Friday, July 1, 2011

Black-Tailed Prairie Dogs: Grasslands Park

Black-tailed prairie dog, with purple milk vetch. © SB 

Grasslands National Park: Above the rush of wind, high chirping across grass. The Black-Tailed Prairie Dogs warn of intruders to the tune of anxious birds or creaking rail fences. Like gophers*, they stand on hind legs for a better view, but prairie dogs are taller, plumper than Richardson's Ground Squirrels — perhaps three times the size.  

Prairie dog colony © SB 

From a distance, the prairie dog colony may look destructive — especially in a province which has often offered bounties for their smaller cousin's tails. But here, Parks information says, they are a key part of the grasslands ecosystem.

Up close with purple milk vetch © SB 

And they are cute! Chirping, running, playing, peering at intruders while standing on hind legs. And in early summer, what a picture in milk vetches.

The Ecotour drive through the West Block of the park goes through two large prairie dog colonies. The first is near the north gate, the second, near the south gate, near the signs for the burrowing owls. (The sign, I saw, but not the owls.)

Another park sign, this one about prairie dogs and other park creatures 

Car wheels on a gravel road, the wind and the cheeping of prairie dogs form the soundscape of the video below, taken while driving through Grasslands:

* Yes, we call Richardson's Ground Squirrels "gophers". Perhaps the early settlers in Saskatchewan were confused, or missed their gophers back in England, so gave that name to the tiny skipping prairie creatures, with their flickering tails.  

What are these? Black-tailed Prairie Dogs  
Location: Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan  
Photo dates: Late June and late July, 2011. 

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