Monday, June 8, 2009

Day four: searching for Chestnut-collared Longspur

I woke this morning in my fancy Minot Best Western bed while it was still dark out.  Fortunately, the motel room window opens and I walked to the window to feel cold air and to see rain falling hard.  I went back to bed and woke again by my alarm - still raining.  A review of the weather does not look promising.
In fact, the weather never did get better.  It rained all day!  Not only that, the temperature never did rise above 50 degrees.  Good grief.  I'll just say up front that my day of birding was not entirely unsuccessful, but I did have my hopes set much higher.
In addition to the rain, which I had no control over; my first tactical mistake was to come here.  A complete waste of time and it took my whole morning. 
On the way to J.Clark Saylor NWR, I at least got to confirm my Franklin's Gulls when I found a whole field full.  They were a common bird throughout the day.  From J. Clark Saylor, I went to Lostwood NWR and this was moderately more successful.  This NWR is true prairie and it was beautiful.  
The dull photo above taken from under the gray sky does not really do the area justice.  In real life, the vibrant colors of the prairie are really striking and visually appealing.
These cute little guys were around.  I guess they are some kind of prairie dog, but it also looks marmoset-like.  Where is Beatrix Potter when you need her?

I heard Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow and LeConte's Sparrow nearly straightaway.  I never did see either.  I guess this is a bad omen for adding Nelson's Sharp-tailed to my life list.  On the car drive, I saw many Vesper, Clay-colored and Savannah sparrows.  Grasshopper Sparrows were not as numerous, but they were around.  I heard one more LeConte's and heard and saw two more Baird's Sparrows.  The Baird's did not show as nicely as the one I found on day 3, but still very nice to confirm. 
At one point I heard Willets, but could not locate them until, by accident, I came too close to their nest  Both birds flushed up and flew around quite vociferously, like we expect of Killdeer.  This Willet landed on the road for this shot.  Willets are quite drab when standing still, but in flight they are significantly more attractive and very distinctive.
 Upset and letting me know it.
And settling back near its nest.

Somewhere before seeing the Willets, I was able to scope out one Piping Plover on the lake shore.  That's right, just one; but it was well seen and unmistakable.  My fourth life bird of the trip.  

After the plover and the willets, I was coming to the end of the NWR and was looking at a Baird's Sparrow when another car came up from the opposite direction.  Birders.  Question:  "What are you seeing?" Response: "Well, what are you interested in."  Turns out that the two birders were from Maryland!  Ed Boyd and Jim Staz were in North Dakota and we ran into each other.  Ed and Jim were having much better luck than I was.  They told me about an area that had Spague's Pipits and Chestnut-colored Longspurs, both of which they saw well. They showed me the location on their DeLorme map.  We chatted a bit more and then I went off to their location.  I've already forgotten the name of the lake, Sim ... Lake just beyond Powers Lake, was quite birdy. From here I went to the pipit and longspur location.  I was shocked that I could actually find it.  Ed and Jim gave some good landmarks.
This is the longspur field.  That little dark spot on the top of the fence is a Grasshopper Sparrow.  I could hear the Chestnut-colored Longspurs, but I was not going to see them from this spot.  I walked up along a two-track that was outside of the fence.
From here I saw three birds flying - (perhaps they were all the same bird, but it sounded like more than one bird).  Two perched very briefly and one flew quite close and then disappeared into the grass.  I would have liked to see a perched bird, but I'm not sure that this would be easy to do even on perfect birding day.  I never did see or hear Spague's Pipit. The longspurs were my fifth life bird on this trip.  I'm going to try for both again tomorrow.

On the long drive back to Minot (I did too much driving today thereby wasting too much time) I debated with myself about going to Minot Sewage Lagoons for the Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow.  It continued to rain, I was tired and, in the end, lazy.  I did not go.  I'll either need to come back for this bird or find it in Michigan in autumn.

Other good birds seen today were Marbled Godwit, Wilson's Phalarope, White-rumped Sandpiper and the waterfowl continue on all the prairie potholes and other bodies of water.  On eastbound highway 2, returning to the motel and nearly to Minot, I saw a Short-eared Owl in the grass alongside the road.  I turned around and went back, but could not refind the bird again.  A nice surprice to the end a very long day of so-so birding.

Continuing on, tomorrow morning early I am on my way to Medicine Lake NWR in northeast Montana.  Hopefully, I'll be able to see Spague's Pipit and Chestnut-collared Longspurs here.  

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