Minnesota and North Dakota Jun 19—27, 2006

Posted by Kim Eckert


Kim Eckert

Kim Eckert, with over 40 years of birding experience throughout the U.S. and Canada, has now been guiding birders or teaching bird identification classes for more than 25 o...

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After adding them all up, it seems we had a surprising total of 192 species, one of the highest counts ever for this tour. I do have a vague recollection of reaching 200 once or twice in the past, but this would have been when the tour was a day longer and when some early “fall” migrant shorebirds were already on their way south. Remarkably, though, all but three of the birds we found (both yellowlegs and a surprising Whimbrel) were summer residents, and I have to wonder if any other U.S. tour can be said to include around 190 breeding species.

I have to admit, though, that I have never considered a raw species total to be a true measure of a tour’s success. What’s more important is what those species were and how well they were seen. Consider, for example, that our list includes both Great Gray Owl and Sharp-tailed Grouse, always among the most highly sought?but elusive?birds looked for on this trip. Both were seen by some but missed by others, and our views were brief.

On the other hand, our great looks at some of the other specialties far offset the marginal ones. Especially close and cooperative were the Black-billed Cuckoo at Felton, Yellow-bellied Flycatchers and Boreal Chickadees in the Sax-Zim Bog, a Sprague’s Pipit standing (and singing!) in a Kidder County road, almost all of the 20+ species of warblers, all five of the Ammodramus sparrows, and Chestnut-collared Longspurs at Felton and elsewhere. Perhaps all of these deserve to count twice?

Among these good-looking birds, the warblers we saw deserve special mention. Just as 190 breeding species may be unmatched by any other U.S. tour, I wonder if any other VENT tour can expect to see over 20 species of nesting warblers? Some of these are among the most highly sought of them all, especially the Connecticut and Mourning, which were seen at close range at essentially the same place in the Sax-Zim Bog. (Also found at this very same spot were Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Gray Jays, Boreal Chickadees, a male Golden-crowned Kinglet displaying its orange crown, and our first Golden-winged and Blackburnian warblers!) Other memorably close warblers were Northern Parula, Cape May, Black-throated Blue, and Canada.

Consider, as well, how well we saw those Ammodramus sparrows, among the most elusive of all the sparrows. All five possibilities were most cooperative, especially that lone singing male Baird’s near Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge, the out-of-range Henslow’s (and one of our two Le Conte’s) at Hamden Slough National Wildlife Refuge, and a couple of Nelson’s Sharp-taileds (plus numerous Grasshoppers) in North Dakota.

June is the time of year when at least some of all those breeding birds start bringing young into the world, and some of those observed were definitely among the tour’s highlights: the Ruffed Grouse chicks crossing a Superior National Forest road, two prairie-chicken chicks on their mother’s back along a Felton prairie roadside, all those Western Grebe young (plus two Clark’s chicks) on Pearl Lake in North Dakota, and two young Peregrines at a downtown Duluth nest box. And an Eared Grebe nest, though still without young, was especially entertaining, as the adults copulated there and vigorously chased off another pair of curious grebes.

Overall, the weather was quite good (never too hot, minimal prairie winds, and hardly any rain delays), just as the mosquitoes and wood ticks were pretty bad at times?especially on the last full day of the tour, as we found that Henslow’s Sparrow and Yellow Rail (and the rail we finally saw in flight was about as close as they ever get!). It was certainly more than enough to help us forget about uncooperative owls of a week ago!