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the Great Basin to the Great Plains
spring & summer 2007
|If this is the first
of my diaries you've read, let me introduce ourselves. Jim and
I are birders towing our old (1987) 26-foot trailer with a Suburban.
The trailer is irreplaceable because it has bigger windows than
anything on the market today. Jim is a bird photographer, and
I record their sounds. The results I use in the Birding Skills
Workshops I present for Sea and Sage Audubon. (Upcoming classes
are described elsewhere on this website.) Each year I teach
for several months, then we spend several months on the road.
Our almost-two-year-old miniature poodle, Toby, completes the
The focus of this trip is SPARROWS. I have just finished teaching
a seventeen-week workshop on these birds and challenged my students
to a Great Sparrow Search--to see how many of them they can
find in North America (ABA area) during one year. I gave them
a form on which to enter their results. One of the class members,
Roy Poucher, also leads birding tours. So he decided to organize
tours to help people find some of the birds. When he asked me
where they ought to go, I didn't hesitate at all and said, "Minot,
North Dakota." There are probably more sparrow species
breeding within a days drive of there than anywhere else. He
signed up enough people to run his tour in duplicate.
I decided it would be fun for Jim and I to go there too, and
touch base with his tour groups occasionally. I didn't want
to lead the field trips. I guess I'm just getting too old to
lead all-day trips day after day. I'm good for a morning, maybe
slopping over into early afternoon, but that's it. Then I want
to go back to the trailer, eat lunch, take a nap, and read or
do embroidery the rest of the day.
I brought along a new two-volume tome on Bird Coloration, written
by and for ornithologists, and hoped to get through volume 1.
It turned out that I was able to read both volumes--but only
because I didn't let myself do much embroidery. Whenever you
see references to "reading my book," that's what I
My latest bird quilt is now on the quilting frame at home and
is impossible to bring with me, so there is really no pressing
embroidery project. I did bring something, though, and worked
on it a little.
This diary is somewhat briefer than others you may have read.
I wanted lots of time to read the Bird Coloration books and,
more important, my laptop computer crashed about half-way through
the trip. (I couldn't even use Jim's, for his had crashed a
few days before we left home.) From then on, I just jotted down
a few notes about each day's activities and tried to flesh them
out when I got home.
Comments in square brackets, [ ], were added after we got home
and evaluated our slides and sounds.
May 20, 2007
Brown's Town RV Park, Bishop, CA
|After two grueling
days of packing, we drove to Bishop, arriving in the early afternoon.
Traffic was really light all the way; Sunday is a good departure
day. Rested the rest of the afternoon. Our first destination
is Great Basin NP, and this is just an en route stop. It would
have been 70 miles closer via Las Vegas, but we hate that city.
It's cooler here, too.
May 21, 2007
KOA, Ely, NV
|We drove here via
US 6, which mostly goes through salt scrub habitat--sort of
boring, but a good, fast road. Saw a fox of some sort cross
the road when we first set out. A small group of wild horses
was in and next to the road about half-way across. One was standing
right in the road, so we had to slow down, but it moved aside.
When we got to Ely, it was really windy. Despite that, I took
Toby for a short walk through the juniper habitat of the tent-camping
section. Saw a couple of Pinyon Jays fly by, but little else.
Cassin's Finches are all over the RV section singing their hearts
out in the cottonwood trees between the sites.
May 22, 2007
Upper Lehman Creek Campground, Great Basin
National Park, NV
|Bought gas, did
some shopping, and got here around 10:00 a.m. in order to have
the best selection of sites. The park has four campgrounds,
but only this one has most of its sites suitable for RV's. We
took the last creek side site available, but there were others
that would have been nice, too. This campground has only 11
sites. Habitat is aspens and white firs, with pinyon/juniper
and sagebrush not far away. Lots of common birds: Robin, Warbling
Vireo, and Black-headed Grosbeak are the main singers audible
from the trailer. Have seen and/or heard others nearby: MacGillivray's,
Yellow-rumped, Nashville warblers; Downy Woodpecker; Flicker;
Cassin's Finch; Spotted & Green-tailed towhees; Western
Scrub-Jay (woodhouseii) come to mind. Rock Squirrels are devouring
Jim's birdseed, along with a single Black-headed Grosbeak, Spotted
Towhee, and Scrub-Jay. No one likes the birdbath. It's too cold,
and the creek is close by. Temperature topped out at around
50 degrees. Breezy.
We're still decompressing from the past week's flurry of activity,
so we just sat around the trailer and took short walks around
the campground. We've signed up for six nights--through the
Memorial Day holiday--so we have lots of time to explore the
May 23, 2007
Upper Lehman Creek Campground, Great Basin
National Park, NV
|We drove down to
the tiny village of Baker this morning. I wanted to explore
the sagebrush flats to see if I could find any Sage Sparrows,
but no luck at either the ranching interpretive site or near
the new park visitors center. Birds were pretty scarce. I went
into the visitors center to see if anyone knew where I could
find Fox Sparrows, but no luck. The only birder on the staff
is off today and tomorrow, so I guess I'll just have to eyeball
the habitats as we drive by and see if I can find one on my
own. I'm looking for the Slate-colored form, of which Jim has
only some so-so photos from Mt Timpanagos in Utah.
It was midmorning when we got back to the campground, so I had
Jim drive me the half-mile or so to Upper Lehman Creek Campground.
We drove around the loops, mostly tiny sites unsuitable for
RV's. In fact I'd be hesitant to even try to tow a very long
trailer around the loops.
I heard a song not unlike that of a Fox Sparrow, but it sounded
thinner--more like a Green-tailed Towhee, and that's what it
After walking around a steep loop, I then went down the road
to the trailer. The 8% grade really got my leg muscles. Huntington
Beach doesn't provide much opportunity to walk in hilly terrain.
Thursday, May 24, 2007
Upper Lehman Creek Campground, Great Basin
National Park, NV
|The morning dawned
almost totally overcast. We had been planning to drive up to
the top of the park road, 10,000 ft elevation, and look at the
various life zones en route, but decided to save that for a
Instead we drove to the end of Baker Creek Rd. I walked down
a ways from the top, my sore muscles from yesterday complaining
all the way. The road is rather high above Baker Creek, but
the creek bed riparian area looked promising for Fox Sparrows.
I've read that the Slate-colored races breed almost exclusively
in dense riparian vegetation with meandering streamlets of water.
The Thick-billed races of the Sierra and Cascade mountains of
California and Oregon are found in montane chaparral away from
water, as well as near it. They usually aren't found in tall,
After walking 0.3 mile (by truck odometer) downhill from the
end of the road, I heard the unmistakeable songs of a Fox Sparrow.
It even included the motifs that so resemble those of an Olive-sided
Flycatcher and a flicker. Some people say it's mimicry, but
I don't think so. I had my tape recorder today, so recorded
it. Before playing it back, I called Jim on the radio to drive
down and get his camera ready. Then I played it. Sure enough,
up flew a Slate-colored Fox Sparrow. It skulked briefly in a
nearby willow, then proceeded to do the fly-bys--150 ft one
direction, then 150 ft another, every time I played the song.
Finally it landed on a reasonably close willow-top, and Jim
shot a few pictures. They'll probably be OK, but not the frame-fillers
we're hoping for.
I continued to walk down the road, but the willows became more
sparse, and creek farther from the road. I could hear one or
two Fox Sparrows off in the distance, but there was no way to
get down there from the road. Not even agile Jim would have
only place that seemed to promise access was the Baker
Creek Campground, which was a little bit farther on.
So I climbed into the truck, we drove to the campground
and then turned south and went around the south loop.
When we were about half-way round, we came to a dirt
road that was chained off to drivers, but not closed
to hikers. So we parked the car and I walked the road.
It went past one small building and ended at a 2nd.
Beyond the 2nd was just the sort of small, shrubby meadow
I was searching for. There was no trail, but it wasn't
particularly wet. I went out a little ways and played
the tape of the Fox Sparrow I had recorded up the road.
It took a lot of plays, but finally I started hearing
a bird respond. Pretty soon it flew in and landed a
little bit back in the low part of a shrub, but I could
see it well enough to ID it. Then it flew around some
more, finally landing in the top of a shrub with a lot
of dead twigs. I radioed Jim to come, for it looked
like a really good photo opportunity. He doesn't like
to carry his heavy camera very far, but will do so if
a picture seems likely.
While I was
waiting for Jim, I recorded this Fox Sparrow's songs
at rather close range. I didn't play back any more until
Jim got there. Then I played back the bird I had just
recorded. He came right in and perched exactly where
we wanted him to--in the twiggy-topped shrub. Fortunately
Jim was standing where he could get a clear shot of
the bird from just the right distance, so he blazed
away. Hope the photos are as good as he thinks they'll
be. [They are. See Photo 1.]
He has a new flash unit, which has been giving him outstanding
photos in the back yard, so it's well tested.
Great Basin National Park
May 24, 2007
Jim Gallagher, photographer
|This bird was the
main reason for our coming to Great Basin NP, so the pressure
is off and we can simply enjoy whatever we see. (I really don't
like hunting for particular species.)
p.m., Saturday, May 26, 2007
Great Basin NP, NV
|Yesterday we drove
the 10-mile road to its terminus at the Wheeler Peak Campground.
From there trails head out to a couple of lakes and a grove
of bristlecone pines. Instead, I chose to walk around the very
nice campground because I could take Toby. (Dogs are not permitted
on the trails.) There were only 2 of the 37 sites occupied,
and only one had anyone in the campsite. The elevation is nearly
10,000 ft. and the water hasn't yet been turned on for the season.
The grade up there is an unrelenting 8%, so larger rigs are
not recommended, although they did have quite a few sites long
enough for us.
There were lingering snow patches here and there--new to Toby,
who approaches every new thing very cautiously. He sneaks up,
then jumps back, repeatedly. When his nose finally touched the
cold white stuff, he really jumped. Then he approached it yet
again and this time discovered it was just ice. He loves ice!
Ice is to eat! So he did, this time and whenever we came to
more of the stuff.
The campground was very birdy. Nothing especially surprising
for this elevation in the western mountains, but lots of them.
Recording conditions were excellent, only marred by occasional
airplanes high overhead or little flurries of breeze that soon
died down. Pine Siskins were especially common, and I got some
nice solos. I also got mixes of several species, including probable
Toby was a fairly good companion for this endeavor, but when
I stood too long in one place, he started to whine. So I radioed
Jim to come and get him so I could take advantage of the day.
I don't get many of them. The slightest breeze makes conifers
roar, and there's usually some sort of creek flowing, too. I
spent the entire morning there.
Jim has been bemoaning the fact that he left his favorite feeding
log at a campground on our last trip, so he busied himself hunting
up a piece of rotten wood. This he had to saw off, and only
had a small keyhole saw with him to do it with. So it took quite
a while. Afterwards he walked Toby round and round the parking
lot. If we don't wear that dog out during the day, he wears
us out in the evening, poking every toy he owns at us to be
thrown or tugged, chewing at us, etc.
Last evening we went to the campfire program. It was on bird
song, so I had to see how that would be handled for a general
audience. His main thrust was to teach people how to imitate
birds songs, which he handled nicely. In the process he also
covered some of the good science on the subject: songs vs. calls,
song-learning by some species, etc. The main problem with it
was the strange assortment of birds he chose, most not common
in the park and some not there at all. He also garbled the names
of several common species. I won't enumerate. Anyway it demonstrated
that he's really not familiar with the local birds. Don't know
how long he's been stationed here. He's supposed to be the only
bird authority on the staff, so I was glad I'd been able to
find my Slate-colored Fox Sparrow on my own.
Today dawned overcast, so we decided this would be a good day
for Jim to take the tour of Lehman Cave. I didn't go with him,
because I had heard there were some steep steps, but he said
they weren't that bad. [When I saw his photos after we got home,
I was glad I didn't go.] Instead I walked down the road from
the cave entrance and then made the mistake of walking out the
Baker Creek Road. It's gravel and had an awful lot of fast traffic
on it after I'd been on it a while. They seldom slowed down
when they saw me and Toby, so we got lots of dust and, the final
straw, even some little stones from a big motorhome that went
by superfast. I decided then to just wander off into the pinyon-juniper
woodland and find a rock to sit on until Jim called me on the
radio that he was coming.
