“On The Road” # 313

Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area

“Jon, it’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack,” was the analogy I used as the day  wore on and still no Northern Shrike, our target bird and lifer for the both of us.

Sitting in a natural basin of poorly drained soil, Killdeer Plains was originally covered in prairie sloughs. Covering more than 9,200 acres with 2/3rd’s in crop and grassland, the remaining is divided equally in woods, shrubby coverts and water. Within the watery areas is 1,000 acres of marsh, which is self-evident as you drive throughout the preserve as water creeps over the edges of the road from flooding marshes.

Leaving town at 5:30 am the drive was uneventful with a mix of good conversation and hot coffee. Our only stop was on the northern part of Columbus for a stop in Kroger’s for bladder relief and picking up a cheap bag of bird seed for “chumming the water”. The roads up to this point were mostly wet from the small amount of snow Columbus received. That’s until we started driving due north and the roads quickly worsened. Snow covered and slick Route 23 was reduced from a 2 lane to a 1 lane highway, and the speed limit of 65 was now crawling barely to 45 mph’s. Plows were out in force scrapping and salting as we crept along not anxious to be one of a handful of cars stuck in the median.

We had some dependable leads on Northern Shrikes, so with copies of their postings and a map of the preserve Jon and myself started our day birding around Killdeer Plains always on the lookout of a Shrike. At one point Jon’s keen eyes spotted what we believed to be a Shrike at one of the locations where one was sighted before. The bird was deep within a bush and with the bad light it was hard to determine if it was one or not. Inching forward we were able to give it a proper ID. Northern Mockingbird. Now pull out your field guides and look up both birds and you’ll see how similar they can be. As much as we wanted to turn it into a Shrike, no dice this time.

This is only my second time here and I love it. Wide open with lots of water and waterfowl.

This is just a small group of Tundra Swans that was on one of the lakes in the eastern part of the preserve which borders CH-68. The picture has this grayness to it because it was snowing at the time. It didn’t snow for very long, but it was a nuisance as you worked to keep the optics cleared of moisture. The snow wasn’t the real issue today, it was the wind. Unrelenting and chilling as it blew constantly at 20 plus mph’s for the whole day.

Jon walking west on the dike that separates the lakes on the right with CH-68 on your left.This dusting of snow was practically gone by the time we left several hours later.

2 Trumpeter Swans on one of the many smaller ponds that dot the landscape. This pond was nice since you could drive right up to the edge and the lot was big enough to accommodate several cars and trucks. Most of the parking lots and pull-offs were on the small side with room for only a couple of cars.

With the morning gone and no Shrike marked off, it was time for lunch. Jon suggested that we park in the lot where Rick Asamoto sighted a Shrike 2 weeks earlier. Sure, why not was my reply as we made our way back. We explored this area earlier in the morning with no luck except for a couple of Red-headed Woodpeckers. We sat in the bird-mobile and had our lunch and continued our vigil for the Shrike. 30 minutes passed with no bird. By this time the sun was trying to come out and I wanted to stretch my legs after my PBJ sandwich and Jon’s homemade guacamole with chips.

The sun was loosening the snow on the trees and you couldn’t help but notice the movement as the snow fell away from the trees. That was the first thing I thought of as I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye as I make one last sweep of the area before we left. AND THERE HE WAS!

Then he looked right at us, then flew away. High-fives all around as we both chalked up another lifer.

The rest of the day was spent re-visiting areas for second looks. We also visited an area which in the past was prime for wintering Long-eared and Saw-whet Owls. However due to the popularity and close proximity to the road owls are pretty hard to come by in this location.

We left the preserve with plenty of time to get home before it got dark and some good memories. Notable birds for the day include:

  1. Bald Eagle
  2. American Kestrel
  3. Northern Harrier
  4. Red-tailed Hawk
  5. Trumpeter Swan
  6. Tundra Swan
  7. Northern Shrike-Lifer
  8. American Tree Sparrow
  9. Blue Jay
  10. Dark-eyed Junco
  11. White-breasted Nuthatch
  12. Redhead
  13. Hooded Merganser
  14. Canada Goose
  15. American Coot
  16. Mallards
  17. Gadwall
  18. Snow Goose
  19. Greater White-fronted Goose
  20. Northern Cardinal
  21. Horned Lark
  22. Great Blue Heron
  23. Belted Kingfisher
  24. Downyy Woodpecker
  25. Northern Flicker
  26. Common Crow
  27. American Robin
  28. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  29. Red-headed Woodpecker
  30. Northern Pintail
  31. Northern Mockingbird
  32. House Sparrow
  33. European Starling
  34. Black Duck

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