This trip is being conducted for the Wake Audubon Society, but it is also open to the public. No affiliation with Wake Audubon is required to participate on this trip. If you are interested in this trip, or in North Dakota/Eastern Montana as a destination, please contact us. SPACES ARE AVAILABLE.
North Dakota & Eastern Montana
Birds of the Prairie Potholes and Grasslands
June 8 – June 18, 2014: 11 Days
“Nothing could be more lonely and nothing more beautiful than the view at nightfall across the prairies to these huge hill masses, when the lengthening shadows had at last merged into one and the faint after-glow of the red sunset filled the west.” Theodore Roosevelt.
Day 1 – Sunday, June 8: Raleigh to Bismarck, North Dakota
We will depart from Raleigh/Durham International Airport early this morning on our flight to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Once in Minneapolis we will transfer to our short flight to Bismarck, North Dakota. Please arrive at RDU, or your home airport, no later than two hours prior to our scheduled departure time. Upon arrival in Bismarck, we will drive east to Long Lake National Wildlife Refuge. This refuge surrounds a large alkaline lake that is home to some incredible waterbirds. Puddling ducks, American Avocets, Black-necked Stilts and other shorebirds will grace the lake’s surface and shoreline while Upland Sandpipers, Marbled Godwits and Willets breed in the surrounding grasslands. Sharp-tailed Grouse and a variety of songbirds can also be found. We will have a picnic lunch in the refuge and after our visit we will drive east to Jamestown. Once we arrive in Jamestown we will check into our hotel and have dinner at the Buffalo City Rotisserie Grill. (D)
Day 2 – Monday, June 9: Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge
This morning will begin early as we travel north of Jamestown to Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge. This 16,000 acre refuge stretches for 14 miles along the James River and protects a variety of habitats including wetlands, prairies and oak/hackberry forests. The refuge is also home to a great diversity of birds including some of our target species for the trip. Western Grebe is one of our targets and they should be performing their intricate mating ritual by dancing across the water in synchronized pairs. If we’re lucky a Clark’s Grebe may be spied among the westerns. Eared Grebes, Northern Pintails, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Northern Shovelers and Blue-winged Teal will be abundant on the waters along with lesser numbers of Canvasback, Redhead and Ring-necked Duck. American Bitterns, Black-crowned Night-Herons and perhaps a Sora or Virginia Rail could be spotted among the rushes and cattails. Buoyant Black Terns and Breeding Wilson’s Phalaropes are commonly seen in the smaller ponds. Marshes and wet grasslands also attract songbirds and we’ll be searching for Willow Flycatcher, Marsh Wren, Yellow-headed Blackbird, and two of our target sparrows – Nelson’s Sharp-tailed and Le Conte’s. These extensive wetlands also attract mammals such as Beaver and Mink and reptiles like the colorful Western Painted Turtle. The fields and prairies adjacent to the wetlands will be full of song as Western Meadowlarks, Sedge Wrens, Bobolinks, Dickcissels, Chestnut-collared Longspurs, and Grasshopper, Clay-colored and Savannah Sparrows establish and defend territories and secure mates. The forest patches could contain Black-billed Cuckoo, Say’s Phoebe, Warbling Vireo, Lark Sparrows and both Orchard and Baltimore Orioles. We will have a picnic lunch somewhere on the refuge and after a full day we will return to Jamestown for dinner at the Pizza Ranch before returning to our hotel for the night. (B,L,D)
Day 3 – Tuesday, June 10: Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge and on to Dickinson
Today we will depart early as we begin our journey west. The morning will be spent at Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge which is home to between 10,000 and 12,000 nesting American White Pelicans. Forester’s and Caspian Terns and three gull species – Franklin’s, Ring-billed and California also are found near the lake. In addition to the waterbirds we will search for prairie species including two more targets – Baird’s Sparrow and Sprague’s Pipit. If the water levels are low we may be lucky enough to find breeding Piping Plovers along the lake. After visiting Chase Lake we will continue westward traveling past Bismarck to the rolling prairies of Western North Dakota. We should arrive in Dickinson in the late afternoon/early evening and after we check into our hotel we should have some time to relax before going to dinner at Applebees. (B,L,D)
Day 4 – Wednesday, June 11: Theodore Roosevelt National Park & Little Missouri National Grassland
