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North Dakota - June 2021 (1 Viewer)


New member
United States

Having grown up in much-forested Michigan (USA), wide-open spaces like deserts and prairies have always fascinated me. Although I had spent some time in North Dakota previously, I had never visited with birds in mind, so a week of full-on birding throughout the state absolutely intrigued me. My basic plan was a week trekking around the state, sleeping at (mostly) state parks in the back of my Subaru Outback, equipped with a 3” memory foam mattress and vinyl screen fitted to each window for air circulation.
I left my mid-Michigan home about noon on Saturday, June 12, spent the night in Ironwood in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and arrived in Grand Forks around 1:00 PM on Sunday. Interesting to note that it took longer to get through Michigan – one of the longest states in the Lower 48 from end to end – than it took to get from Michigan to North Dakota.

Sunday, June 13
I met up with Sandy Aubol, a.k.a. the LeConte’s Whisperer, just outside of Grand Forks. She had offered to help me find one of my three Lifer targets, and despite strong winds she had her scope trained on a singing bird within minutes of arriving at her first stakeout location. LeConte’s Sparrow: USA Life Bird #602 - thank you, Sandy! From the Grand Forks area, I began what would (mostly) be a counterclockwise circuit around the (mostly) entire state. After birding Kelly Slough NWR, I headed north, I picked up many birds here and there with random stops toward my first night’s destination: Icelandic State Park.
Day Birds: 51
Trip Birds to Date: 51

Monday, June 14
The following morning, I pointed my Outback west, birding Jay Wessels WMA, Pembina Gorge SRA, Wakopa WMA, Lords Lake NWR, Willow Lake NWR, and Sand Lake and Pelican Lake before settling into my campsite at Lake Metigoshe State Park. Much of the area I birded today had a distinctively eastern/northern flavor, and I racked up a lot of familiar birds in this scenic region, including Scarlet Tanager, Black-and-white Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Baltimore Oriole, Great Crested Flycatcher, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Veery, Eastern Towhee, Ovenbird, and more.
Day Birds: 96
Trip Birds to Date: 107

Tuesday, June 15
Awaking early, my first stop was J. Clark Salyer NWR, then Upper Souris NWR, Des Lacs NWR, Lostwood NWR, Williston Marsh, and Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North Unit), where I spent the night at the park’s Juniper Campground. Today the trip took on a much more western feel, and many of the birds I saw reflected that feel: California Gull, Spotted Towhee, Yellow-breasted Chat, Mountain Bluebird, Western Wood-Pewee. I love the North Dakota Badlands, which have a much different character than the South Dakota version at Badlands National Park. Enjoyed encounters with Bison, prairie dogs, and a spunky Red-headed Woodpecker.
Day Birds: 81
Trip Birds to Date: 122

Wednesday, June 16
After a stop at Lake Ilo NWR, I birded the Killdeer Mountains en route to Little Missouri State Park, where I planned to spend the night. I spent an hour or so at the park – which has amazing views of the river canyon below - but then decided to continue on to Cross Ranch State Park, which would put me a bit closer to my early morning meet-up with Kiehl Smith, just north of Wing. Cross Ranch is a fantastic bit of riparian ecosystem along the mighty Missouri River, with massive cottonwood trees providing shade for campers and habitat for birds. Today’s best find was a shy Gray Partridge that flirted with the gravel road along some school property southeast of the Killdeer Mountains. Not a great view, but good enough for a Lifer – USA Life Bird #603.
Day Birds: 52
Trip Birds to Date: 127

Thursday, June 17
A 4:00 AM break from camp had me on the road dark and early, bound for the Davis Ranch Preserve in Sheridan County. I met up with Kiehl and his field partner Elijah at 5:45 AM, both of whom are participating in a study of grassland nesting birds and are permitted to drive back into the preserve. This saved me a couple miles of hiking in, and after spending a bit of time with them, I worked my way through the preserve back to my parked car. My primary target bird at the ranch was Baird’s Sparrow, but we were unable to conjure one up. Next up I hit Salt Lake (Burleigh County) with its plethora of ducks, grebes, and shorebirds. After a quick jog into Wells County, I worked my way over and down to Horsehead Lake, Dewald Slough, and eventually my camp for the night at Beaver Lake State Park. Notable birds today included a lingering Snow Goose at Horsehead Lake, Chestnut-collared Longspurs at Davis Ranch, Cattle Egrets at Dewald Slough, and my first Swainson’s Hawk of the trip on a back road in Logan County.
Day Birds: 77
Trip Birds to Date: 139

Friday, June 18
After sleeping in a bit (7:30 AM), I headed out on the road, checking prairie potholes and other interesting stops as I meandered backcountry roads in the southeast part of the state. Eventually I worked my way up to Arrowwood NWR where I birded the auto tour and visitor center area. I then turned south again, with numerous stops along the way, including Sanborn WPA, on my way to Fort Ransom State Park, where I would spend my final night in North Dakota. The state park sits in a wooded river valley that is an obvious migrant trap (probably amazing in May) and home to a wide array of breeding “eastern” birds – among them a pair of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers I found that attracted some attention from a few of the state’s big chasers, who arrived a couple days later to tick the birds. Other new trip birds on the day included Yellow-throated Vireo, House Finch, and Lesser Yellowlegs.
Day Birds: 82
Trip Birds to Date: 143

Saturday, June 19
Departure day…eventually all things good come to an end, and my time exploring North Dakota had reached its conclusion. I broke camp and left about 7:00 AM, heading east toward the Minnesota state line, and eventually home to Michigan, via Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana. This morning I managed to add two more ND trip birds before exiting the state: Eastern Wood-Pewee and Eastern Bluebird.
Day Birds: 34
Total Trip Birds: 145

Total Lifers: 2 (LeConte’s Sparrow & Gray Partridge)
What a great trip! What an amazing state! I left North Dakota just as excited about wide-open spaces as when I arrived, but also much more aware of the state’s wide diversity of habitats, from the agricultural fields of the east to the hilly woodlands of the north, from the Badlands of the west to the prairie potholes region throughout the central and southern part of the state. And I spent most of the week without seeing another soul – birder or otherwise – while out exploring.

Thank you, North Dakota!
A Dakotas trip has been on the radar for me for awhile, as I still need LeConte's and Baird's Sparrow, White-winged Junco, and some of the local mammals. Thanks for the report!
Both LeConte's Sparrow and Baird's Sparrow are easy to bring in using sound recordings...very close in fact (no need of a scope). Try your luck with Upland Sandpiper and Marbled Godwit (respond well), and with some luck Wilson's Phalarope. Good Luck!
I visited the Dakotas years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. No need for playback – LeConte's was right next to the road anyway.
With the current access to records, I would have done even better (e.g. Large-(or is it Thick?)-billed Longspur, Lewis's Woordpecker) – and having a GPS would also make life easier.
I may well be the only tourist ever to go to the Black Mountains and not see Mt Rushmore.
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