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With fall around the corner, our feathered critters are beginning to stage, gather and start their migratory flights to southern climes. This past weekend was a testament to that along the Missouri River corridor.

It was a Missouri River kind of weekend for my wife and I. This being our 13th wedding anniversary, we decided it’d be best to stay in the vicinity of Bismarck and Mandan this weekend together and spend some time outdoors enjoying the remaining summer warmth for as long as possible.

We kicked off the weekend, Friday night, with some friends on the Missouri River for an evening pontoon drift. While on the river, the birds didn’t disappoint. We spotted an osprey, which launched and took flight from an overhanging cottonwood tree just above us. Personally, I hadn’t seen an osprey for a couple years. What a great bird to observe. Also found in the marinas were mallards, Canada geese and common mergansers.

For Saturday, we headed north to Cross Ranch State Park. For those that default and go to Fort Lincoln State Park all the time because it is so close to town, in south Mandan, I urge you to venture north to check out Cross Ranch. Cross Ranch is a beautiful state park tucked along the banks of the Missouri River. While hiking the wooded river bottoms, the avifauna found was fantastic as always. The majority of the birds observed in the woodlands included northern flickers with their prominent white rumps flitting through the woodlands.

Other common birds in the river bottoms included blue jays, American robins, hairy and downy woodpeckers and mourning doves. Common birds found along the open flowing river included Canada geese, mallards, common mergansers and several flocks of what appeared to be migrating Franklin’s gulls. A few killdeer were observed on sandbar and shoreline edges. Three immature bald eagles were observed with ease along the inside edge of the woodlands next to the river. It never gets old seeing those large birds.

While traversing the 9 miles we covered on the Cross Ranch trails, I was able to at least see a few white-tailed deer to get the blood pumping for the upcoming fall hunting seasons. We observed about 10 whitetails, with does and fawns. No bucks were observed.

If you have some time this fall, before the temperatures plummet, get outdoors and take a ride on the river with friends and family, or take to the trails in the state parks. You will not be disappointed with the birds and critters you’ll see.

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