We will have a full day to explore the southern unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the Little Missouri National Grassland. This national park and the surrounding lands are collectively known as the North Dakota badlands. Ancient forces and the slow march of time have sculpted this land into a mosaic of buttes, valleys and tablelands. This area, and prairies in general, often look barren despite being draped in waves of grass. A closer look, however, reveals a landscape rich in biodiversity. The scant rains nourish an incredible variety of plant life and at this time of year the rolling prairies should be ablaze with wildflowers. The yellows of Goats Beard and Western Wallflower blend with white Butte Candles, yellow-white wild licorice, dark red to orange Scarlet Mallow, stately Purple Coneflowers, and the pink of North Dakota’s state flower – the Wild Prairie Rose to create riotous contrasts in a sea of green. Wildlife is also rich and varied with herds of Bison, Pronghorn and Elk moving across the prairie and Bighorn Sheep clattering among the earth tone rocks. We should see our first Black-tailed Prairie Dog towns today and the antics of their residents are always entertaining. We will spend a fair amount of time during this trip exploring Prairie Dog towns as they are a draw to wildlife. They provide habitat for many animals like Badgers, Burrowing Owls and Thirteen-lined Ground-Squirrels. The Prairie Dogs themselves attract a wide variety of predators including Coyotes, Bullsnakes, Prairie Rattlesnakes, Ferruginous Hawks and Golden Eagles. We should also begin to see many bird species associated with the western portion of the country including Western Kingbirds, Black-billed Magpies, Mountain Bluebirds, Rock Wrens, Lazuli Buntings and Black-headed Grosbeaks. After a full day of exploring and birding we return Dickinson to freshen up before having dinner at Don Pedro’s Mexican Restaurant. (B,L,D)
Day 5 – Thursday, June 12: Theodore Roosevelt NP and on to Fort Peck, Montana
This morning we will travel to the northern unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. After visiting this smaller section we will continue west into Montana. At the border of North Dakota and Montana we will make a brief stop at Fort Union National Historical Site. Situated at the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers, Fort Union was the most important fur trading post on the Upper Missouri until 1867. Plains Indian tribes, including the Crow, Cree, Blackfoot and Lakota Sioux, came to Fort Union to trade buffalo robes and furs for trade goods. Historic visitors to the fort included John James Audubon, George Catlin, Sitting Bull and Jim Bridger. After a brief visit to the fort and some birding along the Cottonwoods next to the rivers we will continue west to Fort Peck and our accommodations at the historic Fort Peck Hotel. If enough time permits we will spend the late afternoon birding the Fort Peck Campgrounds. The forests among the campgrounds are home to a wide variety of species including Western Kingbird, Western Wood-Pewee, Warbling Vireo, Yellow-breasted Chat, Spotted Towhee, Black-headed Grosbeak and Bullock’s Oriole. Common Loon, California Gull and Common Terns may be seen near the lake. We will have dinner and overnight at the Fort Peck Hotel. (B,L,D)
Day 6 – Friday, June 13: Bitter Creek Wilderness & the Northern Prairies of Valley County
Today we will spend the majority of the day exploring the Bitter Creek Wilderness Area and the northern prairies of Valley County. The Bitter Creek Wilderness is comprised primarily of mixed prairie and shrubby steppe habitat that is dominated by Sagebrush. The Sagebrush community gives us our first chances to see Sage Grouse and Sage Thrasher. The mixed prairies will hopefully yield our first McCown’s Longspurs as well as Ferruginous Hawk, Prairie Falcon, Long-billed Curlew, Loggerhead Shrike, Sprague’s Pipit, Baird’s Sparrow and Chestnut-collared Longspurs. We will also be on the lookout for White-tailed Jack Rabbits, American Badgers, Richardson’s Ground-Squirrels and, if we are really lucky, the rare and endangered Swift Fox. Sagebrush and Short-horned Lizards could be seen sunning themselves on rocks. We will eat a picnic lunch somewhere in the wilderness and continue our explorations in the afternoon. The northern portions of Valley County offer some of the best short-grass prairie left in the country and there are a few species that specialize in this endangered habitat. One of these species is the Mountain Plover which prefers to nest in this habitat. In the absence of the short-grass prairie ecosystem Mountain Plovers are dependent on Prairie Dog towns for their nest sites. McCown’s Longspurs and Horned Larks also prefer to nest in this habitat. After a full day we will return to Glasgow for dinner at Durum Restaurant and if we are not too tired we will look for Common Poorwills before returning to the Fort Peck Hotel for overnight. (B,L,D)
Day 7 – Saturday, June 14: Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge and the Little Rockies
This morning we will have an early breakfast before traveling west to Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge. This refuge consists of two lakes surrounded by prairie. The grasslands are home to Lark Buntings, Chestnut-collared Longspurs and several species of sparrows including Baird’s, Clay-colored, Brewer’s, Grasshopper and Vesper. The lakes and wetlands are a breeding sanctuary for Long-billed Curlew, White-faced Ibis, Wilson’s Phalarope, and a wide variety of waterfowl including Lesser Scaup and Cinnamon Teal – likely our first for the trip. As many as five species of grebe are also present including the less common Horned and Clark’s among the Pied-billed, Eared and Westerns. After our morning at Bowdoin we will travel south-southwest to an area known as the Little Rockies. This higher elevation area is dominated by Pinyon Pines and other western conifers. The result of the altitude and differing habitat is a completely new bird