Schoolhouse Prairie


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Breeding Marbled Godwits were one of the treats that awaited me on the Schoolhouse Prairie near Tuttle.

I got up early on May 21 and was at the gate leading into the Schoolhouse Prairie property near Tuttle at first light. My buddies, the Chectnut-collared Longspurs, were already in full song. So were Grasshopper Sprrows and Western Meadowlarks. I strained to hear the song of Baird's Sparrow. It would be a futile three-hour strain. I walked the entire Schoolhouse Prairie property twice, but no Baird's Sparrow.

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The entrance to Schoolhouse Prairie near Tuttle. This is one of the best sections of native prairie that is accessible in North Dakota.

It is possible that I was too early for Baird's Sparrow. Most people go after then in June and July and in May they may be less reliable. All of the other migrant prairie birds were around, however, so it is hard to believe that May 21 was too early to find singing Baird's Sparrows. I'm quite certain that I did not miss a singing Baird's Sparrow on this plot of prairie.

Even without a signing Baird's Sparrow, there were a lot of neat birds around. Perhaps the most fantastic were two shorebirds, Marble Godwit and Willet, that spend much of the year on the beach in places like Alabama. The godwits were impossible to miss. All morning they were doing display flight, often right over my head, and then landing in the prairie near me. Willets only flew over a couple of times but it was fun to see these iconic images of the Gulf of Mexico beaches flying over grassland a thousand miles from the ocean beach. Actually, Willets nest in the dunes above beaches in Alabama as well as in the northern prairie region. These two subspecies of Willet, one nesting within 100 feet of the ocean in the southeastern US and one nesting in the prairie, are distinct in plumage and probably rarely interbreed. They may be recognized as distinct species in the near future.

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Marble Godwits were conspicuous both on the ground and in the are at the Schoolhouse Prairie property.

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Willets also breed in the grassland and marshes at the Schoolhouse Prairie area.

After an enjoyable morning looking at birds in the Schoolhouse Prairie, I pointed my car toward Minnesota, the Sax-Zim Bog, and warblers.