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Spring Birding


North Dakota is an absolute treasure for fans of feathered wildlife; in fact, there’s hardly a spot in the state that’s more than an hour away from some kind of wildlife refuge.

Right now, sharp-tailed grouse are at the height of their spectacular sunrise mating rituals. In his courtship dance, the male grouse puffs up the purple air sacs on the sides of his neck and lures his beloved by extending his wings, stamping his feet and making low “couing” sounds.

Lucky for us, volunteers at the Cross Ranch State Park, north of Bismarck, have built a special blind for people who want to observe the sharp-tail’s dance. For those who can get up that early, the blind is available from 4:30 to 8:30 each morning until the season ends. But here’s the deal: while access to the blind is free, you have to pre-register with the park for permission. You also have to be careful not to disturb the park’s bison. It’s calving season, and it’s a really bad idea to appear threatening to a mama bison’s new baby.

Also in the news is TR – as in Teddy Roosevelt, who founded the National Wildlife Refuge System 101 years ago. The TR of this story, though, is actually a young Tundra Swan who was rescued in Alaska after it fell into oil sludge last September. The cygnet was rushed to the International Bird Rescue & Research Center in Anchorage, where it recovered – but not in time for the flock’s fall migration to North Carolina.

Since TR – who turned out to be female – had never migrated before, she went southeast as a passenger on Northwest. She was flown to Delaware, where Tri-State Bird Rescue held her until migrating Tundra Swans reached the Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge. Finally, on December 3rd, TR was given a special collar and released. Her saviors were ecstatic to see her head straight into the migratory flocks that had arrived. Many thought she wouldn’t do it.

Every 4 days since, a satellite company named Argos has been tracking TR’s coordinates. She wintered successfully in North Carolina, then joined the spring migration, which began on March 14th. Days later, the swans had made it as far as Lake Erie in southern Ontario. With a flight speed of up to 80 miles an hour, migrating swans have to set down periodically to rest and store up fat for the next leg of their journey. This flock stayed in the Lake Erie region for two weeks before next heading west.

Around April 4th, the flock set down on the Sheyenne watershed northwest of Fargo. TR is the only bird in the flock that hasn’t made a journey of this distance before, and the Eastern Neck Refuge is concerned about her endurance. So, they contacted the Fargo-Moorhead Audubon Society and asked them to try to find the cygnet and report on her condition.

Connie Norheim felt the coordinates centered on Brewer Lake near Erie. Then, last Wednesday, she and other Audubon members zeroed in on the flock in a field near Grandin. Norheim spotted TR, and she and Lew Dailey spent more than two hours taking pictures. The people at Eastern Neck were overjoyed to see how well TR is doing. You can log on to their "http://easternneck.fws.gov%20%0d/" website to watch TR’s progress as the flock next moves up into Canada.

And, finally, some facts on swallows. 1). It’s considered good luck to have swallows nest on your buildings. 2). It’s illegal to destroy active swallow nests, because swallows are migratory birds. And 3). Swallows eat up to 1_ times their weight in mosquitoes a day. Now that should earn them some status!

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm