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Field trip worth the price of gas-Bird watching group gathers in Williston

The recent high price of gasoline is being felt by anyone who drives an automobile. Those whose jobs require more travel are undoubtedly dedicating a growing portion of their monthly budgets toward fueling their vehicles. It just so happened, the last weekend in May marked the date dedicated to bird field trips sponsored by the North Dakota Birding Society. Last fall they had picked Williston as the site for this spring's gathering. Very little bird information flows out of that particular region of the state. Plus a small but energetic group of folks in town are in the process of organizing a bird club. These two factors were the impetus behind selecting Williston as the host city this spring.

It took some personal hand-wringing and cost analysis before finally deciding to attend this event. Williston, after all, is a long trip. The Friday drive to northwest North Dakota didn't settle my ambivalence much either. The rain started shortly after leaving town, accompanied by a howling east wind. By the time Williston came into view several hours later, I had thoroughly exhausted my patience for rain and wind. Saturday morning broke clear and sunny however, and all second thoughts were forgotten.

As has been previously discussed in this space, bird watching takes many forms for different people. A large cross section of skill levels is represented in such a collection of individuals. Corey Ellingson, a bird expert and computer programmer from Bismarck said it concisely; "The hobby of birding can be enjoyed at so many different levels."

The group of 22 of us was split into two groups with an equal number of experts per team plus a local or two to provide directions. Into the vehicles we piled accompanied by binoculars, spotting scopes, tripods and expectations.

"None of the veterans knew the area well enough to pick places to go, but with the help of the locals and a little exploration, birds were found," said Ellingson. Points east, north and west were visited and by day's end a total of 138 species were tallied. Sunday a smaller group visited the north unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and added a few more, bringing the weekend total to just shy of 150 different birds.

Among the species spotted over the course of the weekend were sought-after western specialties such as Long-billed Curlew, Sprague's Pipit, Rock Wren, Chestnut-collared Longspur, Piping Plover, Violet-green Swallow, Bullock's Oriole, and Lazuli Bunting.

Bob Olson, a retired radiologist, has been interested in birds for at least 50 years and is a driving force behind the formation of the bird club in Williston. He is a member of an impassioned photography club in town. From this cadre has sprung a growing interest in birds. "The Saturday trip was one of the most enjoyable days ever," said Olson adding, "The highlights for me were the Chestnut-collared Longspur and the Peregrine Falcon."

Another Williston retiree attending was Jerald Basol. "It was an excellent weekend," he said, "I was amazed at the expertise within the group that came."

This September the NDBS is heading to Duluth for their fall gathering. I don't know what the price of gas will be but if I can spring from my job and family, I will likely attend. Sometimes it's worth paying the price, especially when it involves a particular passion which moves a person.

Jeanie Joppru, Thief River Falls, and a birder watcher for nearly 50 years said, "The weekend reinforced what I have always known--birders are, for the most part, wonderful folks whose company I enjoy."