22 May 2017

We left wet and cold Minnesota this morning and blew in with the ever-present North Dakota winds.  North Dakota has produced a number of birding trail maps/guides and we are using the Birding Drives Dakota Map.  This map has five different routes.  Today we drove most of the Jamestown to Arrowwood NWR route (green) and the Carrington to Arrowwood NWR route (red) – mostly where these two routes overlap.  Other than the wildlife refuge, much of the countryside is farmland.  However, as a result of previous glaciation of the state there are numerous (and I mean numerous) “prairie potholes” – small wetlands or waterbodies used by waterfowl, waterbirds, and songbirds (like the Red-winged and Yellow-headed Blackbirds).  Oh and we can’t forget shorebirds either (Spotted Sandpiper, American Avocet, Semi-palmated Sandpiper were spotted).  In the fields we found several Upland Sandpipers (one doesn’t expect a shorebird to be utilizing farm fields).   I guess their name is indicative of the type of habitat they prefer.

We did visit the Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge.  This approximately 16,000-acre refuge, established in 1935, has a 5.5-mile auto tour route, which we took back in 2014 when we first visited this refuge.  However, by the time we got to the auto tour route today it was almost 5:00 pm, so we decided to get some dinner in the nearby community of Carrington, where we will be staying for the night.

In total we observed 50 different bird species today, including two trip birds (a.k.a., First of Year – FOY species):  Black Tern and Western Kingbird.  It was a good day to bird, despite the winds (15+ mph), overcast skies, and occasional rain.  I almost feel like we’ve had a dark cloud over our heads – literally – since we left Sedona in early April.   Crazy wet and windy weather along our entire route, with a few occasional nice days.

Western Meadowlark

Yellow-headed Blackbird

One of the many lakes in the prairie pothole area

Lots of farm land

Signs along the route to match the descriptions in the brochure

Barn Swallow

Tree Swallow – is it love or competition for a nest site. I hope they aren’t trying to nest in these pipes since pipes are a death trap for birds.

We love Yellow-headed Blackbirds

Brewer’s Blackbird


Upland Sandpiper

They would do this thing with their neck (pull them back) – not sure why

Wilson’s Phalarope

Savannah Sparrow

Clay-colored Sparrow

Semi-palmated Sandpiper

American Avocet – love the blue legs

Bird Species Seen or Heard today:

  • Common Grackle
  • Canada Goose
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Brown-headed Cowbird
  • Killdeer
  • House Sparrow
  • Western Kingbird
  • American Robin
  • American Crow
  • Barn Swallow
  • Blue-winged Teal
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • American White Pelican
  • Yellow-headed Blackbird
  • American Coot
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Mallard
  • Black Tern
  • Gadwall
  • Spotted Sandpiper
  • Eastern Kingbird
  • Western Meadowlark
  • Tree Swallow
  • Redhead
  • Lesser Scaup
  • Song Sparrow
  • Mourning Dove
  • Clay-colored Sparrow
  • Cliff Swallow
  • Orchard Oriole
  • Ruddy Duck
  • Northern Flicker
  • Upland Sandpiper
  • Bobolink
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Sora
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Northern Pintail
  • White-faced Ibis
  • Franklin’s Gull
  • Horned Lark
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Vesper Sparrow
  • Brewer’s Blackbird
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Wilson’s Phalarope
  • Northern Harrier
  • American Avocet
  • Semipalmated Sandpiper

23 May 2017

Cold and miserable this morning, but at least it wasn’t raining.  Temperature was 46 degrees F, but according to my weather app it was “46, but feels like 39” outside.  I believe it.

We decided to do the Carrington to Chase Lake Birding Trail today, with the hopes of spotting the big five: Sprague’s Pipit, Nelson’s Sparrow, Chestnut-collared Longspur, LeConte’s Sparrow, and Grasshopper Sparrow.  Well one out of five isn’t bad.  We did see three very nice Chestnut-collared Longspurs displaying.  They rise up into the air – almost straight up, and then gracefully fall to the earth, almost like they have on a parachute.  I wasn’t sure what I was seeing when I first spotted the bird sitting on a twig.  It’s chest and belly were so black.  I didn’t see its chestnut collar, at first.   Beautiful bird.

