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Monday, August 02, 2010

Junior Birdchasers in Spearfish Canyon

Since we were driving through South Dakota last week, we just had to make a play for the Orange-billed Nightingale Thrush found singing this summer along Iron Creek in Spearfish Canyon on the north end of the Black Hills. This is one of the craziest bird sightings I've heard of! The bird:

1) Is normally found from Mexico to South America
2) Has only been seen in the U.S. twice before--in Texas only a hundred or so miles from its normal range
3) Had to cross over a thousand miles to get to South Dakota
4) And happened to be heard deep in the vegetation, finally seen, and identified by Eric Ripma while doing surveys for the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory.

So it is a crazy sighting. One that leaves you scratching your head wondering how many other crazy lost birds are lurking in hundreds of similar canyons or other obscure spots across the country! Birders from all over the U.S. have been flying in and making the drive up Spearfish Canyon to see the bird, and most have been able to see it--if only briefly--as it furtively sings while slipping through the deep vegetation of the canyon.

Enter the Junior Birdchasers.

The earliest we could get to the canyon was about 10:30 in the morning, past the peak of daily singing for the bird. When we get there nobody else is around, and the canyon is quiet. The bird is normally found along the stream and trail within the first 1/4 mile of the parking lot. So we hike for a bit. Nothing. Finally I stop to show the Junior Birdchasers the only other birds visible in the canyon--a family of American Redstarts.

Then a brown bird flies past quickly down the creek and disappears around a bend in the creek. I don't see anything but the general size and shape--but I'm convinced from what I see that it is the bird so we take off in pursuit. The bird starts to sing deep in the bushes--it is it! I get three quick glimpses of it moving through the poplars, including one quick look at the orange eye-ring and bill.

The bird sings off and on for the next 10 minutes, but I'm the only one who gets a look. We're strapped for time, with a quick Mount Rushmore stop and a 28 hour straight drive home to PA on the horizon, so the Junior Birdchasers have to settled for this one being a "heard only" bird for now.

Not the perfect bird chase, but a lot of fun, and great to be part of the Great Orange-billed Nightingale Thrush Saga of 2010!

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