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Minnesota and North Dakota 27 May-4 June 2008,
In late May I went on a short birding trip to Minnesota and North Dakota with Sigmundur Ásgeirsson (Simmi). Our original plan had been a short spring trip in Europe, either to Finland or Poland, but when a non-birding friend told me that he was going to spend his summer holiday in Minnesota and Manitoba, I begin to check out trip reports to see what the potential was for birding in late spring in this area. Although I couldn't find many trip reports, the ones available were excellent (and inspirational), and it was quickly decided that Poland and Finland would have to wait for another year. The attraction of Minnesota and North Dakota for us was that a) Icelandair flies directly to Minneapolis and flights were not much longer nor more expensive than to eastern Europe, and b) there were lots of new species on offer for us. Simmi and I had each been to the US once before: Simmi to Florida in January 2008 and I had visited New York City in May 2006. While we had an excellent introduction to American birding on those trips, they were both family holidays and not birding trips (as evidenced by our first, rather embarrassing, lifers on this trip, Song Sparrow for Simmi, Black-capped Chickadee for me!).
Minnesota and North Dakota aren't perhaps the first places in the US that spring to mind for visiting birders, with the likes of Arizona, Texas, Florida and California far more likely to attract visitors. However, the region we visited offers a range of excellent habitats, including the deciduous woods around Minneapolis, the tamarack bogs and the southern limits of the boreal forest around Duluth, and the extensive prairie potholes and grasslands of North Dakota, and then a hint of western birding in the impressive badlands along the Montana border. The fact that it is a bit off the beaten track was also very appealing. We had one of North America’s best birding spots, Lostwood NWR, virtually to ourselves at the height of the birding season. The region holds several species which are not easy to see in many other parts of the US, such as Baird's Sparrow, Sprague's Pipit, breeding Chestnut-collared and McCown's Longspur, Connecticut Warbler etc. and there were plenty of more common American birds to entertain us as well. The trip was a great success, with 183 species recorded, including 20 warblers and 19 sparrows and 85 lifers for me and 77 for Simmi.
We flew into and out of Minneapolis from Keflavík, Iceland, with Icelandair, a flight of around six hours. The only firm plans were to bird the Sax-Zim Bog north of Duluth on 29 May and have plenty of time to reach the Lostwood NWR in western North Dakota and then the prairie area south of Rhame and Marmarth in the extreme south-west of the state. Everything else was just improvised. We drove around 2,600 miles, without us feeling that we were spending too long in the car (except on the long drive from Marmarth to West Fargo).
27 May – Arrived at Minneapolis-St. Paul at 1800, birded until dark at nearby Wood Lake Nature Center.
28 May – a.m. at Murphy-Hanrehan Regional Park, p.m. drove to Duluth, found motel and then spent evening at Rice Lake NWR, near McGregor.
29 May – all day at Sax-Zim Bog with Sparky Stensaas.
30 May – a.m. Palisade/Pietz's Rd area and then Rice Lake NWR again, p.m. leisurely drive across Minnesota on back roads, evening Rothsay Prairie.
31 May – a.m. Rothsay Prairie and Felton Prairie, p.m. long drive to Kenmare ND, evening Des Lacs NWR around Kenmare.
1 June – a.m. Lostwood NWR, p.m. Theodore Roosevelt NP - North Unit.
2 June – a.m. Theodore Roosevelt NP - South Unit, evening Bowman-Haley Dam and side roads south of Bowman.
3 June – a.m. area around Marmarth and Rhame Prairie, p.m. long drive east, with a stop at Long Lake near Bismarck.
4 June – a.m. Lindenwood Park, Fargo, St. John's University, MN, and finally Wood Lake Nature Center.
Motels were plentiful and reasonably priced. Only the first night in Minneapolis was pre-booked.
27 May – Motel 6, Minneapolis, MN ($55)
28 May – Motel 6, Duluth, MN ($55)
29 May – Motel 6, Duluth, MN ($55)
30 May – Pelican Motel, Pelican Rapids, MN ($45)
31 May – San Way Ve Motel, Kenmare, ND ($50)
1 June – Trapper's Kettle Motel, Belfield, ND ($80)
2 June – Downtown Motel, Bowman, ND ($30)
3 June – Some nameless motel, West Fargo, ND ($60)
Car hire and getting around
Car hire was from Budget Car Rental. We had to change the car on the second day as it wouldn't recharge the GPS. It was the first time I'd ever used GPS in a car and it was a godsend, not just for getting us out of Minneapolis with ease, but also for giving us an idea of how long it would take to drive to distant destinations. I can't imagine doing without one on future trips. But otherwise, getting around in Minnesota and North Dakota was a breeze, everything is very well signposted and traffic is very light, especially in western North Dakota, where the traffic density is almost like in Iceland. The roads are unbelievably wide too in most places and American drivers generally use their turning lights when turning, a concept virtually unknown in Iceland.
The weather in Minnesota and North Dakota was generally very pleasant for us Icelanders, typically around 10-16°C, and occasionally topping 20°C in the middle of the day. Mornings were sometimes Iceland-cool. It rained on a couple of occasions, torrentially with lightning and thunder in both units of Theodore Roosevelt NP, which robbed us of about an hour's birding time but it was thick fog at the Greater Prairie-Chicken lek at Rothsay which caused the most difficulties.
Insects and nasty beasts
We had heard horror stories about the mosquitoes in Minnesota and North Dakota but we hardly had any trouble at all with them, only at St John's University in MN on the last day did they force us out of the forest. Perhaps we were too early in the year. Ticks were noted in grassy areas in ND, but we managed to remove them before they bit. The farmer near Rhame warned us that the prairie-dog town had plenty of rattlesnakes in it, but sadly we didn't see any.
David A Sibley – The Sibley Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern North America
Fiona Reid – Peterson Field Guide to Mammals of North America 4th edition
Kim R. Eckert, A Birder's Guide to Minnesota, 4th edition, Gavian Guides 2002. An enormously detailed site guide to the site, and very entertainingly written.
Kevin J. Zimmer, A Birder's Guide to North Dakota – Good but written thirty years ago.
Birding Guide for north-western North Dakota (PDF) – http://www.fws.gov/jclarksalyer/deslacs/nwND_bird_guide.pdf This PDF has excellent information on the top sites in that corner of the state.
Donald and Lilian Stokes – Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs - Eastern Region – 3-CD set to the birds of Eastern North America. Obviously learning bird songs before you go is a good idea, especially for Ammodramus sparrows and warblers. Learning 200 species before you set off just isn't practical so I concentrated on selected species. It doesn't have certain western species which just extend into the area we visited, such as Brewer's Sparrow, Western Wood-Pewee or McCown's Longspur.
It was only after I came back that I got hold of a publication called Birding North Dakota by Dan Svingen and Ron Martin which details 63 birding sites in North Dakota. Although it can’t be compared with the detail in Eckert’s Minnesota guide, it’s certainly well worth getting hold of, and can be obtained for free from the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Bismarck.
Thanks to Corey Ellingsen for kindly sending me information on North Dakotan birding sites, Sparky Stensaas for his expertise in the Sax-Zim Bog and to Jan Hein van Steenis for suggesting a rough itinerary.
Tuesday 27 May
Our flight left Keflavík on time at 1635. Unfortunately, Greenland remained cloaked in clouds, except for one nunatak peeking through the clouds. The mosaic of lakes and tundra on the vast Ungava Peninsula and the ice-covered Hudson Bay were seen well, however, as were Lake Nipigon and Lake Superior. After what seemed like an age at the car rental, we were on our way, our GPS quickly finding Motel 6 for us and then on to the nearby Wood Lake Nature Center, where we had about an hour's daylight. The bird list started at the airport, with European Starling, House Sparrow and Feral Pigeon! The first true American birds were seen whilst getting our things into the motel: Common Grackle, American Robin and Mourning Dove, all three of which were common and omnipresent throughout the trip. Wood Lake is a nice area of woodland, lake and reedbed in suburban Minneapolis. We visited it due to its convenient location and the fact that it is cited by Eckert as one of the most reliable sites in Minnesota for Least Bittern. This smallest of herons sadly didn’t oblige but birds here included plentiful Barn Swallows and Tree Swallows, a few Chimney Swifts, the ubiquitous Red-winged Blackbird, several Northern Cardinals, stunning Baltimore Orioles, Yellow Warbler and Common Yellowthroat (these two warblers seen daily), two Red-bellied Woodpeckers, two Green Herons, and then our first lifers, Song Sparrow (Simmi) and Black-capped Chickadee (both of us), which revealed that we weren’t exactly hardened ABA birders. Just as we were leaving I looked up and saw a long-tailed bird hawking over the tree tops, the first of many Common Nighthawks, a new bird for both of us.
Wednesday 28 May
An early start (0530 a.m.) got us to Murphy-Hanrehan Regional Park in Savage, just south of Minneapolis, at 0600. The dawn chorus was impressive but although I had spent time listening to and learning American bird songs on CD back in Iceland, when you’re faced with it in the field it can become overwhelming and you struggle at first to remember a thing. There really is no substitute for seeing a bird in the field and hearing it sing or call, and so the first Chipping Sparrows’ calls were easily committed to memory for the rest of the trip. We parked at the main car park and walked down Murphy Lake Blvd, just keeping our eyes and ears open. American Goldfinches were very common (I’d only seen one female before in Central Park, so the male was a real treat), Hairy Woodpecker and Downy Woodpecker in quick succession made for a good comparison. Red-eyed Vireos were common, a singing Swamp Sparrow afforded close views by the roadside, and five Ruby-throated Hummingbirds provided me with easily my best views of this species. Then I heard a song which I did recognise (from playing the CD on the way in the car that morning), and soon we had located a singing Blue-winged Warbler, one of several in the area. Another familiar sound was ringing through the woods from the surrounding lakes, Common Loon, and although we saw a couple fly over, we didn’t see many of Minnesota’s state bird. Other new birds for me along this stretch were two Yellow-throated Vireos, a pair of House Finch, three Eastern Bluebirds, a singing Field Sparrow, and a Wild Turkey which startled us as much as we startled it as it erupted from the grass. We then took the car a bit further on to where two of our target warblers, Hooded and Cerulean, were supposed to lurk. The woods were much denser here, and birding was not easy at all. We failed even to hear either species, but did see Ovenbird, a party of late Blackpoll Warblers, several Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, a male Black-throated Green Warbler, a female Canada Warbler, several American Redstarts and numerous Indigo Buntings at the edge of the forest. We followed a bizarre sound to its source, having no idea what it was, three excited White-breasted Nuthatches, and then we scored with a quartet of tyrants on the way back to the car: Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Wood-Pewee, an incredibly noisy Great Crested Flycatcher and an Eastern Kingbird. After a pretty good sandwich in Burnsville we headed north, but lost two hours exchanging the rental car at the airport en route. The journey north was uneventful, with Common Raven and Turkey Vulture about it (aside from usual suspects such as American Crow, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle and Brown-headed Cowbird), but the landscape changed as we approached Duluth, assuming a distinctly more Nordic feel. We found a motel and then headed west towards Rice Lake NWR near McGregor. On the way we did an emergency stop and turn to check out a perched raptor by the road, the first Broad-winged Hawk of the trip. A bit further on a plump shape on the roadside wires prompted another pull-over (very easy on the amazingly broad American roads), a meadowlark sp. but which? Fortunately it was singing and easily identified as an Eastern Meadowlark and the birds here proved to be the only ones of the trip. As we were admiring the meadowlark, a jingle-jangle sound drifted across the fields, and its source was soon located, a stunning male Bobolink. Bobolinks were very common in rural areas throughout the trip but Simmi and I never tired of their superb plumage and song flight and it is a contender for bird of the trip despite being so common. Another unknown sound down a side road led us to the first of many Sedge Wrens, and just before McGregor (the GPS took us along many quiet backroads) the first American Kestrel was perched on roadside wires. Although Eckert says that there is nothing here that you can't see elsewhere Rice Lake NWR is a fine mixture of habitats: grasslands, marshes, woodland, streams and the lake itself and well worth visiting in our opinion. Dozens of Black Terns hawked over the marshes, a Canada Warbler was found by the road, and the trip's only Ruffed Grouse strutted along the road. Time was fairly short so we drove down to the lakeside, and the bushes and grass here were teeming with life. Bobolinks a-plenty, Savannah Sparrow and Clay-colored Sparrow were both new to me, and the bushes held Blackpoll Warbler and Yellow-rumped Warbler. The first Northern Harrier of the trip was pursued over the lake edge by Red-winged Blackbirds and two Wood Ducks perched in a nearby tree. We had dinner in rustic country bar in McGregor and it was dark by the time we got back to Duluth, but we saw a couple of Common Nighthawks on the way back and I'm almost certain a Great Horned Owl nearly bounced off my windscreen near Duluth. What other huge birds fly around at night? But I'll never know for sure.
