The North Dakota Prairie

I’m now returning from a trip that was not necessarily going to happen in the first place.  It was originally dubbed as Rock Dove Tours “Comeback Tour”; a five-day car trip from Colorado to North Dakota scheduled for June 24 thru the 28th.  But with the flood, lack of available motel reservations and the closure of the auto loop road at Lostwood NWR, we decided to scrub the trip.  I then considered either flying onto Regina, Saskatchewan and driving to Medicine Lake NWR in Montana or the Canadian prairies near Calgary.  In fact, I thought long and hard about not going at all.  Catch the Sprague’s Pipit in Texas this coming winter and the Baird’s Sparrow on its wintering grounds in SE Arizona Then find the Upland Sandpiper in Colorado.

However,  I was always intrigued about the opportunity of finding Gray Partridge in North Dakota. Last week I finally made contact with Kim Risen, whom I met on Gambell. Kim gave me the name of a crack North Dakota birder named Ron Martin.  What sealed the deal was that Kim informed me that Ron was a knowledgeable naturalist and may be able to help in my “Quest for a Thousand” goal.  I found out later that Ron holds the North Dakota Big year record!

Minot has gone through hell with all the flooding.  Many of the residents are still out of their homes.  There aren’t any motel rooms available.  There also were no cars available to rent.  I once again considered canceling, but Ron offered a room at his home and a car to drive tomorrow while I search for Gray Partridge.

After a ½ hour delay, I arrived in Minot at 3:30 PM. The flooding I’d seen from the air was even more impactful once on the ground.  In most areas of Minot they must boil all water.  Restaurants can only serve canned drinks.  Block after block of both residential and commercial buildings appeared to still be flooded. And Ron informed me that the river is five feet down from the flood crest.

We headed out east from Minot into McHenry Co.  Things started off nicely with two American Bitterns standing in the open in a marshy field.

American Bittern in McHenry Co., ND (Photo by John Vanderpoel)

Upland Sandpipers, a new year-bird and the last North American shorebird for my year list, were actually pretty easy and even easier this morning.

Upland Sandpiper also in McHenry Co., ND (Photo by John Vanderpoel)

Baird’s Sparrow came easier than I thought. Of course, that’s the advantage of birding with Ron Martin.  Didn’t get great photos, but here are a couple for you to look at. We had to work for the Sprague’s Pipits, but eventually turned up at least three in a field.  It was great field experience noting how they landed and may help in Colorado next fall.

Baird's Sparrow in McHenry Co., ND (Photo by John Vanderpoel)

Same Baird's Sparrow (Photo by John Vanderpoel)

Same Baird's Sparrow (Photo by John Vanderpoel)

This morning, Ron let me have his car and I drove north out of Minot to the Upper Souris National Wildlife Refuge to search for Gray Partridge.  Though I saw some good birds, including this photogenic Pectoral Sandpiper, I couldn’t stir up any partridge.  This rascal has now move up my “Want List” though I won’t try for it until November.

Pectoral Sandpiper (Photo by John Vanderpoel)

I can not thank Ron Martin enough for his generous hospitality. Tomorrow, I fly to Tucson. Some things are breaking and I plan to slip back into chase mode. Stay tuned.

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2 Responses to The North Dakota Prairie

  1. Deanna Campbell says:

    So glad to hear you got your prairie birds! Very jealous of the owlets – too cute! There are folks up here who get Gray Partridge at their feeders…

    Cheers! Deanna

  2. Okay, then I’m coming to Calgary for them. We can work out details later.

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