Sunday, August 28, 2016

Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge

The view from the observation deck on the auto tour at Arrowwood NWR

The logo on my t-shirt
It's been a long time since I last wrote about my trip to North Dakota.  But rest assured, the memories haven't dimmed.  I had heard really great things about Arrowwood while planning this trip, and I wasn't disappointed at all.

The first stop at Arrowwood was at the headquarters building.  I always like visiting the shops at anything run by the National Park Service.  I like to buy something - a hat, t-shirt, patch, whatever - just to show my support for what I believe may be the most under-appreciated agency in our government.  They do a remarkable job with a pitiful budget.  Thank God for a generous population that sees the value in preserving the natural marvels of our nation.  Unfortunately, the door to the shop was locked.  I asked a ranger about it and was told it hadn't been opened in four years - if ever - except for a few special events.  I told her that if they had anything in there, I'd buy it.  She answered that she had no idea where the key was.  As it turned out, they had a couple of shirts - and one in my size - celebrating the Dakota Birding Drives.  I bought it and my friends bought something as well.  So let that be a lesson to you, National Park Service.  Keep your shops open!

Semipalmated (left) and White-rumped Sandpipers
The ranger also gave us some great tips on where to find things, and off we went.  We started by heading east on 11th Street toward the edge of the Refuge.  The ranger said that some Gray Partridges had been seen along that road.  We didn't find any, but we saw plenty of ducks, waders, and shorebirds.

It takes only a paragraph to summarize two hours of fantastic birding.  Quickly we ticked off Canada Goose, American Wigeon, Northern Pintail, Gadwall, Northern Shoveler, and Wilson's Phalarope,  At one spot we stopped to study some shorebirds and were fortunate to find a White-rumped Sandpiper, a bird that is really hard to find in Florida.  We also saw Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers as well as a few Killdeers.  And of course, there were the ever-present Red-winged and Brewer's Blackbirds.  It's somewhat trite to say that there were birds everywhere we looked, but it's true.  Here are some examples of what we saw:

Along a fence line we saw a group of sparrows.  One popped us and gave us only a view of its back before turning its head just slightly.  That little red spot on the "shoulder" helps to identify a Vesper Sparrow.

At one of the ponds I watched a Blue-winged Teal through the lens of my camera as it swam from right to left.  Then I saw something move behind it.  Refocusing, I realized it was an American Bittern.  Here's the best shot we could get of the two birds:

At yet another spot we stopped to examine a group of gulls.  For my money, the prize of the group was a single California Gull, a species I had seen only one other time.

A little later we turned into another spot that the ranger told us not to miss, the picnic area near Warbler Woods.  This was another extremely birdy area.  In fact, we had difficulty getting away from the parking area.  The trees around the SUV were sprinkled with the nicest variety of birds we encountered in any single spot in North Dakota.  Several Yellow Warblers darted from tree to tree just over our heads.  There were several flycatchers in the area.  We saw and heard Great-crested, Least, and Willow Flycatchers.  A Swainson's Thrush fed in the bushes at the north end of the area while squawky Blue Jays acted like noisy teens on a school holiday.  An American Redstart made an appearance as did a single Tennessee Warbler - the only one of the ten-day trip.

Finally, I turned my attention to Arrowwood Lake, just a few feet away.  Practically right next to me was a gorgeous American Avocet.  A little way up the shore was a flock of shorebirds that was mostly Semipalmated Sandpipers plus a lone Spotted Sandpiper.  Out farther on the lake were American White Pelicans and a few Northern Shovelers looking petite next their huge white neighbors.

Then my attention was drawn back to the wooded edge when someone yelled, "Baltimore Oriole!"  What is more striking than the deep black and vibrant orange of the Baltimore Oriole?  It's always worth a long, loving look.  Eventually, I turned back toward the car when I saw a small bird dart into the water feature.  I raised my bins and caught a great view of a Pine Siskin, yet another treat on this wonderful birding day.

The final goal for the day was to drive the Auto Tour Route.  This turned out to be another gem.  We saw a Northern Harrier gliding over the grassland seeking a quick meal.  A Red-tailed Hawk did its hunting from a perch on a snag.  A couple of Black-billed Magpies carried on a raucous squabble along the edge of the road.  We even got looks at a Dickcissel and a Grasshopper Sparrow.

We ended our stay at Arrowwood on the observation deck where we took the time to enjoy the quiet and the scenery.  I can't say enough about this park.  We had only scratched its surface, and did not even try to cover a lot of ground.  Still we saw about 50 species, enjoyed the spectacular scenery, and came away with an even greater appreciation for the beauty of North Dakota in spring.

My initial thought was Red-eyed Vireo, but a black eye and a warbler bill says Tennessee Warbler

It's a Least Flycatcher - and thankfully, it vocalized!

We saw this farm after we left Arrowwood NWR.  I think it's an idyllic example of an American Farm.
The Yellow-headed Blackbird is so spectacular that it deserves an additional look.