Birder's Guide

MAR 2015

Birder's Guide is the American Birding Association's newest publication. Each issue focuses on a key subject, providing tips from experienced birders on a wide variety of topics like Travel, Listing & Taxonomy, Gear, and Conservation & Community.

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Page 55 of 67

Nebraska 54 Birder's Guide to Travel | March 2015 the prairie birds have fedged, yours may be the frst wheeled convey- ance the new generation has seen, and the last it will see until migration pushes the fock south. As exciting as the close views out the car window can be, the "real McCown's" can be experienced only on foot. Park on the side of the road, let the pinging and dinging of your engine die away, and you'll hear that rarest and most precious of sounds: silence, broken only by the stuttering, rising lisps of the larks and the low-pitched slurs of sky- dancing longspurs. When I dream of heaven, I see myself sitting on the ground a half mile off Henry Road, surrounded by lichen-covered rocks and cow pies, serenaded by the males of the prairie birds while the fe- males, quickly accustomed to my hulking presence, creep through the grass all around me. It happens here. Of all the grand surprises the Nebraska Panhandle offers, the Pine Ridge may be the grandest. Prairie is perhaps expected in this part of the world, even if its subtle variety and heart-stopping beauty are not; but high rock escarpments topped with pine forest and threaded by the trails of bighorn sheep and elk startle even those whose mental hori- zons are not bounded by the Hudson and East rivers. The birds of Nebraska's Pine Ridge are, with a few exceptions, those of the Black Hills of Wyoming and South Dakota, a scant 50 mi. (80 km) away. Unlike that location, American Dippers and Black-backed Woodpeckers cannot be expected here, but Mountain Bluebirds, Townsend's Solitaires, Western Tanagers, and even the odd Clark's Nutcracker or Steller's Jay are all worth looking for—perched atop the high ridges and buttes—during a morning's walk through these cool, dry forests. The Nebraska National Forest may seem like the too-obvious punchline to a bad joke, but it's real, and in combination with extensive state-owned lands in the extreme northwestern corner of the state, offers visiting birders more habitat to discover than even the most enthusiastic hiker could cover in a year, or a lifetime, of slow exploration. More than 30 years after this otherworldly landscape frst burned its way into my birding heart, I still come home from every visit with an even longer list of sites to check out next time. Each of those next times, though, fnds the Pine Ridge changed. Almost architec- tural in its visual stateliness, the ridge is also one of Nebraska's most dynamic ecological regions, and this, like so many western forests, is a landscape ruled by fre. Where one summer Western Wood- Pewees and Cordilleran Flycatchers were singing in the spangled shade, the next n o r t h w e s t e r n c o r n e r o f t h e s t a t d i s h i k s l o t h i i t s h o m l i s t E t h e t u r i s a e c o w e f r e P e w s i n Gilbert Baker Wildlife Management Area. Photo © Derrald Farnsworth-Livingston Male Western Tanager. Photo © Kati Fleming Male Mountain Bluebird. Photo © Ryan Franklin

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