Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Great Plains

You read about it in school, but until you have visited there, you cannot possible have any concept of the vast emptiness of the prairies of North Dakota. As far as you can see, there is nothing but grass and sky and water,broken only by barbed wire fencing beef cattle,and long, straight dirt roads that reach to the horizon.
Other than the native cottonwoods that line meandering creek beds, the only places where there are trees are where people have built houses. Even when the people and their buildings are gone, groves of trees and ancient lilac bushes mark the sites of forgotten homesteads.

Thursday, June 10, was my first full day of the Potholes and Prairies birding festival, and it didn't start out well. We left the Chieftain hotel before dawn, and as the sun rose, the skies remained gray and full of clouds, heavy with the pending rain. At our first stop, icy cold raindrops pelleted my face, blown sideways by the ever present wind. Not an auspice beginning.
Between my spectacles, my binoculars, and my spotting scope, every piece of glass I owned was wet. Getting back in the vehicle and drying off didn't help, as condensation promptly fogged over everything. I didn't even bother to open my camera bag till late morning.

By then, we were well on our way to double-digit Life Birds, having seen most of the "specialty birds" that were the focus of our day - Baird's, LeConte's, and Nelson's Sparrows, Chestnut-collared Longspur, and Sprague's Pipit, to name just a few.

Here we are at some lake (I never did learn its name) looking for Piping Plovers, one of the few misses we had on our excursion with Dr. Bob Anderson. I think I ended up with 78 species that day, and 16 Lifers. But, we worked for every bird, as you can see, and our 4pm planned return to comforts of our hotel rooms stretched to 5:30. Whew!! Over 12 hours of birding in wet, cold, windy weather. Don't believe it if someone tells you birding is for wimps.The next two days were slightly better, weather-wise, but the skies were still gray. Fortunately, into every trip, some sun must fall, and by Sunday, the weather took a 180 degree turn for the better. I was almost glad the first part of the trip was cloudy, since it made these vistas so much more dramatic.
Who said Zick always brings rain to a birding festival? She and BT3 led us on the best day, and helped me bag my last three Life Birds, including those elusive Piping Plovers.
"The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with weary feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say."
Frodo Baggins (JRR Tolkien)

Next post: Birding the Prairie


Beth said...

can't wait to read and see more about your trip. Aren't piping plovers the cutest little birds ever?

Lynne at Hasty Brook said...

I'm having trouble sorting my photos on my laptop (keeps shutting off) and I'm working eight on-eight off for one more week so I'll be late to the party getting blog posts up. You really captured the vastness of the prairie. Love it.

Kathiesbirds said...

I only know the prairie from the "Little House" books and a drive through N. Dakota with Gus a few years back. Never really birded there. I will have to go back. You have captured it well in words and pics!