It was back-to-back weekends in North Dakota for ABWCH, though this latter visit was not about nabbing some bird on my wishlist. Rather, it was about Melissa crossing off an item on the much more important bucket list–seeing Garth Brooks perform in Fargo. The old guy is alright in my book too, so despite the fact that several really good state birds for me were popping up left and right, I wasn’t perturbed about leaving home and was even kind of looking forward to this non-birding trip. But then while hanging with Fargo friends, John and Sarah, before the concert, things took a turn in the bird anxiety department… Joel Schmidt called. I didn’t even want to pick it up. But like the cat, curiosity got the best of me: Cattle Egret. State birds always offer up new chances, but a county bird like this?
Then during the concert came the one-two from Steve: a pic of his new county bird and the discovery of some would-be lifer Short-billed Dowitchers. My concert beer was not chasing the blues away; maybe I should’ve also tried the whiskey drowning approach.
Despite my woes, the night was still highly enjoyable and optimism for the next day was winning. Perhaps these birds would be waiting for me back home. Perhaps I’d get my state Say’s Phoebe at Felton Prairie IBA on the way home. As I was mulling this over while going on a Starbucks run this morning, I noticed a Scheels sporting goods store and recalled some eBird reports I had studied awhile back: Gray Partridge inhabiting a vacant lot nearby. Since I was in the area I thought, ‘Why not?’ But ambitious I was not–driving around the perimeter of the lot would have to suffice. This lot was a sea of green in the concrete, retail jungle. There was a large, brushy mound in the center of the grassy plot, a rather perfect home for this species that likes thin cover.
And sure enough, I spied two bulbous bodies out in the open! I couldn’t believe I was getting an opportunity to view and photograph Gray Partridge. I honestly thought this would never, ever happen. Stoked doesn’t even begin to describe what I was feeling.
The pair was inseparable. I could not believe I was witnessing this. I’ve only ever seen this bird flushing away from me or dead in the hand. This was simply incredible.
Despite its name, this is by no means a dull-looking bird. The male is simply brilliant.
Eventually I had to pry myself away from these birds to complete that coffee/breakfast errand I was on. But afterward, I swung by the lot one more time and the birds were now in crushing distance from the road! Moreover, the male stood up on his haunches and showed off that impressive rusty belly of his.
I may have only been 900 feet above sea level, but my head was in the clouds. This is an opportunity I will likely never replicate again. The goings-on back home were but a distant thought. Oh, I’ll be okay.