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Join us on a four-day prairie birding adventure that is sure to delight!

Dozens of American white pelicans wheel overhead, while the songs of chestnut-collared longspur, grasshopper sparrow, and a winnowing snipe roll across the waving prairie grass. Black terns cry from a nearby slough and a sora scampers across a mudflat past a stock-still American bittern. Enjoy scenes like this while birding the prairie potholes in the Coteau region of North Dakota.

Grasshopper sparrow by Dominic Sherony / Wikimedia

Grasshopper sparrow by Dominic Sherony / Wikimedia

The potholes are giant depressions left behind by the glaciers, which halted here during the Wisconsin Glaciation about 10,000 years ago. These depressions fill up with water in the spring and become the hatchery for most of North America’s duck species. Surrounding the potholes is rolling prairie and some of the richest soil on the continent. Grassland species such as longspurs, horned larks, meadowlarks, numerous sparrows, and bobolinks are everywhere. Patches of native prairie—land that has never been tilled for agriculture—host the region’s most sought-after birds as well as stunning wildflowers.

Working with our dear friends Ann and Ernie Hoffert, we’ve created a prairie birding adventure that is sure to delight; combining excellent birding with some natural history, Native American history, visits to old farmsteads and working farms, and midday meals at the region’s quaint, community-run cafes.

Upland sandpiper by Jonath / Wikimedia

Upland sandpiper by Jonath / Wikimedia

Home base for this Potholes party will be the Chieftain Motel in Carrington, North Dakota. From there, we’ll sally forth early, each morning headed in a different direction. West lies the Coteau and birding hotspots such as Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). To the south we’ll visit Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge and Lake Isabel, near Dawson. North lies Sully’s Hill and Devil’s Lake NWR, and east are the riparian woodlands along the Sheyenne River.

Among the specialty species we’ll be seeking are LeConte’s, Nelson’s, and Baird’s sparrow, Sprague’s pipit, chestnut-collared longspur, Clark’s grebe, ferruginous hawk, gray partridge, lark bunting, sharp-tailed grouse, upland sandpiper, Franklin’s gull, Say’s phoebe, clay-colored sparrow and Brewer’s blackbird.

Birding Details

We’ll be birding from a large motor-coach bus with an onboard restroom along a variety of roads, including two-track dirt trails. We’ll be getting on and off the bus repeatedly most days, with the occasional longer walk to find specific species. The region is wide-open prairie, so higher-magnification optics will be useful. Our leaders will have several spotting scopes to share among our group, but you are welcome to bring your own.


Baird's Sparrow, photo by Rick Bohn / Wikimedia

Baird’s Sparrow, photo by Rick Bohn / Wikimedia

June in central North Dakota can be as warm as the Deep South or as chilly as Canada. But it is guaranteed to be windy, so bring along outerwear and layers to ward off the windy cold and damp. Sun protection is a must, too (long sleeves, pants, wide-brimmed hat, sun screen). And we will probably get our feet wet at some point, walking along a slough, or hiking in early-morning wet grass for the Sprague’s pipit and Baird’s sparrow. Because the ground may be uneven, we strongly suggest waterproof hiking boots with ankle support.

A Word About Mobility

While a large portion of this Rendezvous can be enjoyed from the comfort of our large bus and while birding along the road, several of our target species will require us to walk a mile or more over uneven prairie and ducking through barbed-wire fences. Added to this is the necessity of getting up and down the three steps of the bus as we get off and on at our birding stops. If this sounds like it might be a bit too challenging for you, this Rendezvous may not be a good fit. We want everyone to have an enjoyable experience. If you are unsure about your mobility’s upper limits and this Rendezvous, please contact us.

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