Thursday 29 May
We were up at 0430 a.m. to be picked up at 0500 by Duluth birder Sparky Stensaas for a day's birding at the famed Sax-Zim Bog about 45 minutes away from Duluth. I would highly recommend Sparky as a guide. Not only does he have intimate knowledge of the area and its birds, just as importantly, he's a very nice guy and excellent company. He can be contacted through his website (http://www.stoneridgepress.com/). After passing through the small town of Cotton, we made a stop on Arkola Road where Sparky thought we might see one of our targets and sure enough there were eight Sharp-tailed Grouse lekking on the far side of the field. A distinctive song drifted over the fields, Western Meadowlark, pronounced Sparky and after a lot of searching I managed to find it in my scope, considerably further away than I had expected. I think Western Meadowlarks have the loudest song I've ever heard. If you are looking for singing meadowlarks (which admittedly in North Dakota is like looking for a piece of hay in a haystack), guess how far away it is and multiply the distance by ten. You'll find that a bird that sounds a few feet away may in fact be perched on a rock which is barely in view. Also in the field were a couple of Upland Sandpipers, three Sandhill Cranes and best of all, a Striped Skunk. We drove on a bit further, with Sparky listening out of the window for interesting song. He stopped by a stand of trees and said he'd heard something interesting but he wasn't going to tell us what it was, we'd have to find it and identify it ourselves first (I like that in a guide!). A White-throated Sparrow wasn't the bird we were looking for, nor was a Red-eyed Vireo but in the same tree I got on to a very active passerine. "I think I've got a Mourning Warbler," I told Sparky and that was the bird he had stopped the car for. We obtained superb views of this bird and a Least Flycatcher close by, a species Simmi and I had both seen in Iceland. A mile or so further on, the trees became denser on each side of the road and Sparky suggested we got out to see what we could find. He was soon alerted to the presence of a couple of Boreal Chickadees and we got brief but clear views. Then he heard another key target, and began to pish the bird. It was a protracted chase, the bird flying over the road and singing out of view a number of times before we managed to pin it down and get the scope on it, a superb singing Connecticut Warbler, a bird famed for its shy and retiring habits.er of times befoeof view a number of times befoe, the bird flyin ut and lsite the sotkua Movement in a nearby tree briefly distracted us, and it was a dazzling male Blackburnian Warbler, still as impressive as when I’d first seen it in New York two years ago. A family of Gray Jays was co-operative, but a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher stubbornly sang out of reach. We took a side road, waiting round for a Great Grey Owl which had been seen here the previous two days (and that morning we later heard) but was to elude us all day, despite Sparky being quietly confident that we’d see it. We passed a house where the owner had painted in massive letters on a sign outside that “trespassers would be violated” (the mind boggles), but a brief stop at a safe distance from the house brought us Nashville Warbler, a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher and an excellent trio of vireos in the same tree, Red-eyed, Warbling and Philadelphia, and superb, prolonged views of a singing Lincoln's Sparrow. As we were watching the sparrow, a peculiar whirring noise permeated the air. Wilson's Snipe, said Sparky, to our surprise (winnowing Wilson's Snipe sounds very different to drumming Common Snipe, which is an ever-present sound in Iceland in spring and summer). Telephone wires held the first of many Brewer's Blackbirds on the trip, and three Broad-winged Hawks were seen in quick succession. Like all good guides, Sparky has a great ear. While he was driving and fully engrossed in telling us the story of a colourful stay in small town Finland, he broke off mid-sentence with the words 'Golden-winged Warbler' and getting out of the car we soon saw a superb male singing from the tree tops. Close by were two male Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, a bird I'd seen before in Iceland and New York, but only as juveniles and females. Seeing a male was really like a new species. Sparky and I were just discussing the merits of the names buzzard v hawk when he screeched to a halt as a late Rough-legged Hawk was hovering over the fields (I was interrupted here by a phone call from my wife in Iceland telling me that she had just been shaken by an earthquake measuring 6.6 on the Richter scale - I was a bit peeved to have missed it). On County Rd 319 (Stone Lake Rd) an American Bittern was seen at point blank range in a roadside ditch, a Veery showed up briefly, a Purple Finch sang from atop a bush and a Black-throated Green Warbler moved through the trees, but a singing LeConte's Sparrow remained frustratingly out of sight. After a very late lunch in Cotton (hot beef sandwich good, diner coffee undrinkable) we continued our search for Black-backed Woodpecker and Great Grey Owl, seeing Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Golden-crowned Kinglet (briefly!) en route. A roving warbler flock contained three striking males, Magnolia, Cape May and Blackburnian and a point-blank Red-breasted Nuthatch made this a particularly productive stop but the owl and woodpecker still failed to show. The day was drawing to an end when Sparky said we'd give the woodpecker one last chance and at Blue Spruce Road off County Rd 133 a fantastic Black-backed Woodpecker quickly appeared, a great reward for Sparky's dogged persistence and hard work. We heard several displaying Ruffed Grouse at Sax-Zim here and at Rice Lake, although 'heard' is perhaps not the word as the wing-flapping is so intense that your body feels it as much as hears it. We dropped Sparky off in Duluth and headed out on to Park Point as daylight faded, finding the trip's first Dunlin on the recreation area and a lifer Redhead on the lake. Overnight at Motel 6, Duluth.
Friday 30 May
Our original rough plan had been to drive along the north shore of Lake Superior to Grand Marais and then bird the boreal forests of the hinterland, undoubtedly a fine birding area. But it would have added on a lot of time to our journey and the lure of the prairie was too great and we decided that we'd have one last crack at Great Grey Owl, and then head west, leaving the dense forests behind. We were up again before dawn, and left Duluth shrouded in a very cool fog as we headed back towards McGregor. Our first target was the area known in Eckert's book as Palisade Area, especially around Pietz's Rd, one of the most reliable Great Grey Owl sites in the state. Unfortunately, the owl forgot to turn up, so it will have to wait until a return trip to Sax-Zim or Finland. A slight recompense was a trio of Golden-crowned Kinglets, seen far better than the previous day, and our first Yellow-headed Blackbird at the edge of a swamp further on. An immature Bald Eagle perched by US 169 prompted an emergency stop before we headed back to Rice Lake NWR, which we had rushed through two days earlier. Eastern Bluebirds were very conspicuous near the entrance, clouds of Cliff Swallows swarmed round a road bridge and a solitary Trumpeter Swan drifted across the placid water of a small lake. A new mammal was a Porcupine sleeping in a tree. In the grasslands we came across the first of several Grasshopper Sparrows and our only Pileated Woodpecker stopped briefly in a stand of trees near the lake's edge. At the lake itself we saw perhaps the strangest sight of the trip; in among the hawking Black Terns were about 30 Common Nighthawks catching insects above the lake in the middle of the day. Two Broad-winged Hawks and a fly-by American Bittern were other notable birds seen before we hit the road again. As we still didn't have a map of Minnesota we entrusted ourselves entirely to the car's GPS and it proved a good choice. The GPS seemed to select the shortest mileage rather than necessarily the quickest route which meant the our journey from McGregor west to Rothsay in western Minnesota was entirely on back country roads, traversing Crow Wing, Cass, Wadena and Otter Tail Counties, where the traffic was virtually non-existent and we could stop at will in the subtly changing landscapes of rural Minnesota, its woods and lakes, gigantic fields, and farms with crumbling barns. Notable birds on this leg were several Sandhill Cranes, a host of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks at a feeder, Double-crested Cormorants and Pied-billed Grebes at small roadside pools, Common Loons, American White Pelicans and a Bald Eagle attending a huge nest near Lake Lida. So slow was our progress crossing the state that we didn't reach our goal of Rothsay until rather late in the evening. The area to the west of Rothsay gave us an indication of what was to come further west; it was a largely treeless expanse of fields mixed with remnant prairie stretching as far as the eye could see and was full of birds. Our first stop was for a pair of displaying Marbled Godwits and as we watched, four more noisy birds arrived and gave superb views in the evening light. Our first Wilson's Phalarope didn't stay long at a roadside pool but we soon located the approximate site of the Greater Prairie-Chicken lek that we were going to try in the morning. The fields here were alive with Western Meadowlarks, Bobolinks and Yellow-headed Blackbirds, the three of them making a handsome trio in the same scope view. Savannah Sparrows were also very common here but it was a song I recognised from the day before that caught our attention: somewhere in the grass there was a Le Conte's Sparrow and a quick scan with the scope soon found this superb bird, a much wanted lifer for both of us. It was in fact very cooperative and sang from the same grass stem for about 20 minutes, allowing us to approach quite closely before we left it alone. Overnight at motel in Pelican Rapids, dinner in the only restaurant open, McDonald's.