To make things worse, there were almost no birds. I did get
a superior Western Tanager recording before I got to the dirt
road. I was surprised to find it in pinyon-juniper woodland
and almost dismissed it as a hoarse Black-headed Grosbeak. The
entire bird list consisted of that bird plus two Mountain Chickadees,
one Western Scrub-Jay, and one Broad-tailed Hummingbird. Pretty
slow for an hour and a half's effort.
When Jim picked me up, we went on up the Baker Creek Road and
then out the road to Grey Cliffs, a scenic area and group campground.
I walked Toby a ways in that area, but added nothing we don't
have in our own campground.
Weather has been on-and-off cloudy today. High in upper 70s.
Breeze is up pretty good now, which keeps things pleasant.
p.m., Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Craters of the Moon NM, ID
this up for several days because little of interest happened.
Sunday morning we drove up to the top of the road again. I had
planned to walk a little on the trail system up there. There
are trails that go to two small lakes, which I recall we walked
to in 1989 when we were last able to drive to the top of the
road. I started out on one of the trails, but found it had lots
of snow on it. More intrepid hikers than I had crunched through
it, but I'm not sure-footed enough for that sort of thing, so
I contented myself with the little nature trail. It was sort
of a windy day, so recording conditions were not what they had
been on our earlier visit. Besides, there were lots more people,
it being the Memorial Day weekend.
After I had given up there, we drove on back down and out the
Baker Creek Rd. to where I had found the Slate-colored Fox Sparrow.
I didn't try to lure the bird out again with a tape. I just
wanted to photograph the habitat, which I had forgotten to do
the first time.
The rest of the day was spent reading and doing embroidery.
I brought along a two-volume book on Bird Coloration, which
I'm determined to read this summer. I'd like to get the first
volume read on this trip and the second on our fall one. It's
not easy reading, being written for professional ornithologists,
but my background in chemistry (I have a PhD) and physics, as
well as my experience as an amateur ornithologist is enabling
me to understand most of it. My main weaknesses are in computer
applications and statistics. I had so much free time at Great
Basin NP that I got a lot of reading done. Since we left there,
I've done almost none.
Monday was a day of driving. We returned to Ely, then drove
straight north to Twin Falls, ID, where we spent the night at
the 93 RV Park--just a sterile commercial RV park with blazing
"security" lights. No attendant was on duty on the
holiday, so we had to wait until the next morning at 8:30 to
ask about where we could get several things taken care of. We
needed a new cord connecting the trailer to the truck. When
we tried to get the propane bottle filled at the RV park, it
turned out its washer was bad, so so we had to go find Suburban
Propane. Both RV repairs were handled very rapidly and efficiently.
After some shopping time at WalMart, it was lunch time. We found
a Pizza Hut--and there we waited and waited for them to cook
a simple little pizza. After lunch it was 100 miles on rough
roads to Craters of the Moon National Monument, where we are
I visited this place with Mother many years ago, but every time
I've come near it with Jim, it's been too hot to even consider.
This time the temperature highs are in the 60s and the lows
around 40. Perfect weather for exploring lava beds and the interesting
plants that have colonized them. Yesterday afternoon we went
to the small, but very interesting, visitors center and looked
at all the displays. Jim asked where was the best place to photograph
a pika, and was told it was only 1/4 mile from the campground.
The attendants at the desk went into the back room to get the
information and came out and told us the man said it was "corpuscular
or something like that." I suggested he might have said
"crepuscular," and they were amazed that I knew that
word. I explained that it meant "active at twilight."
They were happy to learn a new word. Delightful, friendly people.
We spent a lot of time around the nature trail, where the animal
was supposed to be, but saw none.
This morning after breakfast I walked down there and did the
trail again. This time I saw two pikas. Jim had had diarrhea
in the night, so decided not to go with me until he discovered
whether he was recovered. (Fortunately he was, so we did everything
else together this morning.) Later this evening and tomorrow
morning before we leave, Jim plans to go down there himself
and hope one will pop up close enough to have its picture taken.
(We only have a distant photo of one in our collection.)
We thoroughly enjoyed the lava beds and, especially, the wildflowers
that were blooming all over the cinder fields. Tiny little belly
flowers that I associate with subalpine locations were blooming
here at 5,000 ft elevation. Furthermore, the trees are all Limber
Pines, many of them very good sized. These also are usually
found in harsh subalpine climes. I guess "harsh" is
the word, and "subalpine" is not required. We both
took lots of pictures of the geological and botanical features.
I took photos of the following plants:
Bitterroot, Lewisia rediviva
(our favorite, closes at night, but opens into beautiful white
blossoms by mid-day. We thought we were seeing buds early in
Cushion Buckwheat, Eriogonum ovalifolium
Dwarf Purple Monkeyflower, Mimulus nanus
Dwarf Phacelia, P. humilis
Hotrock Penstemon, P. deustus
Antelope Bitterbrush, Purshia tridentata. First
shrub to colonize lava beds. Big Sagebrush takes over later.
We saw a few birds. Brewer's Sparrows and Rock Wrens predominate,
but we were especially interested to see Violet-green Swallows
and Mountain Bluebirds apparently visiting nests in crevices
in some of the lava towers, especially in the throats of spattercones.
In one place along the tour road, a large number of Clark's
Nutcrackers were apparently harvesting Limber Pine seeds and
carrying them up a steep hill. They hide them under boulders
in such places, where they will not be covered by snow in the
Two squirrels, Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel and Yellow-pine
Chipmunk, are the only customers for our birdseed, but they're
always around. We also saw a Red Fox and Jim shot a bad, distant,
backlit photo of it--desperation. [It was awful.]
p.m., Tuesday, June 5, 2007
J & M RV Park, Stanford, MT
|Again I've let quite
a while go by without a writeup. Most of the elapsed time we
were dry-camped in Yellowstone in a site with limited sunlight
for our solar panels, so I didn't want to use the inverter (changes
battery 12-volt DC to 110-volt AC).
Last Thursday morning we drove from Craters of the Moon NM almost
all the way to Yellowstone, stopping for various errands in
Idaho Falls, and for a flat tire on the trailer along the road.
[The flat tire was a blow-out in the middle of the tread, and
we hadn't hit any road hazards or rough pavement for a long
time. Jim thought it was very strange to have that type of failure.
After we got home, we read about similar tire failures on Chinese-made
tires and wondered if that was what had blown. Unfortunately,
we turned the tire in at the tire store in West Yellowstone
when we bought a new one, so will never know. Jim usually buys
Goodyear trailer tires, but sometimes when we're out in the
middle of nowhere we have to take what we can get.]
We stayed the night in an ordinary RV park, Valley View RV park,
13 miles west of West Yellowstone. Its valley view may have
been there, but our view was of the monster RV next to us.
Jim had been having problems with diarrhea for several days,
and it wasn't getting any better. In fact, for three nights
straight he slept on the couch so he could get up suddenly when
he got an urge. (Normally he has to crawl over me.) He felt
fairly good in the daytime, but it always seemed to hit him
worst at night. We didn't know if it was the pizza he ate in
Twin Falls--the only thing different from my diet that he'd
had--or a reaction to the antibiotic his dermatologist had put
him on before she removed a growth from his nose. Anyway, by
Friday morning, even he agreed he had to get medical attention.
When the RV park office opened, I learned there was a walk-in
clinic in West Yellowstone, so we headed there. The MD or NP
(Jim's not sure whom he saw) on the staff knew instantly from
his symptoms (diarrhea, but no vomiting, aching, temperature,
etc.) that the problem was his antibiotic. The info. with the
medication had said that if there was going to be a problem,
it would show up during the first few days, but he'd been off
of it for several days after a ten-day course. She showed him--and
gave him a copy of--an article that said the problem can show
up as long as several weeks after stopping the medication. Anyway
she put him on metronidazole, and within hours he was feeling
better. Apparently the dermatologist's antibiotic had killed
all the good bugs in his colon, leaving only one bad one, which
was giving him the problem. He has to take 6 tablets of this
a day for ten days, to be sure there will be no relapse. The
only drawback is that he can't drink alcohol--and he dearly
loves his afternoon glass of wine.
Just to be on the safe side, we decided to spend the night in
West Yellowstone before going into the park. We got a good site
at the Yellowstone Grizzly RV Park, a very nice place just a
couple of blocks away from the clinic. (Terry and John Hill
had recommended it in the past.) It backs up to national forest
property and we had a site on the edge. I did some laundry at
the laundry building right across from the site, Jim bought
a new trailer tire, and we just whiled away the rest of the
The next morning, Sat., June 2, we didn't want to get to the
campground in the park too early--before people had had time
to check out--so I took Toby for a long walk on the trails in
the national forest behind the campground, and we headed for
Norris Campground in Yellowstone.
When we got to the campground, we found our favorite site from
last time occupied--and most of the other long sites as well.
We finally managed to squeeze into one, but it wasn't a particularly
nice one. We signed up for three nights. By the end of the three
nights, we were totally fed up with the officious management
of the place. They were forever on our case for minor violations.
In order to keep our truck out of the loop road, we had to park
sideways in front of the trailer, and this entailed having one
wheel on the bare dirt--an absolute no-no! (The bare dirt was
covered with tire tracks!) We were told our alternatives were
to park way down the hill through the trees in the overflow
parking area or rent a second site. We certainly weren't going
to have our truck that far from our surveillance, so we anteed
up for the extra site. It wasn't much money with our Golden
Age pass, but it certainly was annoying.
After we had been there two days, we came back and found a warning
on our trailer regarding Jim's little feeding log and water
drip. He knew it was against the rules to feed the wildlife,
but has always done it anyway. But the objection to the plastic
jug of water dripping into the tiny birdbath was a new one.
They also didn't like the spare container of water for the water
tank that he had on the other side of the trailer. Curiously
enough, they never said a word about the fact that we had backed
into a site that we could obviously only have accessed by driving
the wrong way around the loop in the campground. It was really
only suitable for a motorhome that could head in, but even they
like to back in. [Note added August 13: I just read an article
in today's L.A. Times that enumerated similar incidents of harassment
Between skirmishes with the management we managed to do the
things we had especially wanted to do in the park. Our friends
Clair and Sue De Beauvoir, who often seem to be on the road
where and when we are, had been in Yellowstone several days,
and we'd been in touch by email. They told us of several animal
photo ops. The closest one was a coyote mother, who had a den
with nine cubs right along the road only ten minutes from Norris,
so we went down there Saturday afternoon. We did see two or
three cubs come out of the den in some jumbled rocks--and also
saw the mother wander by--but those standing there told us she
had nursed the babies at 2:30 before we got there.
The next morning, Sunday, June 3, we drove across to Canyon
and down the Hayden Valley as far as Fishing Bridge. That area
is usually good for lots of wildlife, but there weren't even
very many bison. Waterfowl were few and distant, and it turned
out to be a big disappointment.
in the afternoon Jim went back to the coyote den. I stayed
in the trailer reading, not wanting to stand around beside
the road with a bunch of people for another three or four
hours. Besides, I brought along a lot of reading material
that I'm determined to get through on this trip. I also
fixed a nice dinner that could hold over low heat until
he got there.
Jim came back around 7:30 very happy. This time the mother
came in and fed the pups. She nursed them and then regurgitated
some sort of prey, which they scuffled over and ate. He
said he shot the better part of three rolls of film of
all the actions. Although there
was a brief rainstorm, the sun came out before the mother
came in, so the light was excellent. It had been mostly
cloudy the day before. [The photos were wonderful!
See Photo 2.]
morning, June 4, I decided to do the walk through the
Porcelain Basin of the Norris Geyser Basin that I'd had
to forego last year when we had our electrical problems
on the trailer. I had Jim drive me to the Geyser Basin
and I walked around the loop trails, then back to the
campground on a delightful trail through old- and new-growth
Lodgepole Pines. I took my recording gear and recorded
some of the wonderful sounds of the thermal features,
and then in the forested areas I got a rather nice singing
Townsend's Solitaire and probable Dark-eyed Junco (Pink-sided).
Coyote nursing pups
Yellowstone National Park
June 2, 2007
I started out at 7:00 a.m., I essentially had the entire place
to myself--beautiful! I love all the steam vents, blue water,
colored algae, etc., and I really took my time, stopping occasionally
just to sit on a bench and absorb all the beauty. Even with
all the lolly-gagging, I got back to the trailer at 9:30, then
sat outside for the rest of the morning.
Jim had gone over to the Dunraven Pass area, where, for several
days straight, a mother Grizzly Bear and her two playful
cubs had been making an appearance and been duly photographed
by the roadside crowd. He spent the entire morning there, but
no bear. After our usual early afternoon naps, I went back over
there with him. We hung around there for several more hours,
but again no bears. This time I had had the presence of mind
to bring along a magazine--and since we were leaving the park
the next morning, my comfortable chair was in the truck. So
there I sat beside the narrow road, reading in Birding magazine
about whether Ivory-billed Woodpeckers exist and glancing up
the mountainside for bears every so often.
Clair and Sue had told us about a badger den with young out
in the Lamar Valley, but unfortunately the animals had just
recently left that area. If they had still been there, we'd
have been out there today hunting for them. Instead, we decided
to continue with our planned trip, and spent the entire morning
and half the afternoon driving northward.
We're spending tonight, Tues., June 5, in J & M RV Park
in the tiny town of Stanford, MT. It's just a roadside park
with very few customers. Most of it is OK, but the water pipes
seem to be very corroded, and the water smells and tastes very
metallic--and looks yellow. It's not listed in Trailer Life
Guide--just in the Montana state guide. We're headed for the
Havre area in the northern part of the state, which the Montana
bird-finding guide recommends. More on that after we find out
whether it's as nice as it sounds.
p.m., Saturday, June 9, 2007
Riverside Motel & RV Park, Malta,
| On Wed., June
6, we completed our drive to the Havre area. After a bit of
shopping at Wal-Mart, we drove south to Beaver Creek Park. This
was recommended in the Montana Bird-finding Guide. It claims
to be the largest county park in the nation, 10,000 acres. (How
large is Caspers?) It stretches for 17 miles along Beaver Creek
and the mountainsides on either side of it, with an average
width of one mile. Beaver Creek arises in the Bears Paw Mountains,
which are of volcanic origin. Its gradient is rather steep,
so the habitats in the park change rather dramatically during
the 17 miles. The first portion is mostly rolling grassland,
with just a narrow strip of willow riparian in the creek. By
the time we had gotten about 2/3 of the way up the park, the
riparian was very thick and a couple hundred yards broad. The
tall trees are mainly Eastern Cottonwoods, but lots of other
types of vegetation are there, too. I didn't have time to try
to figure out what they were, although some of their names were
in the birding guide. We did figure out where the park office
was, but all we learned there was that it was closed Tuesdays
and Wednesdays. There wasn't even a map of the park posted nor
a rate schedule. We didn't have the faintest idea where we were
supposed to camp. We had passed some campgrounds named for various
service clubs (Rotary, Kiwanis, JC's, Firemen, etc.), but didn't
really know what that meant. But we fogged around and ended
up in an area where there were numbered sites, so we figured
that must be where to camp. To get there we turned off the paved
road onto a narrow 1-vehicle-wide road and entered the forest.
The road twisted around, with some corners a bit tight for our
trailer, but we had to keep going. We passed one site with a
trailer about our size in it--no people around--so figured we
couldn't get into too much trouble. Pretty soon we came to another
campsite, and another. Then we found one to our liking. It was
really large, as all were, but this one wasn't right next to
the creek. Jim wanted to set up his water drip, and I didn't
want the creek noise to mar any recording I might do.
The site was sort of in the open (for our solar panels), but
surrounded by riparian woodland and various shrubs. There would
have been plenty of room for two trailers there, as was true
of most of them. It was also completely out of view of any other
site, as was also true of most of them. Beautiful, and all eight
wheels were on dirt, just our kind of place. It was strictly
dry camping. The only amenities were a fire pit, trash can,
and a pair of disgusting pit toilets. (I didn't even go into
one, but Jim said they were awful.)
As soon as we got out of the truck, I heard the reedy, descending
"veer veer veer veer" of Veeries all around. What
a thrill! They were also calling their insistent single"veer,"
which isn't quite so reedy. Also audible were Yellow Warbler,
House Wren, Warbling Vireo, and Gray Catbird. I later became
disenchanted with the catbird, for he not only sang all day,
but also commenced singing each night around 3:00 a.m. in the
shrub right outside my bedroom window. (It's Jim's bedroom window,
too, but his deafness saved him from hearing it.)
I fixed lunch, Jim set up his water drip and feeding log, and
then we took late naps. When we awoke, the sky was really dark
and soon it started to rain. It rained steadily, but moderately,
until around midnight, causing us to worry a bit that we might
end up stuck in a muddy mess and be unable to get out of the
site--or even the campground. Weather Radio (NOAA) told us that
a Pacific cold front was passing through.
I spent several hours
wandering around getting recordings for myself. Besides the
Veery, which I recorded at length, I also got Dusky Flycatcher,
Lazuli Bunting, Spotted Towhee (songs vary a lot geographically),
and a few others. The day was cold (high around 60), but not
particularly windy for the first few hours.
the morning, Thursday, June 7, there was a lot of mud,
but we weren't in the lowest spot in the site, so it didn't
look too bad for leaving. The sky was clear except for
a bit of residual ground fog. I set out to explore the
campground with my tape recorder on my shoulder. (Toby
had to stay indoors all day. He'd have made a mess of
himself.) I had intended to record the Veery so we could
try playing it back for Jim to photograph, but we were
thrilled when, right after breakfast, our closest one
decided to forage for worms right next to Jim's feeding
log. Jim just sat in his chair and blazed away with his
camera--no blind necessary. (See
Photo No. 3.) I think it's only the second time
he's ever gotten shots of this species. (The other was
in Goose Island State Park, Texas.)
Beaver Creek Park, near
June 7, 2007
Jim Gallagher, photographer
After I got back, we drove back to the office, paid the modest
camping fee ($7 per night), then explored by car the low elevation
areas of the park back toward Havre. Some of it looked like
possible McCown's Longspur habitat, which I'd like to find for
my sparrow list (for the workshop I just finished). I walked
a couple of dirt cross roads a ways, but found none. Best bird
was Bobolink, which is always fun. (The attendant in the office
called it "bo-bo-link" instead of "bob-o-link".)
The roads were very muddy--too muddy for the truck, we thought.
After lunch I spent the rest of the day in the trailer reading
and looking out the window.
The next morning, Friday, June 8, was even more beautiful. I
should really describe the area--a canyon with high green hills
on either side, some of them with volcanic rocky outcroppings.
Wildflowers everywhere, many in beautiful carpets of yellow
(sunflowers of some type), blue (lupine, flax, etc.), white
(some type of pea), with accents of pink, rose, etc. I never
took time to haul out my flower books and figure them out, but
quite a few looked familiar. I walked farther than I had the
day before, even finding a place where the creek was flowing
slowly and there was a mudbar where a pair of Spotted Sandpipers
were foraging and calling.
When I got back to the trailer, Jim said not a single bird had
come in while I was gone--and nothing but the Veery had come
in the day before. He was ready to pack up and leave. But I
wanted to drive uphill (south) and see what the mountains were
like, so we did. We were out of the park after several miles.
The road in the park was excellent, but above it, there were
deep potholes all over--so many that you couldn't possibly avoid
them all. But we kept going because it was so beautiful. The
canyon became narrower and the walls steeper. Ponderosa Pines
and possibly some Douglas-Firs (I didn't look that hard) became
mixed with the cottonwoods. Also there were more aspens. The
road supposedly went all the way to a ski area, but we came
to a construction zone, so decided to turn around. On the way
back, I had Jim let me and Toby out, and we walked downhill
for about an hour while Jim drove. When I thought I heard a
Cordilleran Flycatcher, I got out my recording gear to try to
hear it above the roar of the creek. I couldn't be positive
about that one, but later I heard one somewhat better. The habitat
was perfect--narrow canyon with tall trees and running water.
I also heard and recorded an Ovenbird, which I tried to lure
out for Jim to photograph. It came closer and kept singing,
but we never even glimpsed it. Also had a probable MacGillivray's
Warbler, which wouldn't come out either. (I never thought I'd
find both of those warblers in the same place.)
We got back to the trailer around noon, ate lunch, then drove
40 miles to Chinook, which is 20 miles east of Havre. There
we found a site in the Bear Paw Motel and RV Park, just an ordinary
parking lot RV park, but the location was right for what we
wanted to do the next day.
Saw a Eurasian Collared-Dove, amazing how far north they've
expanded. I checked Kaufman, and he didn't show them this far
north, but the newest National Geographic Guide does show a
dotted line that includes this area. I'm surprised they're not
yet common at home, based on how they're spreading in the midwest.
Today, Sat.,June 9, we drove a loop route south of Chinook,
which was recommended for McCown's Longspurs, among other things,
in the Montana bird-finding guide. We found no longspurs, but
it was a glorious drive through grassy, flower-covered hills,
with occasional pothole ponds for waterfowl and marsh birds.
Came back with a list of 38 species. We're becoming somewhat
disenchanted with Terry McEneaney's Montana bird-finding book.
It didn't really spell out how to bird Beaver Creek. Here the
mileages and the road names were off. It said to drive south
on the paved road (Cleveland Rd, Route 240), then turn right
on the road to Lloyd, which is about 12 miles past the Nez Perce
Battlefield National Historic Site. Nine miles past the site
we came to the little village of Cleveland, which our roadmap
showed past the turnoff. We'd seen no sign for Lloyd. Fortunately
there were two folks horseback riding in the area, so we asked
where the road was, and they said we'd passed it 3 miles back.
It was called Crown Butte Rd. I remembered passing it, so we
returned there, turned, drove the 8 miles to Lloyd, then back
north on Lloyd Rd. (If you do the math, you'll see that the
turn was six, not twelve, miles past the battlefield.) If I
had it to do over again, I'd do it the other way around--drive
south out of Chinook on Cleveland Rd. to Lloyd Rd. (turn is
shortly after milepost 6), go south to Lloyd, left on Crown
Butte Rd, then left on Cleveland Rd. Lloyd Rd. and Crown Butte
Rd. are unpaved, but good. Cleveland Rd is paved.
The Nez Perce Battlefield Historic Site looked very interesting
and had a 1.5-mile loop trail, but we didn't have time to investigate
it. (It's where a great many basically peaceable indians, under
Chief Joseph, were slaughtered as they tried to escape to Canada.
This is where Chief Joseph finally surrendered and is reputed
to have said, "I shall fight no more forever.")
I took quite a few pictures of the beautiful scenery. The road
went uphill and down dale and the hilltops presented awesome
views of the mountains and valleys. Again there were wildflowers
everywhere. We saw lots and lots of Vesper Sparrows, surprisingly
no Savannahs or any other kinds of grassland sparrows--and definitely
no McCown's Longspurs, which was what I especially wanted. Isolated
cottonwoods often had hawk nests. Jim got photos of a Red-tail
with some Krider's genes.
When I was walking with Toby along one stretch, I spotted a
small black snake beside the road. I called Jim on the radio
to photograph it. It didn't look injured, but was very lethargic--and
the day wasn't cold. Jim said it didn't even move when he nudged
it, but it did release a discharge of some sort from its mouth.
Was it dying? Had it been struck by a car, even if it didn't
show it? Don't know. [He photographed it, but I was unable to
identify it from the photos.]
