Chapter 1.  Rendezvous in North Dakota

© Bert & Shari Frenz, 2007 All rights reserved.

Day minus 1 – May 25, 2007 – J. Clark Salyer NWR, ND

(Bert) They arrive early: some two days ago, almost everyone by yesterday afternoon. I take advantage of the extra time and suggest we go birding this morning at a National Wildlife Refuge about 40 mi. from here. We head in that direction, stopping within a few miles when someone spots a Red Fox trotting across a farm field. The fox shows us a flock of Franklin’s and Ring-billed gulls and two unexpected Bonaparte’s gulls and training my scope on them I see two Upland Sandpipers moving slowly through the grass. Not a bad start to a morning of birding that gets even better. At the refuge our first stop is the large pond with the tall viewing platform. Dozens of Eared Grebes are resplendent with golden fans spreading across their dark heads, starting from the red eyes, covering ears and reaching just past the hind neck. They parade on the still water like little princesses. Black Terns glide gracefully over the parade that includes hundreds of ducks dominated by Redheads.

We move on to the driving trail through the refuge. When I hear a singing Clay-colored Sparrow we stop to scan the grassland and Steve is the first to spot the singer perched on a dead branch sticking just above the grass. I align my scope on it and we get to view the triangular brown face patch with its white perimeter and toped by a whitish crown stripe. Many of our birders attest to dismissing sparrows as too confusing to identify, but looks like this one are a good learning experience toward making these as identifiable as others of more vibrant color.

We see so many birds on our first day out, I’m tempted to mention them all. I’ll resist. The ones making the deepest impression are the pair of Orchard Orioles – the female especially bright yellow – that Carol told us we missed while scanning the marsh, but they gave us a second chance to view. And, the male Bobolink that flew across my windshield, landing long enough for our carload to get a sharp view as it sits on a fence line. We stop again for flying Lark Sparrows when Connie says she sees a dark shadow on a horizontal tree limp. I put my binoculars on it and announce Common Nighthawk. The sleeping bird allows me to put my scope on it and for most this is their first chance to see a slumbering nighthawk.

I remind everyone that we need to keep moving if we want to return to camp by lunchtime, but when we come upon a pond loaded with shorebirds we cannot resist stopping once again. Large flocks of White-rumped Sandpipers and dowitchers (both species) feed on the mudflats. Four or five Marbled Godwits stand tall next to them, probing the mud with long upturned bicolored bills. Willets flash black-and-white wings when they fly over our heads and a dozen colorful Wilson’s Phalaropes dance in circles on the shallow water.

Thinking that is our last stop I head back, later noticing I’ve lost one of the cars following me. I turn back and see Curt looking through his spotting scope into the grasslands. They must have found something good, so we quickly pile out to see what they’ve got. To our delight, it’s a Sharp-tailed Grouse lek and three males are performing with tails pointed skyward, feathers splayed and chests inflated. What a nice finale to a good morning’s birding!

Day 1 – May 26 – Rugby, ND

(Bert) Snow flakes flutter from the sky when I look through the window, the first I’ve seen this year. I take my camera with me when I venture out into the chilly early morning. The Killdeer is on her nest in the gravel, surrounded by iced dandelions. I keep my distance and photograph her from behind Trevor’s car, parked as a roadblock to keep others from trampling the nest in the middle of a vacant RV parking spot. I photograph the RV’s laced with snow and climb on my RV roof to scrape the ice from the satellite sensor so that I can reestablish an Internet connection.

In the afternoon Shari and I conduct the orientation meeting, explaining the caravan procedures and what to expect during our Manitoba trip. I follow with Birding 101, an introduction to birding and how to be more successful at seeing birds. And then a short Powerpoint presentation on the geology of Manitoba and how that relates to the different habitats where we will be finding birds. Finally, Shari conducts our first travel meeting, explaining the road logs and sights we can expect on tomorrow’s route. From the roll call on each person’s expectations and the comments we receive, the sense of excitement about the days ahead is tangible.

(Shari) “SNOW?” “SNOW!” As I look out the bedroom window, I can’t believe that I am seeing snow on our car. Unbelieveable! It has rained all week and now snow. What next? I just have to take a picture before it melts. In spite of the poor weather we have managed to have two socials to get to know each other. Trevor and Verna have been busy checking vehicles, getting all the forms needed and affixing yellow stickers to rigs. Last minute details occupy my time. I pay the campground fees, make some telephone calls, gather all papers needed for today’s meeting and bake cookies for dessert tonight. I tell myself that all this bad weather is getting it out of its system and Sunday will turn great. However it is not nice this afternoon and we shiver at the monument designating the geographical center of North America for our group picture. Hurriedly we rush across the street for our orientation meeting in a nice warm room, where Bert and I impart our knowledge of the trip, what to expect, a short course on the geology of Manitoba, Birding 101 and our first travel meeting. The restaurant is great and delivers our meals on time without a mistake. Later Chris calls on the telephone to tell me the local Pamida store has waterproof boots for $7.50. I tell her that I will be right there after I gather the needed caravan papers and get them ready to mail. Then I buy the boots. Not exactly what I wanted, but for $7.50, heh!

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