Moments in North Dakota

During quieter times during the trade show, I let Cinnamon run loose. She kept heading over to a wood carver's table. At first I thought she was just after wood chips that fell on the floor. But after observing her assume this position, I realized she was hoping they would carve a figurine of her. They just smiled and patted her head.

Can I just say how much I heart Eldon Greij? He gave a wonderful presentation at the banquet about birding moments. He shared slides he'd collected from photographers over the years and told about special moments with certain birds he had seen in his lifetime. He's so funny, every time the audience would go "Awwwww" at a cute photo that looked a tad anthropomorphic, he would say, "Stop that!" Yet, at the same time, some of his birding moments were so personal, he himself get a little emotional recounting the stories. He's a wonderful presenter at festivals, not too dry and boring, but not saccharine sweet either. Just the way I like 'em.

Cinnamon and I worked all day Saturday and had a great time at the binocular booth at the Potholes and Prairie Bird Festival. I love the friendliness of the town. Since I had decided to come to this festival at the last moment, I didn't really research what birds to expect in the area. I had heard people say they were seeing lark buntings, Baird's sparrows and Sprague's pipits--three I have never seen before. I mentioned in passing that I would like to see those species and all day Saturday between customers people came up to me to give me directions to find them. BT3 gave directions to a large pile of barbed wire that would guarantee lark buntings. Paulette of Arrowood NWR gave me a PLOTS map with marks on it. Stacey Adolph-Whipp told me of a spot where there would be so many Sprague's pipits singing, that it would be hard to hear the Baird's. A few other people gave directions.

I decided to go look for them before I drove home on Sunday. When I followed Paulette's directions and map, I discovered a huge pile of barbed wire--the pile BT3 must have been talking about--low and behold lark buntings. The area was so beautiful and isolated, I decided to chuck any further directions and just experience the prairie and meander here and there.

I found this dilapidated house right off of 14. I took a walk down the "minimum maintenance road" to take a few photos. Dickcissels, grasshopper sparrows and savannah sparrows surrounded me. As I had the house and landscape in my viewfinder, I noticed some movement.

A doe was walking right towards me. When she was within 20 feet of me, she could sense I was there. The wind blew my scent straight for her. She started raising and lowering her head. It reminds me of something Cinnamon does when she's uncertain. We call it her bunny pushups, as she crouches down and rises up, trying to size up the object. The deer knew I was there, but she couldn't see me because I wasn't moving. I wanted to stick it out and see how close she would get, but my nose had other plans. I sneezed and she took off. It was a beautiful moment until the snot interrupted.

I love taking time out in these isolated spots. We're fortunate to live in a country where you can find places and pretend to (or in some cases actually) be the only person for miles. I used to think birding in boreal areas was my favorite habitat, but more I spend time on prairies, the more it is my favorite. I was so overwhelmed by the songs.

As I meandered, I found a spot engulfed by the songs of Sprague's pipits--this must be the spot that Stacey told me about. You couldn't hear any other birds, not even the bobolink. Their song reminds me of a canyon wren song, the way it spirals downward. I was so overcome, you couldn't see them, but you could hear them all around you. I decided that I didn't care if I didn't see or hear a Baird's, this moment was more than enough for today. I got back in the car and reconfirmed some birdcalls. I decided to drive around and do some digiscoping with a car window mounted scope. As I drove, the arrangement came loose, and I had to pull over and tighten it up. I absently noticed I was hearing a Baird's sparrow singing. I though I left my laptop playing songs and I turned to shut it off. My laptop was closed. There was an actual Baird's singing near the car. As I stood outside I could hear three different birds singing. I found one teed up on some grass but he flew down before I could take his photo. Three new birds--sweet!

Swainson's hawks were all over the place. It totally seemed like a switch had been flipped when I crossed from Minnesota into North Dakota. As soon as I crossed the border, all the red-tails turned into Swainson's hawks.

Check it out, east meets west in North Dakota:

Here on these rocks we have an eastern kingbird on the left and a western kingbird on the right. I've never seen this before, I don't know if this was just a meeting of the minds or some potential hybridization or what. I wasn't pulled over in the safest spot, so I couldn't stick around to find out.

With the wind blowing, the western kingbirds were kiting quietly over the grass. I wish I could have photographed that, but they were too quick for my digiscope setup. I did enjoy watching them hang in the air silently.

Speaking of kiting, there was an actual kite festival going on in town during the bird festival. When I drove by, I could hear some of the house sparrows in the neighborhood giving warning calls. I wondered if it was over the kites? They're clever fellows, I'm sure they eventually figured out that the giant octopi weren't going to get them.

I did learn that several people at the ND fest will be at the ABA Convention next week. Eeep. I need to prep for that. I leave Saturday for Maine. Part of the time, I'll be working with the Stokes. Whoot! I'm so stoked about the Stokes.