Sunday, June 8, 2008

North Dakota Trip-Day 3 (Part 1)

Friday was Day 3 of the Potholes & Prairies Birding Festival. I was scheduled to be on the 5 AM birder's bus going to Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Friday's weather forecast was calling for lots of wind (20-30 mph) and rain (up to 1") so when my alarm went off at 4 AM and I peeked out my motel window, that's exactly what I saw. Since I've already admitted I'm NOT a hardcore birder and I knew even wearing my rainsuit wouldn't make the trip any more comfortable, I decided to skip the tour and went back to bed till 6:30.

The wind and rain finally let up a little bit and I decided to head up to Devil's Lake (about 54 miles) to see what that area had to offer. Fortunately for me, I found Sullys Hill National Game Preserve right along the south east shore of Devil's Lake. Because there was so much to see there and I took a whole bunch of pictures, this is going to be a 2-part post because it's getting late and I just can't get everything organized tonight.

The cost for getting into Sullys Hill was $2 per car and that was definitely a bargain for a bird & nature lover like me plus I pretty much had the whole park to myself because the weather was so crappy and not too many other people were out and about.

Because of the diverse habitat in this refuge, there were lots of different birds--I got a total of 39 and 1 lifer--Swainson's Thrush.

My first stop after entering the preserve was the Woodland Wetland. Because it was still raining, the birds were a little hard to see as they weren't flying around much (and if I looked up with the binoculars, they would get covered with raindrops). However, here's a little video clip of all the birds singing around me at the wetland overlook (the faint "ticking" sound you hear is raindrops falling on my jacket)

I continued on my drive and came upon this little flock of eastern wild turkeys just crossing the road. I managed to get a couple quick photos as they scurried up the hill. I was continually amazed to see wild turkeys in this part of North Dakota--I thought it would be too cold for them, but the local folks told me turkeys (and white-tailed deer) were thriving.

My next stop was Sullys Hill Vista. As I was driving over there, I spotted this small buffalo herd just hanging out at the edge of the woods. There were several little ones staying pretty close to their moms. That mama seems to be giving me the hairy eyeball--I suppose because I had stopped my car to take these photos. I'm pretty sure she's way bigger than the Toyota Corolla I was sitting in!

Here's a big ol' bull that didn't seem to be bothered by the weather at all. When I first saw him, I thought it was a huge, mossy boulder till I looked a little closer and noticed the horns!

Here's the "Stairway to (birder's) Heaven!"
In case you're wondering, I did not make it to the top without stopping, but only because there were lots of birds to look at on the way, so it was necessary for me to stop often.

Here's the view from the top--WOW! Too bad it wasn't a sunny day. This viewing platform was actually above the tree canopy, and from here I got to see the Scarlet Tanager and Eastern Towhee--two birds I haven't seen for many years.

Sullys Hill also has a Prairie Dog Town. I stopped by there thinking I might get to see a Burrowing Owl, but there were only prairie dogs present this day. They are such cute little buggers. Several of them were out trying to tidy up the top edges of their holes, but because of all the rain, they were mostly just getting dirty feet and faces.
While I was standing there watching, a prairie dog right by the viewing stand stuck his head up from the hole, spotted me and immediately sounded the "alarm" for all the others. I was lucky he was so close so I could shoot this little video so you can hear him.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Sullys Hill National Game Preserve featuring more large mammals, birds and nature scenes from this beautiful spot in North Dakota.


Debbie said...

Wow, Ruthie, what a great spot you found. The country sure is beautiful out there. I am enjoying your holiday.

Trixie said...

Holy smoke! Furry boulders, prairie dogs, a Swaison's thrush. That is just great. Next year, next year for me!

Anonymous said...

Nice area there. I love bisons, such huge, powerful animals. I've seen them on farms, but never in the wild before. Just as a strange fact...Neil Young owns a pet bison who he lent out for the movie Dances with Wolves.

Anonymous said...

Cool pics of the area around Devil's Lake. Did you compare pics with the people that went on the tour bus? It looks like you had fun. Those little prairie dogs are so cute love their barking. Will be waiting for part two of this saga for sure.

Jayne said...

Looks like you had a great day despite the weather. Such a variety of wildlife to see! Thanks for taking us along Ruthie. Can't wait for the next installment!

Lynne said...

I think it's neat that you adjusted your plans and took off exploring on your own. Ten years ago I'd have been afraid to do that but not any more.
Those stairs would have given me a heart attack just looking at them!
I was fascinated by the prairie dog towns in the Black Hills. The dirty face was funny!
I'm so glad you had fun.
Will you go again next year? (hint!)

Lisa at Greenbow said...

What a great time, beautiful pictures too.

Mary C said...

Ruthie, that's great you went exploring after choosing not to go on the tour. You still found a lot to see and share with us. Thanks. I'll have to consider making the trip next year.

Julie said...

Oh Wow! What a treat! Thank you for all the pictures, videos and descriptions! I'm sorry the weather wasn't better.

Mary said...

Sorry about the rain, Ruthie. I would have looked out the window and crawled back under the covers, too :o)

I'd be so excited to see prairie dogs, if not more than birds!

Susan Gets Native said...

Love that video of the prairie dog. Looks like a live version of

RuthieJ said...

Thanks Debbie. It really was beautiful country. I've been to Fargo, ND a couple times, but never beyond. I would highly recommend visiting ND to everyone.

Hi Trixie,
Next year for sure! I'm counting on you!

Hi Scienceguy,
I was surprised to see the buffalo right there too. I didn't want to do anything to upset those moms with their calves. You don't realize how HUGE they are till you see them out in the wild like this.

Hi Mom,
I did find out later that at least 12 other people skipped the bus trip that day. I heard they tried to park the bus to block the wind for when people got out to see birds, but most of the day was spent birding from the bus. It was fairly calm here in the woods and not raining too hard, so a little easier to manage.

Thanks Jayne. It was a really neat place and I'm glad you're enjoying the story.

Hi Lynne,
This seemed like an safe place for a woman to bird alone and I was never out of sight of my car or the road. Safety has become my #1 concern now also.
Next year.....yeah, I'm definitely thinking about it--many more lifers there still waiting to be seen.

Thanks Lisa. It was fun.

Hi Mary C,
I think you would enjoy the trip. The habitat is so different from California, although there were a fair number of western birds here also. It's always neat to experience a different area of the country.

Hi Julie,
I think this was probably pretty average weather for spring in North Dakota. The locals were happy because they were finally getting some rain. At least it wasn't snowing!

Hi Mary,
I could have spent at least an hour just watching the prairie dogs. They were so cute and so busy!

Hi Susan,
They were pretty funny little creatures. It was fun to get a chance to see them in their natural habitat.

Marsha said...

Wonderful shots! That guy does really look like a huge boulder...probably almost as heavy as one too.