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Reflections on North Dakota

by Emily Jones

North Dakota is marvelous and difficult to summarize in a couple paragraphs. But here I go!

Group picture at Arrowwood NWR.

We had the pleasure of taking 30 bird watchers/Bird Watcher’s Digest readers to the land of the potholes and prairies from June 19-23, 2019. We learned that these potholes and prairies were formed thousands of years ago by glaciers, and act as great refuge for birds migrating north for breeding. Our home-base was in Carrington, North Dakota, at the Chieftain Conference Center, which is located just 90 miles from the geographic center of North America and two hours from the nearest airports. We were OUT there, to say the least, but boy, was it a treat! An even better treat was having North Dakota’s best birding guide, Bob Anderson, along on the trip with BWD’s friend and guide, Carl Bendorf. These two were an unstoppable pair that seemed to magnetize the birds each day.

The face you make when you spot the upland sandpiper on a rainy morning. Photo by Emily Jones.

We first ventured south to Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge for an entire morning of prairie magic. Fun fact: North Dakota has more National Wildlife Refuges than any other state—and we got to explore two of them in one day! We ticked off upland sandpiper, LeConte’s sparrow, ferruginous hawk, Wilson’s phalarope, cliff swallow, and chestnut-collared longspur before the morning was over despite rainy weather. After having a buffet-style lunch at Woodworth Café, we headed to Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge. Upon arrival, staffers explained to us the importance of animal grazing and preserving native plants for the birds in the area. Then, Stacy Adolf-Whipp hopped aboard our bus and guided us along Arrowood’s amazing auto tour, where we ticked off numerous waterfowl species. We ended the day with a glorious evening on Woodward Farm (our caterers for several meals on this trip) with yummy dinner, margaritas, garden swinging, and more bird watching. We tallied a whopping 85 species at the end of day one!

Chestnut-collared Longspur photo by Carl Bendorf.

Day Two we trekked southwest to the Horsehead Lake area, where we picked up Sprague’s pipit, Baird’s sparrow, vesper sparrow, yellow rail, gray partridge, and many more. We enjoyed a charming lunch at Robinson Café, then birded around the Robinson area for the remainder of the afternoon. After a brief break to freshen up and relax, we headed to the Pipestem Creek Farm for dinner. Ann and Ernie Hoffert are dear friends of Bird Watcher’s Digest and have owned and managed the farm for years. They hosted us for a lovely evening of elk burgers, local wines, gardens, and camaraderie. We are so thankful for their hospitality!

For our final full day of birding together, we ventured north to the Sheyenne area woodlands. We hadn’t seen many trees on the trip, so it was nice to tick off woodland species such as pileated woodpecker, great crested flycatcher, purple finch, and several others. After a couple hours on this wooded, secluded walking path we headed farther north towards Sullys Hill National Game Preserve, which was once a national park. On the way we stopped by some public-school lands and watched two male Sprague’s pipits fighting—20 yards in front of us!  What a rare and exciting view! We enjoyed a tasty sack lunch in Sullys Hill’s outdoor amphitheater, then Bob and Carl led separate bird hikes on the grounds. Unfortunately, we dipped on bison. We ended the Rendezvous with dinner at the Chieftain and gave away a few prizes.

North Dakota is such a treat and we’re so glad and grateful that we got to share its natural wonders with friends. Birding is always better with friends!

Check out photos from the event!

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