community including many western species that reach their eastern limit in this unique region. Some of the species we could see include Dusky Grouse, White-throated Swift, Lewis’s Woodpecker, Red-naped Sapsucker, Clark’s Nutcracker, Pinyon Jay, Townsend’s Solitaire, Mountain Chickadee, MacGillivray’s Warbler, Red Crossbill and Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch. We will drive through the small town of Zortman to the Camp Creek Campground. Many of the aforementioned species occur in and around the campground, but if enough time permits we will hike a bit higher to continue our search. Bighorn Sheep, Mountain Lion and Least Chipmunk are also found in this habitat. After a full day we will travel to the town of Malta for dinner at the Hitchin Post Restaurant and overnight at the Maltana Hotel. (B,L,D)
Day 8 – Sunday, June 15: Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge
Today we begin our exploration of one of North America’s most remote wilderness areas – the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge. This vast refuge spans over 1.1 million acres along the Missouri River and is the second largest refuge in the lower 48. The native prairies, river bottoms, forested coulees and badlands within the refuge have changed very little since the time of Lewis and Clark and are home to a great diversity of wildlife. Some of the largest prairie dog towns in existence are found on the refuge and harbor the rarest mammal in North America – the Black-footed Ferret. This refuge is one of the reintroduction sites for this nocturnal masked bandit who depends solely on prairie dogs for its survival. Prairie dogs also provide food and shelter for a wide variety of other species and if we missed Mountain Plovers in Valley County we should find them here. Burrowing Owls nest in abandoned burrows and the abundance of food the towns provide draw predators including Ferruginous Hawk, Golden Eagle, Coyote, Badger, Bobcat and even Mountain Lion. Elk, Mule Deer, Pronghorn and Bighorn Sheep are common in the refuge and should have young this time of year. The sight of young Pronghorn chasing one another is both amusing and a quintessential prairie scene. The habitat variation on the refuge yields a diversity of birds and some of the species we will be looking for include Prairie Falcon, Swainson’s Hawk, Sage Grouse, Long-billed Curlew, Western Wood-Pewee, Pinyon Jay, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Mountain Bluebird, Western Tanager, both Spotted and Green-tailed Towhees, Lark Bunting, Bullock’s Oriole and Red Crossbill. After a full day in the refuge we will return to Malta for dinner at the Great Northern Restaurant and overnight at the Maltana Hotel. (B,L,D)
Day 9 – Monday, June 16: Charles M Russell NWR and on to Billings
This morning we will begin our journey south. We will spend more time at Charles M Russell National Wildlife Refuge and depending on what we have seen already we could also visit the Little Rockies again before continuing the long drive south to Billings. We should arrive in Billings in the late afternoon/early evening and will have a chance to settle into our accommodations before having dinner at the Montana Brewing Company. (B,L,D)
Day 10 – Tuesday, June 17: Pompey’s Pillar, Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
We will visit two important National Monuments today. After breakfast we will drive to Pompey’s Pillar – a natural sandstone formation that juts above the surrounding plains and overlooks the Yellowstone River. What makes this rock of such historical importance is that it contains the last remaining physical evidence of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. In 1806 William Clark followed the Yellowstone and used this pillar of stone as vantage point to observe downriver. He discovered some Indian pictographs among the rocks and etched his name among them. This etching has been preserved along with the name – Pompy (later renamed Pompey) which Clark named the rock after Sacagawea’s son’s nickname. It is an easy climb to Clark’s vantage point and we could see White-throated Swifts darting about the summit and Bald Eagles and Osprey along the river. After our short visit to Pompey’s Pillar we will head south across the Crow Indian Reservation to Little Bighorn National Monument. This monument preserves the site of the battle of Little Bighorn where on June 25 and 26, 1876 General George Armstrong Custer foolishly led the 7th Cavalry to its death against far superior numbers of Lakota, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho. The site’s cemetery also serves as a memorial to those who died in battle both Native American and Cavalry. After our visit we will return to Billings and our hotel with enough time to freshen up before our farewell dinner at Walker’s American Grill. (B,L,D)
Day 11 – Wednesday, June 18: Billings to Raleigh/Durham
We will have an early breakfast at our hotel before departing for the airport and your flight from Billings to Minneapolis. John and I will make sure you get checked in for your flights home before we depart to take our rental vehicles back to Bismarck. Once you arrive in Minneapolis you will transfer to your flight to Raleigh/Durham. (B)
* Please note that EcoQuest Travel will make every effort to adhere to this itinerary, but dates, times, activities and prices are subject to change depending on scheduling and availability.