Saturday 31 May
We awoke before dawn again and made the 15 minute drive to the Rothsay Prairie but were dismayed to find the whole area shrouded in dense fog. At the Greater Prairie-Chicken lek, visibility was reduced to a few yards and although we could clearly hear the birds in the distance, there was no chance of seeing them with the fog like this. A Le Conte's Sparrow was seen again but after an hour, it was clear that the sun wasn't going to break through and we left the area, thinking our chance of the prairie-chicken had gone. But just by the Western Prairie we slowed for a flock of Ring-necked Pheasants (very common in the area) in the road, and then noticed that one of them wasn't a pheasant but was in fact a female Greater Prairie-Chicken! While it would have been far better to see lekking males, it was still a lift to see this female after we thought we'd lost our chance. We stopped at Barnesville for our first breakfast of the trip (!) before heading north to the prairies around Felton (p. 73 in Eckert), where it was warm and sunny. This was a great area, with our first Horned Larks and Western Kingbirds, a colony of Richardson's Ground Squirrels, Western Meadowlarks galore, an immature Bald Eagle, Brewer's Blackbirds and a very large colony of Bank Swallows. We made our way along the road marked A3 in Eckert seeing three Orchard Orioles in a small copse. Eventually we reached an area reputed to be good for longspurs (A5 - Longspur pasture in Eckert), and after a bit of search we eventually saw several Chestnut-collared Longspurs sitting on the fence and displaying above the extensive grasslands. What a superb looking bird. Also at this site were 18 very animated Marbled Godwits, three Uplands Sandpipers, many Horned Larks, three Red-tailed Hawks and some Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrels. We then embarked on a long drive west, filling up in Fargo and then taking the Interstate 94 through North Dakota. The drive across the state is not very exciting at all, but you gradually get an impression of what's to come. The fields seem bigger than in Minnesota, the skies more extensive, the towns fewer and farther between, with more areas of seemingly uncultivated grasslands. We made a brief detour towards Horsehead Lake, mainly to give us a break from driving. On the way we came across another pair of Orchard Orioles, Western Kingbirds were very common and in a small slough we enjoyed good views of three Northern Harriers, Gadwall, Blue-winged Teal, Northern Pintail, Yellow-headed Blackbird and a Wilson's Phalarope. We turned back before Horsehead Lake as we still had a long way to go, picked up fuel and food at Bismarck and headed north through Minot and ended up at Kenmare in the early evening, a long way from where we had begun the day. Kenmare is referred to as the 'birthplace of North Dakota birding' in The Birding Guide for north-western North Dakota and it was a very pleasant town indeed and enjoys a pretty location by a lake which forms part of the Des Lacs NWR. After finding accommodation for the night, we headed to the lake, stopping by the town square to watch the multitudes of Purple Martins next to the Chinese restaurant. While Simmi was photographing the martins I also saw a male Northern Flicker in the town square and a fly-by House Finch. Down at the lake, the air was thick with Cliff Swallows and there was plenty of life on the lake, including our first Western Grebes, lots of Eared Grebes, Ruddy Ducks and the more common duck species. We then made our way to the northern end of the lake and the last hour of daylight there at the marsh either side of the river turned out to be one of those perfect moments in birding, when nothing can appear to go wrong. The light was glorious, the sun was still warm, Kenmare looked very pretty on the hillside, and the marsh was absolutely seething with birds: American Coots and Canada Geese were abundant, Redheads and Canvasbacks were both common, many Pied-billed Grebes, Yellow-headed Blackbirds everywhere, Franklin's Gulls and Black Terns flying over the whole time, American Avocets and Western Willets came and went, an unseen American Bittern pumperlunked from the reeds and two Marsh Wrens sang and were very photogenic in the fading sun. Simmi and I both agreed that this marsh was the trip highlight so far. Once the daylight had gone we had dinner in Kenmare's Chinese restaurant, where we spent most of the meal trying to convince the proprietor that geese and ducks do indeed have the power of flight. Overnight at San Way Ve Motel, Kenmare.
Sunday 1 June
Up again at dawn and we headed out to the marsh at the edge of Kenmare. Yesterday evening had been magical but the marsh was quieter this morning and we soon left. We stopped at the edge of the town at a site mentioned as good for Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow in The Birding Guide for north-western North Dakota just north of the marsh on Country Road 1. No Ammodramus sparrows were in evidence but listening to the call on the CD was to stand us in good stead later in the day. We then headed off towards our main destination, the Lostwood NWR, just a few miles away. En route we stopped off at the Gammell Longspur Pasture just east of Niobe. The first birds we saw here were four Sharp-tailed Grouse that exploded from beneath our feet but apart from the inevitable Western Meadowlark, there wasn't much about, and we didn't spend too much time looking for Chestnut-collared Longspur as we'd seen them so well at Felton, MN. On arriving back at the car I noticed a tick crawling up my leg, which prompted a bout of frantic searching. I had five and Simmi had six of these most unwelcome hitchhikers and although none had bitten us, our imaginations kept us itching and scratching all day. We had just another four miles to go to the Lostwood NWR, the site that I was most looking forward to on the trip. Lostwood is described as the quintessential example of northern prairie pothole country and is renowned as a great place to see such elusive North Dakota specialties as Baird's Sparrow. Although we were there on a Sunday during the peak birding season, we only came across one other car. After picking up a map of the Auto Tour route and noting which areas were recommended for certain species, we headed slowly along the road. The grasslands held lots of birds, Clay-colored Sparrows, Savannah Sparrows and Horned Larks were particularly abundant. In a small slough just past the fire tower and 1.2 miles from the park headquarters we stopped and saw the usual suspects but just as we were packing away our stuff, a faint, sibilant noise that I recognised from playing the CD in the car that morning stopped me in my tracks: a Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow, a bird I wasn't sure we'd see because of the very dry conditions in North Dakota. We eventually found it singing off to the right of the road and enjoyed good scope views of another of my most wanted birds. Grasshopper Sparrows were easily seen in the grasslands throughout much of the area, and once we'd seen our first Vesper Sparrow they appeared to be everywhere. Four miles from the refuge headquarters we came to a small lake on the right and a bigger alkali lake on the left. The smaller pool was a superb example of a prairie pothole, packed with displaying wildfowl and other birds: Redhead, Canvasback, Blue-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Mallard, American Wigeon, Ruddy Duck, Lesser Scaup, Pied-billed Grebe, American Coot, Wilson's Phalarope and Western Willet. The alkali lake to the left held hundreds of Red-necked Phalaropes, ten American Avocets and several Semipalmated Sandpipers but the position of the sun made looking for Piping Plovers difficult and we failed to see any on the trip. We then reached an area recommended for the trickiest Ammodramus sparrow and it's doubly important to learn its song, for Baird's Sparrow is a skulker. We stopped and listened and drove on a bit further and got out and listened again. By doing this we came across at least three singing Baird's Sparrows but we only managed to see one in the scope after a lot of searching. Seeing this secretive prairie specialist in its pristine habitat was a real trip highlight. In the same area we had neckache-inducing views of a Sprague's Pipit circling in its beautiful song flight high above our heads. We thought we'd wait for it to come down but the pipit had no intention of indulging us and it continued to pour out its highly evocative song suspended above the prairie as we left. There were few birds around the refuge headquarters, no sign of Black-billed Magpie or Say's Phoebe which apparently usually breed here and we were also very surprised by the lack of raptors. Apart from one Northern Harrier at the entrance, not a single raptor was seen over the vast expanse of Lostwood despite the warm, sunny conditions. So after a superb morning, we headed south, the landscape taking on a distinctly more "western" feel as we crossed the Missouri west of New Town. As we drove south from Watford City on the 85, the sunny skies disappeared and the clouds on the horizon were black, illuminated by spectacular flashes of lightning but it remained dry as we reached the spectacular viewpoint over the Little Missouri and the badlands of the North Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The drive to the campsite provided our first Mountain Bluebirds and the only Northern Rough-winged Swallows of the trip attending a nesting hole, and we got our first sighting of the numerous American Bison which are no less impressive just because they've been reintroduced to the area. Then the rain came, and it really rained, an absolute cloudburst with attendant thunder and lightning for about an hour, making it impossible to get out. We made our way up to the top car park and sat in the car, trying to identify the sparrows sheltering in the bushes (Vesper and Chipping) when the wipers allowed us momentarily to see out of the car. Eventually the storm blew over and we walked over to the viewpoint (beautiful) and soon saw a Spotted Towhee and plenty of Vesper Sparrows. Two stunning Lark Sparrows flew in and we headed back down the hill. A couple more Mountain Bluebirds were seen, but the best thing en route was a Sharp-tailed Grouse lek close to the road, with 14 displaying birds giving us easily our best views of the species. At the camp ground car park there were four more Lark Sparrows and two very noisy Yellow-breasted Chats. The short nature trail was well worth exploring, with Spotted Towhees and Yellow-breasted Chats particularly conspicuous, while the tall trees near the start of the trail had Baltimore Orioles, a male Bullock's Oriole and our first House Wrens of the trip. The clock was ticking (although we found out we had gained an hour crossing the Little Missouri into the Mountain Time Zone) and we made our way to Belfield, staying at the Trapper's Kettle Motel.