We did skip a few of the stops along the way, and birded a small portion of the Medina-Chase Lake Birding Trail.  This is actually where we spotted the longspur, so I’m glad we made the detour.  We’ve birded the Medina-Chase Lake Birding Trail before (in 2014).  The previous time we had great showings of Grasshopper Sparrows.  This time nothing.  Granted we visited in late July/early August that year, but you would think the sparrows would be here by now — late May.  The Clay-colored, Song, and Savannah Sparrows are all present and occasionally singing.  Of course what do they have to sing about when it is cold, windy, and overcast outside. Right???  Maybe all the north winds and cold front have kept some species of sparrows from getting to their breeding grounds on schedule.

The Bird Checklist for the Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge, which we did visit today, includes the arrival date of the birds.  I haven’t seen this on any other bird checklist (refuge or otherwise) and I wish they all had this information.  For the Grasshopper, Baird’s, LeConte’s, and Nelson’s Sparrow they list early May as the arrival dates.  So, are they late in arriving, or just not showing themselves and singing — because of the wind?  I hope it is the latter.

The Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge is located in the Missouri Coteau.  What is the Missouri Coteau?  Good question.  The Missouri Coteau is a narrow glacial moraine extending from Northern Iowa to central Alberta.  Coteau is French for “little hill”.  The Missouri Coteau is dotted with thousands of prairie potholes – very important waterfowl habitat.

The 4,385-acre Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1908 and is home to one of the largest nesting colonies of American White Pelicans.  According the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, their population fluctuates between 4,000 and 35,000 (quite a spread) breeding birds.  Although the pelicans nest here, they must travel elsewhere for food as Chase Lake is highly alkaline and no freshwater fish or invertebrates live in the lake.   In 1975, a large portion of the refuge was designated as wilderness.

Old, deserted Homestead

Mourning Dove

They farm around the prairie potholes – good thing for waterfowl and other birds who depend on these wetlands

Blue-winged Teal –  we have seen so many we now say “there’s a blue boy”

Saw a few cows

Common Loon – rare for this area

Barn Swallow getting out of the wind

Snowy Egret

Male Northern Harrier in search of food

Horned Lark


American White Pelicans in flight

Ruddy Duck

New Bird Species Seen or Heard Today (North Dakota bird list):

  • Wilson’s Snipe
  • American Bittern
  • Black-crowned Night Heron
  • Great Egret
  • Common Loon (rare to this area)
  • Yellow Warbler
  • Swainson’s Hawk
  • Chestnut-collared Longspur (First of Year)
  • European Starling
  • Ring-necked Pheasant
  • Marbled Godwit (breed here)
  • Canvasback
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Western Grebe
  • Forester’s Tern
  • Snowy Egret
  • White-breasted Nuthatch (state park)
  • House Wren (state park)
  • Downy Woodpecker (state park)

More wind is in the forecast for the next several days.  We just can’t seem to escape it.  We are spending the night at Cross Ranch State Park, north of Bismark.   When we arrived at the campground the office had already closed.  We went to get a self-registration envelope but a House Wren has started setting up a nest in the fee box.

Tomorrow the plan is to visit a new National Wildlife Refuge -– the Lake ILo National Wildlife Refuge.  Then its on to Theodore Roosevelt National Park for the remainder of the day and overnight.

24 May 2017

We left the campground around 9:00 am and it took us over 45-minutes to go about 10 miles.  Lots of birds along the road to check out.  Luckily the roads were not heavily traveled while we birded.  The Nature Conservancy owns prairie habitat across from the park and some distance down the road.  The prairie reserve sports Bison, and we saw a few loafing.  In a nearby pond we spotted an American Wigeon.  We haven’t seen one of those in a long time.