$3,603.00/person all-inclusive tour package
$ 650.00/person estimated airfare*
*Note: It is our philosophy to provide an all-inclusive price, but due to the volatile nature of the airline industry, EcoQuest Travel is only able to provide an estimated airfare at this time. The actual date of ticketing will determine the price. Typically, we are accurate in our estimates, but please note that there may be a difference in pricing at the time of ticketing. If ticket prices at the time of booking are lower than our estimates the savings will be passed on to you. If ticket prices are higher than estimated you will be invoiced the difference.
- Round-trip airfare from Raleigh/Durham to Bismarck, North Dakota and Billings, Montana back to RDU – see above (Note that if you are not from the Raleigh area we will work with you on your flights from your home city to Bismarck and Billings home)
- All ground transportation during the trip
- All accommodations – based upon double occupancy (single supplement is available at an additional cost)
- All tours within the scheduled itinerary
- Meals, including gratuities, are included throughout the trip except while in transit – see itinerary for details
- Permits and entrance fees
- The leadership services of EcoQuest Travel professionals
What’s Not Included:
Although we are traveling within the US, a picture ID is still required to board our flights.
The trip cost is based on a minimum number of participants – 8 people. Although 8 people are required to make this trip possible we are able to accommodate up to 12 people on this trip.
As we are traveling within the US there are no health requirements for this trip.
Payments and Reservations:
A deposit of $1,000.00 per person is required along with your reservation form in order to reserve space on the trip. This ensures airline seating space and necessary early deposits. The reservation form is available on our website hereand can be filled out online and submitted via email, or downloaded and mailed. We encourage you to send the deposit well in advance of the date the first payment is due, as paying the deposit is the only way to secure your spot. Personal checks, money orders and credit cards are accepted. If paying by personal check it should be made payable to EcoQuest Travel, Inc. and on the memo line please indicate: For North Dakota/Montana Trip 2014. If paying by credit card please phone your credit card information in to EcoQuest Travel at: (919) 963-3038. EcoQuest Travel accepts Visa, MasterCard and most bank debit cards. After your initial deposit, EcoQuest Travel will send you an invoice for subsequent trip payments according to the schedule listed below.
- A payment of at least $1,626.00/person is required no later than February 28, 2014
- The remainder of the trip expense ($1,627.00/person) will be due on or before May 1, 2014
The initial deposit, as well as subsequent payments, will be used to purchase airline tickets and pay deposits for accommodations, travel arrangements, etc. in both North Dakota and Montana. Therefore, if you must withdraw from the trip, irrespective of reason, a refund will not be possible. We strongly suggest that you protect yourself with the purchase of trip cancellation insurance. We will try to retain a wait list for this trip and it is possible that if you end up not being able to participate we will attempt to find a replacement for you; however, it is your responsibility to find a replacement or to have insurance.
Please note that in the event EcoQuest Travel, Inc. cancels this trip, due to circumstances beyond our control or low trip participant numbers, a refund of the initial deposit and any payments made will be issued.
EcoQuest Travel, Inc. partners with Allianz Global Assistance (formerly – Access America) to provide the best possible travel insurance for our clients. They offer trip cancellation and worldwide emergency services (such as emergency evacuation and emergency medical services) as well as a host of other benefits. You can find more information on Allianz’s website, including how to get quotes and sign up. You do not have to use Allianz Global Assistance and may choose to use another company. In either case, EcoQuest Travel, Inc. strongly suggests the purchase of trip cancellation/medical insurance. If you do decide to purchase travel insurance from Allianz Global Assistance please give them the following EcoQuest Travel vendor (or ACCAM) number: F031120. This number identifies that you are working with an Allianz Global Assistance partner.
Note: Pre-existing conditions will be waived by Allianz Global Assistance if you purchase travel insurance within 14 calendar days of your initial trip deposit.
Upon receiving your deposit and reservation form you will be sent an information packet containing flight information, baggage requirements, hints on what to bring and other useful information. The climate will likely vary from quite warm and dry during the day to quite cold at night. You will want to bring a camera, film and binoculars. Again, a more exhaustive list will be provided after you are registered for the trip.
Dave Davenport: Zoologist and President of EcoQuest Travel, Inc.
John Gerwin: Wake Audubon Board Member and Curator of Birds, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences