One of our most favorite trips during the year is the Plains/Rockies Trip, which runs from the Great Salt Lake in Utah to North Dakota. We spend a couple days around the Great Salt Lake looking both at the thousands of waterbirds, but also some specialties like Chukar, Burrowing and Short-eared Owls, Brewers Sparrows, Sage Thrasher, dancing Western and Clark’s Grebes, and much more.
From there we drive up through Idaho, visiting a wonderful National Wildlife Refuge, as well as a national forest replete with songbirds. We wind up barely in Montana, but in surely the most beautiful Refuge in America – Red Rock NWR. From there we head to the Canadian Border for both longspurs, Lark Buntings and Ferruginous Hawks, then to a nearby Refuge with Baird’s, Grasshopper and Clay-colored Sparrows. There are thousands of waterbirds like California and Franklin’s Gulls, loads of ducks, grebes, phalaropes and even Sharp-tailed Grouse.
We’ll work our way south, eventually visiting the mountaintop between Montana and Wyoming, for birds like Black Rosy-Finch and Clark’s Nutcracker, before heading east for more refuges. Our last destination, two refuges in North Dakota, yields many waterbirds and loads of woodland songbirds. It is twelve days of birds from the Great Plains and short grass prairie, and also a taste of the Rocky Mountains. This is a great trip!
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May 19- Fly into Salt Lake City around the middle of the day and we’ll immediately head to the Lake for shorebirding, toward Antelope Island, etc. We’ll spend that night and the night of the 20th in Brigham City, right at the foot of the main Refuge out onto the Lake. We’ll also work behind the Lake and also some bumpy little roads. The 20th will be a very long day!
May 21- We will conclude our birding at the Lake and drive north up the Interstate to Dubois, Idaho, and possibly doing a little birding at Camas NWR if time permits. We will stay in Dubois for two nights, then be ready to blast into Montana!
May 22- We will bird Camas NWR in the morning, break for lunch and then visit Targhee National Forest in the afternoon. Then back to the hotel.
May 23- Drive into Montana and work the road through Red Rock NWR, with Mountain Bluebirds, Trumpeter Swans and even some large mammals. We’ll eventually wind up in Great Falls, and possibly visit the Refuge that afternoon.
May 24- Work Benton Lakes NWR all morning and head NE in the afternoon through Golden Eagle country. Arrive in Malta late afternoon and possibly bird some then. Stay two nights in Malta, exploring and being the High Plains Drifters. Somebody whistle.
May 25- Visit the high country near the Canadian Border for longspurs, Ferruginous Hawks, Lark Buntings and all kinds of whatnot.
May 26- Finish up around Malta & head for Mountain Plovers*, etc., in Charles Russell NWR. Overnight in Harlowton (home of the harlots?) *If the road is muddy we cannot venture down them!
May 27- Walk a steep canyon for songbirds of many kinds and then drive to Greater Rapelje to dine at one of the many fine restaurants. [I get punchy when excited!] After lunch we’ll see Golden Eagles and look for other plains birds. Then we’ll head to the Rockies, overnighting on the highway that runs over the Montana/Wyoming Border.
May 28- Drive up near the top of the mountains where an alternate road often finds Clark’s Nutcrackers and other exciting mountain birds. From there we climb to the Pass, where American Pipits, Mountain Bluebirds, Black Rosy-Finches and other highland birds are easily found. Then we retrace our steps and head east, toward the eastern edge of Montana. That afternoon we’ll drive near Medicine Lake NWR and get a hotel neat the Refuge for the next morning.
May 29- We will work Medicine Lake NWR all morning and then take off east for our final Refuge, this time in North Dakota. We may have time to see part of Teddy Roosevelt National Park, but we must overnight near Kenmare, ND.
May 30- Leave early for Des Lacs NWR, working it for Horned and Red-necked Grebes and many, many nesting songbirds. After lunch we head over to Lostwood NWR for a drive in their Refuge, and possibly return to Des Lacs before calling it a day. Then we drive down to Bismarck, ND,
May 31- Eat a good breakfast and board the plane for home.