Friday, June 20, 2008

Finish North Dakota, into Montana

Saturday June 14, 2008

It was slow and mellow waking up, used the truck-stop facilities for head maintenance, you know, teeth and shaving, drank coffee, ate a muffin, then went off hoping the roads had drained enough to be passable. I got down there about 6am, on a route I'd scouted out the evening before, and the rods, though muddy, weren't the kind of sloppy slippery I'd learned to associate with hazard. The birding was fairly good, I managed some new species, including a small group of Cacling Geese hanging near some Canadians. I have trouble making the distinction at a distance if there's no comparison. There were also a few shoebirds, not ad many as I'd hoped since mud was scarce, and the seasonal timing was bad, only the latest stragglers would be around, or birds that had chosen to not go north at all. One piece of good fortune was meeting a top-notch local birder, who's name I can only guess now since like an idiot I didn't write it out fully in my notes. I need to start being more careful about the memory compromises that I'm getting as I reluctantly age. I rthink it was Riles, but it's not in the ABA directory. Maybe I can find it online. Anyway, we talked for most of half an hour about weather patterns (it had been a wet late spring there) the state of the lakes, they were much fuller than they'd been for several years, and my nemesis. I told him I thought that Gray Partridges really didn't exist, feeling defeated and cynical/ironic. He said he sometimes saw several in a morning. I guess that was encouraging. He did add one clue to my search profile, that they often hung out in tree-lines along roads near old farmsteads which in that country usually had windbreaks planted around. I guess I could have hired him for the next morning, but I'm stubborn about finding birds for myself, partially thrift, and partially knowing that it's the way to really "earn" the tic.

I got all the way to the south end of the south lake, then headed back into town, crossed to the west side, and followed the tour road along the north lake. It was surprisingly good for passerines in the low woods and brush which grew up in the shelter between the bordering hills and the lakeshore. The end of the road connected via dirt with a two-lane heading for Lostwood NWR, which only took about a half hour to get to. I love Lostwood, no sooner had I stopped for a scan of the pond behind the HQ building than a Prairie Falcon landed about twenty feet from the truck, apparently intent on some priarie dogs. Great look, finally saw the fine subtle banding on the upper-side of the tail. Not much fartehr and a Baird's Sparrow sat still for almost two minutes while I checked off every distinctive field mark. I needed that since it didn't sing. I'd been listening to the tape for a day or more, embedding the song in my mind, along with what seemed the similar Savannah Sparrow song, so I'd be pretty sure when I heard one, and there were lots of SASP.

Towards the end of the tour road, which doesn't loop, theres a lake with sand spits that have a very few Piping Plovers. It seemed like there were far fewer than I'd seen several years earlier, and I could only find two nest protection pens, one with a tiny but visible bird. In the same area there was the only Upland Sandpiper of the trip, another species that I would have expected in greater numbers. Best thrill was while I was walking around with the scope trying to get the right angle on the PIPL and suddenly a pretty fair sized bird was circling around screaming its head off. Marbled Godwit doing its in-you-face territory protection routine, maybe chicks were close by. Several times farteher west during the trip I got this personal attention, always very Marlin Perkins. Then off to Montana, just an hour or so to Medicine Lake NWR.

North Dakota ended up being a great success for the trip, not only got 100+ tics, but made 30%. I saw 118 species in two days, 112 were new to the list, since I hadn't kept detailed records on the previous trip.

Medicine Lake was so-so, again hampered by overfilled water features and no mud. I did start adding some ducks and sparrows. I had 45 tics from previous trips, but they were mostly from the western part of the state, especially Red Rock Lakes NWR, surrounded by the Madison and Centenniel Mtns, where I'd camped a couple of time while in the Yellowstone area. This was totally different habitat, lower, flatter and dryer. I had a brochure of Northwestern Montana birding sites, which is available online also, and I'd tagged most of those in the GPS software. Several of those places were excellent. From there to Ft Peck Dam is quite a ways. MT is one of those states that doesn't seem so big in the road atlas until you see the scale is 25 miles to the inch spread across two big pages. I never got off the right page. Ft Peck Lake is huge, 100 plus miles of the Missouri River backed up in high semi-desert. I stayed at the campground at the dam site, in view of the Museum dedicated mostly to Lewis and Clark, but had arrived too late to check it out. The campground below the dam is an oasis, lots of trees, gazillions of Yellow Warblers, a pretty fair selection of other passerines, and it has a long nature trail that loops around the wooded area, then around a nice piece of grassland also. Spent a couple of hours checking it out as the day ended.

Slept well, woken by Least Flycatchers and YEWA


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