Saturday, March 22, 2014

Potholes & Prairies Birding Festival, June 11-15, 2014

Locoweed and Prairie Smoke, photo by Julie Zickefoose
Julie Zickefoose Photo
Ribbons of road undulating through vast, blooming prairie, glacial remnants of ridge and ancient rock, round, deep waterholes and shallow sloughs. If North Dakota hasn't immediately come to mind as a birding destination, it only means you've not yet visited there in summer. This abundant beauty and variety which attracts such diversity in birds, also beckons the knowing birdwatcher. And right now, there is an open invitation to come discover, learn, and immerse yourself in all North Dakota offers--at the Potholes & Prairies Birding Festival.

Derruginous Hawk photo by Rick Bohn
Rick Bohn Photo
This isn't a festival where you're just a face in the crowd--oh, no.  According to Julie Zickefoose, a long-time participant and trip leader: "Potholes & Prairies is a tremendously friendly and comfortably small festival, run with great attention to detail and the contentment of its participants."  Last year, attendees from 26 states and 2 Canadian provinces came to fatten their life lists with the help and personal attention from experienced guides.

You'll be birding from the prairies to the Missouri Coteau, surveying roadside sloughs and big lakes, observing ducks trailed by ducklings in the pothole ponds, and learning to ID hawks and waterbirds. Participate in the Big Day or take a guided bus tour through Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge, which hosts the largest population of white pelicans in North America.  There are so many wonderful choices!  Check the 2014 Festival Events here.

LeConte's Sparrow (photo Mike McDowell)
LeConte's Sparrow photo by Mike McDowell

What makes North Dakota so unique, is in summer you'll be seeing birds you'd be hard-pressed to find in one place anywhere else. During the 2013 festival, 148 species were spotted. See the checklist here. Perhaps you're hoping to catch glimpses of the rare Big Five, listed below?  I'd say there's a pretty darned good chance!
  • Baird's sparrow

  • LeConte's sparrow

  • Nelson's Sharp-tailed sparrow

  • Sprague's pipit

  • Chestnut-collared Longspur

Incidentally, this festival doesn't stop when the sun starts to set. Informative evening seminars, dinner and garden birding at Pipestem Creek Lodge (followed by an an after-dinner jam session--so bring your instruments), and a special appearance by the funniest man in birding, Al Batt are all in the offing.  There will be vendors on site too--including our very own Adrian Lesak, to assist you with an upgrade on your binocular, scope or tripod.  Here's the link to register for the 2014 Prairies and Potholes Festival.

Need any more convincing, dear reader?  Then, as Julie Zickefoose, who so dearly loves this festival, reminds us: "Look at your life list. See if there are some holes that need plugging. Think about the blooming prairie in June, the burbling songs of Western Meadowlarks and Bobolinks, the click and hiss of rare sparrows in thick grasses, and make the (12th) annual Potholes and Prairies Birding Festival an unusual--and unusually satisfying--destination."

Nina Cheney
Eagle Optics Staff
Binoculars: Bring them. See what they bring you.


  1. This is a very nice post! and all true. I'm so looking forward to this June. It'll be my eleventh year heading to North Dakota in June, and I'm not tired of it yet. Thanks for the plug, Nina!

  2. Thanks, Julie! Happy to promote this wonderful festival.

  3. Hi Julie.Three of us interested in coming out in June. Can we get info and prices?

  4. Hello Ed, and thanks for your inquiry. It's unclear whether the festival will be happening this year. Keep an eye on the internet, and I'll try to provide any updates as they become available.
    All the best,


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