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Plains Wanderer: A photography and birding expedition to North Dakota and Minnesota

Sharp-tailed Grouse was one of my primary target birds going into my trip.

I’ve always wanted to see the northern prairie and prairie-pothole region of North America in the spring. There are life birds (Baird’s Sparrow and Sharp-tailed Grouse) and near-life birds (Greater Prairie-Chicken, Chestnut-collared Longspur, Gray Partridge) for me that are best found in the spring in North Dakota. Plus, in recent years I’m more interested in adding birds to my photo list than to my life detected list, and the prairie-pothole region beckoned as a fantastic place to photograph birds. So, I arranged a trip north.

I decided to make Fargo my center of operations and to travel west into North Dakota for my prairie experiences and then east to the Sax-Zim Bog Region of Minnesota for boreal forest birds. The timing was a big tricky. I wanted to see grouse on leks as part of my experiences. Greater Prairie-Chickens (a grouse with an odd name) inhabit tallgrass prairie refuges in Minnesota, and birders can arrange to watch them from blinds. Sharp-tailed Grouse are also in Minnesota but even more abundant in North Dakota. The problem was that the activity on grouse leks peaks in April and has tailed off a lot by May. But April is way too early for most of my other target birds for the trip. So I decided to visit grouse leks as my first activity of the trip. After a couple of mornings in blinds on leks, I planned to drive west to see prairie birds, which should all be present by mid-May and then to the boreal forest for the just-arrived boreal species. As the best compromise for dates I planned to arrive May 16 and have about 8 days to bird. After I had already scheduled the trip, a former Auburn student now a North Dakota State University doctoral student, Aubrey Sirman, heard that I was headed for Fargo and asked if I would give a departmental seminar. So, I moved my arrival date back two days to visit NDSU, but my birding dates stayed the same.

I’ll give a separate report for each place that I visited so other birders planning trips to those places can use my experiences as a guide.

Besides target birds I had not seen or photographed before, I wanted to see breeding duck in prairie potholes.

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