|Painted Canyon, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Medora, North Dakota|
The final three birding days of this trip were very different than the previous seven. Where great weather had dominated the earlier days, the day after Arrowwood was marked by a cold, constant rain, a blustery wind, and muddy roads. The goal was to bird up and down Kidder County, so I found myself driving west on 94 through a persistent drizzle until I passed Dawson and pulled off at Exit 205. I turned north and started out toward Horsehead Lake. I expected bird numbers to be low due to the rain, but I was wrong. At first there were the same species already seen during the previous few days, but ahead on a fence post was a welcome sight. It was not a life bird, but it was the best look I've ever had at a Swainson's Hawk, so it felt like one.
|American Bittern pretending to be a clump of reeds.|
Late in the afternoon luck steered me off course. By that time I was outside of Kidder County along a dirt road somewhere south of Long Lake, and not where I had planned to be. I pulled off to the edge of the road under the shade of five or six trees clustered in this lonely spot. There were birds in every tree. As we ate lunch, a Willow Flycatcher called from one place while a Brown Thrasher and an Orchard Oriole chased each other from perch to perch. Then another bird popped into view, more secretive and more yellow-looking from below than his noisy cousins. When I got a good look, I could hardly believe it - a Philadelphia Vireo! What a thrill! The day ended with a mix of shorebirds that left me wondering why I ever took up birdwatching. The overcast skies, the glare, and the distance made them all look the same to me. One bird in particular aroused my curiosity because it was banded. Surely this had to be some rare and exotic shorebird. But no, after much study and several appeals to those who know more than I, the bird was identified as a Semipalmated Sandpiper, a bird I see regularly in Florida in its drab plumage. There's a photo of a mass of shorebirds near the bottom of this essay that I may study some day in the hope of picking out some of the species ... or maybe not.
|Teddy Roosevelt's Maltese Cabin|
|Yellow-breasted Chat in Theodore Roosevelt N.P.|
The day and the trip to North Dakota ended with a ride along one of the many birding drives south of Mandan and Bismarck where there were final, loving looks at many of the ducks and waders that had graced nearly every roadside throughout the ten days. A couple of Western Grebes looked great in the afternoon light, and a Bald Eagle soared overhead, a fitting last bird of the day.
Overall, I had 149 species including five life birds during my time in North Dakota. I can honestly say the state was way more beautiful than I expected. I know that much of the year is difficult in the frozen north, but May is spectacular throughout the state - and the birding is even better.
Here are a few more sights and memories of my final three days:
|A Western Kingbird at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park in Mandan, North Dakota.|
|Should I try to identify all of these shorebirds? Maybe some day.|
|A Lark Sparrow greeted us near Painted Canyon in Theodore Roosevelt National Park|
|A guard tower on a hill above the Missouri River at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park|
|Red-necked Grebe near Horsehead Lake in Kidder County|
|An American Bison, safe in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. I had to wait for him to get off the road.|
|Ruddy Duck in fine form south of Bismarck|
|Lark Buntings near Amidon, the third smallest county seat in the USA|
|Western Grebes south of Bismarck|
|A rugged landscape, sculpted by the wind|