Sunday, May 10, 2009

Weekend Expedition

Friday night I headed northeast to immerse myself in the main stream of bird migration and conduct the second annual expedition to look for the elusive Smith's Longspur. Last year I described the trip and the results of the first expedition.

This years results were much the same. Lots of Lapland Longspurs, this time mixed in with lots of American Pipits. On Friday night I found a couple of flocks of over 1000 birds. I was hard to get an estimate as the birds surrounded me with some on the ground and others swirling around me.

It was amazing how well these birds could hide in the recently planted stubble fields. After I found a flock working in a field I tried to get some photos and get closer to see if I could pick out any "different" longspurs. I would spot a bird in a stubble row and start working towards him, I would inevitably flush birds I didn't see on the way there and they whole flock would take off, swirl around, and land about 100 yards away. Occasionally something would flush the complete flock out of the stubble and the sky would be peppered with birds. They would fly around for a while, then form up a smaller flock and swoop down and settle back into the stubble.

The next morning I found a couple of more small flocks of longspurs, but again they were all Lapland Longspurs, with an occasional Chestnut-collared Longspurs thrown in the mix.

There were plenty of other birds to be observed though. Last year I described how many of the potholes were devoid of water. This year is just the opposite and every little depression hosts at least one Northern Shovelor.

Some had man more species of waterfowl. One of my favorites is the Northern Pintail. They always remind me of Thomas Quinn paintings when I see them.

Swainson's Hawks were on territory. This one perched on a pile of rocks picked from a nearby field.

Ring-necked Pheasants were omnipresent, each rooster tending a few hens.

I stopped by a regular Piping Plover spot after visiting my friend Ted Nordhagen in the small town of Westby.

Small flocks of Franklin's Gulls would appear out of nowhere, rollercoastering through the air in shallow arcs, then they were gone, heading northwest. Flocks of shorebirds were also observed flying low and fast heading the same direction.

I spent the night in the abandoned farm town of Comertown. Nearby is a rather large expanse of native prairie that hasn't been tilled or drilled, unlike much of the surrounding landscape (this area is intensively farmed and is in the middle of a very productive oil field). Many of the potholes (those that remain) are plowed right up to the edge.
Comertown is also close to the Canadian border and my pickup parked for the night aroused someones suspicion and I had the pleasure of meeting a couple of Sheridan County deputies who were curious about what I was doing. I told them I was trying to get to sleep at that moment, but in general I was in the area looking for birds. They seemed satisfied with my excuse and left me alone the rest of the night. It was a bit cold but again, I had my Flatcoated Retriever heater for the night.
Below is an old passenger train car abandoned in town.

Comertown even has it's own gravestone for the town.

It was a great birding trip and enjoyed seeing migration again.


Anonymous said...

Alright! My Lapland Longspurs and American Pipits are on their way back.

John Carlson said...

Thought you might like to know!