A Travellerspoint blog

Day 8: Scouring the Grasslands

South Dakota

sunny 93 °F

I was up at 4am today in order to get on the road, north of Badlands National Park, in search of two very long-shot target birds: Sharp-tailed Grouse and Chestnut-collared Longspur. Why long-shot? Well, the grouse has become a sort-of nemesis for me between multiple trips to the Sax-Zim Bog, southern Idaho, and now this trip, all of which lay squarely in its range. The longspur’s chances were also not great considering it hadn’t been seen in the area I would be searching at all this year. I decided to give it a go anyway!

One of the first noteworthy birds of the drive was another BURROWING OWL, a great surprise!


And cool to see a lot of RING-NECKED PHEASANT this morning:

Great to see many LARK BUNTINGS today which were a lifer for me just this past week.

Many fluddles and wetlands alongside the road were extremely productive with waterfowl and shorebirds, including NORTHERN SHOVELERS:


Great looks at UPLAND SANDPIPERS, of which there were many today:

I was STOKED to see this MARBLED GODWIT, an uncommon breeder of these “prairie pothole” marshes. Hell yeah!

And a great addition to the avifauna was a proliferation of WILSON’S PHALAROPES. I will take a proliferation of Phalaropes any day.

And another new bird for the trip — CANVASBACKS!!!

Immature male BLUE GROSBEAK:


At one point I parked next to a “walk-in” field for hunters and a SWAINSON’S HAWK swiftly flew by:

There were also a TON of GRASSHOPPER SPARROWS singing today, as expected.

Then, after I had barely started driving again after my walk, I saw a darkish, small passerine fly up and perch on a barbed wire fence next to the road. I zoomed in on the bird, snapped a few rudimentary pics at first, and quickly came to the realization of this bird’s ID: I had found my life-bird CHESTNUT-COLLARED LONGSPUR! This is one of THE grassland specialties people go looking for in the Dakotas and as it was not reported in this particular immediate area this year, I really did not have high expectations for finding this localized species. Just WOW! What a bird — bird-of-the-trip so far!

In this pic of the bird flying away you can especially appreciate the glowing, namesake collar of this species. What an incredibly-patterned bird!

Little did I know that while I was watching the longspur, a line of cows had formed along the fence line, watching me. Maybe they thought I was the farmer?

Wild mammals also proliferated in the form of Pronghorn Antelope:

On the way back, I picked up a great number of birds again. ORCHARD ORIOLE:

A new species for the trip, PIED-BILLED GREBE:

BLUE-WINGED TEAL ducklings with a NORTHERN PINTAIL hen (the teal mother wasn’t far away).

I was surprised to get my best view ever of a RING-NECKED PHEASANT cock near one of the farms. Cool!


AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN in an agricultural pond:


Just before reaching the town of Cottonwoods, SD I spotted a giant bird fly over me. I immediately pulled over, hopped out of the car, and heard some incessant calling...a pair of LONG-BILLED CURLEW! They were PISSED that I had the nerve to drive though their home territory so I stayed long enough just to take a few shots and then continued on. Super cool!

When I got back to the campground, my family and I packed up and we drove about 90 minutes to our day trip for today: Fort Pierre National Grassland! There, I would be looking for the “prairie grouse” species: Greater Prairie-Chicken & Sharp-tailed Grouse. Slim chances, but worth a shot!

We car-birded the area, covering about 40 miles of the National Grassland. There were a decent amount of fluddles (but less productive than the ones this morning) holding BLUE-WINGED TEAL:

And this GADWALL:

Again there was a nice showing of UPLAND SANDPIPERS!

And I was afforded a quick glimpse of another BURROWING OWL.

Overall, it was slow going at the grasslands and unfortunately I dipped on both of my target grouse. Thankfully, on June 17 I am headed to downstate Illinois with Isoo O and we will have a chance to chase Prairie-Chickens down there.

On the way to our campground for the night, Union Grove State Park in eastern South Dakota, I picked up one new bird for the trip, a foraging AMERICAN AVOCET in a wetland along I-90. The campground itself proved quiet bird-wise tonight but hopefully will bring a dawn chorus with the onset of morning tomorrow!

Bird-of-the-day to the Chestnut-collared Longspur with runners-up to the Marbled Godwit and Burrowing Owls. A great day! Tomorrow, we drive from Union Grove State Park here in South Dakota to Veterans Memorial Park in West Salem, Wisconsin with a birding stop in Minnesota. Hopefully should pick up some eastern species for the trip!

Good birding,
World Life List: 1118 Species (1 life bird today: Chestnut-collared Longspur!)

REVISED TRIP LIST, 145 species and counting:
Canada Goose
Blue-winged Teal
Cinnamon Teal
Northern Shoveler
American Wigeon
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Lesser Scaup
Ruddy Duck
Ring-necked Pheasant
Ruffed Grouse
Wild Turkey
Pied-billed Grebe
Rock Pigeon
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Mourning Dove
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Eastern Whip-poor-will
Chimney Swift
White-throated Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
American Coot
American Avocet
Upland Sandpiper
Long-billed Curlew LIFE BIRD
Marbled Godwit
Greater Yellowlegs
Wilson’s Phalarope
Ring-billed Gull
American White Pelican
Great Blue Heron
American Bittern
Turkey Vulture
Golden Eagle
Northern Harrier
Bald Eagle
Swainson’s Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Great Horned Owl
Burrowing Owl
Short-eared Owl
Belted Kingfisher
Red-headed Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Red-naped Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
American Kestrel
Prairie Falcon
Great Crested Flycatcher
Western Kingbird
Eastern Kingbird
Western Wood-Pewee
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Willow Flycatcher
Dusky Flycatcher
Cordilleran Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Say’s Phoebe
Loggerhead Shrike
Yellow-throated Vireo
Plumbeous Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
Clark’s Nutcracker
Black-billed Magpie
American Crow
Horned Lark
Bank Swallow
Tree Swallow
Violet-green Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Barn Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Rock Wren
Canyon Wren
House Wren
Carolina Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
Mountain Bluebird
Townsend’s Solitaire
Swainson’s Thrush
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
Sage Thrasher
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
House Sparrow
House Finch
Cassin’s Finch
Red Crossbill
White-winged Crossbill
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
Chestnut-collared Longspur LIFE BIRD
Yellow-breasted Chat
Yellow-headed Blackbird
Western Meadowlark
Bullock’s Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
Orchard Oriole
Red-winged Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
Brewer’s Blackbird
Common Grackle
American Redstart
MacGillivray’s Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Yellow Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Western Tanager
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Black-headed Grosbeak
Blue Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Grasshopper Sparrow
Lark Sparrow
Lark Bunting LIFE BIRD
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Brewer’s Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Song Sparrow
Spotted Towhee
Eastern Towhee

Posted by skwclar 18:42 Archived in USA

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Congratulations on finding your chestnut-collared longspur! Great pictures, thank you.

by Mary Stevens

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