Monday 2 June
The plan this morning was to visit the South Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. We started off in the camp site where we saw three Lark Sparrows, two Yellow-breasted Chats, five Orchard Orioles, several Warbling Vireos, around 60 Cedar Waxwings, and two male Bullock's Orioles. Walking over to the picnic area, three Bison sitting directly outside the toilet block turned the act of relieving oneself into an extreme sport, but the area was full of birds: Eastern Bluebird, best ever views of a singing Field Sparrow, a pair of Black-headed Grosbeaks, a brief view of a male Lazuli Bunting and two late migrants, a Swainson's Thrush and a Tennessee Warbler. Once again the rain began to fall and we were again confined to the car for our drive through the park, although we did see several Mountain Bluebirds, two Red-tailed Hawks, a Lazuli Bunting (again briefly) and plenty of Black-tailed Prairie Dogs. After lunch in the tourist town of Medora (think of a Western theme park with people living in it) and watching the heaviest rain yet through the window, we headed to Sully Creek SP just south of the town. By now the rain had stopped. New birds here were Brown Thrasher and a pair of Say's Phoebes, while Lark Sparrows and Yellow-breasted Chats were again common, and Lazuli Buntings at last gave views. While the map suggested that we could head straight south from here to Amidon on a back road, the GPS was not at all sure that we could and we relented and heeded its advice, taking the Interstate back to Belfield and then drove south on the 85 towards Bowman. A soaring roadside raptor not far south of Belfield prompted another screeching halt, our first Swainson's Hawk and we were to see three more Swainson's on the stretch to Bowman, including a perched bird with kill very close to the road, a beautiful raptor. The rain was torrential again in Bowman and not only was the rain biblical, so was our search for an inn for the night as we were twice turned away from full motels. We ended up at the cheapest motel of our trip, where the proprietor seemed genuinely astonished that we wanted to stay there. By now it was late afternoon and once the rain had abated, we drove south towards the South Dakota border, turning off east to the Bowman-Haley Dam area. Just before the turnoff, I finally saw the bird I'd been keeping an eye out for since we passed Watford City, Lark Bunting. We only ever saw this grassland specialist south of Bowman but wherever it occurred it was very common, and its beautiful slow-motion display flight reminded us very much of the slow-wing display of Golden Plovers back home, definitely one of my favourite birds on the trip. As we approached Bowman-Haley, we noticed a Northern Harrier mobbing a much larger raptor on a fence post, an immature Golden Eagle, a bird we really hadn't expected on this trip. We watched the eagle fly off into the small wood and refound it later. The lake itself was very quiet as was the small wood. The wind had picked up and under a belligerent, ashen sky, and not a soul around, Bowman-Haley Dam seemed a very lonely place indeed, with only the obligatory Lark Buntings, Horned Larks, Bobolinks and Western Meadowlarks and a roadside Sharp-tailed Grouse for company. Instead of heading straight back to Bowman we tried a few side roads in the hope of finding the most elusive of local buteos, Ferruginous Hawk. The sideroads south of Bowman were very rough and the landscape here was exactly how I imagined North Dakota would be like before I came here, namely empty grasslands stretching to the horizon in all directions, with vistas as treeless as anything I've seen outside Iceland. These side roads held lots of Northern Harriers, four more Swainson's Hawks and our only owl species of the trip, Short-eared Owl (as beautiful as they are, of all the owls we could have seen on the trip, Short-eared would have been way down at the bottom of the list), and our first Pronghorn Antelopes. No Ferruginous Hawk and the day predictably ended at a local diner for yet another meal of burger, fries and unpalatable coffee.
Tuesday 3 June
Up again before dawn and we drove west towards the Montana border, passing through Rhame and turning north just before Marmarth. Our target in this area was Greater Sage-grouse and a well known lek in the area. We found the area of the lek but no sign of the birds at all, perhaps a little late in the year for them? The area, a mixture of prairie, sage brush and badland held a Swainson's Hawk, a Red-tailed Hawk, Lark Bunting, Western Meadowlark, Horned Lark, a Field Sparrow and three Upland Sandpipers. We then headed back through Marmarth, a town with real character but which, judging by the grand, derelict buildings on the Main Street, has certainly seen better days, and turned south, crossing the Little Missouri and stopping for the trip's sole Belted Kingfisher on wires above the river. A few miles south we tried again for the sage-grouse but saw or heard nothing, but the sage brush did produce at least one Brewer's Sparrow and many Vesper Sparrows and good views of Pronghorns. We also came across only the second group of birders we encountered on the trip, Ric and Betty Zarwell from Iowa and their friend Ximin Wang from China. They too had failed to find any sage-grouse. Our main reason for heading down to this corner of the state was to try to see McCown's Longspur. A couple of months before my departure I sent a mail to Corey Ellingsen via the North Dakota Birding Association website asking if it were possible to see this species in the state. Corey very kindly sent me a photocopy of a map and detailed instructions by mail of where to look for this species. He warned me that approaching the site from the west (Marmarth) could be difficult as it required a causeway crossing of the Little Missouri, impassable after rain. As it was the water was very low and we thought we could take a shortcut to the longspur site, but about a mile from our destination roadworks closed the road, necessitating a 30 mile detour back through Marmarth and Rhame – frustrating (if we had known the area we could have in fact taken another, shorter route, but we didn't)! Still it meant that we got to see a bit more of the Rhame Prairie and not far from our destination we stopped sharply for another raptor; I was out of the car almost before it had stopped (and I was driving!) as I knew what it was – a magnificent Ferruginous Hawk at last. We watched this most majestic buteo circle above us until it disappeared high into the sun, magic. A combination of Corey's map, his instructions and the GPS got us to our goal, a small grassy hill in the middle of a small valley, a site well known to North Dakotan birders as one of the most easterly spots in the US for McCown's Longspur. Directions to this site are given in Martin & Svingen but if I were going again I’d drive south from Marmarth along Crook Camp Road and after about eighteen miles, or about half of a mile after passing a sign to the right (west) for Big Gumbo Management Area Road, turn left (east) where the road soon passes over a causeway over the Little Missouri (impassable if river is high). Keep driving east for three miles until you reach a T-junction, with a farm north of the road. The small hill for the McCown's Longspurs is immediately south-east of here. After getting permission from the friendly farmer to go on his land we walked across the grasslands towards the hill, noting that Horned Lark was very common. Around the base of the hill Chestnut-collared Longspur was also common and performing its display flight above us. It really is a stunner. And further up the hill another bird with a black and white tail was hanging in the air and pouring out its song above the grasslands, McCown's Longspur, my most wanted bird of the trip. There were several singing males in the area, and seeing two species of longspur, Horned Larks and Lark Bunting displaying side by side on this beautiful prairie was perhaps the highlight of the whole trip for me, just fantastically atmospheric. About half a mile from the hill was an eroded gully and we thought we'd have a look in it, finding a Chestnut-collared Longspur's nest with three eggs en route. No sooner had reached the bottom of the gully than we saw the bird we'd scrambled down for, a pair of Rock Wrens and a single Say's Phoebe. Back at the base of the hill we met Ric, Betty and Ximin again. They had just found a McCown's Longspur nest with four young but had yet to see a Ferruginous Hawk. Two minutes later panic ensued in the prairie dog town as a Ferruginous Hawk stooped and then landed 150 metres away and sat nonchalantly for a few minutes before lifting off and disappearing out of sight. Ric then mentioned that they'd seen a Long-billed Curlew not too far way so we followed them for about five miles and saw two Long-billed Curlews and two chicks in a roadside field a few miles south of Rhame. We were rather reluctant to leave this remote yet beautiful corner of North Dakota but time was again running out and we had a long way to go before nightfall. Slightly east of Bismarck we made a short stop at Long Lake, obviously a great site if you have more time. In fading daylight we saw lots of Western Grebes (couldn't find Clark's) and Eared Grebes, our first Forster's Terns, several Common Terns, abundant Black Terns, Franklin's Gull, American White Pelican and a selection of waders including Semipalmated Sandpiper, Dunlin, Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstone, Western Willet, Spotted Sandpiper and Wilson's Phalarope. This area must be a goldmine in spring or late summer but as it was we weren't at a great time for shorebird passage. The trees held a male Tennessee Warbler and a Brown Thrasher, we found only our second Purple Martin colony and a Short-eared Owl drifted over the marshes before we headed back on to the Interstate for a very dull evening drive to West Fargo where we stopped for the night.
