Birding Drives Dakota
Search for sandhill cranes, sharp-tailed sparrows and more
North Dakota is one of the nation’s great birding destinations, if one of its least frequented. Dedicated birders can count more than 300 reasons to visit the state: sandhill cranes, Nelson’s sharp-tailed sparrows, American white pelicans, chestnut collared longspurs, marbled godwits, upland sandpipers and Wilson’s phalaropes among them. Because of the distances between the best sites, an organisation called Birding Drives Dakota has worked with professional biologists, ornithologists and some of the state’s 62 national wildlife refuges (NWRs) to create nine ‘birding drives’.
All are located in the central portion of the state, in and around Kidder, Stutsman and Foster counties. With a total human population of only 2,750—about two people per square mile—Kidder County is the essence of rural prairie land, with four NWRs. Long Lake NWR is a breeding and migratory stopover for more than 20,000 shorebirds. Thousands of sandhill cranes also stage here each spring and autumn, and the endangered whooping crane can be seen occasionally as well. Visitors who come for Jamestown’s Potholes & Prairie Birding Festival in early June might be treated to the intricate courtship dances of Clark’s and western grebes, in addition to a diverse menu of prairie sparrows. The 4,385-acre Chase Lake NWR in Stutsman County is known as a nesting spot for gulls, cormorants and the largest colony of white pelicans in North America.
If you need a break from the binoculars, check out some of the area’s unique sculptures, such as the World’s Largest Sandhill Crane; at 38 feet tall, it towers over the prairie outside of Steele. In Jamestown, the World’s Largest Concrete Buffalo weighs 60 tons and stands 26 feet tall and 46 feet long. And ‘Salem Sue’, the World’s Largest Holstein Cow, stands on top of a hill at I-94’s exit 127. Further west, along the Enchanted Highway, between Gladstone and Regent, local artists are erecting the biggest collection of large metal animal sculptures in the world: giant pheasants, deer and grasshoppers.
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Trip idea text ©Patricia Schultz. For contact information about the places mentioned and many more USA trip ideas, see Patricia Schultz's blockbuster book.