Sunday, June 20, 2010
Today is father's day, and because of that plus the birding results to follow, I am going to call this another red letter day. This morning my wife and I were out on the road by 5:30 heading back west to Kidder county. We got off I-94 at the Pettibone exit to drive the gravel farm roads in hopes of actually seeing and not just hearing a gray partridge. After about 30 minutes sure enough a pair flushed off the roadside.
We then got back on I-94 to go a bit further west to exit at ND 3 which takes you to the town of Tuttle. This has been the area where baird's sparrows have been regularly seen over the past few years. There are other reliable places to find it in northwestern ND, but the Tuttle area requires less driving. The couple from Massachusetts told us specifically where to look. Enroute we stopped at one location to listen for nelson's sparrows and yellow rails, but heard neither. We did see a wilson's phalarope feeding in the road ditch (top photo above).
We finally arrived about 7:30 and walked out into the large grassy area that was the place to look, or so we thought. We found western meadowlarks, lots of chestnut-collared longspurs (bottom photo above), savannah, clay-colored and grasshopper sparrows, but no baird's. There was even a short-eared owl flying around looking for a meal. The Mass couple had told us they had seen the same birds. After an hour of roaming the grassland, we decided to go back down to listen for the nelson's again but to no avail.
We returned to the baird's spot and found other birders had arrived. One was a local guy with a big camera who had stopped because as he drove by he heard sprague's pipits. The other car had 3 birders in from Pennsylvania who were also hunting for a baird's. The camera fellow told us that we needed to move to the adjacent field and try there. So we did, and after 10 minutes we heard a baird's singing. We quickly found it just above ground level singing over and over again. We signaled to the 3 PA birders to come over, and they too saw the bird while the photog captured it digitally. He then told us where to go nearby to find nelson's sparrows.
We followed his directions to Horsehead Lake. I walked out thru the grass and heard the call of the nelson's over in the reeds. I went to the edge of the reeds where it was calling, and pished it up to the top of the reeds where it gave me a nice side view of its gray nape, and orange facial and throat features. Finding the baird's and nelson's put a big smile on my face because they were both new year birds and I had completed my target list for North Dakota.
After such a successful morning of birding, we decided to head on over to Bismarck to check into a motel. Along I-94 we kept enjoying the unique landscape here in North Dakota--a pothole marsh pond/lake at least every half mile with invariably some waterfowl resting upon it; and mostly green fields with the occasional pile of glacier rocks mounded up by the farmer.
After a nice mexican meal we have settled into the motel to read and watch the final round of the US Open golf tournament. The week's count of birds seen is up to 98, and the 2 sparrows bring the YTD total to 619. The next couple of days will be more about visiting the Badlands and Mt. Rushmore than birding, but you never know what we might find. Stay tuned!