|Barn Swallow at J. Clark Salyer NWR|
Yeah, that didn't work out.
The problem was that I spent an entire day at J. Clark Salyer NWR, had a great time, saw loads of fantastic birds, and covered less than half of the park. What's a birder to do? So I went back for a second time, and I'll never regret it! I mean, I finally got to see a ... but I'm getting ahead of myself. I need to start at the beginning ...
Walking around the headquarters area proved to be very productive. Barn Swallows were nesting under the eaves of the HQ building and swooping endlessly overhead. Mixed in with the swallows were numerous Franklin's and Ring-billed Gulls and at least one Bonaparte's Gull. Gorgeous Black Terns and sleek looking Forster's Terns joined in the fun as well. My gut told me that a Common Tern was mixed in with the bunch, but I wasn't fast enough (or good enough) to be certain. They were just moving way too quickly for me to get a proper look.
Then I noticed a small grassy area edged by trees and hiding a small pond. I thought I saw some ducks on the pond, so I walked toward an opening in the trees and raised my binoculars. Wood Ducks!
Can I digress for a moment? The Wood Duck is my photographic nemesis bird. Of course, I've seen them in Florida, but I have never been able to get a photo of one. Not even a bad one. I have photographed over 400 species of birds, but never a Wood Duck. And here was a spectacular male looking so good it seemed to be straight out of a field guide or glossy magazine! At last!
Fortunately, the rest of the day was one fabulous birding spot after another. Each turn in the road produced another pond filled with ducks, another grassy field with secretive little sparrows, or another copse of trees with a variety of colorful songbirds. Let me pick out a few scenes from the day.
Every pond, every day throughout the trip seemed to have resident families of Northern Shovelers and Mallards, and they were never alone. They were joined by any combination of Redheads, Blue-winged and Green-winged Teals, Northern Pintails, Wilson's and Red-necked Phalaropes, Gadwalls, American Wigeons, and Eared and Western Grebes. The edges of the ponds teemed with life including Soras, White-faced Ibises, American Avocets, Wilson's Snipes, and Red-winged and Yellow-headed Blackbirds. The mudflats that bordered many ponds held swarms of shorebirds. They presented a very real challenge, so I'll address them below.
|Killdeer (left) and Wilson's Phalarope|
And of course there were the wooded areas that added a completely different flavor to the day. Black-capped Chickadees, American Robins, American Goldfinches, Cedar Waxwings and a Baltimore Oriole provided color and diversity to the day. We even found swallows perched in a tree!
So I broke the rule and returned to Salyer on Sunday morning. I criss-crossed the Souris River a few times on a serpentine route that led through Kramer and Newburg until I finally found the entrance to the Grassland Trail. Unlike the day before when the species count mounted continuously, today the total staggered, halted and staggered some more, never reaching half of the previous day's total. But, was it a disappointing day? Not at all! In fact, it was one of the most memorable of my birding life.
Then I heard a song I didn't recognize. Was that a Chestnut-collared Longspur? We grabbed an iPhone, tapped on the Sibley app, and called up the bird's song. Yes! That was what we heard! On an impulse, one of us stuck a hand out of the car's window and played the song. Suddenly a gaudily colored bird flew toward the car and began circling us, singing as it flew. Then the gorgeous little thing landed right next to the car, sitting up on a tall stem where it continued to sing for the entire world. It posed for the cameras, flew to another nearby stem and sang and posed some more. It was a spectacular show, and I felt blessed and privileged to witness it and to do so with other birders who appreciated what we were seeing.
The Grassland Trail ended near Dam 341. I pulled off of the road onto a dirt parking area and ate a picnic lunch while watching hundreds of swallows perform a mad dance above the bridge. After lunch, we scoped the mudflats below and found yet another mob of shorebirds.
The two days at Salyer ended my stay in the Minot area. I have said that this was not a trip that focused on big numbers, either of life birds or total species. Still, the numbers were looking pretty impressive at the midway point: 106 species, four lifers, and a score of birds that felt like lifers because I was seeing them in plumages I had never seen before. This North Dakota birding was growing on me!
|Eared Grebe: Gaudy and gorgeous|
|You can't have too many photos of a Chestnut-collared Longspur|
|Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel|
|Cliff Swallow taking a rest above the stream pictured at the top of this blog.|
|Grain and the railroad: Together, they shaped the destiny and fortunes of North Dakota|