Birding an enjoyable and unique outdoor experience
I've had the opportunity to hunt many different places and species across North Dakota, much of it a result of having lived in more than 10 different zip codes across the state.
It's those places, and the people who go with them, that often account for the best memories. While we always remember the biggest deer or a limit of fish, the best stories come from the one that got away, or invariables like getting stuck, lost or a having a late-night windstorm blow through camp.
Some good memories also come from trying new things over the years, like darkhouse spearfishing, catfishing and coot hunting. This winter, I tried a new type of bird hunting.
No, I wasn't hunting out of season, there wasn't even a gun involved. We went on a bird hunt with binoculars, spotting scope and feet.
My son Joe loves the outdoors and depending on the week, as most 10-year-olds do, he can get an idea stuck in his mind. That week the idea was spotting a common redpoll, a small bird often seen during North Dakota winters.
Full disclosure: I'm a novice birder at best, but enjoy spending time outdoors with my son, and any kind of hunt can kindle an interest. I'm blessed to have a friend and neighbor who is a birding expert, and he offered to lead the "hunt" on recent Saturday afternoon. He knew the habitat needs and behavior of common redpolls, so I gave our hunt good odds of success.
The sun was shining and for North Dakota a slight 10-mile-per-hour breeze was as close to calm as we could expect. Loaded equally with snacks and anticipation, we had three stops on the list, two for birds and one to check out our favorite beaver lodge.
The first stop produced some woodpeckers, Eurasian collared doves, squirrels, starlings and a rogue house cat in the ditch.
Since kids are usually enamored with any kind of critters outdoors, it's the parents who set the level of success and expectations. Trust me, if you are happy seeing a squirrel, chances are the kids will feel the same way.
We checked off the beaver lodge and headed toward our final stop. Assessing the day, I pondered the ease of this type of outing -- no license needed, and no worries about wandering across state lines. Hunting with binoculars or guns, though, you still need permission to access posted private land.
Keith was doing all he could to put Joe on a common redpoll, but Joe understood from his time hunting that success isn't always guaranteed. But we still had our last stop ahead.
Rolling along to our final stop with George Strait on the radio, a landscape blanketed in snow, and a friend and son along for the ride, even if we didn't see a redpoll it would still go down as a good day.
As the sun began losing the fight against dusk, Keith noticed an uncommon bird dipping and darting west to north. "We gotta find that bird" he said as we shifted from a casual walk into a purposeful jog.
Just like a buck inexplicably stopping to provide a hunter a shot, for a brief moment we got a good look at a Towsend's solitaire, a rare sighting in eastern North Dakota that minimized the frustration of not finding a common redpoll. The adrenaline warmed our fingers and toes, the day extended a few minutes longer, and the unexpected sighting added to the day's success.
Leier is a biologist with the Game and Fish Department. He can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org