We got back to the trailer around noon, ate lunch, then drove
70 miles farther east to Malta, where we are now located in
the Riverside Motel and RV Park. The park is right next to a
railroad bridge over a river, and the trains are very noisy,
but the location under tall cottonwoods is so nice, we came
here. We'd been here before, so knew about the trains, but the
other place(s) in town just aren't this nice. This is the only
one Trailer Life recommends--except for a city park with dry
camping only. We like our electricity and cable TV (with CNN
and PBS) when we can get it. We've become rather out of touch
with the news of the nation and the world with all our recent
p.m., Wednesday., June 13, 2007
Theodore Roosevelt NP, North Unit, ND
Sunday morning, June 10, we drove the 15-mile tour route
at Bowdoin NWR. Despite focusing on land birds and paying
minimal attention to water birds, my bird list had 48
species for Malta plus the refuge.
The list did not include the Eurasian Collared-Dove, but
we've been surprised to find it in two other Montana towns
close to the Canadian border, Chinook and Culbertson.
The newest edition of the National Geographic Guide is
the only book I have that shows it this far north, but
only with dotted lines. What a rapid range expansion.
As we drove through the refuge, we poked along through
the grasslands, and I walked long portions of it. McCown's
Longspur is on the refuge list as a rare breeder. We didn't
find it, but we did see lots of Chestnut-collareds. I
got some fairly good recordings of birds doing their flight
displays--mostly just flying around singing, not like
the beautiful display of the Bobolink, which I think I
described in my diary from two years ago. We spotted the
Chestnut-collared Longspurs when they were foraging in
the gravel road--a pair of them. I tried bringing them
in for Jim to photograph, either perched or in flight,
but they would never come very close, so he didn't even
try for a shot.
Wilson's Phalarope (male)
Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge. MT
June 10, 2007
Jim Gallagher, photographer
|As I was setting
out from the truck to walk through the grasslands, a Willet
shot up from no more than eight feet ahead of me and not much
farther than that from the road. I hadn't seen it. We knew it
must have been on a nest, and after a short search, we found
one with four eggs. Jim went back for his camera while I stood
next to it so he could find it again.
The rest of the drive was rather uneventful and tedious, although
Jim did pop off some nice shots of a male Wilson's Phalarope
(Photo No. 4). I tromped through
a lot of what I hoped was short grassland trying for those McCown's
and not finding them. I also walked (with Toby) some fairly
lengthy stretches of road. Finally, as it was getting towards
midday, we just drove, stopping frequently to listen. Near the
end of the drive, I heard off in the distance a descending group
of liquid notes. At first I thought it might be the longspur,
but upon reflection I realized it was more like a Sprague's
Pipit. Of course, I recorded it. It was better than the only
other recording I have--when the wind was blowing a gale. I
listened to the Stokes recording of the pipit in the evening,
and it fit nicely.
After spending from 7:00 am till 1:00 pm driving the refuge
road, we decided to treat ourselves at Dairy Queen. The hamburgers
were soggy--both bread and meat--but those Blizzards! It's a
good thing there are no Dairy Queens in Huntington Beach. [Wrong!!
I discovered one just the other day, but it's not very close
to our house.] We brought our dripping frozen delights back
to the trailer; they pile them up in a paper cup. We each ate
a small portion of ours and put the rest in the freezing compartment
and made them last several days. We've decided they won't be
the only Blizzards we indulge in on this trip. Mine had lots
of chocolate and lots of pecans. Jim's had lots of chocolate--and
lots more chocolate.
I spent the rest of the day sitting outside reading, embroidering,
and watching the robins and catbirds in the RV park.
Monday, June 11, we drove back out to the refuge--not far from
town--and went to the office when it opened to inquire about
McCown's Longspurs. They told me that McCown's Longspurs had
not bred in the refuge for many years, despite the bird list.
They sent me to the BLM office back in Malta for better information.
There I talked to a very knowledgeable biologist. He said he'd
seen probable migrants four to six weeks ago, but not since.
He also gave me printed directions to the only place at all
accessible where they have bred the last two years. He also
said they probably wouldn't breed there this year, because there
had been so much rain that the grass was too tall for these
short-grass prairie birds. In years like this the birds fly
farther north to breed. I was going to check the area anyway
until I looked at the directions and discovered the place was
44 miles north of Malta.
I decided we might as well hook up and leave. We drove 210 miles
east and somewhat south, ending up in Sidney, MT. Along the
way we ate lunch in Culbertson. The place advertised pizza,
but also other things. We went for the special of the day, which
was supposed to be a Mexican taco-style pizza. It turned out
to be sort of a turnover made out of thick pizza dough, with
almost unseasoned hamburger meat, mozzarella cheese, and pepperoni
inside. The Mexican parts were a side each of salsa and sour
cream. It was pretty awful.
In Sidney we found a place at a very run-down RV Park (in the
state guide, but not TL) called 5-Wheel RV Park. The sites did
back up to a line of Russian Olives, so at least it was shady.
We were having the hottest day yet on the trip, with a high
of 95_. The park management also runs a go-cart track, and a
defunct, very minimal miniature golf course is also on the grounds.
Fortunately the go-carts were having a slow day.
The instructions for finding the RV Park in the Montana state
tour guide were simply, "Turn between McDonald's and Pizza
Hut." We had no idea where in town those might be, but
found them with no difficulty. After the awful lunch, we decided
to patronize Pizza Hut for dinner--and brought home half of
Our reason for going to Sidney was to search for McCown's Longspurs
at Fox Lake Wildlife Management Area (state) 21 miles west of
town, and that's what we did Tues. morning, June 12. The WMA
is listed in the Montana Bird-finding Guide and also in a new
birding trail brochure on this part of the state. Both guides
said to go to the town of Lambert and drive south through town.
Then each one said a different thing to do. As it turned out,
neither was correct! I could see on the map where Fox Lake was,
and from a hilltop on one of our wrong roads, we could actually
see it. Anyway, it turns out that the way to get there is to
drive south through town until there is a road to the right
that says it leads to a Bible camp. Turn on that road and go
a short distance till you reach the entrance to the refuge.
The refuge road is just a rough two-tracker, which would be
impassable after a rain. There had been heavy rain a few days
earlier, and the ruts from those who drove the road were sizeable.
I would never have attempted it in our 2-wheel-drive truck.
Anyway, it had dried up nicely, so we drove it a couple of miles.
Rather, Jim drove it and I walked most of it with Toby.
The habitat really looked better than any we've seen for McCown's
Longspurs. The grass on the hillside above the lake--where the
road was, fortunately--was very stunted. I listened regularly
with my microphone all along the road, but didn't hear what
I wanted to. I did get Grasshopper, Savannah, Vesper, and Clay-colored
sparrows, but no longspurs. Also got the flight treatment from
an irate Marbled Godwit, whose nesting territory I had invaded.
We also saw a female Sharp-tailed Grouse fly up from the grass
just after we entered the refuge. We stopped and searched the
grassy area where she had been for her nest, but without success.
It was almost noon when we got back to the trailer after doing
some grocery shopping. We decided to leave, partly because of
some creepy men in the decrepit trailer two spaces away--empty
site between. We think they were probably just guys working
on some temporary job in the area, but they were incredibly
unfriendly--just stared at us when we gave a simple Hello.
After the mid-day heat of Monday, thunder clouds rolled in late
in the day. There was even a tornado two counties (75 miles)
north--pixs on TV. Thunder storms were severe in the two counties
south of us for several hours during the evening, but we got
almost nothing. It was obvious that Fox Lake got almost nothing,
too, or we wouldn't have driven onto that road. However, Tuesday
was totally overcast. No rain in the am, but intermittent drizzle
in the afternoon.
Our destination was Theodore Roosevelt National Park, a 70 mile
drive from Sidney. We were well over half way before we found
a place to pull off the road to fix lunch--road was narrow with
no shoulder. Then we found a roadside day-use recreation area
with fishing lake, where I heated up last night's pizza.
T. Roosevelt NP has two units. The north unit is where we are.
We've been here before and like it because it gets very few
visitors. The south unit is right off the Interstate and folks
probably figure they've seen the park if they see that. However,
the two units are very different. The scenery in this one is
much more spectacular, with sweeping views of the valley carved
through colorful badlands by the Little Missouri River. The
campground is in the riparian area next to the river and has
lots of birds.
Because of the cloudy, drizzly weather, we did little else after
we found a campsite around 3:00 p.m.
This morning, Wed., June 13, there was ground fog when we arose,
but it soon burned off--but not before Jim got a few scenics
from one of the viewpoints of bits of it lingering in the river
After breakfast we decided to drive the 10 miles to the end
of the park road. Even before we got out of the campground,
we encountered a small group of bison in the road and had to
drive through them slowly. Toby was really shaken by the experience.
He trembled strongly all over and whimpered. Whimpering is what
he always does when he sees another dog and wants to play with
it, but the trembling is what he does when he thinks he's going
to have a bath--only this was much stronger. Anyway, he calmed
down as soon as we were past the animals. He's seen large mammals
before, but normally not on both sides of the truck and right
next to it.
There were almost no people driving the park road that early
in the morning, but to our surprise the only ones were Phil
and Judy Smith from Huntington Beach and two of their friends.
We met them at one of the overlooks. They'd been farther east
in North Dakota and had seen all the special sparrows, thanks
to a guide they hired in the Steele area. They told me they
would have taken my sparrow class if they'd known they were
going to ND. They said they really didn't know what they were
supposed to look for. Phil has been really active in the Bolsa
Chica battles and has worked for various organizations associated
with it--don't recall all the details. But we've known him for
many years--and met his wife a few times.
I walked a long stretch of road with Toby and my tape recorder--not
always a totally successful combination. Toby wants to root
in the grassy shoulder and eat who knows what. If I pull him
back onto the pavement, he whimpers. Neither makes for great
recordings. But he doesn't do either all the time. Sometimes
he behaves quite nicely and just stands there, giving me hope
for the future.
I got some fairly nice recordings of Yellow-breasted Chat and
Lazuli Bunting, although the breeze had gotten up a bit. Even
a little breeze makes a lot of noise in a cottonwood tree. I
played the two sounds back with Jim standing by with his camera--and
the Lazuli Bunting posed beautifully on nice close twiggy-topped
bushes with green grassland in the background--should make for
beautiful photos. (See Photo No. 5.)
The chat did fly up, but wouldn't come anywhere near.
This afternoon we both sat outside. Jim took a chance and set
up his feeding log. Rule says you're not supposed to feed wild
animals because "its dangerous." We figured they didn't
mean little birds. A Spotted Towhee was the only regular customer,
but about mid-afternoon, I actually saw the Ovenbird that I
had been hearing in the brushy understory ever since we arrived
yesterday. It was in the Rocky Mountain Juniper right over my
head. Usually Ovenbirds are heard, but not seen. Jim decided
he had to set up his water drip and see if the bird would come
in. Within 15 minutes it was there. Unfortunately the flash
scared it off, but he did get one picture [a so-so front view].
The bird came back again a few minutes later, but this time
Toby scared it off. He saw a man with a dog passing by the trailer
window and always barks at other dogs. The Ovenbird twiddled
around in the trees and elsewhere on the ground in the open
for a few more minutes, but never returned to the water drip.
However, I probably had the best looks I've ever had at that
bird--nice and close and behaving naturally. When in the juniper
trees, it usually was on a fairly large horizontal limb, and
several times I saw it walking, not hopping, along the limb.
It has incredibly long legs, and also a long bill.
I could also hear, and occasionally see, Yellow Warbler, American
Redstart, Red-eyed Vireo, White-breasted Nuthatch, American
Robin, Chipping Sparrow, and in the late afternoon, Common Nighthawk
overhead doing its wing "roar" as well as its "peent"
call. Temperature was in the upper 70s with a slight breeze.
Only a few mosquitos, but lots of cottonwood fluff that could
be mistaken for a landing mosquito. I tried to read, but finally
gave up and got out my embroidery. I can look at birds better
while doing that, for I can look up whenever I pull a thread
through. I lose my train of thought when I try to read and watch
While writing up the next installment,
my computer crashed. Fortunately I had saved the previous stuff
on a diskette and could bring it up when I got home. For the
rest of the trip I just jotted down brief reminders of what
we had done each day, so the remainder of the log was composed
from them after we got home.
