More North Dakota Prairie Birding

Traveling Trinovids visit the Prairie

the Traveling Trinovid visits the Prairie!

This is the second post from my trip to the Prairies & Potholes Birding & Wildlife Festival trip. The first post describes the amazing & numerous prairie potholes, so here I’ll concentrate on the “Prairie”.

Home on the Prairie

Home on the Prairie

Surrounding the numerous prairie potholes is an endless sea of grasslands and prairie habitats. Tree lines were planted as windbreaks for homes and farm fields by early settlers in the area offering additional habitat diversity. These edges are fantastic for birds like Clay-colored Sparrows singing their buzzy songs as well as Eastern & Western Kingbirds which occur side by side here.

Clay-colored Sparrow

Clay-colored Sparrow

As you’d expect, the incredible array of differing grassland & prairie habitats available allows birders to enjoy many sparrows and related grassland species, including: Savannah, Vesper, Grasshopper, and Nelson’s, Le Conte’s, and sometimes even Baird’s Sparrows.

Vesper Sparrow

Vesper Sparrow

Western Meadowlarks add a melodic touch to otherwise largely buzzy bird song chorus provided by so many of the aforementioned sparrows and birds like Dickcissels. Bobolinks add their own unique touch as well with flight songs reminiscent of R2D2′s garbled, electronic speak!

Bobolink, male

Bobolink, male

The shorter grass “prairie” habitats offer options for birds that like to parade around on the ground. One of the most prevalent being Horned Larks who sing “tinkling” bell like songs.

adult male Horned Lark

adult male Horned Lark

Adult male Horned Larks show distinctive feathers that truly appear like little black horns, while females are more subdued.

Horned Lark

Horned Lark

One will want to scan through the numerous Larks carefully though, for other key, specialty birds that are lot less widespread and fewer in number. Two major target species for visiting birders are the gorgeous Chestnut-collared Longspur & the Sprague’s Pipit.

male Chestnut-collared Longspur

male Chestnut-collared Longspur

Like so many grassland species that nest in areas devoid of taller trees and bushes to sing from, both of these specialty birds have elaborate song display flights. So you will often hear them as they are flying & singing high above the ground and will have to watch where they land to get a good view.

male Chestnut-collared Longspur

male Chestnut-collared Longspur

These habitats also attract native Sharp-tailed Grouse, introduced Ring-necked Pheasants & Gray (Hungarian) Partridge, and certain grassland nesting shorebird species.

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Upland Sandpiper at sunset

Upland Sandpipers have dove-like heads on long, skinny necks. One particular flight song is a “wolf whistle” that is similar to the “Wheeet-whew!” that used to be given by men upon seeing a pretty woman in days gone by.

Marbled Godwit in flowered field

Marbled Godwit in flowered field

Tall, long-necked Marbled Godwits share the habitat alongside Upland Sandpipers. Their prominent 2-toned bills become brighter at the base close to breeding. They will gather in small groups and chase each other across the prairies in dramatic courtship flights calling the whole while.

Marbled Godwit flight display

Marbled Godwit flight display

The extensive short grass habitats are also perfect for other animals like the White-tailed Jackrabbit…

Jackrabbit peering up from the grasses!

Jackrabbit peering up from the grasses!

and the dramatically-marked Thirteen-lined Ground-Squirrel.

Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel

Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel

These and other rodents attract raptors including Red-tailed, Swainson’s & Ferruginous Hawks which prefer the taller phone poles that line the roads here.

Swainson's Hawks scan for prey from phone poles.

Swainson’s Hawks scan for prey from phone poles.

It was great visiting this unique habitat area and seeing so many of the bird & wildlife species that occur here. Thanks to my friend Bill Thompson III (AKA “Bill of the Birds“) for carrying me along on this wondrous exploration!

Marbled Godwit sings at sunset

Marbled Godwit sings at sunset

Big Year Update: Following this North Dakota adventure, the Traveling Trinovids have tallied 387 bird species since beginning the “Binoculars on a Big Year” at the Leica Store Miami on April 7th, 2013!