When Does Forty-Nine Become Forty-Four?

It happened when I visited Dave Lambeth in Grand Forks County, North Dakota.  This was my first ever visit to North Dakota, leaving Kansas as the last of the 50 states to visit.  So that explains the “forty-nine”.  The “forty-four” is explained by our finding 83 species on a wonderful day of birding in the state making North Dakota my 44th state with 50 species or more in a day as I have traversed the United States on my 50/50/50 Adventure.

Birding with Dave was another of those totally enjoyable and very rewarding personal experiences that have made this quest so incredible.  It is a great oversimplification, but Dave is what I expect many of us think of as characteristic of the solid quality of Midwesterners.  A fine person who was more than generous with his time, thoughtful and kind, hard working and appreciative of what the world has given us rather than regretting what it has not.  It was a very fun day.

Dave is the kind of person that is impossible not to respect and trust and one aspect of this was a giant boost to our birding experience as he has permission (and a key) to enter the gated Grand Forks Lagoons.  In Washington we would call these STP’s as in “Sewage Treatment Ponds” but “lagoons” sounds much better – maybe more “Midwestern”.  Call them what you will, they certainly delivered.  As previously written, my 50/50/50 day in Minnesota had no shorebirds, no gulls and very few waterfowl species.  Our visit to the Lagoons was almost a mirror image as there were many species of all of these types.  We had Eared, Horned and Western Grebes, Ring Billed and Franklin’s Gulls, Canada Goose, 10 duck species and a half dozen shorebird species.  We also had some other species and when we departed, we were more than half way to our 50 species target.  It was a great start to a great day.

Franklin’s Gull

Franklin's Gull Flight

Semipalmated Sandpiper

Semipalmated Sandpiper2



Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

Pied Billed Grebe (Juvenile)

Pied Billed Grebe Juvenile

American White Pelican

American White Pelican

After leaving the Lagoons, species were added one or two or three at a time at our various stops.  I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that Dave knew every road in the area – many of them unpaved.  I never had any idea where we were.  I didn’t need to as Dave guided us to new place after new place and new bird after new bird.

In Minnesota, there was only a single sparrow species.  In North Dakota, we had six: Vesper, Song, Savannah, Clay Colored, Chipping and Lincoln’s.  I was especially pleased to see and photograph the Clay Colored Sparrow since I did not look for one in Washington this year.

Vesper Sparrow

Vesper Sparrow

Clay Colored Sparrow

Clay Colored Sparrow3

There are two sides to a coin though.  In Minnesota we had 11 warbler species and on this trip in North Dakota, we had only 4 with the Palm Warbler being the only one with a decent photo and interestingly all 4 are ones that are regularly seen in Washington, not so-called Eastern Warblers.  In generally our forest birding was very slow — almost dead.  We did not even have a White Headed Nuthatch.

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

Dave aptly described much of our day as “roadside birding”.  I am embarrassed to admit that I have never used that perfect term (but I will in the future) and we indeed had great roadside birding.    We did not have tons of raptors numbers wise, but we had an astonishing 9 different species, and our variety of one of which is now among my all time favorite birds.  It was a most cooperative and to me incredibly beautiful Krider’s Red Tailed Hawk.  We saw it perched on a power pole and approached for photos.  It tolerated our getting fairly close and then would fly to the next power pole and we would repeat our routine after more photos.  I have never seen one this white.  I am in love.

Krider’s Red Tailed Hawk

Krider's Red Tailed Hawk1

Krider's Takeoff

We had another raptor that initially was a bit of an ID challenge.  Seeing it fly by before it perched, I thought it was a Merlin.  Dave was pretty sure it was a juvenile Broad Winged Hawk, a species with which I have little experience and which I thought was larger than it is.

Broad Winged Hawk

Broad Winged Hawk Juvenile1

We also had two iconic (and half way eponymous) Eastern birds: Eastern Blue Jay and Eastern Bluebird.  To continue the theme, we later also had a relatively late Eastern Kingbird.

Eastern Blue Jay

Blue Jay1

Eastern Bluebird


Eastern Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird

The latter was a “bonus” bird at the end of the day.  Despite what I considered fantastic guiding, I think Dave was disappointed about some of the misses for the day and to close it, we went to a favorite spot near his home to look for Wood Ducks.  We found them and then had the surprise Eastern Kingbird and also had a Common Nighthawk fly overhead.

It was not real birdy this time but a fun stop was at Kellys Slough National Wildlife Refuge.   Later in the year this famous Hotspot might have thousands of waterfowl.  Here is a photo of Dave at the NWR sign.  The other proves I was there also.  I hope to return when migration brings in those thousands of waterfowl – but definitely not after temperatures fall below zero!!

Dave Lambeth at Kellys Slough blair-at-kellys.jpg

I have included photos and stories of this species in other reports as well, but this time it was a bit different.  For whatever reason, Red Headed Woodpecker was simply not on my list of expected species for North Dakota.  But indeed they are there and two put on a nice fly catching show for us and one was an immature – a new bird for me.  As I would also say for Owls, all Woodpeckers are cool and it is definitely hard to leave any off the “most special” or “most striking” list, but for sure I would have the gorgeous Red Headed Woodpecker high up on my list.

Red Headed Woodpecker

Red Headed Woodpecker Adult

Red Headed Woodpecker Immature

Red Headed Woodpecker Juvenile1

Dave’s comments in his Ebird post sums up the day very well in his own understated way:  “The day was almost entirely sunny with temperature reaching at least 81 degrees by mid afternoon. Wind speed was less than 10 mph throughout the day. This is a species checklist for which we did not try to estimate numbers of the more numerous species. Sites visited included the Grand Forks lagoons, Kellys Slough, AFB lagoons, and Turtle River State Park, with considerable time and effort to find roadside birds.”  Very matter of fact, but hopefully from reading this blog, you can get our sense of the pleasure, excitement and accomplishment from this day with super birds and with super company.  Thank you Dave!!

On to South Dakota…



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