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Bismarck-Mandan Bird Club

With the very late spring, many farmers have been in their fields, spending 20-hour days in an effort to get their crops planted.

Meanwhile thousands of birds are winging their way up from the tropics, against all odds, trying to make it to their favorite patch of woods in the boreal forests of the north. When a big weather event such as heavy rain blocks their way, they have no choice but to take cover. For a birdwatcher, finding these edges can be a goldmine for finding rare birds, referred to as fallout.

I received a hot tip on my cell of a major flight of birds at Lake Isabel east of Bismarck. After collaborating with a couple friends, we made our way to the location. The east shore of the lake has a nice picnic area nestled in the boxelder trees, with a wide sandy beach along the water. This nice picnic area was not the reason all the birds had congregated. The fallout was a result of a large midge hatch.

The Google definition of midge, looking like a large mosquito is “a small two-winged fly that is often seen in swarms near water or marshy areas where it breeds.” I bet some think these are nasty biting nuisances and avoid them like the plague. To the contrary, I have never had trouble with them. Keep your mouth shut so as not to inhale them, and everything is fine. The birds love them and probably render themselves immobile after a few hours frolicking on the beach and feasting.

Three of us birders were in heaven as hundreds of colorful jewels zipped and darted about the trees. The most common birds were not too exciting. One is the all too familiar yellow warbler, all yellow with some red breast streaking. The Tennessee warbler is the most common migrant with an emerald green back, gray head, and white underside from throat through tail. The last of the trio is the blackpoll warbler. This snazzy gem gets its name from the bold back head and white mask around the eye. The back and wings have black and gray streaking with an all white underside.

But the ones we were after were the mere one percent of the flock, the hidden warbler gems. Warblers are a family of birds characterized by a small size, very active and easily hidden in the foliage despite their bright colors. It isn’t very often you can literally scan trees for warblers, but it was the case this day.

As we scanned the flocks for the next three hours, the rarities were there. Our favorite was a golden-winged warbler. Quite rare west of the Red River Valley, we were very surprised to get a view of this species. As the name implies, the bold golden wing-bars jumped out immediately. After I got my friends on the bird, we studied the rest of the bird. Golden-wings also have a gold crown, bold black patches around the eye contrasting with a light gray wings, back and tail. After a minute of observation, the bird disappeared in the foliage and was never seen again.

The same happened with a northern parula. This is a common winter bird in Florida, but a noteworthy site in North Dakota. The bird is light blue overall, white wing-bars, with a bright bold yellow throat fading into a white breast and belly.

The 17 species of warblers included favorites such as magnolia, chestnut-sided, bay-breasted and common, but late lingering, brightly colored yellow-rumped warblers. These weren’t the only prizes found, however.

Among the two dozen bright orange Baltimore orioles, a female scarlet tanager was found. This is an all yellow bird, with slate gray wings and a beady black eye. Very nearby was the stunning indigo bunting, also a birders favorite. This species is entirely bright indigo blue throughout, with bold black wings. This one got ooooohs and aaaaaahs from all of us while it remained in view.

Wish I could share more of this epic event, but suffice to say it was definitely one for the books. I am hoping some of you had a surprise visitor to your backyard or feeder. Hopefully, it was able to rest up, refuel and resume its way north in good time.

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