Birds of a Feather

Over the past few weeks we've noticed flocks of Canadian geese flying north over the hills. If you are out in the woods you can usually hear them before you see them. You don't have to look hard as they are often grouped in very large V formations. I like to think of them as the first tourists of the season.

They're not the only avian tourists however. Among my favorites are the peregrine falcons who, like seniors in their RVs, arrive in the hills every spring and stay all summer. These are fascinating birds that can be seen in many places – even in downtown Rapid City – but my favorite place to watch them is from the sandstone cliffs above Beaver Valley north of Pringle.

The best view is from the top of the cliffs some 300 feet above the long, narrow grassy plain through which US385 passes on it's way to Wind Cave National Park. In the Black Hills, treeless plains like Beaver Valley are called parks.

There's no road to the top of these cliffs, so you need to be ready for a hike of an hour or more. Take a picnic basket and be prepared to stay awhile because the falcons will entertain you all day as they effortlessly ride thermals and closely soar over your vantage point. At times they will pass only a few feet away. You will never be closer to a free, wild bird of prey.

As these magnificent birds sail out over the valley they hunt small game in the grass below. If they see a meal they will dive almost five hundred feet reaching the fastest natural speed of any species, some have been clocked at 242 miles per hour. It's a grand show, unless of course, you happen to be a mouse minding your own business in that field on that particular day. Which brings me to a philosophical point.

We humans have mixed feelings about mice. We love Mickey, Minnie, Mighty and Jerry Mouse but otherwise most people seem to have some irrational hatred of the real creatures. I don't know why. Mice live short, brutal lives near the bottom of the food chain and their over-riding motivation seems to be fear. Perhaps we don't like them because we can't relate. After all, we are at the top of the food chain and we can have a tube of Pringles any time we wish. (OK, being at the top of the food chain doesn't mean we eat wisely.) But there could be a lesson here.

Perhaps after a day of watching falcons you'll be hot and thirsty. You might stop at the Hitchrail Bar in Pringle, order a beer and -- what else – a can of Pringle chips. Maybe you could pick up a T-shirt that says: “I Pringled in Pringle”.

Heck, if you are so inclined, you can even do that without spending all day watching a bunch of stupid birds.

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