June 14, 2007
N. Unit, T. Roosevelt NP, ND
decided to stay over one more night here, hoping Jim could
get the Ovenbird to come in for a bath. It sang tantalizingly
overhead, but never came down, so we might as well have
I had Jim take me over to the trailhead for the one-mile
Nature Trail, but it was closed. They were spraying herbicide
to get rid of invasive introduced plants. That was a disappointment,
for I remember enjoying it last time I was there. Instead,
I walked very slowly back to the campground through the
picnic area, with lots of time spent sitting at various
picnic tables watching for activity in the tall Eastern
Cottonwoods. Red-headed and Hairy Woodpeckers were nesting
and the most visible birds of interest, but the nests
were all very high in the trees. Had I found a low one,
I'd have called Jim over on the radio
Lazuli Bunting (male)
Theodore Roosevelt Nat. Park (North Unit),
June 12, 2007
Jim Gallagher, photographer
June 15, 2007
City RV Park, Stanley, ND
|This morning we
drove about 110 miles northeast to Stanley, a town of ca. 1700
people that is only about 20 miles south of Lostwood National
Wildlife Refuge. We were happy to find the site farthest from
the railroad tracks free. We'd stayed here on previous trip.
The sites are E only, but water, dump, restrooms and showers
are all available. They are on lawn, but back up to a dense
row of trees and shrubs, on the other side of which is a golf
course, so the variety of birds was interesting. The sites are
widely separated, and no one ever parked right next to our site,
so we really enjoyed our time in the town.
The RV park is right across the street from the beautiful old
county courthouse. Occasionally I'd see Chimney Swifts circling
around the dome; they were probably nesting in it.
We didn't do much the rest of the day, for Jim was having a
relapse of the adverse reaction to that antibiotic. He finally
decided to go to the clinic at the county hospital. They gave
him a prescription for more of the same medicine he had had
before, and did more tests. Unfortunately he couldn't get the
prescription filled until Saturday, when the town pharmacy opened.
(All they had was the IV version, which would have taken an
hour to administer.) His previous prescription had said not
to take the medicine with alcohol, but it didn't say he couldn't
have a glass of wine as soon as he was done with it. Here he
learned that he should have waited several days before drinking
any wine. Anyway, he decided to play it safe and not drink any
wine for the rest of the trip, a real deprivation for an Irishman
like Jim, but he didn't want to chance a recurrence of the virulent
diarrhea he'd had. (He celebrated our return home a month later
with a glass of wine--no adverse effects.)
June 16, 2007
|This was a gorgeous
cool, calm day. It would have been perfect for spending the
morning at Lostwood NWR. Perfect days were hard to come by.
Unfortunately, we had to wait until 9:00 for the pharmacy to
open, and Jim had made arrangements for an electrician to come
by and try to find out why the connection between our truck
and trailer brakes was not working. We'd been doing all our
braking with the truck brakes for quite a while--not a safe
thing to have to do, although the Suburban has wonderful brakes.
It was almost noon before the man came, but he soon found what
the problem was--and it was not what Jim expected. Jim had had
all new wiring done on the braking system just a few months
before we left, so he didn't suspect that could be the problem,
but it turned out that the guys who installed the wiring had
placed one portion in a place where it rubbed against a piece
of metal under the trailer, eventually shorting it out. Anyway,
the electrician fixed it and we had no more trouble the rest
of the trip. So the day was shot for birding, but was a nice
one for sitting outdoors and looking at birds in the bushes
behind the trailer. Among the more interesting species, all
of which were most likely nesting, were Cedar Waxwing, "Yellow-shafted"
Flicker, Chipping Sparrow, Black-and-white Warbler, American
Redstart, Downy Woodpecker, and Black-capped Chickadee. Several
of the latter became regular customers at Jim's birdseed before
June 17, 2007
|Today was the stormiest
day of the entire trip. It dawned dark and blustery--and sometimes
became even darker as the day progressed. For about an hour
around 11:00 a.m. we had to turn the lights on in the trailer
even though we were sitting right inside the windows. Intermittent
downpour and lots of steady rain. Cold and windy. We stayed
in the trailer all day, except for a short foray to the grocery
store between squalls.
June 18, 2007
|The inclement weather
of the day before wasn't entirely over. It was still very windy:
30-40 mph with gusts to 50 in some places in the afternoon,
according to weather radio. Drizzly. Despite this, we decided
to go to Lostwood and bird from the truck on the tour road.
Baird's Sparrows were singing in many places. As it turned out,
I heard more that day than any other day we visited the refuge.
Maybe they thought it was dawn all morning long because it was
so dark. Jim photographed a couple of them from the truck. [Pictures
must have been so awful that he threw them away, for I never
June 19, 2007
City RV Park, Kenmare, ND
|This morning dawned
clear with little wind. We returned to Lostwood and had no sooner
pulled into the parking area by the refuge headquarters, when
Pat and Dick Cabe walked up. They were in the sparrow workshop
and were doing a sparrow tour of North America for the Great
Sparrow Search. Jan Wilson, who had also been in the workshop,
was with them. I was surprised they knew each other--and it
turned out they didn't until the night before at the campground
in Kenmare. There they had struck up a conversation, compared
hometowns (Huntington Beach, Long Beach), and birding goals.
When it turned out that they all seemed to be pursuing sparrows
and not much else, they discovered that they had all been in
the sparrow workshop. So the Cabes invited Jan to go with them
to Lostwood the next day.
Although there were fewer Baird's Sparrows singing, they were
still easy to find. Finally I was able to do some recording
and was especially pleased by a piece of tape that had Baird's
and Clay-colored Sparrow plus Horned Lark's recitative and intermittent
songs all on the same tape.
We looked for Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow in the place where
we found it last time, but without success. Later we learned
it was in a different pond this time.
After the morning at Lostwood, we went back to the trailer,
ate lunch, hooked up, and drove to Kenmare. The city RV park
there is just a bare, dusty parking lot--not nearly as nice
as the one in Stanley, although it has full hookups. Lostwood
is about equidistant between the two places.
June 20, 2007
Roughrider RV Park, Minot, ND
|This morning we
decided to explore Des Lacs NWR, which runs along a river valley
north and south of Kenmare. After a visit to the headquarters
for brochures, we took the road south of town because they told
us it had the most marsh and grassland. The north section was
more wooded. (Later from Roy Poucher, we learned the short stretch
of marsh at the start of the drive north of Kenmare was better.)
All too much of the south drive had the railroad tracks between
the road and the wetlands. Anyway, we hadn't driven the entire
road when the "Low Gasoline" signal came on in the
truck, so we decided we'd better return to Kenmare for a fill-up.
Then we started on the tour road north. By then it had gotten
pretty warm, so we just drove on past the marshy areas and came
to a nice shady stretch of road that went through the riparian
woodland with assorted coulees (wooded draws in the bluff side).
I walked a stretch of the road with Toby for at least an hour,
covering a mile or two, enjoying it thoroughly. Lots of birds
singing, but nothing particularly remarkable. Too windy for
Unfortunately the main event of the day wasn't the birds. It
was TICKS!. Although I stayed out of the bushes, I still got
more of them on me than I can ever remember. Toby was an absolute
mess, because he has to stick his nose in the grass beside the
road. After we got back, I picked and picked, combed and brushed,
then bathed him, brushed, combed, and picked some more. Ditto
for myself, but I'm not quite as fuzzy as little Toby. Fortunately
Kenmare has full hookups, so there was plenty of water for baths.
Neither of us was bitten, fortunately. There were big black
and medium-sized brown ticks. I think the big black ones are
wood ticks and fairly harmless, although very repulsive. Don't
know about the smaller ones. Jim, as driver, didn't think he
got any, but for the rest of the day, he kept finding them on
himself and on the couch near where he was sitting, so I think
he was also infested. They just seem to fall out of the trees.
[As I'm writing this up at home on July 19, I keep feeling as
though ticks are crawling on me all over again. We had them
off and on for the rest of our stay in ND--but never again that
bad. Jim and I each got bitten several times, but I don't think
Toby ever did. He's on Frontline, which probably helps.]
By the time lunch and tick-removal was finished it was well
into the mid-afternoon. Since the RV park in Kenmare is so uninviting,
we decided to try out another one a bit farther down the road.
The city park in Carpio looked nice, but when we got there,
we discovered it was full--most unusual, for these city campgrounds
are usually quite empty. This one was listed in Trailer Life,
however, and also takes reservations--things that do not apply
to the others. We learn about most of the city park campgrounds
from state tourist guides. Many plains states have them.
So we decided to drive on into Minot instead of back to Kenmare.
We selected an EW site at the Roughrider RV Park, because they
backed up to an oxbow pond. The EWS sites were pull-throughs
out in the middle. All are more or less shady, but somewhat
narrow. We had stayed at this RV park in 1994 when we attended
an ABA Convention. Then the manager was the most disagreeable
man one could imagine. (Later, we discovered he was notorious
all over town.) If we hadn't heard the park was under new management,
we'd not have returned to the place. When I told this to the
woman in the office (sister-in-law of owners), she said it had
taken them several years to get regain the business that man
lost. I think I wrote up the problems we had with him in my
1994 diary--don't recall what they were right now.
June 21, 2007
City Park, Granville, ND
|We had been planning
to use Carpio as a base from which to explore Upper Souris NWR,
but we recently learned that the tour road there is closed for
reconstruction, so there is little one can see this year. So
we just did some shopping at Wal-Mart, then headed out of town
about 22 miles to the small town of Granville. It has a nice
big city park on one edge of town with E hookups. Also has one
water faucet near the campsites plus a dump station and water
faucet on the opposite corner of the park. The sites are nice
big grassy ones with shade possible if you back way in. No one
was there when we arrived, so we selected site #1 at the far
end of the line.
It was lunch time by the time we got situated, so we just sat
around all afternoon. Around 9:00 p.m. we drove to the nearby
Buffalo Lodge Lake Rd. area (written up in the ND bird-finding
guide and one of my favorites from previous trips.) On my first
trip here in 1994 I heard, but did not see, my life Yellow Rail.
Now that area is much too grown up with cattails, etc., for
Yellow Rails, but I tried anyway, using the usual method of
rapidly clicking two quarters together: tick-tick tik-tik-tik
etc. It's always beautiful to watch the sun set over a prairie
Because of the late sunset in this far north area on the west
edge of the time zone, it was 11:00 when we got back to the
trailer, and there was still a glimmer of light on the western
horizon. Still had to take a shower to get the insect repellant
June 22, 2007
City Park, Granville, ND
|Today didn't start
out very well, but turned out fine in the end. We decided to
check out the Grassland Trail at Salyer NWR, which is pretty
far from here. We got an early start and drove north to Upham
(about 25 miles), stopped by the headquarters for literature.
The office wasn't open yet, but these ND (and eastern MT) refuges
all have their lobbies unlocked all the time. There they have
racks of brochures, a sign-in book, and very nice restrooms,
so we always try the doors.
Then we had to go another 15-20 miles farther north and west
to the start of the trail. There we found a closed gate across
the entry road and a big "No Entry" sign. This was
hard to understand, for we had picked up the trail guide in
the office and there had been no sign saying the trail was closed.
(Incidentally a "trail" in the midwest usually means
a two-track road open to vehicles.)
So we drove back to the headquarters, which by now was open.
After going through a few underling employees who just stood
there and said, "I don't know," when we inquired about
the trail, I finally got one of them to go see if they could
find someone who did know. Out came a very nice fellow, Greg
Erickson, who may have been the manager, but I'm not sure. He
was surprised the gate was closed, but said it was OK to open
it and drive in. He said it had probably been closed by the
man who runs cattle on the prairie (successors to the bison
that are no longer there). Just to be sure everything was OK,
he decided to precede us up there. So we followed him. Before
we got there, he screeched to a halt (he drove pretty fast),
and burst out of his truck. It turned out he had seen a Sandhill
Crane, which he showed us off in the distance in a fallow field.
