I’m calling this the North Dakota Trip, but since we’re travelling through Wisconsin, Minnesota, and spending the first night in South Dakota – well, we’re birders so we start birding when we see birds. But alas, the title “North Dakota Trip” rolls off the tongue a bit better than the “Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Montana Trip”. Semantics aside, let’s get on with it……
After more than a year of kicking around the idea of a birding trip to North Dakota, all the ducks (fitting right?) fell into place. This was somewhat of an easy trip to plan because the Northeast Wisconsin Birding Club has this unique combo of GPS/bird guide/wildlife photographer/bird expert-extraordinaire; I highly recommend that each bird club out there get their own “Neil”! A “Neil” is someone who has decades of birding experience, can navigate multiple states with little reference to maps, and is willing to introduce new birding locations to others. Not to mention helping each of us collect some new lifers. And NO, you can’t have our clubs Neil – get your own!
The four of us, Neil, Vicki, Lynn, and myself left Appleton at 5am on Thursday, May 26th. A few weeks earlier, Neil had provided an itinerary, both Lynn and Neil booked hotel reservations, I scoured the internet for bird sights from the Dakotas, and Vicki well, Vicki didn’t do anything (hahaha Vicki!). Wait, I take that back Vicki brought the alcohol. Leaving early ensured we’d arrive at our first night of lodging before evening and gave us an opportunity for a bit of birding along the way. By the afternoon we had travelled and birded through Wisconsin and Minnesota, crossed the Red River into North Dakota, and arrived in Aberdeen, South Dakota shortly after 4pm.
On the way into Aberdeen, I got my first looks of what we were in-for: shorebirds galore!!! Oh, and my first lifer of the trip on what was essentially a travel day – an American Avocet.
After overnighting in Abeerdeen, we got an early start on Friday morning, May 27th. Witnessing the sunrise over the prairie marsh at Sand Lake is a spectacular way to start the day and was only rivaled by the addition of two more lifers; Franklin’s Gull and Swainson’s Hawk. Although the Swainson’s was to distant to get a photo, there would be ample opportunities in the days ahead and spoiler alert, I got a few decent shots that I’ll share. Some of the other highlights from our morning at Sand Lake:
From Sand Lake we headed over to McPherson County and stopped at the Ordway Memorial Prairie. This is one of the benefits of having a “Neil” – this prairie is nearly unmarked and located along a highway; a place you could easily drive right by without realizing it was there. Stop number 2, life bird number 3 for the day; Western Kingbird.
In the afternoon we said good-bye to South Dakota and headed for our overnight lodging in Jamestown, North Dakota. Jamestown is not only home of the world’s largest buffalo (and a shop where it was impossible to control Vicki & Lynn), but is also where one of my uncles favorite authors was born – the American novelist and short story writer Louis L’Amour. And while we did stop to see the world’s largest buffalo, the birds were still the highlights – including my 4th lifer of the day, Eared Grebe!
Travel day + day 1 and I’m 5 lifers in…not a bad way to start a trip!!! Until next time, Bird It Up!