Wednesday 4 June
The last day of a holiday often turns out to be an anti-climax: most of the interesting places have been visited and you have one eye on the journey home, and so it proved on this trip. We started off at Lindenwood Park in Fargo where the highlights were three Tennessee Warblers, hundreds of Cedar Waxwings, White-breasted Nuthatch, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and Hairy Woodpecker. We then headed back to the prairie at Rothsay to see if we could find Greater Prairie-Chickens minus fog. But we were too late in the day and, besides, the wide open spaces which had impressed us so much a few days earlier now seemed very tame indeed after the far more extensive and wilder prairies of North Dakota and we continued south. The next stop was at St John's University near St Cloud, a site for Cerulean Warbler. However, the woods were quiet, the foliage very dense and the mosquitoes ferocious and we soon lost interest, although a male Scarlet Tanager was nice. We continued to Minneapolis, calling in again at the Wood Lake Nature Center owing to its convenient location near the airport. In addition to the species we saw there a week earlier, we also found a Great Crested Flycatcher, a Hairy Woodpecker, several Indigo Buntings but again no Least Bittern. After that it was off to the airport and the early evening flight back to Keflavík.
Species list – 183 species seen
Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) – Common throughout (mostly feral birds?)
Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator) – Single at Rice Lake NWR (MN) and two flying over Rothsay Prairie (MN), presumably reintroductions.
Wood Duck (Aix sponsa) – only seen at Rice Lake NWR (MN)
American Wigeon (Anas americana) – Rice Lake NWR (MN), Lostwood NWR (ND)
Gadwall (Anas strepera) – Common in ND
Green-winged Teal (Anas carolinensis) – Rice Lake NWR (MN)
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) – Common
Northern Pintail (Anas acuta) – Common in ND
Blue-winged Teal (Anas discolor) – Common in ND
Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata) – Common in ND
Canvasback (Aythya valisineria) – Numerous at Des Lacs NWR (ND) and Lostwood NWR (ND)
Redhead (Aythya americana) – 1 at Park Point, Duluth (MN), numerous at Des Lacs NWR (ND) and Lostwood NWR (ND)
Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris) – seen widely
Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis) – Park Point, Duluth (MN), Lostwood NWR
Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula) – Female in Aitkin Co. (MN),
Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis) – Common at Des Lacs NWR (ND), Bowman-Haley Dam (ND) and Long Lake (ND)
Grey Partridge (Perdix perdix) – pair south of Marmarth (ND)
Ring-necked Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) – Common in agricultural land, particularly in ND
Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus) – One seen at Rice Lake NWR (MN), several more heard drumming there and heard frequently at Sax-Zim Bog (MN)
Sharp-tailed Grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus) – 8 at lek at Sax-Zim Bog (MN), 4 at Gammell Longspur pasture (ND), 2 at Lostwood NWR (ND), 14 at lek in Theodore Roosevelt NP North Unit, 1 at Bowman-Haley Dam (ND)
Greater Prairie-Chicken (Tympanuchus cupido) – many heard lekking in the fog at Rothsay (MN), one female seen by the road near Western Prairie, Rothsay (MN)
Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) – 1 at Murphy-Hanrehan (MN), two by road in Aitkin Co. (MN), four near Bismarck (ND), 1 at Long Lake (ND)
Common Loon (Gavia immer) – seen and heard at several locations in MN
Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps) – Nr. Pelican Rapids (MN), Des Lacs NWR (ND), Lostwood NWR (ND)
Eared Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis) – Des Lacs NWR (ND), abundant Lostwood NWR (ND), Long Lake (ND)
Western Grebe (Aechmophorus occidentalis) – Des Lacs NWR (ND), Long Lake (ND)
American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchus) – Conspicuous on lakes near Pelican Rapids (MN), common at Long Lake (ND)
Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) – Common on lakes in western MN and ND.
American Bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus) – One seen very well in ditch by road at Stone Lake Rd, Sax-Zim Bog (MN), one in flight at Rice Lake NWR (MN)
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) – Perhaps 10 in total, widely distributed
Great Egret (Egretta alba) – Wood Lake Nature Center (MN)
Green Heron (Butorides virescens) – Wood Lake Nature Center (MN)
Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) – Wood Lake Nature Center (MN), Des Lacs NWR (ND), Long Lake (ND)
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) – widespread but never numerous
Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) – 8 birds seen in total, all in MN, e.g. at Rice Lake NWR, on Highway no. 169 Aitkin Co., 1 at Felton Prairie and on I-94 between Fargo and Minneapolis.
Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus) – Most common raptor. 40 + seen, first at Rice Lake NWR (MN) but especially common in western ND around Bowman
Broad-winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus) – A total of 8 seen, all in MN, incl. Sax-Zim Bog, Rice Lake NWR and roadside in Aitkin Co.