He said breeders are pretty rare in the area (only 2 records
on the refuge), but this was a loner. (Several days later, we
heard a couple in the Granville area.)
It was 9:00 by the time we got on the Grassland Trail road--much
later than we wanted to. By then it was quite breezy and getting
hot (ended up 90_ in Minot per TV). I walked quite a bit of
the prairie road, listening and looking in vain for Chestnut-collared
Longspurs and Le Conte's Sparrows in appropriate habitat. I
had had both there in 1994.
In the last pasture, which looked the best for the longspurs
because it was the barest from cattle grazing, I took my tape
recorder and wandered well out into the prairie. When I was
about 100 ft from the truck, a Mallard female suddenly exploded
from only three feet from my feet. I looked down and discovered
her nest with a large number of eggs. I radioed Jim to come
and photograph it, but he replied, "I can't right now.
I just flushed up a sparrow from its nest and am trying to photograph
I took careful note of where the Mallard nest was--not easy
in the uniformity of a prairie--and returned to the truck to
find Jim photographing the "sparrow," which I told
him was actually a female Bobolink, a rather sparrow-like bird.
I suggested that maybe it had been that bird that he had flushed
up. We soon discovered that to be the case. We looked at the
nest and discovered several big, hungry gapes waiting for food.
So we got back into the truck and pretty soon in came the parents
to feed the chicks. Shooting from the truck window, Jim got
his first decent pictures ever of a female Bobolink and improved
greatly on the males he had. (See photos
Nos. 6 and 7.) We both photographed the nest. Then he
went out and photographed the Mallard nest. The female had not
that I resumed my longspur search across the prairie parallel
to the road, but 100 yd out, listening for their song
with my microphone. This was difficult with the steadily
increasing wind. No luck, so we finally gave up. Jim paced
me in the truck, as he often does on these pursuits.
The grassland Trail is only a few miles from the small
town of Newburg, which also has a city park with electrical
hookups. Before returning to Granville, we checked it
out to see if it was still as it had been. It was. Got
back to the trailer around 1:00 p.m. and kept cool the
rest of the day. Despite the heat, the breeze and the
shade in the park made it pleasant to sit outdoors and
read my book.
National Wildlife Refuge, ND
June 22, 2007
Jim Gallagher, photographer
Wildlife Refuge, ND
June 22, 2007
Jim Gallagher, photographer
June 20, 2007
Roughrider RV Park, Minot, ND
|This morning I had
Jim drive me to the far east end of Buffalo Lodge Lake Road,
and I strapped on my tape recorder and walked most of it--back
to sun, downhill, very pleasant. Jim paced me, stopping here
and there beside likely spots to see if anything would pop up
to be photographed.
me and screaming.
Upland Sandpipers behaving similarly.
I got nice recordings of their alarm calls, but they also have
a call that resembles a slow "wolf-whistle," which
they seem to use in courtship. I kept hearing it at a distance,
but couldn't get it closer.
Savannah Sparrows in the
road everywhere. I got tired lifting my binoculars and discovering
I was walking on the road from 6:45 till 9:15. By then it was
getting pretty warm, and I was getting tired. So I had Jim come
and pick me up. We decided to have me drive slowly along the
road so we could look for birds for Jim to photograph on the
fences and bushes.
We hadn't driven very far and were right in front of the only
farmhouse on the road when Jim spotted a bird in the road ahead.
Without even looking at it, I told him, "It's a Savannah
Sparrow." But he insisted that I ought to look at it. When
I saw its rich ochre coloration and streaky breast, I realized
it was a Le Conte's Sparrow. He popped off a couple of semi
distant shots with his digital camera, and we went on our way,
hoping for more. [When we got home and I asked to see those
shots, it turned out he had deleted them.] I had thought I was
hearing some off in the distance earlier, but hadn't been sure.
This time I heard several more in the roadside ditches on the
way back to Hwy 2. When we got there, we decided it was too
early to go back to the trailer, and I was refreshed sitting
down in the nice air-conditioned truck and was game for more
So we crossed Hwy 2 and continued south for several more miles.
I heard Le Conte's in the ditch for the first quarter-mile after
we crossed the road, too. (Later I told others about my find,
but no one else could find them--and I couldn't either when
I returned a week or so later. I think maybe the hot weather
sent them elsewhere, seeking wetter ditches.)
A little farther down the road, there was windbreak of tall
cottonwoods about 100 yards west of the road. A pair of Krider's
Red-tailed Hawks apparently had a nest up there, for they were
circling around and calling to one another. I recorded their
screams from the spot most sheltered from the wind I could find,
behind the truck with the two back doors open. (A few days later
we returned to the spot when there was less wind, and I recorded
We got back to the trailer around 11:15, ate an early lunch,
and hauled the trailer back to Minot. We had liked the spot
we were in before and had reserved it for tonight, but when
we got there, they had lost the reservation, the campground
was nearly full, and we had to take a sunny spot. To top things
off, the campground's voltage was low from the demand of the
air-conditioners of all the RV's. We made sure they had our
reservation for our next return there several days later.
Our reason for returning to Minot was to have dinner with Roy
Poucher and most of the members of his first sparrow birding
tour group. Most of the group had assembled in the special little
dining room reserved for them when in trooped the remaining
participants all decked out in identical T-shirts adorned with
a wide assortment of sparrows. They had purchased them at the
Kern Valley Birding Festival, but were more than appropriate
for the occasion. After dinner (all-you-can-eat buffet), I gave
them a brief introduction to North Dakota, its glacier-created
potholes, its human history, etc. Then Roy discussed the plans
for their day-trips. He had been getting all sorts of tips on
where to go from local experts and shared a few places I wasn't
aware of with me. We'll go to them on our own. The most interesting
one is very close to Granville, from which we just came.
When we got back to the trailer, we found our neighbors, who
were occupying 3/4 of the double-site, were still noisy and
had their chairs set up as close as a foot from our trailer.
Their noise continued until 11:00 pm. Even their toddler, who
belonged in bed, was running around yelling.
June 24, 2007
City Park, Granville, ND
|Around 3:00 a.m.
there was a rip-snorter of a thunder-storm, which lasted about
45 minutes. When we got up in the morning, there was no electricity
in the trailer. We attributed it to the thunder-storm, but then
we began to realize other people were running their air conditioners,
etc. When Jim went out to the electric box, he discovered that
the neighbors on the other side of us (not the noisy ones) had
left early and turned off the circuit breaker for our electricity,
as well as their own, when they left. (Some people think they
have to flip the circuit breakers while hooking and unhooking,
but we never do.)
We spent a lazy morning--pancakes, reading the paper, watching
Sunday Morning on TV, etc. I had no desire to explore the areas
around the ponds, etc., because the tall grass was so wet from
the rainstorm. (I had wandered around when I was there a few
days before, so knew pretty much what was there.) Also the overcrowded
campground was a big turn-off.
Around mid-morning, we drove the 22 miles back to Granville.
We were disappointed to discover our favorite site, #1, was
occupied. But no sooner had we settled into another site than
the people left #1. We decided it was worth it to move, so we
did. Even though I was pretty sure no one would come in, I dashed
down there and plunked a chair in the site while we hooked up.
This time we backed even farther into the site than we had before
and were able to get even more shade. This necessitated using
our extension cord, but we carry a long heavy-duty one for just
It was so nice to be back in comfortable little Granville again.
Even the railroad isn't very close. The town itself only has
a few hundred people and no businesses to speak of, just a saloon.
No grocery or other stores, a one-pump gas station that looks
very iffy--don't know if they're even still pumping gas. No
public telephone, so no Pocketmail (our email device). Our cellphone
doesn't work anywhere here in ND; Jim bought it at 7-11 and
the company obviously doesn't serve these northern states. It
did work in Texas. Just lots of peace and quiet.
June 25, 2007
City Park, Granville, ND
|This morning we
couldn't wait to explore the places Roy had told us about only
7 miles southeast of Granville. It was extremely windy, but
we went just the same. Anyone trying to visit these areas should
obtain a Conservation PLOTS Guide--free from the state. (PLOTS
= Public Lands Open To Sportsmen.) It was created to designate
areas where hunting is permitted, but is equally useful for
birders and is a wonderful road atlas to the entire state. The
areas of interest are all on Map 20 of the book.
Directions: From Granville go south on US 2 to where
it makes a right angle and heads west. Instead, go east on 57
St N, a very good graded gravel road with almost no traffic.
(If coming from Minot, drive straight east, instead of making
the bend northward just south of Granville.) Check your odometer
and drive east 5 miles. Just past 7 Ave N (on road sign, but
not in PLOTS map, which doesn't show names of secondary roads),
the road descends slightly to a marsh with a fen (brushy wetland)
just beyond it. This wetland is marked as a lake on the map,
but no open water is visible. Some people found Nelson's Sharp-tailed
Sparrow in the area, but we never did. Also, it's supposed to
be good for Le Conte's Sparrow, but apparently no one found
any there this year. However, it did have lots of Upland Sandpipers,
and just short of a mile east of 7 Ave N there was a pasture
with nesting Chestnut-collared Longspurs. (We didn't discover
these on June 25, but am including this for completeness.)
Although the mile containing the fen is probably the richest
birding area, the entire road is wonderful for windshield birding.
We drove it several times. Continue on east past the fen to
a T at 1 Ave N, passing open fields, pothole ponds, bits of
woodland, etc. Turn right onto 1 Ave N and go a little over
a mile to 55 St N and turn left. For about 2 miles along this
stretch of road there are fairly open pastures on both sides
of the road with Chestnut-collared Longspurs. The road continues
on a few miles farther to paved SR 14, but we didn't take it.
Instead of following the above directions, today we went east
out of Granville on US 2 to 10 Ave N, then south to 57 St N.
This gave us another look at the Red-tailed Hawks and an especially
cooperative (for photos) Upland Sandpiper pair.
When we got to the fen, we discovered a birding group there
of which we were aware. James Rising, David Beadle, and Ron
Martin were leading an American Birding Association Institute
for Field Ornithology (IFO) sparrow workshop the same week.
We exchanged information. I told them about my Le Conte's Sparrows
of a few days earlier, which they couldn't find. They told me
of the Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrows they had just heard right
there, but I couldn't because of the ever-stronger wind. Rising
and Beadle are the authors of two field guides on sparrows,
which I had used in my workshop. Martin is an expert Minot birder
and a co-author of the very nice North Dakota bird-finding guide,
available free from the state's website and at various refuges
and visitors centers.
After that we drove on to the two-mile stretch of pasture indicated
above. Jim photographed male and female Chestnut-collared Longspurs
on the fence wires, but it was hopeless to try to record them;
by then it was blowing a gale. The morning was pretty well along
by then, so we just went back to the trailer and enjoyed the
relatively sheltered park for the rest of the day.
June 26, 2007
City Park, Granville, ND
|This morning we
drove the main tour road at Salyer NWR. Roy had recommended
we do it backwards because the light was better. It's not a
one-way drive, but finding the end of the route isn't easy.
Directions: From the junction of 80 St N and SR 14 on the southeast
corner of Upham, drive southeastward on SR 14 about 4 miles
to 77 St N. (This is about 2 miles northwest of Bantry.) Turn
east on 77 St N and follow the route in the tour guide leaflet
you've previously obtained at the refuge headquarters. You'll
know you're on the right track as you keep finding the back
sides of the various numbered stops along the route.
The hot south wind of yesterday had become a cool, brisk breeze
after a dry front came through during the night. Just the type
of day for a brisk walk--but no good for recording. So I walked
several miles of the tour road with Toby. It was a delightful
walk through prairie, woodland, marsh, wet meadow, lake, etc.
I saw a total of 50 species for the entire day. A few highlights:
Mountain Bluebirds nesting in nest boxes on fenceposts, Great
Crested Flycatcher and Eastern Wood-Pewee calling from the treetops
in one of the wooded areas, Sharp-tailed Grouse, Sedge and (eastern)
Marsh wrens singing not far from one another, handsome Ruddy
Ducks displaying, Eared Grebes in breeding plumage with chicks.
When we returned to the trailer well after noon, we found a
family of as many as five White-breasted Nuthatches had finally
found Jim's feeding log and the Magic Meal (cornmeal & bacon
fat) he had plastered into the knotholes in the trees. American
Goldfinches were also present. The male goldfinches are very
beautiful here--yellow areas totally yellow, not covered with
gray patches like the ones most places, including home. (Often
the birds don't finish molting out of dull non-breeding plumage
before it's time to molt back into it--but not here.)
June 27, 2007
Roughrider RV Park, Minot, ND
|Today was overcast
and cold and more wind, so we didn't drive out to the fen again
as we had planned. Instead Jim photographed the nuthatches and
goldfinches some more, this time with flash. Then we drove back
to Minot for another dinner w ith Roy's tour.
When we got there, we discovered that the kitchen faucet had
been leaking down into the cupboards below it and there was
water everywhere. It had even run out onto the rugs and carpeting.
We had to take a bunch of stuff out of the cupboards and spread
it out all over the trailer to dry. The place was a mess. Since
it was so cold, I turned on our little electric heater to aid
That evening there was a large group of Roy's tour people. Some
of the people from the first party were still there, and the
new party was larger than the first one had been. There must
have been 20-25 people in all. Beadle, Rising, and Martin were
eating in the same restaurant and came in briefly to be introduced.
They seemed impressed/speechless with the size of our group--all
these Californians here just to study sparrows! My students
asked several very good questions. I was proud of them.
here on, I got lax and didn't even take notes on the day's activities,
so the rest is from memory several weeks later. I used my calendar
plus my field notes and sound recording dates from my tapes.
June 28, 2007
City Campground, Stanley, ND
|This morning we
did some shopping--especially to get a new faucet for the kitchen
sink. The old one had been dripping badly anyway. Then Jim installed
it and we put all the stuff back in the cupboards. This took
most of the morning. I had agreed to accompany Roy's tour group
to Lostwood NWR tomorrow, so we drove back to Stanley and found
our favorite site--farthest from the railroad tracks--free.
Jim spent the rest of the day photographing chickadees next
to the trailer.
June 29, 2007
City Campground, Stanley, ND
|We joined Roy's
tour group for the morning and early afternoon. We spent a lot
of time hanging around the pond near the headquarters, because
it had a pair of Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrows. I could hear
them calling above the wind, but only using my microphone. At
the end of the morning we returned there and part of the group
got a good look at one, but the rest, including me, were still
in the restroom. More hanging around and more tape-playing produced
nothing. The location is no good for photos--pond much too far
from the road. The pond where we found them last time was much
highlight of the day for me was being with everyone when
they found and got good looks at the Baird's Sparrow.
Once I peeked through Roy's scope and was privileged to
see Baird's, Clay-colored, and Vesper sparrows all in
the field at once, with Savannah just out of view. Others
were seeing them, too. Sprague's Pipits were heard from
time to time.
[After we got home and Jim was examining his slides, he
brought one to me and asked, "What sparrow is this?"
I was overjoyed to be able to tell him, "It's not
a sparrow. It's a Sprague's Pipit." That was the
main bird I had wanted to get on this trip. He had photographed
it when I was far away from him and thought nothing about
it at the time. I supposed he dismissed it as another
Savannah. There was only one good shot, plus one fuzzy
one. I wish I could have seen it, for all the ones I've
ever seen have been singing specks high in the sky. (See
Photo No. 8.]
National Wildlife Refuge, ND
June 29, 2007
Jim Gallagher, photographer
June 30, 2007
City Campground, Stanley, ND
|We returned to Lostwood
and spent the morning, but found little of note. I tried to
walk the hiking trail, actually a road used by park employees.
It was quite muddy and totally icky with cattle droppings. When
I crested the first hill, I discovered why. A herd of at least
100 cattle was all over the road. I didn't want to try to walk
around them on the muddy prairie, and I certainly didn't want
to walk through them.
I failed again to see the Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow at the
July 1, 2007
City Campground, Newburg, ND
|Several days earlier
we had made arrangements with Donelda Warhurst to meet her in
Newburg after she finished with Roy's tour. She has an trailer,
too, and is also an avid photographer and sound recordist, so
we planned a few days together. (She's been creating a weblog,
too, including in it some of her photos. Address: http://donelda.blogspot.com)
After a leisurely morning watching TV and having our weekly
pancakes, we drove over there and discovered Donelda had arrived
there the night before. We had thought she wouldn't come until
July 2, 2007
City Campground, Newburg, ND
|With Roy's tour
Donelda had seen Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrows at stop #5 on
the main tour route at Salyer NWR. I had thought we'd do the
grassland trail, which is very close to Newburg, but this information
changed our plans.
Stop #5 is located where the marsh is transitioning to wet prairie.
Donelda played her tape and up popped one of the sparrows, giving
me a good view and Donelda a few more photos, but Jim just couldn't
find it in time, and it never came up again. He still lacks
any very good photos of that bird. Jim and Donelda tried a long
time to bring out a bird. There were lots of them audible along
a couple hundred yards of roadside.
Meanwhile I wandered off to do some recording on my own, not
wanting to hear her tape or their conversation. I was lucky
enough to hear a Swamp Sparrow, which is pretty uncommon here
at the northwestern edge of its range. I played it back once
to be sure my ID was correct, then called Jim and Donelda on
the radio to come. They did, and the bird proved to be an extremely
cooperative subject for photos, as well as sounds. Donelda was
thrilled, Jim less so, for he already has good photos of that
bird [but none better than these].
July 3, 2007
City Park, Granville, ND
|We returned even
earlier in the morning to the Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow
spot, but were unable to lure any birds out for photos. So we
went back to Newburg, hooked up our trailers and hauled them
down to Granville.
Donelda and I drove over to Buffalo Lodge Lake Rd. around 9:00
p.m. and spent an hour or so. I wanted to show her the area.
I did a little recording, but got nothing special.
July 4, 2007
|All three of us
spent the morning on Buffalo Lodge Lake Rd. Donelda spent a
lot of time playing Le Conte's Sparrow recordings, but got no
definitive replies. She recorded some distant iffy sounds, but
when she plotted sonograms, they were still iffy. (I can't do
sonograms because my computer is down, and she can't make sonograms
from my analog recordings. She records digitally.)
I wandered off on my own to escape her canned Le Conte's, hoping
to get the Upland Sandpiper "wolf-whistle" loud and
clear, but just got the alarm trill. I discovered that the trill
is very similar to the trill of the Western Meadowlark. I wonder
if there's an ecological reason for the sounds of these two
unrelated prairie birds to be so much alike.
Jim and I spent the rest of the day in the campground, but Donelda
drove to the fen area in the late afternoon and discovered a
Chestnut-collared Longspur pair with a nest just a few feet
inside a fenced-in pasture. She took quite a few pictures.
In the evening several groups of townspeople came to the park
and the surrounding small hill to set off their fireworks. Of
course, they had to wait until dark, which around here is 11:00.
So we had to listen to loud booms and whistles for over an hour,
Toby paid no attention to the noise, but Hannah, Donelda's greyhound,
was a nervous wreck. She cowered, trembled, whimpered, tried
to crawl under the mattress, you name it. Donelda knows that
if she had opened the door, Hannah would have been off running
as far as she could. To make matters worse, we heard fireworks
every evening for a week. It seems that some people have to
shoot them off every night just for the devilment of it.
July 5, 2007
morning we drove immediately to Donelda's Chestnut-collared
Longspur spot. I recorded a few sounds, then walked off
on my own. Jim and Donelda stood by that fence for most
of the morning. The adults feeding young soon ignored
their presence. They both got lots of pictures. [They're
wonderful. See photo No. 9.)
Some are on the fence, but the ones I like best are on
a beautiful Wavy-leaf Thistle plant covered with flowers.]
Since sound-recording and photography don't mix very well,
I walked back west along the road for a mile or so, recording
whatever came along. It was sort of windy, so I tried
getting down into the dry roadside ditch, which helped
somewhat. I finally got some fairly close wolf-whistles.
[I couldn't rate any better than A- because of the wind
and/or the fact that other birds were vocalizing at the
same time.] I also deliberately tried for mixtures of
prairie, fen, and marsh birds. Among the birds recorded
were Grasshopper, Savannah, and Clay-colored sparrow;
Red-winged Blackbird; Brown-headed Cowbird; Killdeer;
Black Tern; Horned Lark; Common Yellowthroat; Sedge and
Marsh wrens; Willow Flycatcher; Wilson's Snipe; Ring-necked
Pheasant; and Sora. By mid-morning the wind was pretty
strong, so the recordings were so-so.
Chestnut-collared Longspur (male)
July 5, 2007
Jim Gallagher, photographer
|This seemed like
a good day to leave Toby in the air-conditioned trailer and
drive into Minot for the oil change the truck had been demanding
for several hundred miles. We hoped for a Jiffy Lube or similar
place, but drove all the main business streets in town without
finding one. We ended up at the Chevy dealership, where they
had a "quick-lube" area. There were two cars ahead
of us in line, and each one took a half-hour to be lubed and
checked over, so we were there an hour and a half. Fortunately
there was a nice cool breeze and I'd brought along a magazine.
It was around 2:00 when we got through, so we decided to pig-out
again at the buffet we'd visited with Roy's first group. Afterwards
we bought groceries and gas, which are not available in Granville.
Needless to say, we skipped supper.
July 6, 2007
|We arrived at the
fen area at 6:30, hoping for a little time before the wind got
up, but even then there was some breeze. I spent the morning
recording just as I had the day before, getting more sounds
similar to those.
Once I heard a rapid series of notes from high in the sky. At
first I thought it might be a funny-sounding Upland Sandpiper,
but when I looked up, there was a Northern Harrier being harassed
by four Red-winged Blackbirds. I was pretty sure the blackbirds
weren't making the sound, although they have quite a repertoire.
They eventually flew much lower and I was able to watch the
harrier's beak and see that it opened in time to the sound.
I was also able to get a better recording. These agitated calls
continued for several minutes, and I recorded them most of the
time, hoping for a lull in the wind. [I could rate no portion
of it better than A-, mainly because the bird wasn't doing a
solo. The Red-wings' "churks" plus the sounds of all
the other birds were clearly audible. The wind wasn't too bad.]
I also improved on my Upland Sandpiper wolf-whistle and was
actually able to rate one A. Still need an A+. Meanwhile, Jim
was standing again by the Chestnut-collared Longspur nest, this
time being more selective of his photos. He wanted the ultimate
picture of the male with his tail flared, showing the black
inverted T on a white background. [Photos were very good.]
Later in the morning we drove about 5 miles east of the fen
to a small woodland, hoping to get out of the wind. Big mistake!
The least bit of stir in cottonwoods sets up a tremendous rattle.
Least Flycatcher, Baltimore Oriole, Northern Flicker were present,
but none of the recordings was worth much.
In the evening Donelda and I drove back there again. (Jim likes
to be in bed by 9:00, so stayed behind.) We hoped for good recording
conditions after the breeze died down and especially wanted
to get a close solo Sora whinny after the other birds had gone
to bed. Unfortunately a crop-spraying airplane had also waited
for the breeze to die down. We hadn't been there more than 10
minutes when it was up flying back and forth over a nearby field.
So we drove several miles east along the road to where there
was overgrazed pasture on one side and a recently harvested
hay field on the other. There I got some nice Western Meadowlark
sounds--song, "churk," trill.
We returned to the marsh/fen about an hour later (maybe 10:00)
and found the airplane had finished. There I finally got a good
Sora [rated A]. Other species were still singing, but I think
I got one whinny that may be separable if I start and stop the
tape at just the right place.
July 7, 2007
|This morning I spent
a little time trying to improve on my Chestnut-collared Longspur
sounds--with no cameras clicking. Got fairly good perched and
flight songs and rattles, but the breeze was up by the time
I got there.
