The Rainy Part of the Potholes and Prairie Bird Festival

First off: I have spent the morning updating my appearances on my Google Calendar page (all the way into March 2009) and have even included the next Birds and Beers on June 19 at Merlin's Rest. Birds and Beers is an informal gathering of birders of all abilities to connect and share birding stories and info. If you are remotely interested in birds, you're invited.

I love, love, love birding in North Dakota and love the Potholes and Prairie Bird Festival. But, every year there is always a day of cold rain and harsh winds that make even the most fervent bird enthusiast wonder, "What the heck am I doing with my life?"

But then you get the clear, crisp mornings at dawn on the prairie and all is forgiven and you realize that as a birder, this is what you live for. I'll blog that later, now it's time for the crap weather birding. One morning, I woke up at 4:15 am to the sound of heavy rain. I had to get ready for my 5am bus to Chase Lake NWR, so piled on the layers and rain coat and headed to the hotel lobby. It was silent, but when I turned the corner, I found this:

Field trip participants gathered round a muted tv desperately watching the weather channel and hoping against hope that the 90% chance of all day rain and strong winds predicted the night before was really going to stop at 5:05am. I laughed at the silence and intensity of the scene. Mental Note: Don't laugh at birders before 5am and before they have had a serious cup of coffee.

Alas, it rained for most of the day. At some points it was an "honest rain" as someone referred to it, others it was accompanied by unforgiving winds. And yet, at other times, it would stop while we were on the bus, and suddenly begin a light drizzle as soon as people started getting off the bus. Doh! I traveled to Potholes and Prairies with my friend Kate from Eagle Optics and we chose to sit in the back of the bus to not only help point out birds for people in back, but to try and provide some comic relief. I was so glad to not be an official field trip leader for this trip since that would mean getting off the bus at every stop to find the target. Bless poor, wet guides Kim Risen and Stacey Adolf-Whipp for doing that hard task. The big upside for Kate and I was that we got to hang with Rondeau Ric (although sans stache, but apparently it was not the source of his comic power, so he was still funny).

One morning, Kate and I had a couple of hours and we checked out Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge on our own. We were excited to see the bison on the refuge. I love the above sign warning about what you should do around the bison that can roam on the road. Helpful things like "Do No Disturb or Chase" or "Tails Up! A Raised Tail is a Warning Sign to Stay Away!" You may think the sign is overkill, but after the dork wad I encountered at Antelope Island a couple of years ago in Utah, I'm not so sure.

We found the small herd on a hillside far enough away that we could safely digiscope them.

The baby bison were a trip. Some were frolicking, some were nursing. We saw no "tails up" unless you count the bison that were...evacuating their backside. However, our buddy, the Zeiss Rep, Steve Ingraham had a much closer encounter with the bison than we did--they completely blocked the road once he drove into their paddock. He made it out okay without any headbutting dents to his his rental, but I'm glad it was him and not us.

Speaking of Zeiss, I have to give them some props for their freebie at their booth--gummy binoculars--genius! Not quite as genius as the bag 'o gin from Bird Uganda Tours given away in Texas, but a mighty close second. They did taste really good. Especially the red ones.

One of the coolest things Kate and I found at Arrowwood was a large flock of cliff swallows swarming around a bridge. I'm sure they were nesting beneath it. This flock was already swirling over our heads. Then, for some reason, I bent down on the side of the bridge to see if I could see any of the nests and they skies doubled with more birds fleeing the nests on the bridge. It was pretty cool! We left soon after that in case any of the birds needed to get back to incubating or brooding chicks on this cool day. I did get a video to try and capture the experience: