This past Sunday was just about as perfect as a day can get for me. It started at 4:15am when Kate and I woke up to load up our van for the ride home at the end of the festival. At 5am, we met up with good friends Kim Risen and Bill of the Birds to have some time to just sit and enjoy some Sprague's pipits and Baird's sparrows. It was rounded out with some fun driving time with my buddy Kate and then finished with a spicy Thai meal and some quality time with Non Birding Bill. One of the first birds we saw in the wee hours of the dawn--a short-eared owl! And check it out, it's tiny, barely there tufties were erect. Not only did we see the owl...we got to see what it's named for. Take that, historic ornithologists who gave birds names for obscure parts barely seen in the field!
A chestnut-collared longspur just chillin' on the fence. There are brown birds, and then there are Brown Birds. Chestnut-collards take brown to a whole new beautiful level and they still have that bobolink thing going with their black chest. BNA describes them as prairie specialists: "Typical breeding habitat is arid, short to mixed grass prairie that has been recently grazed or mowed...this species avoids nesting in areas protected from grazing, instead preferring pastures and mowed areas such as airstrips, as well as grazed native prairie habitats."
The next bird we heard was a grasshopper sparrow (that's the hunch backed looking bird in the above photo). It's buzzy call was mixed with western meadowlark and about that time we heard Sprague's pipits overhead. I've linked to the songs, but if you have birdJam or any bird cds and are not familiar with these songs--look them up.
You can hear Canada geese and western meadowlarks singing in the background of that video.
There was also a pair of savannah sparrows nearby--above is one of them. The two would chase each other and periodically, the Baird's would get caught up in the chase as well. I don't think Baird's feel that threatened by savannah sparrows, but I have a feeling that their fighting was taking place a little too close to its nest.
The Baird's sparrow kept getting closer and close. Kim suggested that we all get as low to the ground as we could and see how close the Baird's would get to us. It came within ten feet. Here are the photos, it was almost too close to fit into the field of view of my scope.
There we were listening to one of the sweetest bird songs in North America, and even more sweet songs overhead and surrounding us--it seemed amost unreal to hear the Sprague's pipit's descending song right after the Baird's. The prairie was chilly, but gradually warming in the glow of sunrise, giving the wet ground a sweet and musky smell. You could barely hear traffic. Sharing the moment with people who truly appreciate the moment and prairie in the same way is what really made the morning, this is what birding is truly all about for me. As we were enjoying moment on the prairie with the Baird's we heard two vans pull up way back by the roadside where we parked. A quick scan in the scopes revealed the vans were full of people with floppy hats and khaki hats: birders. They unloaded.
Kim Risen and I recognized one of the people as fellow Minnesota birder and Victor Emanuel tour leader Kim Eckert. I always get a kick out of the random meetings that can happen in another state. He was leading two vans for VENT and like us was there for the Baird's and the Sprague's pipits. We went over to say hello.
And as much as I would have liked to have sunk into the ground and just enjoy the sounds and smells for the rest of the day (despite the ticks) we had to head home. So, once again, after a cold, crappy, rainy, windy reception to the state, all is once again forgiven with a North Dakota dawn.