House Wren using the self-registration fee box

‘fence post’ Wilson’s Snipe

Stretching or looking for food?

We then traveled to Lake Ilo National Wildlife Refuge.  This 4,034-acre refuge, established in 1939, is a new refuge for us.  The weather was sunny, mid 50s, but very windy.  Not all birds like the wind, and so they stay hunkered down in the grass,  hiding.  We did see a lot of Bobolinks however, which is good.  Another bird we haven’t seen lately is the Say’s Phoebe (a flycatcher), so it was nice to see this bird again too.

Yes, another Bobolink

Ilo Lake

Wasp hive/nest

We’re back!!!  Another visit to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park – North Unit.  We will camp here tonight.  After finding a camping spot we drove the 14 mile auto tour route in search of beautiful vistas, birds, and bison.  We found all three.

The drive proved very fruitful.  We got to see not one, but five Sharp-tailed Grouse.  Woohoo!!!  I spotted a large bird along the road some distance away.  We stopped, struggled with the spotting scope in the wind, and got a decent glimpse of the bird.  Driving slowly towards the bird, we came up along side it and noticed there were four other birds.  They slowly began walking away from us.  Amazing to see so many of these birds at once.  And Bison were spotted also.  We even got to watch one wallow in a dirt hole and then charging a nearby bison.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park was established in 1947 to honor President Roosevelt.  Roosevelt, as President, was instrumental in establishing the U.S. Forest Service, signed into law the 1906 Antiquities Act, under which he proclaimed 18 national monuments, dozens of federal reserves, and 150 national forests.  Way to go Teddy!  He was responsible for protecting over 230 million acres of land for the use and enjoyment of man and wildlife.

Bison near the visitor center

This bison was right next to handicap ramp

Mountain Bluebird – female

Unique formation formed from grains of sand

Lark Sparrow

Lazuli Bunting

Male Mountain Bluebird

Sharp-tailed Grouse

This bison was using his wallow pit

This bison was sheeding

New Bird Species Seen or Heard Today (North Dakota bird list):

  • Brown Thrasher
  • Chimney Swift
  • Lark Sparrow
  • Wood Duck
  • American Wigeon
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Say’s Phoebe
  • Mountain Bluebird
  • Lazuli Bunting
  • Sharp-tailed Grouse

25 May 2017

Time to leave the park and head westward.  We spent about an hour slowly driving (and birding) the 5-miles park road from the campground to the park entrance.   In that short period of time we observed 27 different species – not too shabby.

Cedar Waxwing

Bison wallowing hole

Several Bison were near the visitor center again


Still watchful as it took off

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Theodore Roosevelt National Park – North Unit today:

  • Cedar Waxwing
  • American Kestrel
  • American Robin
  • Yellow Warbler
  • American Redstart
  • Spotted Towhee
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • European Starling
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Western Meadowlark
  • Northern Flicker
  • Lark Sparrow
  • Field Sparrow
  • Say’s Phoebe
  • Mountain Bluebird
  • American Crow
  • Mourning Dove
  • Yellow-breasted Chat
  • Black-billed Magpie
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Brown Thrasher
  • Lazuli Bunting
  • American Goldfinch
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Northern Harrier
  • Brown-headed Cowbird
  • Barn Swallow

Later as we were driving towards our next destination, Jack saw two small birds walk quickly across the road.  He thought they looked similar to quail in shape and size.  There are no quail in North Dakota.  So what could they be?  As we drove by where the birds had disappeared into the grass, they flushed.  Their coloring, especially the coloring of their tails, indicated Gray Partridge.  A life bird for Jack

In total I observed 88 species for my 2017 North Dakota bird list – total birds seen within the last four days.  But alas, no Grasshopper, LeConte’s, Baird’s, or Nelson’s Sparrows or Sprague’s Pipit.

Next Stop: Montana – Big Sky Country.  Until then …