This is the USA as you've never seen it before. A full-blown targeted mega-twitch stretching across the mid-west, plugging gaps in your life list that you might well have thought you'd never get the chance to see! We will travel from the boreal forests of Minnesota, across the vast prairies of North Dakota and into the rugged Rocky Mountains of Glacier National Park in Montana. Then we will drop south into Idaho before finishing up an incredible journey in the surprisingly bird rich state of Utah. Wow!
Our arrival into Minneapolis will serve us well as there are several more eastern species here such as Eastern Screech-Owl, Eastern Towhee, Yellow-throated Vireo, Blue-winged Warbler and Field Sparrow, although of primary focus will be Eastern Whip-Poor-Will, Cerulean Warbler and Henslow's Sparrow, Birds are numerous and we'll probably see a wide variety of commoner species such as Trumpeter Swan, Bald Eagle, Black-billed Cuckoo, Belted Kingfisher, Sandhill Crane, Great Crested Flycatcher, White-breasted Nuthatch, Cedar Waxwing, Swamp Sparrow, Grasshopper Sparrow, Scarlet Tanager, Northern Cardinal and Indigo Bunting. From here we move on to the famous boreal forest of Sax-Zim Bog spending two full days with a local guide searching for the enigmatic Connecticut Warbler and super-secretive Leconte's Sparrow. Exploring the numerous country roads that crisscross the region could well provide us with sightings of Ruffed Grouse, Wilson's Snipe, Great Grey Owl, Blackburnian, Chestnut-sided, Black-and-white, Mourning, Yellow, Magnolia and Golden-winged Warblers, Dickcissel, Boreal Chickadee, Canada Jay and much more.
We will then begin the first of several long drives as we head out into the North Dakota Prairies to begin our search for Sprague's Pipit and Baird's Sparrow and it may well take some time ie several days and numerous sites. But the birding in the prairies is fantastic with lakes full of wildfowl such as Canvasback, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck & Bufflehead, mind-boggling numbers of shorebirds, Western Grebes, American Black Terns, flights of Franklin's Gulls, American Bittern, Virginia and Sora Rails, Marsh Wrens, Yellow-headed Blackbird... the list goes on. These prairies also hold such delights as Greater Prairie Chicken, Sharp-tailed Grouse, Nelson's and Clay-coloured Sparrows, and the stunning Chestnut-collared Longspur. The further west we go increases our chances of the trickier species, especially Baird's Sparrow and it may well be we won't connect with this tough little bird until we enter eastern Montana where Mountain Plover, Greater Sage Grouse, Prairie Falcon, Thick-billed Longspur and Lark Bunting will be added to our lists.
Another long (7 hours+) drive will lead us into the Rocky Mountains and our base for the next 4 nights close to Glacier National Park. What a place to go birding and it's almost worth it for the scenery alone, although the birds aren't bad either. There's a mouth-watering list of targets here and none more so than White-tailed Ptarmigan and Black Rosy-Finch that we'll have to drive to the top of Logan Pass for, as long as it is open due to snowfall. Regardless, we will walk numerous trails for Spruce & Dusky Grouse, Northern Pygmy Owl, Lewis's, American Three-toed and Black-backed Woodpeckers, Calliope Hummingbird, Cassin's Vireo, White-winged Crossbill, Western Tanager and Varied Thrush, check the lakes for Barrow's Goldeneye, stop at viewpoints over the rivers for Harlequin Ducks, and visit campgrounds for Red-naped Sapsucker, Townsend's Warbler, Slate-coloured Fox Sparrow and Pacific Wren, all the while keeping an eye out for Black Bear. Who is going to carry the bear spray? We will maKe extra efforts at night for Northern Saw-Whet Owl and Flammulated Owl, although areas further south into Idaho may potentially be better for them. Amongst other possibilities here we could also see American Black Swift, Rufous Hummingbird, Hammond's and Dusky Flycatchers, Pygmy Nuthatch, Boreal Chickadee, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Evening Grosbeak and Grey-crowned Rosy-Finch. We might decide to split our time and stay for a night further south around Flathead Lake, which seems to be a better area for Northern Pygmy Owl, Western Screech Owl and one or two other species. We will also have back-up sites for Black Rosy-Finch until the end of our time in the USA, but moving south into Idaho involves skirting the edge of Yellowstone National Park and its herds of American Bison before reaching southern Idaho. Cassia Crossbill is a relatively recent split from Red Crossbill and we will hopefully get good views at a campground in the Albion Hills. If we've not already seen them both Lewis's Woodpecker and Williamson's Sapsucker are potentially easier here, along with Cedar Waxwing, Audubon's Warbler, Mountain Bluebird and Cassin's Finch.
Surprisingly, the hills, sagebrush flats and mountains around Salt Lake City in Utah hold some incredible birds, primarily we will look for Juniper Titmouse, Grey Vireo, American Grey Flycatcher and Sage Sparrow. But there's also Broad-tailed Hummingbird, more chances of Flammulated Owl, Woodhouse's Scrub Jay, Pinyon Jay, Sage Thrasher, Green-tailed Towhee, Virginia's Warbler and Black Rosy-Finch. Phew! That's a lot of birds and a lot of miles to cover, and this will be one mad twitch across parts of the USA you probably won't ever get to on a regular tour. So for the brave-hearted, keen birder wanting a big adventure in big country this is the tour for you!
*** ALSO: Ask about a pre-trip twitch for Kirtland's Warbler & Bicknell's Thrush ***