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This winter might very well be remembered for the irruption of two northern species, red crossbills and pine grosbeaks (pictured). Keith Corliss

Birding year in review: A look back at the notable sightings of 2012

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Birding year in review: A look back at the notable sightings of 2012
Fargo North Dakota 101 5th Street North 58102

Everyone seems to relish in the annual practice of reviewing the previous 12 months when late December rolls around. It's a nearly sacred rite in some media circles. In the event, dear reader, you are not yet fully exhausted by this, allow me to point out the year's birding highlights from our fair state and county.


January saw the continued presence of the snowy owl invasion which had begun early in the winter of 2011-2012. Daily excursions by careful observers in appropriate habitats to our west produced good numbers of the large white owls, often near 20.

On the 14th, a Townsend's solitaire was sighted near the town of Absaraka. This is an uncommon but annual bird as close as Bismarck but becomes rarer the farther one travels east.

This was a winter notable for its lack of redpolls, those gregarious little northern finches that readily attack a filled thistle feeder most years. Instead, North Dakota birders settled for other rarities such as an improbable yellow-throated warbler coming to a Jamestown suet feeder in the middle of January.

In February a lone Barrow's goldeneye was seen below the tailrace at Garrison Dam. This northern and western duck represented only about the 20th report ever for the state.

Also north of Bismarck in February was a gray-crowned rosy-finch coming to a feeder. This alpine nesting species is rare in North Dakota, especially east of the Missouri River.

Another improbable occurrence was noted in mid-February when a juvenile black-crowned night-heron was recorded below the Baldhill Dam north of Valley City. A fairly common summer bird, this is a species which should have been many hundreds of miles south in winter.

By April, the Valley City area produced another rare bird when a summer tanager was found at Clausen Springs park southwest of town. I was lucky enough to actually get out and see this one.

A cinnamon teal showed up at Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge that month also. A western specialist, this is a quite rare bird east of Bismarck; Cass County does not even have a record for one.

Cass County recorded its first ever glaucous gull in April. This arctic nesting bird is rarely seen away from the Garrison Dam area.

On the 20th of May, Cass County had our own yellow-throated warbler-only our second ever in Spring--south of Fargo along the Red River.

Also in late May, another cinnamon teal plus a flock of rare whimbrels were recorded in Sargent County to our southwest and yet another summer tanager showed up just south of Washburn.

June 3: the state's third ever (and Cass County's first) Acadian flycatcher made an appearance on a farmstead northwest of West Fargo. One had not been noted in the state since one was heard south of Jamestown in the 1970s.

June also produced a couple of great birds at Dewald Slough near Dawson in Kidder County, a little gull and a glossy ibis.

Mute swans were noted that month both in Cass County (first record) at the West Fargo lagoons, and up near Church's Ferry north of Devil's Lake.

Like the snowy owls in winter, the summer of 2012 was notable for the numbers of a wandering grassland bird known as the dickcissel. To my knowledge, this species was recorded in every county in the state.

Near West Acres mall a lone black-billed magpie was spotted on July 23. As common as this Corvid might be elsewhere, it has become very rare in Cass County. There are signs that perhaps the bird has recovered from the West Nile virus onslaught and is making a comeback though.

On the first of September a blue-gray gnatcatcher was seen in Bismarck, yet another improbable record for a bird more at home in Arkansas than central North Dakota.

By the fall of this past year another invasion became apparent, that of red crossbills. The birds were seen everywhere across a wide swath of the northern U.S. even in Cass County where the species is quite hard to find.

Early winter arrived and still another northern finch was making its presence known-pine grosbeaks. The birds still remain south of their usual boreal forest range as we head into the remainder of the winter.

What 2013 will bring is anyone's guess as no one can predict the future. With the public seemingly more aware of birds and bird-watching, however, I can say with some confidence that more and more rare birds will continue to be discovered in Cass County and in the state.