a single kind. . . ARRGGGHH!!! And we wonder why allergies are getting worse. Have a tree that "makes a mess" like a persimmon on our property? Oh, the horror!

I am a hunter and this makes me sick as well I can't understand why they allow hunting of this type I have watched badgers from My bowstand many times and coyotes as well one time there was a whole group of 10 that were hunting together for mice in set aside it was great to watch I think the DNR has taken hunting from putting food on the table to a sport for just killing. Thank's for putting such great post up Julie I enjoy them everyday
Paul from wisconsin

Julie, I'm one of your longtime loyal readers, one of Kat's even longer-time friends, and a first time poster. May I borrow your statement about educated people realizing predators etc, if I give you proper credit? My oldest son is very interested and involved, albeit long distance, in wolf pack preservation. He has 'owned' a wolf since he was 7 and we 'gave' it to him for Christmas. He understands and appreciates the balance of natural predators and prey.

(PS. Totally unrelated but I love Chet. If I lived close to Ohio, I would offer to be a foster mom to him on your trips!)

Holly, I'd be honored for you to use the quote. I think a lot of the best discourse goes on in the comments section. Way to raise your son!

Re Chet: His foster parents are trying to impose a minimum stay on us. Two weeks. He'll be with them for only four days this September and they're already mad about it!

I debated myself about letting you know about the dead badger when the kids and I found it. In the end I decided that seeing one up close—even a dead one—was something you and the folks on your birding trip would not want to miss.

How I wish it'd been a live badger.

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