Northern Great Plains: Fall 2015

1 Aug–30 Nov

Ron Martin

Recommended citation:

Martin, R. 2020. Fall 2015: Northern Great Plains. <> North American Birds.

Temperatures were well above average in ND. The most extreme example was Grand Forks, ND, which experienced a full eight degrees above average in November. Water areas stayed open past mid-Nov, and waterfowl remained late in numbers. Northwestern ND had precipitation well above average, but southeastern ND was dry.

A Long-tailed Jaeger was seen in ND, and the state had its second modern nesting of Trumpeter Swan. A Purple Sandpiper provided a first record for MT. SD produced its first Great Kiskadee and Cassin’s Vireo, and second Ancient Murrelet.

Contributors (state editors in boldface)

MT: Kate Atkins, Chuck Carlson, Dan Casey, Christian Hagenlocher , Ed Harper, Grace Lacy, Liz Larcom, Tony Leukering, Tom Margarian, Bob Martinka, Don and Holly Minnerath, Mike Schwitters, Stephen Turner, Robin and Richard Wolcott.

ND: Sandy J. Aubol, Adrian F. Azar, Nancy Drilling, Tim Driscoll, Diana K. Dugall, Corey D. Ellingson, Matthew Fuirst, Deb E. Hanson, Larry D. Igl, Jim Klett, Dave O. Lambeth, Sherry D. Leslie, Ron E. Martin, Mary Ann Melton, Mark A. Otnes, Tom Pabian, E. Scott Ray, Matt Sprenger, Alice Turner, Dennis P. Wiesenborn.

SD: Chris Anderson, Doug Backlund, Gilbert Blankespoor, Doug Chapman, Joe Coppock, Nancy Drilling, Canyon Lake Group, Richard S. Latuchie, Ran Mabie, Charlie E. Miller, Gary Olson, Ricky D. Olson, Jeff S. Palmer, Barry Parkin, Kelly Preheim, Scott Stoltz, Eileen D. Stukel, Dave Swanson, Mick K. Zerr.

Geese through Grebes

Snow Goose migration was late with 200,000+ birds still at each of several locations in central ND in mid-Nov. A pair of Trumpeter Swans with 6 cygnets was photographed 2 Sep in Benson, ND (MS). Eleven Surf Scoters were noted among seven ND reports 16 Oct–22 Nov. SD had four Surf Scoter reports spanning two counties 25 Oct–24 Nov. Five White-winged Scoters were seen in ND 23 Oct–17 Nov. Only 2 Black Scoters were reported: singles at Fort Peck, MT 6 Nov (CC) and in Yankton, SD 24 Nov (DS). Among the few but expected Long-tailed Duck reports was a nice peak of 7 in Douglas, SD 21 Nov (KP). Very rare in the Dakotas, a Barrow’s Goldeneye was in Benson, ND 29 Nov (REM, DKD). A Red-breasted Merganser was early in Yankton, SD 19 Sep (CA, SC). A peak of 30 Red-breasted Mergansers in Grand Forks 18 Nov was a high number for any season in ND (DOL). Horned Grebes were early to arrive in SD, in Minnehaha 23 Aug (DC) and in Hughes 30 Aug (DB). A tardy Red-necked Grebe lingered at L. Audubon, ND 28 Nov (ESR).

Swifts through Loons

A White-throated Swift was late 5 Oct in Pennington, SD (CLG). The fifth record for SD, an Anna’s Hummingbird was in Codington 13 Nov (RDO). Casual in ND, a Rufous Hummingbird was in Bismarck 10 Oct (CDE). Three Rufous Hummingbird reports came in from SD 1–21 Aug. Cranes made a late showing in ND with 5500 still in McHenry 6 Nov (REM). Whooping Cranes were also late in ND with most going over in Nov. Among several larger-than-usual groups was a flock of 19 in Ward 7 Nov (TP). The first record for MT and the region, a Purple Sandpiper was photographed at Freezout L. 12 Nov (ST, BM). Late peeps in the Dakotas included a Least Sandpiper in Minnehaha, SD 7 Nov (MKZ, CA) and a Baird’s Sandpiper in Ward, ND 16 Nov (REM). A Long-billed Dowitcher was very late in Clay, SD 30 Nov (DS). The ninth report for ND, a Long-tailed Jaeger was in Grand Forks 23 Sep (DOL, JJA). The second record for SD, an Ancient Murrelet was in Kingsbury 24 Oct (JSP). Ten Sabine’s Gull reports from the region included an adult among 3 individuals at Freezout L., MT 27 Sep (MS). The lone Little Gull report was from Lyman, SD 20 Nov (SS). Mew Gulls were at Garrison Dam, ND 31 Oct–11 Nov (REM, CDE, ESR) and in Lyman SD 20 Nov (SS). The lone Black-legged Kittiwake report was logged at Bynum Res., MT 16 Nov (CH). A late Common Tern was in Gregory, SD 21 Oct (RM). Pacific Loons were found in ND at L. Audubon 30 Oct (SDL) and at Bowman-Haley Res. 7 Nov (REM, CDE), and an additional report in SD detailed an individual in Butte 22 Nov (ND). A Yellow-billed Loon was in Gregory 13 Nov (RM), representing the fourth record for SD.