Since we'd pretty well done all we could photographing and recording
the birds, Donelda and I decided to photograph the many prairie
wildflowers that were in the fen area and on the prairie nearby.
She's thinking of doing an embroidery with lots of massed wildflowers
and a bird, perhaps one of her longspur photos. My list of flowers:
Wild Lily, Liliium philadelphicum
White Camas, Zigadenus elegans
Harebell or Bluebell, Campanula
Meadow Anemone, Anemone canadensis
Common Milkweed, Asclepias
Common Sunflower, Helianthus
Wavy-leaf Thistle, Cirsium
Unknown 3-to-4-ft tall plant resembling
Purple Coneflower, Echinaces
angustifolia (my favorite)
Purple Prairieclover, Petalostemum
purpureum or Dalea purpurea (depending on book)
Prairie Coneflower, Ratibida
columnifera (w/ mating insects on it) [When I looked at
Jim's slides, I discovered he got a beautiful picture of one
with a Clouded Sulphur butterfly on it.]
[Most of my flower pictures came out very well, despite the
breeze. Most of the time I was down in the roadside ditch and
somewhat protected. But I also waited for a brief lull in the
air movement before snapping each image.]
Most of the last several days the weather was pleasant in the
morning, but the afternoons got well up into the 80s. Can't
remember if it ever surpassed 90.
July 8, 2007
Butte View City Park Campground, Bowman,
|Today was a day
of driving. We headed for the southwesternmost county in North
Dakota. Weather was overcast with intermittent rain. This area
is the only place in the state where McCown's Longspurs are
found. I hadn't gone down there earlier, because my failure
to find them not far away in Montana had discouraged me from
trying there. Besides, it's pretty far even from T. Roosevelt
NP, North Unit, the closest we had been to the area. However,
Donelda had checked the area out on her way to Minot and found
that the birds were there. She got a really nice flight shot
of one male--on her web site. So we decided to make it the first
stop on our drive home. Bowman is the closest place to the location
with a campground. It has a large number of sites with electricity.
Water and dump station are centrally located. Restrooms are
present, but Jim said the showers were pretty strange--dumped
water down on the top of your head. Very few trees, but since
the place was almost empty, we found a shady site.
July 9, 2007
KOA, Miles City, MT
|This morning we
followed the directions in the North Dakota bird-finding guide
to Rhame Prairie. To be sure I understood the directions, I
marked the route out in my PLOTS Guide map first. Directions
were easy to follow, Roads were very good, both paved and gravel.
One stretch that was marked gravel on the maps turned out to
We got there at 6:30 a.m. Directions said to check in with the
nearby farmhouse, because the farmer might be running cattle
on the land. (It's school land and open to the public, but they
rent grazing rights.) We drove into his farmyard, but hesitated
to knock on the door so early in the morning. No one came out,
so we drove the quarter-mile to the two-track trail into the
prairie. We had no sooner gotten out of the car when the farmer
drove up. He said there would have been no problem with us knocking
on his door that early. They were up. (We could have telephoned--number
was in the bird guide--but we had no access to a phone.)
He had created
a little "guest-book" and we looked over the names
on it and could see that the only visitors there this year were
people in Roy's groups and in the IFO group, which included
a two-day jaunt down there in their regular schedule. An amazing
number of people on Roy's tour had gone down there either before
or after their tour days.
We parked just off the road in the edge of the pasture, then
loaded up our gear and hiked due east to the top of the highest
hill. It turned out to be at least a quarter-mile away, but
hadn't looked nearly that far from the truck. When we got to
the top, the truck was amazingly tiny off in the distance.
McCown's Longspurs prefer the least amount of vegetation of
any prairie sparrow, and the hilltop seemed to be some sort
of volcanic soil inhospitable to many plants. In fact, the entire
area looked volcanic, with apparent cinder cones here and there--but
I'm not a geologist. The wind was blowing a gale, since a cold
front had come through the night before--not a good day to be
chasing longspurs, or much of anything else. But we were getting
antsy to be on our way home, so we gave it a good try.
I had brought along Stokes tape of the bird and played it from
the top of the hill, hoping it could be heard above the gale.
Within a few seconds a male McCown's flew right past my head
dropped down far away. We stayed in the area for about a half-hour,
occasionally playing the tape and occasionally seeing both the
male and female. Jim popped off a few shots. Will have to see
if any of them are any good. I made some recordings--just for
the record--but they'll not be much good because of that wind.
The microphone frequently cut out completely, as it is designed
to do if a noise is too loud. [The sounds ranged in quality
from B to D, always with a loud wind roar, but without other
bird sounds intruding.]
species in the area included Chestnut-collared Longspur (in
the taller grasses at the base of the hill), Horned Lark (everywhere),
Pronghorn, Prairie-Dog, and a Golden Eagle on a utility pole
en route. This was our only ND Golden Eagle, but was present
in this area because there were cliffs and badlands, not just
rolling prairie. Oh yes, there were also Deer Flies, which were
out and hungry for blood despite the wind.
It was only 11:00 when we got back to Bowman, so we decided
to eat a quick lunch and get a start on our long drive west.
We ended up in a very nice KOA in Miles City--a beautiful shady
setting with gigantic Eastern Cottonwoods. The afternoon was
even windier than the morning, and we had a quick thunderstorm,
too. If the weather had been better, I'd have explored it a
bit on foot looking for birds, but the wind was blowing the
sand and dust around and it was really unpleasant.
July 10, 2007
Red Cliff USFS Campground between Bozeman
and West Yellowstone, MT
|Today was a a long
day of driving. We were ready to go home. However, we didn't
drive quite as far as I had intended. I knew I didn't want to
get home on Friday, with all its traffic, so we had a day to
spare. When we entered the beautiful canyon of the Gallatin
River south of Bozeman and started seeing campgrounds, we decided
that would be a lovely end to our sightseeing and a nice contrast
to the open prairies. I looked in the Trailer Life Guide and
discovered the Red Cliff Forest Service campground even had
a lot of sites with electrical hookups. So we headed for that,
getting there around 2:00 p.m. Although there were a lot of
campers there, we found a nice site among the Douglas-Firs.
(Some of the sites are reservable and others are first-come-first-served.
The one we took was reserved for the upcoming weekend, but we
only planned to stay one night. There were some nice unreservable
sites available, too.)
We'd been birding pretty hard for many days, so it was nice
to just relax in the cool 7000-ft forested canyon.
July 11, 2007
Buffalo Run RV Park, Island Park, ID
|This morning we
slept in a bit, ate a leisurely breakfast. Then I took Toby
and walked to the far end of the campground and back, birding
all the way. I didn't try to do any recording because of the
river noise and the sounds of other campers. The loop we were
in--with E hookups--was nearly full, but the other loop--no
hookups--was nearly empty. It, however, was much more open,
but still nice.
I was puzzled by some Empidonax flycatchers. I'm pretty sure
I had Hammond's, and maybe also Cordilleran. For a while I thought
I had Least, too, but finally decided not to write it down.
It was hard to hear and see the birds, which were high in the
Douglas-Firs next to the noisy river.
A pair of Spotted Sandpipers seemed to be nesting next to the
river in the grasses. "Pink-sided" Juncos, Chipping
Sparrows, Audubon's Warblers, Pine Siskins were common, and
I could hear and occasionally see Hermit Thrush, Ruby-crowned
Kinglet, Lincoln's Sparrow, Western Tanager. Nothing especially
unusual, but fun for a change.
We ate lunch there, then headed down the road to the Island
Park area--not more than a two hour drive. I didn't want to
go any farther south, for it had really turned hot in the Snake
River Valley by then. The place where we stayed was almost full,
and we were parked in the blazing sun, so had to close all the
blinds and run the A/C for hours until it cooled off in the
evening. The RV park is small and backs up to a marshy, willowy
area. Saw/heard Yellow Warbler, Song Sparrow, Lazuli Bunting,
Tree Swallow, etc., after it got cool enough to venture out.
July 12, 2007
Ryndon RV Park, Exit 314, 11 miles east
of Elko, NV
|Another long day
of driving brought us through the hot Snake River Valley, south
through Jackpot, NV, to I-80, then west to the Elko area. Since
this area is 7000 ft high, I thought it might not be too hot.
I checked out the RV parks in Elko, and they sounded like parking
lots next to casinos. Then I spotted the Ryndon RV Park outside
town. It didn't have as high ratings, but did have two important
words regarding the sites: "some shaded." Our A/C
works much better in the shade, so we headed there.
The park had very few customers, and a lot of the sites were
shady. Several of them were blocked off because the electricity
wasn't working. We picked a nice-looking one, but soon discovered
its electricity wasn't working very well either, so we hooked
into the box on the other side and it was OK, though the voltage
was a little low. (We were careful to turn off the A/C whenever
we wanted to use the microwave oven.) The electrical boxes were
ancient, so it wasn't surprising that they were having problems.
The place was under new ownership. I hope they have enough funds
to completely redo the underground wiring--not just install
Birds present included Western Kingbird, Lark Sparrow, and Common
Nighthawk. One of these was roosting in the tree right next
to our site. Then it flew around a while and ended on the wooden
fence not far away--perched longitudinally as always. It allowed
Jim to get as close as he wanted for photos. But when he tried
to get flight shots later in the day, the birds were just too
quick for him as they zipped in and out around the trees.
Despite the electrical problems--and also the superfluity of
security lights--we'd stay in this park again. Although it was
right next to the freeway, the noise didn't really bother us,
and it cooled off nicely at night.
July 13, 2007
Mammoth Lakes RV Park, Mammoth Lakes,
|Our goal today was
Lee Vining, another high-elevation stop, but when we got there,
the campground was full. It's right at the west end of Tioga
Pass, so I wasn't completely surprised.
So we headed on south to Mammoth Lakes RV Park. I've never liked
the park very well, but at least it promised to be high and
cool. It was almost full, but we did get a site--jammed between
two enormous rigs bristling with slide-outs and right across
a narrow strip of road from another row of equally enormous
rigs. Except for a bit of chaparral visible out the rear window,
all we could see from the trailer was other RV's. Ugh. The sites
are as close as they can cram them together, and the borders
of the sites are just lines on a big asphalt parking lot. Backing
our trailer into the site was not easy, and the man in the site
next to ours had to move his truck while we did it. The sites
weren't level and Jim didn't want to unhook, since we were leaving
early in the morning. So we backed onto three boards--two on
one side and one on the other--and put up with not being quite
Mammoth Lakes is usually not too busy in July, but they were
having a big jazz festival in the community room of the RV park,
hence the crowd. Anyway we got a site and a nice cool night's
sleep. The other campers were very considerate and quiet. The
only problem was that Toby wanted to bark at the dogs in the
rigs on both sides of us--and one of the neighbor dogs was equally
yappy. We had to put Toby in his kennel a good bit of the time
to keep him quiet. The neighbors did the same thing; their kennel
was outside, and they put a towel over it to keep their beagle
from seeing other dogs and barking. The two Bedlingtons on the
other side totally ignored Toby's yaps.
July 14, 2007
|We snuck out of
the RV park as quietly as possible at 6:30. Bought gas in Bishop--cheaper
than at home, we discovered. Stopped in Kramer Junction for
lunch. I stayed in the truck with the A/C running while Jim
went across the street to a Burger King for hamburgers. It must
have taken 15 minutes (not exactly fast-food), and when he got
back, he discovered the gas gauge was on empty and the warning
light was on. We really panicked, for we were sure we weren't
out of gas. He checked for leaks and didn't find one--or smell
one. So we gulped down half of our oversized hamburgers, hoping
not to exhaust the gasoline completely, then dashed around the
corner to the Arco Station. We were much relieved to have the
gas gauge go back to normal as soon as a small amount of cool
gasoline entered the tank. We decided that idling the truck
so long had just overheated the entire gauge system. (My brother
told us later that he had had that experience, too.)
We got home around mid-afternoon. Traffic was OK until the Riverside/Corona
area, then very slow most of the way after that.
Some of you may wish to email Sylvia with questions or comments
about this trip diary. Here is her email address: Sylvia Gallagher