Swainson's Hawk (Buteo swainsoni) – A total of 12 seen, all in area south and west of Belfield (ND)
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) – Most common Buteo. 15-20 seen in total, mostly in ND
Ferruginous Hawk (Buteo regalis) – Two magnificent birds seen hunting on the prairie south of Rhame (ND)
Rough-legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus) – One late migrant at Sax-Zim Bog MN)
Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) – One immature at Bowman-Haley Dam (ND)
American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) – Widespread
American Coot (Fulica americana) – Common at Des Lacs NWR (ND), several Lostwood NWR (ND)
Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis) – One at Rice Lake NWR (MN), several Sax-Zim Bog (MN), several roadside central MN and elsewhere
Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) – Most common shorebird, widespread
American Avocet (Recurvirostra americana) – Des Lacs NWR (ND), Lostwood NWR (ND), Rhame Prairie (ND), Long Lake (ND)
(Western) Willet (Tringa semipalmata) – Des Lacs NWR (ND), Lostwood NWR (ND), Long Lake (ND)
Upland Sandpiper (Bartramia longicauda) – Sax-Zim Bog (MN), Felton Prairie (MN), north of Marmarth (ND)
Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus) – Pair with two chicks on Rhame Prairie (ND)
Marbled Godwit (Limosa fedoa) – Six displaying birds at Rothsay prairie (MN), 18 at Felton Prairie (MN), Long Lake (ND)
Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) – Long Lake (ND)
Sanderling (Calidris alba) – Long Lake (ND)
Semipalmated Sandpiper (Calidris pusilla) – Lostwood NWR (ND), Long Lake (ND)
Dunlin (Calidis alpina) – Park Point, Duluth (MN), Long Lake (ND)
Wilson's Snipe (Gallinago delicata) – Sax-Zim Bog (MN), Long Lake (ND)
Wilson's Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor) – First bird was single at Rothsay Prairie (MN), common at Lostwood NWR (ND) and Long Lake (ND). Smaller numbers elsewhere
Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus) – Abundant at Lostwood NWR (ND)
Franklin's Gull (Larus pipixcan) – Des Lacs NWR (ND), Long Lake (ND)
Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis) – Locally common to abundant
Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) – Lake Lida (MN), Long Lake (ND)
Forster's Tern (Sterna forsteri) – Long Lake (ND)
Black Tern (Chlidonias niger) – Common at Rice Lake NWR (MN), Des Lacs NWR (ND), Lostwood NWR (ND) and Long Lake (ND)
Rock Dove/Feral Pigeon (Columbia livia) – Common
Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) – Common throughout
Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) – 1 hunting on prairie south of Bowman (ND), 1 at Long Lake (ND)
Common Nighthawk (Chordeiles minor) – 3 at Wood Lake Nature Center (MN), 30 at Rice Lake NWR (MN), also Aitkin Co. (MN)
Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica) – Widespread
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) – 5 at Murphy-Hanrehan Regional Park (MN)
Belted Kingfisher (Ceryle alcyon) – Female perched by Little Missouri, Marmarth (ND)
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) – Wood Lake Nature Center (MN), Murphy-Hanrehan Regional Park (MN), St John's University (MN)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) – Pair Sax-Zim Bog (MN), pair Savannah Portage State Park (MN), single Lindenwood Park, Fargo (ND)
Downy Woodpecker (Dendrocopus pubescens) – Murphy-Hanrehan Regional Park (MN), probably others
Hairy Woodpecker (Dendrocopus villosus) – widespread, first seen at Murphy-Hanrehan Regional Park (MN), several at Sax-Zim Bog (MN), Sully Creek SP (ND), Lindenwood Park, Fargo (ND), Wood Lake Nature Center (MN)
Black-backed Woodpecker (Picoides arcticus) – Female at Blue Spruce Road, Sax-Zim Bog (MN)
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) – Most common woodpecker, widespread
Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) – Female at Rice Lake NWR (MN)
Eastern Wood-Pewee (Contopus virens) – Murphy-Hanrehan Regional Park (MN), Felton Prairie (MN), probably overlooked elsewhere
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (Empidonax flaviventrum) – Two seen at Sax-Zim Bog (MN), more heard there
Alder Flycatcher (Empidonax alnorum) – One ID'd for sure at Rice Lake NWR (MN) but vast majority of Empidonaxes remained frustratingly silent (and not identified) on this trip. Had better views of this species in Iceland!
Least Flycatcher (Empidonax minimus) – Sax-Zim Bog (MN), Lostwood NWR (MN), probably others but vast majority of Empidonaxes remained frustratingly silent (and not identified) on this trip. Had better views of this species in Iceland!
Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe) – Murphy-Hanrehan Regional Park (MN), Rice Lake NWR (MN)
Say's Phoebe (Sayornis saya) – Pair at Sully Creek SP (ND), single at gully on Rhame Prairie (ND)
Great Crested Flycatcher (Myiarchus crinitus) – Murphy-Hanrehan Regional Park (MN), Wood Lake Nature Center (MN)
Western Kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis) – Common in open areas from Felton Prairie (MN) and west
Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus) – Widespread
Yellow-throated Vireo (Vireo flavifrons) – 2 at Murphy-Hanrehan Regional Park (MN)
Blue-headed Vireo (Vireo solitarius) – 1 at Murphy-Hanrehan Regional Park (MN)
Warbling Vireo (Vireo gilvus) – 1 at Sax-Zim Bog (MN), excellent views of several at Theodore Roosevelt NP South Unit (ND)
Philadelphia Vireo (Vireo philadeplphicus) – 1 at Sax-Zim Bog (MN)
Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus) – Common in wooded areas
Gray Jay (Perisoreus canadensis) – Two family parties seen in Sax-Zim Bog (MN)
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) – Common in wooded areas
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchus) – Abundant throughout
Common Raven (Corvus corax) – Two seen south of Duluth
Horned Lark (Eremophilia alpestris) – Common on prairies, first seen at Felton Prairie (MN), particularly conspicuous at Lostwood NWR (ND) and areas around Bowman and Marmarth (ND)
Purple Martin (Progne subis) – Colonies found at Kenmare (ND) and Long Lake (ND)
Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) – Common in MN, less so in ND
Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis) – Three seen attending nestholes in Theodore Roosevelt NP North Unit (ND)
Bank Swallow (Riparia riparia) – Large colony in quarry on Felton prairie (MN) and numerous at Bowman-Haley Dam (ND)
Cliff Swallow (Hirundo pyrrhonota) – Common at road bridges throughout
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) – Common to abundant throughout
Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapilla) – Common in wooded areas
Boreal Chickadee (Poecile hudsonicus) – One seen, more heard, at Sax-Zim Bog (MN)
Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) – One seen very well at Sax-Zim Bog
White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) – 3 at Murphy-Hanrehan Regional Park (MN), 1 near Lake Lida (MN), 2 Theodore Roosevelt NP South Unit (ND), 2 Lindenwood Park, Fargo (ND)
Rock Wren (Salpinctes obsoletus) – Pair in gully on Rhame Prairie (ND)
Sedge Wren (Cistothorus platensis) – Locally common. First seen by road in Aitkin Co. (MN), Rice Lake NWR (MN), Sax-Zim Bog (MN), Pietz's Rd area (MN), Lostwood NWR (ND)
Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris) – Several seen very well at Des Lacs NWR (ND)
House Wren (Troglodytes aedon) – Pair at Theodore Roosevelt NP North Unit (ND)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula) – 1 at Sax-Zim Bog (MN), many more heard. Hard to see
Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa) – 1 at Sax-Zim Bog (MN), three seen well in Pietz's Rd area, many more heard. Hard to see
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea) – 5 in same area of Murphy-Hanrehan Regional Park (MN)
Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) – Murphy-Hanrehan Regional Park (MN), common at entrance to Rice Lake NWR (MN), Theodore Roosevelt NP South Unit (ND)
Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides) – 4 in Theodore Roosevelt NP North Unit (ND), 3 in Theodore Roosevelt NP South Unit (ND)
Veery (Catharus fuscescens) – 1 at Stone Lake Rd, Sax-Zim (MN)
Swainson's Thrush (Catharus ustulatus) – 1 at Theodore Roosevelt NP South Unit (ND)
American Robin (Turdus migratorius) – Common throughout
Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) – Murphy-Hanrehan Regional Park, Rice Lake NWR (MN), Theodore Roosevelt NP South Unit (ND)
Brown Thrasher (Toxostoma rufum) – 1 at Sully Creek SP (ND), 1 at Long Lake (ND)
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) – Common
Sprague's Pipit (Anthus spragueii) – 2 at Lostwood NWR (ND)
Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) – 60+ Theodore Roosevelt NP South Unit (ND), hundreds in Lindenwood Park, Fargo (ND)
Blue-winged Warbler (Vermivora pinus) – Several at Murphy-Hanrehan Regional Park (MN)
Golden-winged Warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera) – Singing male at Sax-Zim Bog (MN)
Tennessee Warbler (Vermivora peregrina) – 1 at Theodore Roosevelt NP South Unit (ND), 1 at Long Lake (ND) and 3 at Lindenwood Park, Fargo (ND)
Nashville Warbler (Vermivora ruficapilla) – Several seen in Sax-Zim Bog (MN)
Yellow Warbler (Dendroica petechia) – Common, seen daily
Chestnut-sided Warbler (Dendroica pensylvanica) – Male Sax-Zim bog (MN), several Rice Lake NWR (MN)
Magnolia Warbler (Dendroica magnolia) – 1 male Sax-Zim Bog (MN)
Cape May Warbler (Dendroica tigrina) – 1 stunning male at Sax-Zim bog. My favourite warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Dendroica coronota) – Rice Lake NWR (MN), Sax-Zim (MN)
Black-throated Green Warbler (Dendroica virens) – Murphy-Hanrehan Regional Park (MN), Sax-Zim Bog (MN), Rice Lake NWR (MN)
Blackburnian Warbler (Dendroica fusca) – 3 superb males in Sax-Zim Bog (MN)
Blackpoll Warbler (Dendroica striata) – Late migrants at Murphy-Hanrehan Regional Park (MN), Rice Lake NWR (MN)
Black-and-white Warbler (Mniotilta varia) – 1 Sax-Zim Bog (MN)
American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla) – Common at Murphy-Hanrehan Regional Park (MN), Sax-Zim Bog (MN), Pietz's Rd area (MN)
Ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapillus) – Murphy-Hanrehan Regional Park (MN)
Connecticut Warbler (Oporornis agilis) – Scope views of singing bird at Sax-Zim Bog (MN) and a couple more heard in this area
Mourning Warbler (Oporornis philadelphia) – 1 male at Sax-Zim bog (MN)
Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas) – Most common warbler, seen daily
Canada Warbler (Wilsonia canadensis) – Murphy-Hanrehan Regional Park (MN), Rice Lake NWR (MN)
Yellow-breasted Chat (Icteria virens) – Common and conspicuous Theodore Roosevelt NP North and South Units (ND) and Sully Creek SP (ND)
Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea) – Murphy-Hanrehan Regional Park (MN), Sax-Zim Bog (MN), St John's University (MN)
Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus) – Common and conspicuous Theodore Roosevelt NP North and South Units (ND) and Sully Creek SP (ND)
Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina) – Common and widespread
Clay-colored Sparrow (Spizella pallida) – Rice Lake NWR (MN), abundant at Lostwood NWR (ND) and elsewhere in ND
Brewer's Sparrow (Spizella breweri) – 1 in sage brush country south of Marmarth (ND)
Field Sparrow (Spizella pusilla) – Murphy-Hanrehan Regional Park (MN), Theodore Roosevelt NP North and South Units (ND), prairie north of Marmarth (ND)
Vesper Sparrow (Pooecetes gramineus) – Common at Lostwood NWR (ND), Theodore Roosevelt NP North Unit (ND), Marmarth area (ND)
Lark Sparrow (Chondestes grammacus) – Common and conspicuous Theodore Roosevelt NP North and South Units (ND) and Sully Creek SP (ND)
Lark Bunting (Calamospiza melanocorys) – Very common south of Bowman-Marmarth (ND)
Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis) – Common and widespread
Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum) – Rice Lake NWR (MN), Lostwood NWR (ND), Bowman-Haley Dam (ND)
Baird's Sparrow (Ammodramus bairdii) – 1 seen and 2 more heard at Lostwood NWR (ND). Hard to see and essential to know its song
Le Conte's Sparrow (Ammodramus leconteii) – 1 seen extremely well at Greater Prairie-Chicken lek at Rothsay (MN). Several birds heard but hidden in grass at Stone Lake Rd, Sax-Zim Bog (MN). Learn its song!
Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow (Ammodramus nelsoni) – 1 seen singing in small slough 1.2 miles after park headquarters at Lostwood NWR (ND). As with other Ammodramus sparrows, learn its song.
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) – Common and widespread
Lincoln's Sparrow (Melospiza lincolnii) – Superb views of singing bird at Sax-Zim Bog (MN)
Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana) – Murphy-Hanrehan Regional Park (MN), Rice Lake NWR (MN), Sax-Zim Bog (MN), Pietz's Rd area (MN)
White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) – Heard all day at Sax-Zim Bog (MN) but only seen once
McCown's Longspur (Calcarius mccownii) – Several displaying birds and nest with four chicks on Rhame Prairie (ND)
Chestnut-collared Longspur (Calcarius ornatus) – Several displaying birds on Felton Prairie (MN) and many birds at McCown's Longspur site on Rhame Prairie (ND)
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) – Wood Lake Nature Center (MN), Murphy-Hanrehan Regional Park (MN)
Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus) – 2 males Sax-Zim Bog (MN), 6 at roadside feeder Aitkin Co. (MN)
Black-headed Grosbeak (Pheucticus melanocephalus) – Pair at picnic site Theodore Roosevelt NP South Unit (ND)
Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea) – Murphy-Hanrehan Regional Park (MN), Wood Lake Nature Center (MN)
Lazuli Bunting (Passerina amoena) – Theodore Roosevelt NP South Unit (ND), Sully Creek SP (ND)
Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus) – Common and conspicuous in many agricultural areas
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) – Common to abundant almost everywhere, but less common in western ND. Perhaps most numerous bird I've ever seen
Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna) – 3 birds by roadside in Aitkin Co. (MN) were the only ones positively identified (on song)
Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta) – first seen at Sax-Zim Bog (MN), common from Rothsay (MN) westward, ubiquitous in ND. Its incredibly loud song even penetrates the car as you drive at 70 mph along the interstate.
Yellow-headed Blackbird (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus) – First seen in Palisade area (MN), common in marshy areas in ND
Brewer's Blackbird (Euphagus cyanocephalus) – First seen at Sax-Zim Bog (MN), common roadside prairie bird
Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) – Common everywhere
Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater) – Common eveywhere
Orchard Oriole (Icterus spurius) – 2 males and female Felton Prairie area (MN), pair near Horsehead Lake (ND), 5 at campground in Theodore Roosevelt NP South Unit (ND)
Bullock's Oriole (Icterus bullockii) – 1 male Theodore Roosevelt NP North Unit (ND), 2 males Theodore Roosevelt NP South Unit (ND)
Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula) – Wood Lake Nature Center (MN), Murphy-Hanrehan Regional Park (MN), Sax-Zim Bog (MN), Theodore Roosevelt NP South Unit (ND)
Purple Finch (Carpodacus purpureus) – Singing male Stone Lake Rd, Sax-Zim Bog (MN), several at feeder in Cotton (MN)
House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) – Pair attending nest Murphy-Hanrehan Regional Park (MN), male in Kenmare (ND)
American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) – Common and widespread
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) – Common and widespread
Mammals – 15 species
North American Porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum)
Common Muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus)
Black-tailed Prairie Dog (Cynomys ludovicianus)
Richardson’s Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus richardsonii)
Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus tridecemlineatus)
Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus)
Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)
American Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)
Eastern Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus)
White-tailed Jackrabbit (Lepus townsendii)
White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)
Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus)
Pronghorn (Antilocapra americana)
American Bison (Bos bison)
Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis)