Sunday, June 8, 2008

Birds of North Dakota

Baird's Sparrow

.... don't get the respect that they deserve. Most birders - and non-birders - go gaga over the brilliantly colored songbirds we see in migration, the rare vagrants that sometime show up on the shores of Alaska or sneak across the border from Mexico, big raptors like Bald Eagle and endangered birds like the California Condor.

But what about the birds of the heartland? The prarie of the Upper Midwest is a special place for many reasons, some of which we will talk about in upcoming posts. In late spring and summer, the prarie provides habitat for some very special birds who literally have nowhere else to go. They are short-distance migrators, wintering in the southern U.S. or northern Mexico, and mating and raising young in the heartland. Some can be seen nowhere else in their gaudy breeding plumage.

Ruddy Duck

Lisa, who is doing some research, just told me that more than 300 of the 800 migratory bird species in North America rely on this region - many for breeding and nesting, others as a waystation and feeding ground on their way north and south.

American Avocet

Lisa and I got a kick out of discovering that many of the waterfowl (and some shorebirds, too) that we see in winter, in faded plumage often, spend their summers here on the prarie, in the thousands of "potholes" carved out long ago by glaciers and filled with water. We sort of knew this, but seeing it in action - seeing all the birds either paired up or calling for territory and mates - filled in some blanks in our understanding of birds and the environment.

Pied-Billed Grebe

The males, of course, are the gaudy birds - at least in most species - but let's give a bit of credit to the gals (and I'm thinking Birdcouple here):

Yellow-Headed Blackbird, female

Red-Winged Blackbird, female

Much more to say in upcoming posts about the vanishing prarie and the unique culture and history of North Dakota. We'll sign off with a few last pics:

Marbled Godwit


Finally, a great big THANKS to all the wonderful folks at Birding Drives Dakota, Pipestem Creek, where we spent four lovely evenings, enchanted at every moment, and the fabulous, caring people from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who not only helped guide us, but taught us a lot. Did you know there are more National Wildlife Refuges in North Dakota than any other state? We didn't, until we visited.

Paul Baicich and Lisa Rock, who we shared this wonderful week with - hope you are still having a grand time. YOU ARE THE BEST!


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