Herons through Ravens

Northwest of their range in ND, a Green Heron was in Ward 23 Sep (REM). Tardy for SD, a Green Heron was in Lincoln 6 Nov (MKZ). The only Glossy Ibis report was of a single in Nelson, ND 1 Aug (DEH). Northern Goshawk reports were few, but an early bird was notable in Charles Mix, SD 23 Aug (ND). Likely a rare summering bird, a Rough-legged Hawk was in McKenzie, ND 6–8 Aug (MO). Unusual in Walsh, ND, a Barred Owl was in Grafton 29 Oct (AT). A good peak tally for ND, 22 Western Wood-Pewees were in McKenzie and Williams 8 Aug (REM, ESR). A late Eastern Wood-Pewee was in Bismarck, ND 6 Oct (CDE). Casual in northwestern ND, an Eastern Phoebe was at Crosby 6 Sep (ESR). The only Cassin’s Kingbird report was from Fall River, SD 6 Sep (DS, JSP). A first for SD and the region, a Great Kiskadee was in Brookings 16 Sep–15 Nov (RM, GO, JSP, RDO). A late Bell’s Vireo was in Hughes, SD 29 Sep (EDS). Very late was a Red-eyed Vireo in Brown, SD 1 Nov (BP). The first record for SD, a Cassin’s Vireo was photographed in Stanley 23 Aug (DB, SS). Common Ravens continued to extend their range south through the Dakotas. In southern ND were 2 in Ransom 16 Aug (AFA), followed by a single in Stark 29 Sep (MF). In SD, singles were in Harding 18 Oct (CEM) and in Sully 30 Oct (SS).

Swallows through Warblers

A brood of Barn Swallows fledged very late in Jamestown, ND 24 Sep (LDI). Accidental in SD, a Tufted Titmouse was in Sioux Falls 15–16 Oct (GB).

Now seemingly regular in southeastern SD, Carolina Wrens were found in Lincoln 7 Sep (MKZ) and in Yankton 19 Sep (CA, JC). A Ruby-crowned Kinglet was noted 9 Aug at the International Peace Gardens, ND, an area where the species has nested previously (MAM). Casual in MT, a Wood Thrush was in Great Falls 19 Oct (GL, LL). The lone Sage Thrasher report was 8 Aug in Fall River, SD (RSL). Late pipits in SD included an American Pipit in Clay 30 Nov (DS) and a Sprague’s Pipit in Stanley 30 Oct (SS). Pine Grosbeaks put in a strong showing with four SD reports 29 Oct (EOP). In ND, among numerous Pine Grosbeak reports, was a peak of 12 at Denbigh Experimental Forest 11 Nov (CDE). Only a smattering of Red Crossbills was reported away from breeding areas in the Dakotas. Three reports of single White-winged Crossbills from ND spanned 26–29 Nov. A good movement of Common Redpolls was underway by late Oct in ND. About average for the Dakotas were three reports of Evening Grosbeaks. Late sparrows in SD included a Savannah Sparrow in Clay 30 Nov (DS), and a Le Conte’s Sparrow in Clay 30 Nov (DS). Unusually far west was a Nelson’s Sparrow in Meade, SD 17 Sep (RSL). Seldom noted away from feeders when outside its regular range, a Northern Cardinal was at Denbigh Experimental Forest, ND 26 Nov+ (REM). Very rare in eastern ND, a Yellow-breasted Chat was at Fargo 5–6 Sep (DPW). Casual in MT, a Blue-winged Warbler was at Saco 23 Aug (DHM). Rare in the Dakotas during autumn, a Blue-winged Warbler was in Lincoln, SD 7 Sep (JC). A MacGillivray’s Warbler, casual in ND, was noted in Steele 12 Sep (REM, CDE). Another casual visitor to MT, a Hooded Warbler was in Great Falls 10 Oct (TM, KA). A Bay-breasted Warbler lingered in Perkins to 6 Nov (ND), furnishing a first Nov record for SD. Notable warblers for the Dakotas included a Pine Warbler in Stutsman, ND 29 Sep (LDL), a Yellow-throated Warbler in Hughes, SD 30 Sep (EDS, RDO), and a Townsend’s Warbler in Custer 6 Sep (DS, JSP). The Townsend’s Warbler at Malta, MT 3 Sep (EH, RRW) was well east of the species’ usual range in the state. A first Nov record for SD, a Wilson’s Warbler was in Charles Mix 1 Nov (KP).


An Orange-cheeked Waxbill was photographed in Williston, ND 15 Sep (AFA). A European Goldfinch was present and photographed 1–11 Nov at Devils L., ND (JK). This species was seen previously at this same location 13 Apr in 2014.

S. A.

Banding operations for Northern Saw-whet Owls were conducted again at two locations in ND. Twenty-five nights at Turtle River State Park in Grand Forks yielded 102 captures. Eighty percent of the captured birds were hatch-year individuals and females. One recapture was of a bird banded in Prince Albert, SK (TD). Birds were banded 26 nights at the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Of the 197 owls captured, 65% were hatch-year individuals. Five recaptures included two from the previous year and three from SK. Additionally, one of the birds banded at this location was subsequently recaptured 25 days later in the Black Hills of SD (ND).

Report processed by Amy Davis, 24 December 2020.